Thursday 25 May 2017

Sleeping Bag or Quilt: Is One Better Than The Other?

In my sleeping bag at a camp in Death Valley National Park last October

When I began backpacking the question of whether to use a sleeping bag or a quilt didn’t arise as suitable quilts didn’t exist. A couple of decades ago the first backpacking quilts were pioneered by Ray Jardine. Since then quite a few have appeared at the specialist ultralight end of the market and they are often touted as superior to sleeping bags.

Airing my Pacific Northwest Trail quilt

Are quilts actually better than sleeping bags? There is no right answer. Both work okay. If a quilt works best for you then it’s the right choice. My preference though is for a sleeping bag. Maybe this is due to the many hundreds of nights I’d slept in one before quilts came along. I have given quilts a good try however. Indeed I took one on the Pacific Northwest Trail and used it on sixty nights. I think that’s a fair trial. I had no problems sleeping under it and found it very comfortable. So why have I never used a quilt since?

Sitting in my sleeping bag at a chilly camp in the Cairngorms earlier this year

The main reason has actually nothing to do with sleeping. It’s to do with how I use a sleeping bag when not sleeping, which is as an item of warm clothing. I like to pull the bag up under my armpits and tighten the neck drawcord so I can sit up or lie on my side while cooking, eating, reading, looking at the view, writing my journal or any other activity I can’t easily do lying flat. You can’t really do that with a quilt. Yes, you can wrap it round you but it doesn’t stay in place well, at least not in my experience. I missed sitting in my sleeping bag on the PNT and so decided not to bother with a quilt again.

The arguments for quilts are generally that they save weight and that they let you sleep with more freedom, especially if you’re not a back sleeper. I don’t think the weight argument is very valid – there are ultralight versions of quilts and bags. As to how you sleep well I’m a front and side sleeper who shifts a great deal during the night and I have no problem sleeping comfortably in a sleeping bag unless it’s too close-fitting. Yes, I often end up with the bottom of the bag on top (which is why I don’t like bags with less fill in the base) but I don’t find this uncomfortable. I also like the ease of using a bag – no need to tuck it in or arrange it in the right way, just slide in and tighten the drawcords if necessary (my ideal bag doesn’t have a zip – I like simplicity). 

Snug in my sleeping bag
This is not meant to knock quilts – as I said they work fine – but I just wanted to give a counter view to all the praise quilts receive. There’s no need to feel guilty or inferior if you prefer a sleeping bag!


  1. I prefer sleeping bags too. In my ideal 3 season bag, a very short zipper in the foot end of the bag would would prevent the bag from boiling in hot situations.

  2. I considered buying a Sea To Summit brand quilt but settled for one of their lightweight sleeping bags. It has a zip down one side and a drawcord base. This allows it to function much like a quilt, which proved functional on a recent van camping trip in Tasmania.

    Being able to fip open a bag to vent it and shed excess heat is useful here in Australia on warm nights.

  3. I like the 3/4 zipper in my Lightwave bag: if it is hot, I can use it like a quilt with foot box, like Jardine did in the beginning. Most quilts are not lighter than my bag. I don't like drafts when freezing.

  4. I'm bumping up to a quilt because I sleep on my side with one leg drawn up. I'm also claustrophobic. :-) Returned my mummy bag after just one night. Anyway, I've been stuck with a rectangular bag for a while and am so excited about a quilt! I think it's just made for my kind of sleeping.

  5. For me, that’s a very good point about being I able to wrap up in the bag whilst doing other stuff. I do that too. For that reason alone I think a quilt wouldn’t suit me.