Quilt vs Sleeping Bag: Which to Choose?

Can't decide whether you should opt for a super warm and robust sleeping bag or a lighter and easier to pack quilt? Let's take a look at which one will fit your needs the best.

Gee, this seems like a really odd question, doesn’t it? Why would anyone go about debating between a quilt and a sleeping bag when the two articles of sleeping are used for entirely different purposes? Well… have you ever heard of a backpacking quilt (or a quilt sleeping bag)?

We’ll get into the details in a little bit, but it’s important to know that’s the type of quilt we’re referencing for this post debating quilt vs sleeping bag. As you can judge by the title, what we want to do is break the debate down so you can figure out which one you should choose for your next adventure (or adventures).

Both sleeping items are fantastic, and both are beneficial and convenient for their own reasons. It’s not as if one is superior to the other. However, to sum up which one you should choose…

Traditional sleeping bags are better when you really need the warmth and they’re generally easier when it comes to setting up your sleeping system. Meanwhile, backpacking quilts are often cheaper in price, lighter and easier to pack, and typically offer greater freedom of movement.

Let’s be honest, though, a few sentences don’t do this question and debate justice. So, if you’re willing to stick around for the ride, we want to really dive into this.

What’s the difference between a quilt and a sleeping bag?

a green and a red sleeping bag in a tent
Image credits: Ali Kazal

Before we assess the true debate between quilt vs sleeping bag, we first want to briefly explain what both bedding items are. If you haven’t heard of a backpacking quilt, it’s probably because it’s more of a niche item used by backpackers and those who like to sleep in hammocks.

With that said, they can be used elsewhere. A backpacking quilt essentially removes the back and the hood from a traditional sleeping bag. Therefore, insulation is only offered on the sides and front of your body. Many brands will come with rear closure systems, though, for better security.

Quite frankly, most people know what a sleeping bag is. There are many different types of sleeping bags out there, but most people envision a bedding item that you wrap yourself into to cocoon yourself inside with a hood around the head.

Truthfully, we just wanted to explain what a backpacking quilt was, but thought we’d then just do the same for a sleeping bag to keep it even. Anyway, now that you have a good idea of what both are, let’s further look into the debate of quilt vs sleeping bag.

Weight and packability

Depending on the type of camping you’re doing, or if you’re backpacking, you may be looking to shed as much weight as possible. Considering their name and considering how they’re made, it’s easy to say that backpacking quilts win this area. In addition to having less material, quilts ditch the traditional hood and zippers from sleeping bags.

However, you can find ultralight sleeping bags that are designed to save as much weight as possible. That said, it’s not as if all backpacking quilts will be lighter and easier to pack than their sleeping bag counterparts. Generally speaking, though, due to the fewer materials and different construction, backpacking quilts are the winner in this category.

Warmth

When debating quilt vs sleeping bag, you have to look at the differences in warmth and insulation. Truthfully, the key comes back to the manner in which each bedding item is designed. The heat retention that a sleeping bag can achieve with its tight cinching and hood attachment is fantastic.

Meanwhile, even while secured to a sleeping pad, a backpacking quilt can still allow cold drafts in while you sleep. Now, if you dig a little deeper into this section, you’ll find that some backpacking quilts can offer more warmth than certain sleeping bags. Some quilts will sport more down fill for enhanced insulation and warmth.

Quilts can even have lower temperature ratings than some sleeping bags. Much like with the previous section, it’s not as cut and dried as it may appear on the surface. If you want the warmest option possible, however, stick with an elite cold weather sleeping bag.

Ease of use

One could overlook this section when debating quilt vs sleeping bag, but it’s important. You’d actually think that a backpacking quilt would be easier to use, but it’s actually not the case. Sleeping bags really don’t have much of a set-up at all. After you take the bag out and roll it out, you just lay it on top of your sleeping pad and hop on in.

That’s not going to be the case with your quilt especially if you plan to attach it to your sleeping pad. Quilts that have rear closures, additionally, will take a little longer to mess around with. It’s not going to be anything too polarizing but sleeping bags will still be easier.

Purchase price

Here’s the deal, there’s not always going to be a clear-cut winner here (as is the case with most of the other categories). Generally speaking, quilts will be cheaper thanks to the fewer materials that are used to make them. Yet, you could easily find a cheaper sleeping bag than a backpacking quilt and vice versa.

At the end of the day, don’t let the price deter you one way or the other. The last thing you want to do is buy a cheap (regarding quality and performance) sleeping bag or quilt that winds up being a waste of money. Spending the extra money on a high-quality design can truly make all the difference in the world.

When is a quilt the best choice?

man standing on field with orange sleeping bag
Image credits: Martin Jernberg

Alright, so with the major categories out of the way, we figured we’d compile the main reasons why you’d want to choose a backpacking quilt and why you’d want to choose a traditional sleeping bag. Let’s begin with quilts, and here are the main advantages:

Takes up less space and volume: There’s a reason they are called backpacking quilts and that’s because they’re great for backpackers. One of the reasons is that they’re not going to take up a lot of space.

No zipper issues: Uh, isn’t dealing with zipper problems the best? With the lack of any zippers present, the issue of snagging and breaking them isn’t one. What a relief. Of course, the good news is even when dealing with a zipper issue with your sleeping bag, it can sometimes be fixed.

Lighter overall: As previously mentioned, weight savings is one of the advantages of backpacking quilts.

Less restrictive: Many of us tend to toss and turn at night in order to get comfortable. That’s a bit harder to do in a sleeping bag but not with a quilt. Being much less restrictive, you’ll have enhanced freedom of movement when sleeping with one.

When is a sleeping bag the best choice?

two nordisk sleeping bags with winter landscape in the background
Image credits: Pixabay

Okay, so now it’s time to talk about the advantages that you get with a sleeping bag:

Warmth: We talked about the edge that sleeping bags have when it comes to warmth and insulation, but both can truly offer some serious warmth.

Wider temperature grades: Even though a quilt can keep you warm, finding one that’s suitable for winter camping will probably not be feasible. Finding a sleeping bag with a rating as low as -20 degrees is possible.

Easier to manage and use: The structure of a sleeping bag makes it less of an issue when it comes to fiddling around and making adjustments. There’s nothing you really need to do besides enclose yourself inside. Also, the prep work is next to nothing.

Final thoughts

So… which one’s the winner? The problem with debating quilt vs sleeping bag is there really isn’t a definitive winner. Both are great options, but they can benefit you in different ways and it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you want the warmest bedding for your camping adventure and little to no prep work when it comes to getting ready to sleep, you’re going to want to search for sleeping bags. However, if you want to shed some weight and would prefer the traditional bedtime feel of a quilt, backpacking quilts may be up your alley.

The funny thing is, though, a lot of the advantages of each style can be found in its counterpart. In other words, you can find a backpacking quilt rated to handle cold weather and a sleeping bag that sheds as much weight as possible to be ideal for backpackers.

Most of the time, we feel sleeping bags will be the preferred option just due to the diverse selection and the fact that it’s more traditional. There, see, we gave a winner! The reality is both are great choices.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.