The Science of Sleep: Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag

Backpacking Quilt Vs Sleeping Bag

When you’re preparing for your next outdoor expedition, be it a camping trip or a hike, two important items to add to your packing list are backpacking quilts and sleeping bags.

Although similar in purpose, backpacking quilts and sleeping bags contrast significantly when we look at their features, construction, and designs. In this article, we will explore the advantages of each option and we’ll offer considerations to help you decide which option works best for your individual needs and preferences.

What are backpacking quilts and sleeping bags?

Vernon Fowler
Photo Credit: Vernon Fowler

Backpacking quilts are lightweight, versatile sleeping systems typically made with a down or synthetic material and designed to keep the user warm without the bulk of a traditional sleeping bag. They provide warmth and comfort while still allowing for freedom of movement. They usually come in two-layer constructions such as an outer layer that holds water repellent on the outside and an inner insulation layer.

Backpacking quilts are rectangular in shape, allowing for increased freedom of movement compared to mummy-style sleeping bags. Quilts are ideal for side sleepers or those who want to save weight on their backpacking trips.

In contrast, sleeping bags provide extra insulation and protection from the environment. With diverse shapes and sizes available, you can easily find one that fits your body type and temperature preference.

Both quilts and sleeping bags can help you stay warm in cold weather conditions, but it is important to choose the right one based on your needs.

Benefits of backpacking quilts

Backpacking quilts are an increasingly popular option for outdoor adventurers looking to stay warm without the bulk of a traditional sleeping bag. They offer many benefits, including lightweight construction, versatility, and freedom of movement.

Lightweight and compact

One of the major benefits of backpacking quilts is their lightweight and compact design. Since they don’t have a traditional mummy shape like sleeping bags, backpacking quilts are able to be much more lightweight and packable. This makes them perfect for camping trips or long hikes where every ounce matters.

Additionally, backpacking quilts are generally easier to store than sleeping bags due to their smaller footprint when packed. This means that they take up less space in your backpack or storage closet making them ideal for those travelling on foot or with limited space.

Customizable warmth

Backpacking quilts also offer customizable warmth, allowing you to choose the insulation type and thickness depending on your trip. Down materials are generally lighter weight than synthetic materials but still provide excellent heat retention for cold temperatures. This allows you to use the same backpacking quilt in many different weather conditions without sacrificing warmth or comfort.

Synthetic materials are also an option when it comes to insulation and typically fare better when wet. This makes them ideal for damp or humid climates where down might not perform as well. By choosing a custom combination of insulation types, users can customize their backpacking quilt to best suit their needs while still maintaining a lightweight and compact design.

Increased comfort and freedom of movement

One of the biggest benefits of backpacking quilts is the increased comfort and freedom of movement they offer. Unlike traditional sleeping bags, backpacking quilts allow users to move around in a variety of positions while still providing insulation. This makes them particularly ideal for side sleepers and those who like to be able to move their arms and legs throughout the night.

Additionally, backpacking quilts can be easily unzipped during hot summer nights allowing users to enjoy the breeze without sacrificing warmth. The combination of comfort and range of motion make backpacking quilts a great choice for anyone looking for an improved camping experience.

Easy to use

Backpacking quilts are also incredibly easy to use and can be set up in just minutes. By adjusting the cinch cord at the foot and head of the quilt, users can adjust the shape and tightness of their quilt to provide a custom fit. This allows them to customize their sleeping experience further, with tighter or looser fits depending on personal preference.

Furthermore, by using a lightweight sleeping pad underneath, users can enjoy increased insulation without having to add extra bulk. When packed away after use, backpacking quilts are quite compact, making them convenient for carrying wherever your adventures might take you!

Benefits of sleeping bags

Two Sleeping bags in a camping tent

Although sleeping bags have been the go-to for camping and backpacking enthusiasts for many years, quilts have seen an increase in popularity due to their advantages: they are lighter, more versatile, require less space in your pack and tend to cost less than a traditional sleeping bag. That being said, sleeping bags can still be advantageous depending on where you’re going or what activities you plan on doing during your trip.

More Insulation

One advantage of sleeping bags is that they provide more insulation than quilts. When comparing a sleeping bag and quilt with the same temperature rating, it is likely that the sleeping bag will be warmer due to its construction. Sleeping bags also provide more coverage since they are designed to fit around your body snugly and keep you warm from head to toe. Additionally, some people may find the hood on a sleeping bag more comfortable than a quilt since it helps keep your head warm while you sleep.

Generally easier to find

If you’re searching for a top-notch quilt, it can be challenging to find one outside of an online store or an upscale outdoor store like REI. Moreover, only very few companies actually construct quilts because they are essentially niche products tailored towards ultralight backpackers.

Considerations for choosing between backpacking quilts and sleeping bags


Weight is a major factor in choosing between a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag. Quilts are generally lighter than their sleeping bag equivalents, as they don’t have hoods and provide insulation on top only. This makes them ideal for those looking to save weight on the trail. However, sleeping bags can be more comfortable due to the full coverage they provide, making them better suited for colder temperatures or those who prefer more protection from the elements.


Another difference between quilts and sleeping bags is ventilation. Quilts allow you to easily hang a leg out if you need to cool down, while the typical ¾ length zip of a sleeping bag makes it harder to regulate your temperature. Additionally, some people find that quilts can be drafty due to their open design, so if you’re sensitive to cold air it may be best to opt for a sleeping bag instead.


Consider the shape of each option when making your decision. Backpacking quilts are usually shaped like rectangles with tapered ends while traditional mummy-style sleeping bags offer more coverage around your head and feet. If you’re looking for something with more versatility, then a quilt might be the way to go as it can be used in multiple ways depending on your needs.

Temperature rating

Sleeping bags come in a variety of temperature ratings, from lightweight summer bags to winter-rated models that can keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures. Quilts tend to be more versatile than sleeping bags, as they can be used with a variety of different layering systems depending on the weather conditions. This makes them ideal for thru-hiking and other long distance trips where you may encounter a range of temperatures.

Personal Preference

Ultimately, choosing between backpacking quilts and sleeping bags comes down to personal preference and what works best for your individual needs. Consider all of these factors before making your decision so that you can get the most out of your camping experience!


Quilts tend to be cheaper than sleeping bags due to their lack of hoods and insulation on the underside. This makes them ideal for those looking to save money on their sleep system. However, as previously mentioned, quilts may not provide as much insulation as sleeping bags and may require additional layering in order to stay warm.


As you ponder between a sleeping bag and a backpacking quilt for your upcoming venture, there are certain points to contemplate. Quilts generally weigh less than bags, making them especially suitable when traversing long distances in varying temperatures. Nevertheless, if insulation and protection from the elements is of utmost importance to you, then opt for a sleeping instead.

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine which option – backpacking quilts or sleeping bags – best suits your needs and preferences. With a bit of research into the different temperature ratings and features that both products offer, you will be able to make an informed decision with confidence!