Two explorers setting up sleeping bags in a tent

How to Choose the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags and Backpacking Quilts

How to Choose the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags and Backpacking Quilts

Your sleeping bag is one of the most critical pieces of gear you own. As your main source of nighttime heat, it makes the difference between a great night’s sleep and a miserable, shivery ordeal. It’s also one of the bulkiest items in your pack, and typically adds a couple of pounds to your load. Is it possible to lighten up your sleep system without sacrificing the sleep part? Definitely: Ultralight sleeping bags and quilts shave ounces while still maintaining the loft and comfort you need to get your Zs.

The main advantage of any ultralight bag or quilt is, of course, its diminutive weight and great packability. They tend to feature premium, high-fill down for the best warmth-to-weight ratio. On the downside, they can be significantly more expensive than heavier bags, and their delicate face fabrics require special care (these are not the bags for dragging carelessly around a rocky campsite). And in the case of quilts, they don’t retain heat as well as a mummy-shaped bag, and some require a bit of practice to sleep comfortably. 

Ounce-counters, thru-hikers, and fast-and-light alpinists often benefit from an ultralight sleep kit—as would anyone looking to lighten their load. Featherweight sleep choices come in three styles: Here’s how to choose the best one for you.

Ultralight sleeping bags

Often similar to “regular” sleeping bags, ultralights use high-fill down insulation and dainty fabrics to keep ounces down. Some also skip features like a hood or full zipper. These bags tend to have a narrow cut to shave weight, and they often have top-shelf price tags. Bonus: A lightweight, hoodless bag can double as a liner for another bag on frigid nights.

Ultralight sleeping bags are great for people who want a lighter system, but don’t want to give up the thermal efficiency of a full bag (they’re comparable in terms of weight to many quilts). They might not work for you if you prefer a more generous cut, or in some cases, if you sleep hot (a half-zipper doesn’t provide many venting options on warm nights). 

A closeup of very small ultralight sleeping bags

Quilts

Just like a quilt at home, backpacking quilts are rectangular puffy blankets—but with a few camping-specific features. Aficionados love them because they’re not constricting, particularly on warm nights when you can just drape it over you like a blanket. Quilts are easy to vent, and they’re also versatile: Wrap one around yourself as you hang out in camp, or pull it over another sleeping bag on very cold nights for extra insulation. Drawback: Quilts let more heat escape than a zippable sleeping bag. You’ll need a warm beanie, and maybe also your insulated jacket, to stay warm. 

Quilts offer several different features to help retain precious heat and improve comfort. Many have loops, straps, or snaps that slip over your sleeping pad, keeping the quilt wrapped around you. They might also have fasteners that gather the quilt around your neck and shoulders, and/or a drawcord for cinching the bottom into a footbox. Some even have integrated pockets for warming your hands. 

Quilts are ideal for warm sleepers, toss-and-turners, and campers who appreciate having versatile options to pair with other sleeping bags in cold weather. They also usually—but not always—cost less than an ultralight sleeping bag of similar weight. If you struggle to stay warm in a mummy bag, a quilt might not be for you. 

Hybrids

There’s a middle way: “Semi-quilt” designs that combine features from full sleeping bags and quilts. Some can be zipped all the way around to form a rectangular sleeping bag or unzipped and used as a blanket. Others have snaps or buttons that hold them in sleeping bag shape; the gaps in between still allow warm air to vent out. And some boast a constructed footbox for toasty toes.

Hybrids are a great option for people who are curious about quilts, but worried about staying warm. A hybrid’s warmth-retaining features help ease the transition.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

MORE STORIES