For years as a Boy Scout I struggled to keep cool enough in my sleeping bag to sleep well. More often than not, I ended up with the heavy synthetic-fill mummy bag unzipped as far as it would go—to my knee—and my leg closest the zipper outside on the tent floor. It wasn’t until years later—and after many discussions with my wife concerning optimal nighttime thermostat settings—that I realized I was by nature a very warm sleeper. Of course, everything is relative; camping out in Southern California is a completely different game from anyplace that gets truly cold. Nonetheless, my foray into sleeping quilts has proved a remedy to nearly all my outdoor-sleeping idiosyncrasies.
What is a sleeping quilt? Essentially, a sleeping bag with a large part of the bottom removed.
Quilts operate on the theory that, in order to keep you warm, insulation needs to loft and trap air. The part of the sleeping bag you lie on when sleeping is crushed to the point that its insulating qualities become close to zero, so why not simply remove that part and sleep directly on the insulating pad, which does at least as much to keep you warm as the bag does? To sweeten the deal, you also save the weight and bulk of the superfluous material.
For several years now I’ve enjoyed using the enLightened Equipment Revelation Quilt. I believe mine is a second-generation product; a newer design has superseded my version. To be precise, I purchased a 20° Revelation X, where the X denotes that cosmetic seconds were used in either the shell or the liner. I still haven’t been able to determine where the color imperfections reside on my quilt, so the money saved was a good choice. The last time I visited the enLightened Equipment website it appeared that the X versions were no longer an option, which is too bad but also likely due to the company’s commitment to producing top-quality gear.
enLightened Equipment is a cottage-industry company that started out in 2006 based in people’s homes around Winona, Minnesota. The company has since moved into a dedicated workshop, but still makes and fills each quilt by hand. That can make it challenging to get your hands on a sample quilt, since the company’s products aren’t available from major retailers. The (very big) upside is that each quilt is made to order, with size, fill weight (warmth), materials and even colors customizable by the customer. The model I own features lightweight ripstop nylon for the liner and shell and baffles that allow for moving the 800-fill down around the quilt to fine-tune warmth. The latest generation uses an updated baffle system. These quilts unzip completely to lay out flat, just like a down quilt you might use on your bed, though there is a slight taper on the foot end. A very small zipper runs along the taper and across the bottom edge of the quilt, allowing a foot box to be formed with the bottom third. A thin cord and toggle closes the bottom to stop heat from escaping. Snaps reinforce potential points of tension.
Moving up from the zipper, several more snaps finish out bringing the lower half of the quilt together. Two sets of small buckles attach to flat elastic straps to manage the upper half. enLightened Equipment supplied two types of straps: a set of simple straps to pull the sides in under a sleeper; and a set that attachs to a sleeping pad, to keep everything in place while turning over at night. In practice, these straps keep the quilt snug all night long, even when tossing and turning. For those worried about drafts, the quilt works well with a bivi bag, if desired. At the shoulders, a snap and bungee drawcord allow the quilt to be pulled close or left open at the collar to better regulate heat. On warmer nights, it lives up to its name, being draped over me just like a quilt at home. For cool or chilly nights, I don the wool cap I carry with me on the trail. I like being able to turn my head without getting lost in a traditional attached hood.
The Revelation’s light weight and packability (roughly the size of a volleyball) make it easy on the back. Packed, my Revelation X is about the size of two Nalgene bottles side by side. Quilts are also a step up in versatility over sleeping bags, as they can be opened fully and used as a camp blanket to wrap up before turning in for the night. And if one were to choose colors carefully (or maybe not, if a bachelor), it’s worth remembering that one of these quilts could do double duty on the bed at home in between adventures.
There are certain conditions where I would take a classic mummy bag over a quilt. For winter camping or severely low temperatures, for example, an attached, down-filled hood would be useful. (There are manufacturers that sell stand-alone down hoods for those hardy souls who use their quilt in midwinter.) With those exceptions, though, a backpacking quilt almost perfectly fits my needs and style.
So, is a quilt for you? If you’re happy with your current sleeping bag, there probably is no reason to change. Are you a side sleeper or someone who tosses and turns or who finds mummy bags too confining? Are you looking to lighten your pack without compromising safety or comfort? Do you dislike the hood of a full bag? If any of these is the case, it might be worth a look at a backpacking quilt the next time you’re in the market for a sleeping bag.