Finding a Sleeping Bag Quilt:
- Where do you start? First you might ask yourself- Where will I be hiking? Then you start deciding how relevant: price, weight, insulation and whether the bag is down or synthetic, and stuff size. You will find out that the market is flooded with sleeping bag options and it is hard to differentiate between manufacturer and model.
After all the adventures, and researching through the world of sleeping bag options; we have settled down with creating and carrying a 20 degree goose down sleeping bag quilt. After thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, and in preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail, we had a bag specifically manufactured for our style of hiking. And now use the custom made sleeping bag on all my adventures (biking, hiking, sailing, etc.). The process from design to conception took over one year and $400. When Ashley wanted to start hiking on a "limited budget" we had to find different means and a different price tag if she was going to go hiking with me in two weeks.
After testing sleeping bags, both down and synthetic, with varying temperature ratings on all the adventures, a 20 degree bag fits well for spring, summer, and fall (three seasons) in the United States and seems to answer the great warmth to weight dilemma.
But how do you find, or make the bag of your dreams, in your budget, and available for your upcoming adventure?
Quilt versus Sleeping Bag:
Getting over the notion that a traditional sleeping bag is necessary, will open many more doors to reducing the gear you carry along with you. The quilt design provides flexibility in warmer conditions and cuts down on overall weight with the absence of zippers, the mummy hood and unnecessary coverage mainly where the down will be compressed by your body and provide very little insulation.
Searching the internet for the best sleeping bag quilt can be overwhelming, and as our first modification to a sleeping bag, we worried about buying an expensive bag and then destroying the sleeping bag.
And to answer our fear of modification, we found Campmor's $110, 20 degree Goose Down Mummy Sleeping Bag. We purchased the bag in a regular size at 2 lbs. 4 oz.; we turned it into a 24 oz. sleeping quilt perfect for thru hiking all 3 trails (AT, PCT, CDT) or any number of adventures.
We set out on creating a down quilt that others could tackle at a reasonable price, and get it to a weight that the $300-400 down sleeping bags sell for. And, you get a personal fitting bag made just for you, by you.
STEP 1: Start simple- Remove all tags, extra loops, and velcro that you find on the inside/outside of the bag.
STEP 2: Lay in the bag and get a general idea of how much fabric your bag could lose without sacrificing comfort. Make sure to leave room for different sleeping positions. i.e. Billy sleeps on his stomach with one leg out to the side (you want to be comfortable in cold and warm conditions). When measuring reenact your sleeping position to make sure you don't remove to much fabric, roll over and have a friend measure out away from the zipper and note the distance to remove (See Photos right. Notice the top photo with overlapping material at the zipper. The lower photo shows the material removed on both sides of the zipper...Ex: 4 inches on both sides). Noting that the down you sleep on top of will not insulate you, hence the gap you see in the lower photo, and therefore is not necessary. Be sure however, that there is no draft coming in from the sides. This means your shoulders should be able to tuck some material, as well as your hips, and your knees. A general rule of thumb: When laying on your back with the sleeping bag zipper on your chest, you can remove any material on the bag down the center of your body to your knee caps. All material in the middle of your body will be compressed and not be able to provide warmth. There will be a gap from the sides of your quilt that will not touch by a few inches depending on your body size.
STEP 3: REMOVING THE HOOD: You are able to remove the hood due to the fact that you are carrying a "beanie"; or insulated cap. Wearing a cap takes away the need to provide your head with a second insulator. This may seem risky, but for adventures into the 20F degree range, a synthetic cap will do the job. On those super cold nights, you can always tuck your head in the sleeping bag with you. Basically you are trading off carrying a cap instead of a cap that is permanently attached to your sleeping bag. A removable cap is more useful than a cap that is tucked away in your sleeping bag. Reducing redundancy is key to saving weight. No need to carry a mummy hood and a cap. The cap is way more versatile and can be used constantly in all situations, you can only use the mummy hood while in a sleeping position. So let a "beanie" replace your mummy hood.
To remove the hood: Lay the sleeping bag on the ground and try to pin the sleeping bag so the down feathers don't come out. I pinned the bag on both sides (the side I want to remove the down from and the open edge. This saves you from a room full of down feathers.)
Cut between the pins. While removing one pin at a time, fold both sides of the open edge inward to create a new edge. Re-pin as you fold edges inward.
STEP 4: Sew newly created edge with machine. I used a basic sewing machine.
NOTE: I saved the hood so I could make a pillow or an extra foot warmer. If your brave you can remove the down from the hood and add it to another area of the bag.
STEP 5: REMOVING ZIPPER AND EXTRA FABRIC FROM SIDES: Once again get into your sleeping bag, but this time have a friend mark the amount of fabric on each side. Before pinning and cutting, be sure to shake the down to the center of the bag away from the zipper, so that when you remove the zipper you are less likely to loss escaping down. Cut vertically through each baffle; pin edge just as you did with the mummy hood until you reach foot-bed. I finished one entire side before I began cutting the other side.
Note: You may want to add straps to be able to cinch the sides of your quilt. (See Photo)
STEP 6: Sew newly pinned sides with machine. You're almost finished.
STEP 7: FIXING THE FOOT POCKET: My bag was originally made with a zipper that begins at the top and continues to the middle of the foot pocket. In order to remove the zipper I had to figure out a way to reinforce the foot pocket seam. After removing the zipper sew a zigzag stitch over the original seam with the sewing machine.
STEP 8: YOU'RE FINISHED. Immediately plan a trip so you can test out your new light weight bag.
NOTE: Keep a vacuum nearby throughout the entire process.