In this series (Part 1, 2, 3), we’ve focused all our attention on understanding the subtleties of finding the perfect sleeping bag. But what if you’re in search of more adjustability and versatility than a traditional sleeping bag offers. For example, you know you’ll likely spend most nights in temperatures well above freezing and you’ve found that a standard sleeping bag is actually too much insulation for these excursions—causing you to overheat, sweat and then catch a chill. But you also know you’ll spend a few nights winter camping this year, and you’d like to beef up your existing sleep system—a tried-and-true 20 degree bag—because you can’t justify buying a brand new 0 degree down bag for just a few trips a year.

Perhaps you’re in need of a good Camp Quilt.

The Camp Quilt Philosophy

Just as the name implies, a camp quilt is basically an insulated blanket and it provides the freedom of movement and temperature regulation that you can’t get with a full sleeping bag. Designed to drape over you and attach to your camp mattress, a quilt provides a top layer of insulation, while letting the mattress insulate your backside.

But what about the cold seeping in from the ground, you may wonder?

Consider this: the insulation in the bottom of your sleeping bag, whether it’s down or synthetic fill, is usually crushed by your body weight. This means that the fill is actually performing poorly, and your mattress is the main part of your sleep system that is insulating you from the ground. So in other words, camp quilts eliminate the bulk and weight of having a full-zip sleeping bag, without drastically changing the temperature rating.

To be clear, a quilt will not be as warm as a well-sized sleeping bag because sleeping bags eliminate drafts more efficiently once you’re zipped inside. However, a quilt covers you and provides a top layer of insulation—and can be adjusted throughout the night (i.e. tucked tightly around you or simply draped on top) so you can easily regulate your temperature.

Therm-a-Rest quilt

In truth, the majority of full zip sleeping bags are designed for below-freezing temperatures, while the warmest camp quilts are designed to work well down to roughly 35 degrees (Fahrenheit). So, if most of your nights outside are spent above the freezing level, it’s actually more efficient to be equipped with a camp quilt. You’ll be carrying the appropriate amount of insulation for how you are camping, while eliminating the overheating cycle many campers experience on warmer nights with traditional sleeping bags.

But perhaps you do camp in below freezing temps sometimes. Should you eschew the camp quilt option all together?

Not if you are interested in building a versatile and adaptable sleep system.

The Adaptable Sleep System

From the top down: Apogee Quilt, AirHead Pillow, Universal Sheet, NeoAir Trekker mattress

A major feature of what some people mistake as a “featureless” product is that camp quilts can integrate with your sleep system. What exactly is a “sleep system” you may be asking? Your sleep system is the all-encompassing, head to toe, wall to wall, ground to ceiling combination of gear that allows you to sleep outside.  So while camp quilts may seem featureless on their own, they actually give you the ability to create a versatile, adaptable sleep system. This feature may be subtle (like the included perimeter snap-loops that allow our quilts to mate with other sleeping bags, mattresses or sheets), but it’s extremely effective. Take deep winter camping for example. Say you have a four season sleeping bag that is only optimal for 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but you really want to get the first descent of this Alaskan peak before the masses hit it, so you’re bound and determined to head out anyways, despite the forecast showing a sharp dip into negative temps. You have two options (without borrowing your roomie’s gear) if you want to stay warm: buy a new (and expensive) ultra-warm sleeping bag, essentially giving you two very warm (and bulky) sleeping bags, OR you could purchase a camp quilt and add warmth to your existing bag, while at the same time acquiring (when used by itself) the perfect sleep solution for a warm summer’s night spent under the stars on your favorite section of the PCT. Make sense?

Conclusion

If you’re still hunting for the perfect sleeping bag, but you’re craving more freedom of movement and temperature regulation for warm summer nights, or perhaps you’re looking to add versatility to your existing sleep system to make it “perfect,” consider the often underestimated yet efficient and adaptable Camp Quilt.

Check out our selection here.

Originally Published February 18th, 2016.

<< Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag: Part 3—The Fit

Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag: Part 5—Caring for Your Bag>>