Don't buy that sleeping bag!
No, really. You probably don’t need it.
I haven’t used a sleeping bag for backpacking for about 7 or 8 years now. I mean, that’s not to say that I don’t keep warm and nor do I only sleep out on warm nights. On the contrary, I sleep well, and I sleep warm even when the temperature dips below freezing!
The thing with backpacking is that I don’t like carrying too much on my back. Firstly because it feels heavy, and gets uncomfortable. And I really like long hikes! The two aren't particularly compatible.
I know there are folk who like to carry big loads, for miles on end and enjoy the kudos of the route march. But I just don’t subscribe to that kind of hiking. I like to keep things as light and nimble as is reasonable. Kind of somewhere in the middle of being loaded like a mule and sleeping under a blanket made of crisp packets.
So what am I banging on about with this sleeping bag nonsense?
Let me explain...
About a third of the weight of a sleeping bag that is rendered completely useless when you are sleeping. You see, the warmth from a sleeping bag comes from the loft in the insulation, that is, the space between the fibres (or feathers) in the filling of the bag. It st
When you sleep in a bag, all of the insulation that is underneath you gets squashed together, removing all but a tiny amount of the warmth retaining properties. So why have it there at all?
Enter, the quilt.
I am not alone when it comes to agreeing that it makes sense not to carry the weight of all the fabric and filling in the back of a sleeping bag in the first place. Fortunately, manufacturers have come to that conclusion too and they began the hustle to create the backpacking quilt some time ago, but they still haven't caught on among the mainstream. A backpacking quilt is just a sleeping bag with the back missing from it. All of the surplus material is removed (or relocated around to the top of the quilt to add extra heat retention
where it counts).
What about my bottom? *cough* sorry, THE bottom?
The bit underneath is going to get cold, right?
Well, no. Not really. Because you probably use a sleeping mat or pad of some kind. If you’ve done your work in that department already then you are all set. If you haven’t maxed out the insulation properties in your sleeping mat we’re gonna do a FYA Basics post
on sleeping mats too, don’t worry! You see, the sleeping mat will work just as well without all that squashed sleeping bag insulation as it will with it, by and large.
Won’t there be draughts? You know, in the gaps between the mat and the quilt?
Well yes, occasionally, so making sure you buy the right sized quilt will make sure it meets nicely with the mat, and most come
with straps which hold the quilt in place, reducing the chance of gaps appearing in the first place.
I'm sold! What now?
If you are a bit flush, head out there, to your nearest specialist outdoor gear shop, and have rifle through their quilt selection. If not, then save well until it’s time to retire your old bag and do it then. Alternatively, sell your sleeping bag and put the proceeds towards a nice new quilt or even a second hand one!
If you are really skilled, then you could consider removing the back of your bag yourself. That's way beyond our skill set, so we will leave that to the experts!
Either way, you’ll save a good few hundred grams (that’s a pound
or so) of weight and you will be just as warm. I think you'll agree – it's way better than cutting the handle off your toothbrush!