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Quilt Sleeping Bags: Pros and Cons

What is a Quilt Sleeping Bag

Quilt sleeping bags and sleeping bag quilts, as they’re sometimes called, are best thought of as hoodless sleeping bags. They usually have full length zippers, so you can completely block external drafts from stealing away your body heat, you can open them partway and use them like a quilt, or all the way like a blanket. Some come with a drawstring footbox so you can vent them on warm nights, or insulated draft collars that wrap around your neck so heat can’t escape out the top of the bag.

For the rest of this article, I’m going to refer to “quilt sleeping bags” as hoodless sleeping bags, because it makes them easier to tell apart from backpacking quilts, which have open backs and come with pad attachment systems.

While some quilt manufacturers offer hoodless sleeping bags as an alternative to backpacking quilts, for people who “aren’t quite ready to give up the familiarity and security of a traditional sleeping bag,” they do provide advantages that regular quilts don’t. I have backpacking quilts that I enjoy using when I sleep in a hammock or on the ground in warm weather, so this isn’t an apology for hoodless sleeping bags or a negative appraisal of quilts. Like all backpacking gear, hoodless sleeping bags have their advantages and disadvantages and it’s useful to understand what they are so you can make the best choice for your needs.

Make / ModelTypeZipperPad Straps
Enlightened Equipment Conundrum Sleeping BagHoodless SB3/4-
Enlightened Equipment Convert Sleeping BagHoodless SBFull-
Enlightened Equipment Enigma QuiltQuilt-Y
Enlightened Equipment Revelation QuiltQuilt-Y
Feather Friends Flicker 20 UL 20 Quilt Sleeping BagHoodless SBFull-
Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping BagHoodless SB--
Katabatic Gear Flex Quilt-Style Sleeping BagsQuilt1/2Y
Katabatic Gear Elite Quilt-Style Sleeping BagsQuilt-Y
Nuntak Arc UL QuiltQuilt-Y
Nunatak 3D QuiltHoodless SB3/4-
NEMO BansheeHoodless SBFull-
REI Magma Quilt 30Quilt-Y
Therm-a-Rest Vesper Quilt 20Quilt-Y
Therm-a-Rest Vesper Quilt 32Quilt-Y
Zpacks Classic Sleeping BagHoodless SBFull-
Zpacks Solo QuiltQuilt-Y
Zpacks Full Zip Sleeping BagHoodless SBFullN

Advantages

Ease of Use

Hoodless sleeping bags are easier to use out of the box, since the only difference between them and a traditional mummy sleeping bag is the absence of a hood. You just need to spread one out on top of a sleeping pad, let it loft up a bit, and you’re good to go. It’s like driving a car with an automatic transmission instead of a manual.

Hoodless sleeping bags are compatible with all types of sleeping pads and there’s no fussing around with a pad attachment system, which you have to admit takes a little practice to dial in. The quality of quilt-to-sleeping pad attachment systems also varies widely. Some are intuitive and well integrated with their quilts, while others are abysmal corded affairs that you just want to rip out and throw away.  Less seasoned and occasional backpackers and campers may find themselves struggling to stay warm because they haven’t worked the kinks out in advance.

The Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL Quilt Sleeping Bag has a center zip, adjustable foot vent, and a draft collar providing sleepers with a highly flexible set of temperature regulation and configuration options.
The Feathered Friends Flicker UL Quilt Sleeping Bag has a center zip, adjustable foot vent, and a draft collar providing sleepers with a highly flexible set of temperature regulation and configuration options.

Better Draft Protection in Colder weather

Hoodless sleeping bags provide better protection in colder weather because they provide 360 degree protection from drafts when they’re zipped up all the way. Many experienced quilt users add a bivy sack to their sleep system when temperatures drop to 20 degrees or less and drafts from their pad attachment systems become more noticeable. Hoodless sleeping bags can eliminate the need carry a bivy sack since they don’t suffer the same issue.

Greater Range of Use

Hoodless sleeping bags can also provide a greater range of use if they have full length zippers. For example, you can use them as a blanket when camping as a couple, draped across a double sleeping pad or two connected ones. I own a hoodless sleeping bag which has gear loops sewn to the sides so you can use it as a hammock underquilt. Hoodless sleeping bags are also available with continuous baffles, so you can shake the down from the bottom part of the bag to the sides and top in cold weather. Quilts baffles are usually oriented in a way that prevents this.

The pad attachmentsSystem on the REI Magma Trail Quilt 30 could be a lot better, but doesn't matter as much for warm weather use. 
The pad attachment system on the REI Magma Trail Quilt 30 could be a lot better, but doesn’t matter as much for warm weather use.

Disadvantages

The chief disadvantage of a hoodless sleeping bag over a quilt is that it’s heavier because you lie on a portion of the insulation and don’t get any benefit from it because it can’t trap hot air.  While quilts have a big weight advantage over mummy sleeping bags with hoods, the same isn’t true with hoodless sleeping bags. Compare the quilts and hoodless sleeping bags made by Enlightened Equipment or Zpacks at different temperatures if you don’t believe me. I think you’ll be surprised at how slim the weight difference is. Does that weight difference offset the overhead and pitfalls of using a pad attachment system? That’s a decision you’ll want to consider carefully.

Wrap Up

Backpacking quilts are making their consumer debut this year with the introduction of mainstream products like the REI Magma Trail Quilt 30 and the Therm-a-Rest Vesper 20 or 32 Quilts. Before you jump on the quilt bandwagon, I’d encourage you to compare quilts and quilt sleeping bags. They’re both good alternatives to a mummy sleeping bag if you want to reduce the weight of your sleep system and enjoy the freedom of sleeping without a mummy hood.

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16 comments

  1. I have a Zpacks 5 degree F. “classic” hoodless bag (among others.) As you say — it has pros and cons. Pros include high quality down. One con which contradicts your article is that I cannot actually leave it partially zipped up. The zipper is so fine that as I move inside the bag, it unzips on its own. So I either have to leave it completely unzipped or zipped all the way up with the snap closure. This illustrates a larger point — lightweight gear usually reduces functionality to shave ounces and is therefore not necessarily “better.”. You’ve written before about the limitations of sleeping bag temperature ratings, but I’d be especially skeptical about ratings for lightweight quilts and hoodless bags, which are draftier than their sellers claim, even when dialed down tightly. After learning the hard way, I treat my 5 degree Zpacks bag as a 25 degree bag, but I still like it in that range.

    • That’s just the Zpacks zipper, not a problem with the entire product category. My FF Flicker doesn’t have that problem. But your point about temperature ratings is spot on. Quilts, hoodless sleeping bags. None of them fall under the industry sleeping bag standards which only apply to sleeping bags with integrated hoods. You best defense is to buy from a brand that has outstanding customer references.

  2. Liked my wide 20 degree Flicker already, thanks PW, good original review. Once I started using it in an underquilt stack on my hammock I really like it. So versatile. The only thing I don’t like is; as a quilt being so feather light, it sometime just “floats” off me in the night.

  3. Is there a hoodless sleeping bag on the market that has done away with having down on the underside of the bag which you don’t get any real benefit from? A hoodless bag of this type would do the same to eliminate the draft issue, similar to fully stuffed hoodless sleeping bag with 360 degree protection, yet also benefit from the weight reduction that comes from the elimination of the down and both the related fabric and stitching.

    • Big Agnes system sleeping bags are probably the closest but most still have a mummy hood and extra fabric/insulation on the bottom. I’ve never understood why they haven’t fully exploited the weight savings possible with their sleeve system, although they do have a few newer products moving in that direction.
      https://www.bigagnes.com/Anvil-Horn-45

    • Roger
      Thermarest made one some time ago and I’ve got one in my collection. Headless, spandex wide straps to hold it against the sleeping pad.

  4. I also have a 20 deg FF flicker and love it. There is so many options.

  5. Phil, what is favorite pad attachment system? I have HG’s pad attachment system currently, just wondering how that compares in your experience. Or which ones you consider most intuitive and/or functional. I’ve also considered using the pad attachment system, but expanding it so I can use the same quilt as an under or overquilt depending on my needs for each trip.

  6. Bill in Roswell GA

    PW, good info for a growing part of the market. To place an addition to your comments, Im only 5’7″, but a long bag/quilt gives room for gear AND pulling the bag over my head in extremes. Here in the SE, a 20 true rating can work down to 10 or up to 50.

    As for quilt pad straps, any thing that is fast and easy at 3am works!

  7. A few years ago I wanted a semi rectangular 20° bag like an old girlfriend’s Sierra Designs bag and found that it was mummy or quilts nothing else. I thought her bag was the perfect three season bag. I like a wide fill zippered bag that I use like a blanket until I get cold. Anyway the only thing I could find at the time was the mountain hardware flip 35/50. I’ve learned to like this reasonably priced three season bag. As the name suggests there is less insulation on one side. Ideally I would like something like a 15/30 version because when it gets down into the twenties I’ve got to augment the 35/50. I’m a very warm sleeper so my numbers won’t translate for most.

  8. I use a Mid-Atlantic MountainWorks Marcy quilt in part because I’m a very restless sleeper. Tossing and turning in a sleeping bag is a non-starter for me. The quilt just floats over me as I spin around. The Marcy has shock cord tensioning for the sides to keep the tucked in if it’s cold. No pad attachment required. Nunatak now sells quilts with the same system.

  9. I have the Enlightened Equipment Revelation. I am 5’6″, 140 lbs, ordered the extra long, extra wide. 24 oz, 30 degree rating. When it is cold I can tuck it under my sides, pull it over my head. I was comfortable at 17 degrees. It is big enough for my wife and I to share. I have never been so comfortable. Will never use a mummy again. Inexpensive compared to other brands.

  10. My Zpacks hoodless bag is the best piece of equipment I ever bought. I was tempted to save weight by getting the shorter bag and lightweight zipper. But Joe at ZPacks wisely recommended getting the long so I had room to pull the bag over my head in very cold conditions. And the weight of the heavier zipper is negligible. I also chose the full-length zipper, which allows me to use the bag basically as an open quilt.

    I even use the bag for car camping when the nights are in the 50s and it works pretty well just laying loosely on top like a blanket (or quilt!)

    You need a balaclava or good cap for cold nights. I like the hoodless bag because I can roll over without worrying about keeping the quilt in position. And I can open the neck and pull the bag down to my waist and easily climb out during the night and easily pull it back up to my neck without unzipping it.

    I don’t miss my old hooded bag in the least.

  11. Christopher Richburg

    The Convert by Enlightened Equipment is the bag that I have. It has a full-length zipper, drawstrings at both ends, and you can custom order lengths, as well as, widths.
    I love mine.
    I wish I would see it pop up in articles. I think the full zipper is an appealing selling point to people who are unsure of jumping to a quilt type of sleep system.

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