We’ve established the best thru-hiking homes (tents!), how to carry them (packs!) and now it’s time to choose your bed (sleeping bag) for the next five to six months of your life. Before we get into the best models of quilts and sleeping bags for thru-hiking, here are a few pointers to help make the decision easier.
Most thru-hikers on the Triple Crown trails should be fine with a bag rated between 15-30 degrees. You know yourself, though. If you tend to sleep cold, opt for something rated to a lower temperature. You can also carry a lighter bag supplemented with a liner. It’s important to keep in mind that the listed ratings are not comfort limits. Check the label—the comfort temperature might be 10 degrees warmer than the model name. For instance, the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 lists “20 degrees” in the model name, but the comfort limit is actually 32 degrees.
The general consensus for most quilt models is that they are not quite as warm as a mummy bag with the same rating. Fully enclosed bags are still more popular than quilts, with just 29% of respondents to our 2018 AT survey using quilts during their thru-hike. Quilts are essentially sleeping bags without the underside, saving the weight of a full-length zipper and part of the bulk. The idea is that when you lie on a down-insulated sleeping bag, the down compresses enough that it doesn’t work to insulate, and users do just as well with a sleeping pad as insulation. Quilt aficionados appreciate the freedom of sprawling sleep positions afforded by a quilt, and some have zippered footboxes to help trap heat. If you opt for a quilt, be sure to get an adequate width to avoid drafts. If you tend to sleep colder and you don’t mind a fully enclosed mummy bag (or you like it), go for a traditional sleeping bag model.
There are a few differences in women’s-specific vs. general sleeping bags, but nothing absolutely critical. Women’s bags have a different down distribution based on general understanding of heat loss—for instance, a women’s-specific bag might have a higher concentration of down around the torso and in the footbox as opposed to a generic bag. Women’s-specific bags are also wider in the hips and narrower through the shoulder, and are often smaller in width and length. This means less empty space to heat up and keep warm.
Fill power refers to the space one ounce of down occupies in a cylindrical container when allowed to loft to full capacity. High-quality down has a higher loft than lower-quality down, which means you get more warmth for less weight. Ie, 900 fill has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than 700 fill. Look for sleeping bags between 700-950 fill power. Anything more than that is just fluff.
You can sort of chill out. We recommend you opt for a sleeping bag with a treated down to give yourself some leeway if the bag gets damp or comes in contact with condensation on the walls of your tent. Treated down will retain its loft and insulating abilities for significantly longer than untreated down, but you still need to prevent your bag from getting saturated. There are a few varieties of treated down on the market—keep an eye out for Nikwax, DriDown, DownTek, and HyperDry.
If you’re really concerned about your down getting wet, a synthetic bag is another option, but those models tend to be bulkier. Synthetic fill has come a long way in the past few years, but down still has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio overall.
Sleeping bags are simpler than tents and packs. It’s essentially a bag full of feathers, and the biggest variables will be choosing between a quilt or mummy bag. We’ve chosen a selection of bags that are lightweight, durable, and highly customizable—thru-hiker-centric models with a good warmth-to-weight ratio. Since so many of these models have an array of customization options, we’ve listed the stock model weight and fill. Be sure to check out all of the customization options for each model to fit your particular needs—many brands (especially cottage industry) have build-your-own options for fill power, temperature rating (all listings are in Fahrenheit), width/length, and even color.
No matter what you choose, remember to treat your down with care. A sleeping bag is a big investment, and can be not only the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and sheer misery, but can keep you safe in plummeting temperatures. During sunny breaks, shake out your sleeping bag and let it dry in the sun. As often as possible, remove it from the compression sack to allow a full loft, and never store it compressed when you’re not hiking.
Note to the comments section: the following sleeping bags and quilts are listed in no particular order.
The Revelation is one of the top quilt models for backpackers, from one of the original brands to popularize down quilts. The footbox has a 20-inch zipper, plus a shock cord you can tighten around the bottom to further seal heat. Opening the zipper and shock cord all the way will make more of a classic quilt shape. U-shaped baffles keep the down in place and help prevent clumping. The regular width is 54 inches, which is narrower than several others on this list. If in doubt, go wider.
Users have the option for either 850 or 950 fill on the customized Revelation. The down on the stock quilt is 850 fill, and all down comes from an RDS-certified supplier. The face fabric is DWR-treated nylon.This quilt does not come with a hood, but does have elastic you can strap around your sleeping pad to help hold it in place.
If you’re between sizes, opt for a wider option here. This quilt is light enough that the extra space and grams are worth the increased coverage of a wider model, and some users reported draftiness and a higher temperature comfort than listed on the quilt specs.
The wider angled “wings” on the made-in-the-US Alsek are a smart design to help users wrap the quilt around themselves more securely while saving weight. This quilt has a longer sewn footbox than others on this list, making it a good middle ground for people who want more protection that a mummy bag would provide without losing the mobility and freedom of a quilt.
Thirteen ounces of 900-fill traceable down make up the bulk of this bag, with a durable, lightweight Pertex Quantum Ripstop face fabric. Katabatic offers an “overfill” option for buyers who think they might sleep cold and want the extra protection of additional down.
The closure system isn’t the most intuitive, but becomes easier to use once you get the hang of it.
A true “blanket style” quilt, the Flex has a zipper from the base of the footbox (similar to the EE Revelation) that can be unzipped for more ventilation on warmer nights. The footbox is not sewn shut, but utilizes an elastic binding that hikers can cinch tight. Because nothing is entirely sealed, some heat escape and drafts are inevitable. If in doubt about sizing, go for a wider option to ensure maximum coverage.
Users have the option for 850 or 900 fill-power treated down (Katabatic uses HyperDry), or 900 fill-power untreated down with a variation in pricing. The shell is a tightly woven, DWR-treated Pertex Quantum Ripstop. The down is strategically distributed based on heat loss.
While this quilt offers more flexibility in the zippered bottom closure and elastic footbox cinch, it does mean less heat sealing on colder nights. As with all quilts, take the temperature rating with a grain of salt and if you’re on the fence, go for a warmer rating or the overfill option.
Made right in Seattle, Feathered Friends bags come with a hefty price tag, but the craftsmanship, customer service, and overall quality make their bags a worthy investment. The Hummingbird fits neatly in the middle of FF’s lineup. At 1 pound, 12 ounces, this isn’t the lightest 20-degree mummy bag on the list, but the generous draft collar, deep hood, and durable face / lining fabric are worth it. Besides, less than two pounds for a 20-degree bag is nothing to sneeze at. This is one of the slimmer models from Feathered Friends, which saves weight and means less space to heat up, but might feel constricting to some sleepers.
950-fill down is packed into a Pertex Endurance water-resistant face fabric. The bag has a deep hood and a thick draft collar to further insulate. Zippers have removable casings to prevent fabric snags, and the hood has a cinch for colder nights.
Therm-a-Rest upped their sleep system game last year. They avoided the pitfalls of generating overly engineered systems, opting to follow along the lines of their fan-favorite NeoAir sleeping pads: lightweight, streamlined, and optimized for long-distance hikers. This sleeping bag is ultralight, packable, and no frills—even the zipper is only half-length. The temperature rating is accurate, and it packs down extremely small.
900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down stays lofted if it gets damp, with zoned insulation ensuring the most heavily insulated parts are on the tops and sides, where you need to conserve the most heat. The face fabric is 10D Polyester Ripstop, and the bag has a hood with a draft collar.
The “legs” can feel a bit narrow compared to the insulation up top, and the half-length zipper makes a smooth entry and exit more difficult. The hood can feel a little shallow and not entirely secure on your head when you roll over.
The quilt addition to Therm-a-Rest’s sleeping bag line has no problem keeping up with the OG cottage industry quilts. You don’t get the same customization you do with smaller brands, but the high-loft down and sub-one-pound weight are top notch. This quilt packs tiny and lofts with just a few shakes. This quilt is 58 inches wide—four inches wider than the EE Revelation and six inches wider than the Katabatic Alsek. This provides more protection than narrower models and lets users secure it around their shoulders.
This bag is stuffed with 900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down and has broad, horizontal baffles to hold the fill in place. The footbox is structured and insulated, which also prevents air from seeping in. Further protection comes from the snap-around draft collar and straps to help secure it to your sleeping bag.
Like all quilts, you will have to account for the fact that it’s not sealed entirely around you, and the potential for drafts coming in from the sides is unavoidable.
A slim design and high-quality, made-in-the-US construction defines this classic Western Mountaineering bag. The temperature rating is accurate thanks to smart down distribution, multiple shock cord cinches to protect against drafts, and a thick draft collar. The zipper stays blessedly snag-free, and the hood is deep enough to feel secure while moving around. For ultralighters looking for a Western Mountaineering quilt (and who don’t sleep cold) the NanoLite weighs in at 12.5 ounces, retails for $345, and is rated to 38 degrees—about as high a thru-hike temperature rating as you should go for.
The UltraLite has 16 ounces of 850-fill down and a beefy draft collar to seal the heat in and the drafts out. The shell is a tough-yet-breathable ExtremeLite technical fabric. The hood and collar both have shock cord cinches to seal you off from the elements. Plus, this is another brand made in the US.
Like the Feathered Friends Hummingbird, the shoulders are on the narrow side, which is beneficial for heat retention, but some people might find confining.
This sleeping bag has a 3/4-length zipper, a good compromise for those who have trouble choosing between a quilt and a traditional bag. ZPacks “overstuffs” each baffle compartment, accounting for loss of insulation due to down compression. ZPacks has a detailed sizing chart for their quilts—be sure to choose the right length and width, and if you fall in between sizes, we recommend choosing the larger size.
The bag is stuffed with 950-fill DownTek treated down, and the Ventum nylon shell has a DWR treatment for added protection. Zpacks uses horizontal baffles around the footbox and vertical baffles along the length of the bag. This model is also available sans zipper, with a full zip, and several temperature rating options.
The zipper runs underneath the quilt as opposed to the sides, eliminating more draft areas. Some hikers might find it uncomfortable to sleep on, or somewhat annoying to get in and out of.
REI’s products continue to stand up to the “name brands,” and the Magma is no exception. Reasonably priced with a low weight and a simple, effective design, this bag is compressible, durable, and accurately rated. The leg and foot space allows for a variety of sleeping positions, and the hood is deep enough for secure protection. This bag has the highest warmth-to-rate ratio out of any other REI-branded sleeping bags. The Magma comes in a women’s-specific version, starting at $369 and weighing 20 ounces. REI also makes a Magma quilt. The quilt is rated to 30 degrees, weighs 19 ounces, and starts at $279.
The Magma 15 has 16 ounces of 850-fill goose down, and a Pertex ripstop nylon face fabric. A draft collar and drawcord keep the cold air out, and the zipper has a no-snag update that eliminates the frustration and potential fabric rips that come with getting your zipper caught in the liner or face fabric.
The draft collar doesn’t span equally around the neck, leaving some gapping. Other than that, this is a solid bag and we’ll have more durability information once it’s been out in the world for a few more seasons.
This lightweight offering from Big Agnes has one of the company’s highest warmth-to-weight ratios. Contoured baffles are built to prevent down clumping and keep the distribution in its intended space. The face fabric is lightweight and tough, and the hood can cinch down tight with an easy-to-use pull cord.
The Hitchens is loaded with 850-fill DownTek (treated, hydrophobic) and a nylon ripstop face fabric also treated to be water resistant. The draft tube along the zipper combined with the draft collar under the hood offer even more protection.
The hood is somewhat more shallow than other comparable models, and this bag does weigh more than other 20-degree models on this list.
Marmot hasn’t changed this design in a few years. Proprietary Smooth-Curved baffles help keep the insulation in the right place, and the deep hood comes with a handy drawcord to prevent heat from escaping. The zipper design helps prevent snags, and the footbox is built out to accommodate a variety of natural sleeping positions.
The Helium uses 800-fill down, and the nylon face fabric has a DWR treatment. An internal stash pocket keeps headphones or earplugs handy, and the bag has a dual zipper to fully open when more ventilation is needed.
While the 800-fill down is high quality, it’s on the lower end of fill power on this list, which accounts for the extra weight of the bag. This is also one of the heavier bags on this list while still more expensive and rated the same as the REI model listed above.
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2015 AT thru-hiker. Managing Editor of this website. Writing clips and contact info at maggieslepian.com
Hi, I’d love know how many of the sleeping bags could accommodate a pillow in the hood area. It’s hard to tell from the photos. Thanks!
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