There are three things you should take away from this review of the new 24 ounce Sierra Design’s Backcountry Quilt:
- Sierra Designs has improved on the original quilt concept with a built-in hood that will appeal to backpackers and campers who’ve used mummy bags in the past but want to lighten up their gear. It’s a brilliant design innovation on many levels. More on this below.
- The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is significantly less expensive than the custom-made quilts you can buy from cottage manufacturers, even though it’s made with 800 fill power DriDown.
- The Backcountry Quilt comes in a single size so you don’t have to sweat the length, width, and fabric details like you do when ordering a custom quilt from a small manufacturer. Plus, since it’s available from outdoor retailers, you can return it if you decide you don’t like camping with a quilt, instead of being stuck with a custom-made item which you may or may not be able to sell.
A Quick Intro to Camping and Backpacking Quilts
Quilts provide a good alternative to sleeping bags, especially in warmer weather when you want the freedom to vent your sleep insulation like a blanket instead of a mummy bag, They’re also far lighter weight, more compressible so they pack down smaller, and great for side sleepers (or in a hammock) because they give you a lot more freedom to move around.
Most camping quilts have an open back and a mummy-style foot box to protect your feet from drafts. The argument is that you don’t need any back insulation like you find in a sleeping bag, because you’d just lie on it, forcing all the hot air out which is what provides insulation in the first place. Quilts are lighter weight because they rely on your sleeping pad, which you’re using anyway, to insulate you from the ground. They also don’t have zippers which further reduced weight and improves durability because zippers snag and fail.
Most of the backpacking and camping quilts sold today are made to order by ultralight backpacking companies and can be custom tailored in term of width, length, insulation, and outer materials. When purchasing a quilt, they recommend that you size up to the next larger size, so you can pull the top of the quilt up around your ears on cold nights. You can also augment the warmth of a quilt by wearing the extra insulation layers you already carry in your backpack, such as an insulated puffy vest or coat, a fleece hat, socks,long underwear, rain gear, and insulated pants.
Adding a Hood to a Quilt
The thing that gets me jazzed about the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is that a hood has been added to it so you can cover your head and the top of your shoulders when it’s cold. Unlike the hood on a mummy bag, the hood folds flat over your chest, and has a back panel to prevent drafts when it’s not being used as a hood. It’s not adjustable and just drapes over your forehead when you stick your head into it. The hood also turns with you if you’re a side sleeper and doesn’t cover your face when you roll over.
While I was skeptical about the hood design when I first saw it, I became a convert once I’d used the Backcountry Quilt on several backpacking and camping trips. When it’s cool out and you want extra warmth, being able to pull the Backcountry Quilt over your shoulders and head makes a world of difference.While you could easily just wear a hat or goose down balaclava to keep your head warm, the extra length built into the Backcountry Quilt to implement the hood ensures that your shoulders and upper back are covered, providing far more warmth than a hat alone.
Another reason I like the added hood is that it makes quilts much more palatable to first time quilt buyers who’ve been weaned on the mummy bags, but want to chop the weight of their backpacking and camping gear. If you’re used to sleeping in a mummy bag, switching to Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt will be a far more natural and intuitive transition than switching to a hoodless quilt that doesn’t insulate the tops of your shoulders and the back of your head and neck.
In addition to the hood, Sierra Designs added two hand pockets to the top corners of the Backcountry Quilt, making it easier for sleepers to grab onto the corners and fold underneath their heads when sleeping face down on their tummies. It’s an intriguing addition, but I didn’t see much application for it since I’m not a tummy sleeper. Check out this video to see the corner pockets in use.
Weighing 1 pound 8 ounces (24 ounces), the Backcountry Quilt is rated for 38 degrees (F) Comfort/ 28 degrees (F) Limit using the EN13537 sleeping bag temperature rating standard. This means that the backcountry quilt will keep the average female warm in 38 degree weather and the average man warm in 28 degree weather (assuming they’re on a sleeping pad, wearing long johns and a hat).
Most of the other quilts you can buy today haven’t been tested using the EN standard so you’re stuck with the manufacturer’s best guess, which may be quite different from what you experience. While the EN13537 standard cannot account for all individual differences (whether you’re a cold sleeper or a warm sleeper), it does provide a baseline measurement that is reliable enough to account for male/female warmth differences using the same product, lets you compare the quilt against similarly rated sleeping bags, and protects consumers from the exagerrated temperature rating claims that have been made by manufacturers in the past.
The insulation in the Backcountry Quilt is 800 Fill Power DriDown, which incidentally, Sierra Designs was the first manufacturer to introduce two years ago . The quilt contains 11 ounces of down sewn in continuous baffles. This allows you to shift the location of the down from the edges of the quilt on hot summer nights, to the center over your chest on cold nights when you want more insulation for your core. This is a common technique used in many high-end ultralight sleeping bags like those from Western Mountaineering.
Measurements and Specifications
- Size: Fits to 6′ 4″ / 193 cm
- Length: 78″ / 198 cm
- Shoulder Width: 56″ / 142 cm
- Hip: 45″ / 114 cm
- Foot: 40″ / 102 cm
- Fill Weight 11 ounces / 0.31 kg
- Trail Weight: 1 pound 8 ounces / 0.68kg
- Insulation: 800 Fill Duck DriDown
- Shell Material: 20D Nylon Ripstop
- Liner Material: 20 D Nylon Tafetta
- Packed Size: 7″ x 14″ / 18 cm x 36 cm
- MSRP: $260
At 78″ in length, the Backcountry Quilt will fit sleepers who are up to 6′ 4″ in height. While that might sound a bit on the long side, it’s actually a fairly normal length for quilts, where manufacturers recommend you size up a full size if you want to pull the quilt up to your ears in cool weather. Still, 78″ is too long for smaller women and youth who could benefit from the Backcountry Quilt’s lighter weight and comfort.
When I asked Sierra Designs about the lack of smaller sizes, they told me that they decided to manufacture the current sizing because it’s the most popular size in the sleeping bags that they sell today. If demand for the Backcountry Quilt grows, they will add smaller sizes for shorter women and youth in the future. Fair enough.
The other dimensions of the Backcountry Quilt: width, hips, and foot box are a few inches generous, but not out of line with what other quilt manufacturers offer. Personally, I like a wider quilt, even at the cost of a few more ounces of weight, because it means that I’ll have more insulation along my sides to block drafts.
I’ve tested the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt on backpacking and camping trips in nighttime temperatures ranging from the 75 degrees fahrenheit down to the mid- 30’s degrees fahrenheit and found it to be true to its temperature rating. While the sizing is ample for me, a 5′ 10″ man with 46″ shoulders, it’s not awkwardly large when used with a bivy sack and sleeping pad, or by itself draped over my sleeping pad inside a car camping tent.
While somewhat heavier than custom-made ultralight backpacking quilts, I think the Backcountry Quilt is an excellent value for backpackers who want the benefit of a lighter weight quilt, especially for men who want a quilt that they can use in cooler shoulder season weather (since the EN men’s temperature rating is 28 degrees) but can’t afford to pay a king’s ransom for one.
In terms of functionality, I think the addition of a hood to the Backcountry Quilt is a design coup and may narrow the gap between mummy sleeping bag users and quilt users enough to help make quilts a more popular lightweight backpacking gear alternative. I for one, plan on using the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt instead of my mummy bag for autumn weather this year, when I need more warmth but still want to carry the lightest amount of gear possible.
- Built-in hood adds significant warmth and comfort on cold nights
- EN tested temperature rating: 38 degrees for women and 28 degrees for men.
- Priced significantly less than you’d pay for a comparable custom-made quilt
- Smaller female and youth sizes are currently unavailable
- Wish the weight were a few ounces lighter
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt for this review.
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