Choosing the right Down Quilt

Choosing the right Down Quilt



You've done your homework and reached the conclusion that a quilt will suit you better than a traditional backpacker's mummy sleeping bag. But there's lots of quilt models, temperature ratings, features, and, on top of that, sizing issues. Where to start? Let's step back and first look at the models we carry.


Nunatak has 2 principal lines of general backcountry down quilts: The Arc UL and the Arc Element.

In short the Arc UL is lighter with more sizing options, utilizing top shelf materials.

The Arc Element is less expensive and not as customizable.



Then there are more specialized quilts for various purposes:

The Nano Blanket is super light and pure minimalism.

Any quilt with Pro in the name adds a weather resistant shell material and mandatory Dry-Down.

We also have two person quilts in many configurations.



So that's that. By far the most popular quilt is the Arc UL. Let's base some important user considerations on that choice.



Temperature. You can get the Arc UL in steps from 5° to 30° Fahrenheit.  The most often asked question is: How warm should I go?

When it's 5°F at night, it's really cold! This is near or maybe even below the threshold for effective quilt use. If you go here, make sure you got your back covered, literally! 

30°F is a typical summer night-time temperature met in the mountains of the lower 48 states and the European and New Zealand Alps. A quilts made for 30° is the experienced hiker's opportunity to save weight and bulk.

In between these two is the venerable 20° rating. A 20° quilt is warm enough for October trips up high, or freak cold fronts. It will protect a beginner or timid hiker with an extra buffer of insulation. Good for so-called cold sleepers. When in doubt, 20° is for you.



Which leads to another puzzling aspect: Does the temperature rating of our quilts reflect a state of 'comfort' or mere 'survival'? How do we define the conditions to which our quilts can be taken before they start feeling cold? Like this:



An average male backpacker will be comfortable in a Nunatak quilt at the given rating if... 

..he's on an insulated pad matching the conditions.

..he's inside a tent, with walls reaching the ground and a closable entry.

..he's wearing long johns, a thermal zip neck, socks and head gear.

..he's well fed and hydrated.



These conditions can adversely affect this backpacker's comfort:

First time quilt user unsure how to get the most out of the features.

Recent significant gain in camping altitude; apprehension, fear; illness.

Sleeping under the stars, aka Cowboy Camping.

Moisture infiltration in the down insulation.



Please note that the use of a male in these examples is because women often report a higher sensitivity to the effects of cold nights. For some females the 20° quilt, for example, will have a higher likelihood of failing before the temps actually dip to 20°. 



Next up in important choices for a potential quilt owner are overall length and width of the Arc UL down quilt.

Adequate coverage is absolutely key to quilt performance. But too much will result in unnecessary weight and bulk, bringing the weight close to the mummy bag that quilts were designed to outperform. 



First length. The choices given on the menu pages are inside useable measurements in inches. Select a length that at least allow the quilt to cinch down over the shoulders. This is a minimum. Many prefer longer than that. 



The correct width of the quilt is very important. If the quilt is too narrow it can be hard to eliminate drafts and accidental uncovering, resulting in a highly unsatisfactory experience.

Like length, width is dictated by body size, in addition to sleeping behavior and positions. Big people, folks that toss and turn, and maybe side sleepers, should all consider a wider quilt. But the temperature rating can also have a bearing on which width to choose. During milder conditions it is less critical to have a super effective seal, while a deep winter quilt must work as designed.

For the Arc UL we have four width sizes: 48”, 54”, 60” and 66”. Based on the commentary above you can see how the 48” might be best left for a summer quilt used by slight builds, while the width of 66” is in the territory of sprawling luxury or really big people, and definitely a good choice for the 5° Arc UL. Between the two remaining sizes, 54" and 60", we see returning quilt users mostly selected the former, likely because they know the in's and out's of quilt technique and see an opportunity to save weight.



Finally the footbox can be individually sized. We feel a slightly oversized foot compartment is the most thermally effective. Having toes poke through the down will surely lead to cold feet, more than a larger dead air space to warm up. The latter is greatly diminished by modern ultralight fabrics that drape readily. 

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