Up until a few weeks ago I had never heard of a hammock quilt for hiking instead of sleeping bags, but the more I read about them, the more intrigued I became. I’m not a pro hiker; it’s an activity I always do on our camping trips but outside of my camping it’s not a regular activity.
A top quilt, or over quilt, is a specially-designed sleeping cover that allows the hiker to move comfortably in the hammock and remove the quilt easily when rising. It packs down better in a hiking pack because there is less to it than a sleeping bag. Most hikers recommend getting an under quilt first, because that eliminates “frozen butt”, an uncomfortable situation where you only have the hammock between you and the ambient temperature, and which results in, well, a frozen butt at night. But a top or over quilt is also highly recommended.
I know many of our readers are die-hard hikers, and this is written for them, in case they are thinking about going for a hammock quilt instead of a sleeping bag. Below is a comparison of the two, plus some suggestions for some you can buy:
Sleeping bags work by surrounding the sleeper with thick down or synthetic insulation, thus keeping the sleeper warm. This works great on a sleeping pad or when tent camping, but loses its advantage when a person is in a hammock without a pad or under quilt. Pressure points compress the insulation and negate its benefits.
Quilts wrap over and under the hammock, so there are no pressure points to compress the insulation. Loft stays full and heat is retained.
Sleeping bags can be restricting if using a hammock. The opportunity to toss and turn to get more comfortable is awkward, if not downright impossible in some cases. If you unzip your sleeping bag to allow for more movement, you lose the benefits of the insulation. Many hikers have found that using the sleeping bag like a quilt works better. This gives them the option of having one item for both tent camping and hammock sleeping.
Quilts allow for maximum movement in a hammock. Most of them also have an attachment system that prevents drafts when you do move around. Also, there are no zippers that get stuck during opening and closing. You just toss the quilt back and get out of the hammock.
Sleeping bags rule here. With a bag you can seal out all drafts, especially important if you do a lot of hiking in the colder months. And mummy bags keep your head warm, an option you don’t have with a quilt.
Quilts do have a tendency to be drafty, but this problem is reduced somewhat in warmer temperatures. Many quilt-users wear their knit hats to bed to solve the cold-head problem.
Again, sleeping bags rule. They have been around so long that you can find just about every kind of sleeping bag imaginable, in every price range. There are down and synthetic insulation options, of every thickness.
Quilts are still relatively new on the hiking scene compared to sleeping bags, but they’ve been around a few years now, and the options are growing. A good quilt can be pretty pricey, though. Some hikers have purchased a kit and made their own; others have converted a sleeping bag they already own. You still have to save your pennies to get a good quilt.
Sleeping bags can pack down pretty good for a hiker, and still have the warmth and insulation you need. The space it takes up is nominal for most, but for hikers intent on lightening their packs, sleeping bags can be bulky.
Quilts are far lighter, and provide enough insulation, with a few exceptions, to do the job of creating a comfortable sleep for hikers. They pack down and store easier, too, with no snagging of zippers when removing them from the pack because they don’t have any.