Sleeping Bags vs Quilts – The pros and cons of each.


man with sleeping bag

Camping quilts have gotten very popular recently but how do they stack up against the tried and true sleeping bag?

In this post, we’ll go over the pros and cons of both sleeping bags and camping quilts so that you can see for yourself.

The Advantages of Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags have been around for a long time and they come in many forms.  In fact, if you’re not completely familiar with the different types of sleeping bags, you may want to read my post on choosing a sleeping bag first.

You can find this information at https://www.carandtent.com/how-to-choose-a-sleeping-bag/

Regardless of what sleeping bag you choose, you’ll find that sleepings bags have many big advantages over camping quilts.

These advantages include:

  • They’re less drafty.
  • They have hoods.
  • They’re easy and intuitive to use.
  • They provide some ground insulation.
  • They’re generally more comfortable.

Less Draft

A sleeping bag is designed to keep drafts away.  Mummy sleeping bags will keep drafts out all over and are perfect for extremely cold temperatures but even traditional rectangular sleeping bags will be less drafty than a backpacking quilt.

The reason for this is that sleeping bags are enclosed all the way around.  Quilts, on the other hand, have open backs or open sides.

The Hood

Most sleeping bags will have hoods built right into them.  Not only do these hoods keep out drafts, but they also keep more body heat in.

mummy sleeping bag

For this reason, many backpackers who use quilts will end up packing down balaclava with them.  This is another piece of gear they have to pack which adds to the cost of camping and increases their pack’s weight while decreasing the amount of space they have leftover for other gear.

Ease-of-Use

Sleeping bags are easy to use.  Slip into your sleeping bag, zip it up and you’re good to go.

Quilts aren’t quite so easy.  In fact, you may find that you have to tie straps around your quilt and your sleeping mat before sliding in for the night.  You may also find that you have to button up a multitude of straps to help reduce the number of draft areas on your quilt.

Extra Ground Insulation

A quilt can’t really be slept on without a sleeping pad.  This is because a quilt does not provide you with any ground insulation.

So, what happens when your sleeping pad pops and you don’t have any insulation underneath of you?

Well, the obvious answer is that you end up cold and you probably don’t get a good night’s sleep.  In extreme situations, you may even risk hypothermia.

A sleeping bag provides padding and insulation all around you.  While you may lose some insulation underneath of you due to compression, at least you’ll still have some protection from the ground even if your pad decides to pop.

More Comfort

This advantage is subjective, but I find that sleeping bags are more comfortable than quilts.  As we stated earlier, they provide even padding and insulation on all sides, so you end up with a bit of extra padding underneath of you.

Also, the reduction of drafts makes them more comfortable for me as well.  I never wake up in a sleeping bag because my foot slipped out and got cold.  The same can’t be said for the backpacking quilts that I’ve tried.

The Advantages of Camping Quilts

Recently, camping quilts have become very popular among backpackers.

Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Quilts are usually lighter than sleeping bags.
  • Quilts don’t cost as much as sleeping bags.
  • A quilt will pack down smaller than a sleeping bag.
  • It can be easier to get in and out of a quilt.
  • You don’t have to worry about zippers with quilts.
  • A quilt is more versatile.

Quilts are Lighter

All things equal, a quilt tends to be lighter than a sleeping bag.  The reason for this is that a quilt has less material.

While a sleeping bag has the same amount of padding all around it, quilts only have insulation at the top.  This saves on material, which saves on weight.

Of course, you may find that this weight difference isn’t quite as significant when comparing mummy sleeping bags to quilt and balaclava combinations.

Quilts are Less Expensive

Because quilts do not have as much material in them as sleeping bags, they tend to cost less.  For example, a 20 degree down sleeping bag from Thermorest will cost you around $390.00 while a 20 degree down quilt from the same company will only cost you $370.00.

spilled coin jar

Just keep in mind that these cost savings may be eliminated as you may end up having to buy a balaclava to go with your backpacking quilt.

A Quilt Packs Down Smaller

It’s no secret that a quilt will pack down smaller than a sleeping bag.  Even with a compression bag, the difference can be noticeable.

This means that you may be able to get by with a smaller backpack.  A smaller backpack means less weight so you could end up with both a lighter sleep system as well as a lighter backpack.  These combined weight savings could end up being a big deal on a long thru-hike.

Easier to Get in and Out of

As we said earlier, getting in and out of a quilt can be more complicated.  The reason for this is that you may have to strap your quilt to your sleeping pad.  However, this isn’t always the case.

Some backpacking quilts are built so that you have an insulating layer on top and a non-insulated layer underneath of you.  In this case, your body holds the camping quilt down and you just fold the warm part over you.  To get out, you just push the quilt off of you.

This can make getting in and out of your quilt much easier than getting in and out of a sleeping bag.  People sleeping in hammocks will find this especially useful when climbing in and out of bed each day.

No Zippers to Worry About

I have a love-hate relationship with zippers.  When zippers are working well, they are much more convenient than buttons and straps.  On the other hand, when they aren’t working well, they can be a nightmare.

Have you ever gotten your sleeping bag or your jacket caught in your zipper?  You don’t have to worry about this problem when you’re camping with a backpacking quilt.

Can Be More Versatile

A backpacking quilt can offer more versatility than a sleeping bag.  The reason for this is that you can sleep in them in the same way that you sleep underneath a blanket.  This is especially advantageous when sleeping in warm climates as you may want to hang some of your body outside of the quilt to keep cool.

Many car campers are now switching to car camping top quilts, like the Sorison Quilt, for this very reason.

Of course, some sleeping bags offer up this versatility as well.  If you want a sleeping bag that offers this advantage, you just need to buy a rectangular one that completely zips open and apart.  Close the bag and you have a sleeping bag, unzip it all of the way and you essentially have a backpacking quilt with a bit more padding.

Which Should You Choose

So which should you choose, a sleeping bag or a backpacking quilt?  Choose a backpacking quilt when you’re backpacking in milder climates and want to reduce the weight and bulk of your backpack.  Opt for a sleeping bag when you’re sleeping in cooler weather or on a trip that doesn’t require you to pack light.

Also, if you’re a cold sleeper, you may find you’re better off with a sleeping bag regardless of the season.

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Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf loves camping, hiking, canoeing, and basically anything that gets him outdoors.

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