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May 2020 Issue
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Quilts that put insulation where it’s needed

Photo: Matthew Cattin
Matthew Cattin looks into why you might want to try a quilt and reviews two extremely light options.

Zoned insulation is a growing revelation in the world of sleeping bags, and it makes a world of sense.

Down is a near perfect insulator, but it has a major downside, if you will excuse the pun: when compressed, whether by weight or moisture clumping, it loses its insulating properties.

This weakness is taken into account in zoned insulation designs, which reduce the amount of down in areas where it will be compressed – usually the back of sleeping bags.

Sleeping quilts are a relatively new fad – particularly popular in the ultralight community – which takes the idea one step further by removing the back of the sleeping bag entirely.

“Quilts are extremely efficient for their volume and weight as you’re not carrying additional down that is squashed underneath you,” says Sandy McLean, a director of Wellington based Ampro Sales,the distributor of Therm-a-Rest sleeping bags and mattresses.

“A lot of bags already use zoned insulation to move down away from the back into places it counts, so the concept is already integrated in sleep systems. This is just a more refined version.”

Quilts work on the assumption that trampers will sleep with a well-insulated sleeping mat, which will provide all the necessary warmth from below.

They’re most popular with trampers who are in tune with their gear, and are looking to minimise weight and volume without sacrificing comfort, McLean says.

“You’re able to optimise other gear you may be taking – if you want to retain upper body warmth, sleep in a down jacket or put a hat on, it’s a thought-through solution,” he says.

Also missing from quilts are hoods and zips, meaning the weight reductions are drastic, and as for the comfort? Some quilt users never go back.

The first time I tried a quilt, a snug smile spread over my face – the freedom and comfort is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a bag.

I’m a roller. I toss and turn a lot in the night, especially if I’m on an inflatable mattress.

As trampers know, turning over in a sleeping bag is something of an art form, requiring a series of micro-movements and shuffles to rotate a full 180-degrees.

Under a quilt, it’s easy – the quilt stays in position while you roll beneath it.

If the temperature gets too much, billow the quilt up and down to draw in cold air, as though shaking out a damp tent, or stick a limb out of the covers.

Quilts sell at a fraction of the rate of sleeping bags, but with the continuing improvement of lightweight, warm sleeping mattresses, it’s not unreasonable to think their popularity in the backcountry will increase.

Read our reviews of the Therm-a-Rest Vesper 0C Quilt and Rab Neutrino Quilt 200.