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See also: DIY Insulated Hood Pattern

The search for an inexpensive, light, one-season top quilt.

In preparation for my upcoming backpacking trip to Havasupai with my wife, I’ve been debating on different insulation options for our hammocks. With nighttime temperatures predicted to be in the 60s°F (15–20°C), along with hot and dry conditions, I’ve been looking closely at one-season quilts or accessories that would meet my criteria: inexpensive, light, and warm.

But here’s the catch: locations across the Colorado Plateau are considered “high desert” and typically have the greatest diurnal temperature variations, or shifts between the daily high and low temperature, which can vary between 30 and 40 degrees. This dramatic shift can make a 60°F (15°C) night feel unexpectedly cool after experiencing 95°F+ (35°C+) during the day.

In my own experience, I can’t get away with using just a silk or cotton bag liner to stay comfortable with these temperature variations, and I certainly need some insulation underneath my hammock. I’ve found that I need a little more warmth underneath me than on top, perhaps 60/40 split, to stay comfortable. No amount of warmth on top can make up for inadequate bottom insulation.

Down is arguably the lightest insulation option, but it is expensive, especially for a one-season quilt set with limited use. Down-filled bags also begin to lose their lightweight advantage when the fill is reduced, since most of the weight comes from the shell fabric and trimmings. A summer down bag may only have 5 oz (142 g) of down, but have a final weight of 15 oz (425 g). Some high-tech synthetic-insulated quilts can be also be heavy and expensive for one-season camping.

The nice thing about hammock camping, however, is that being suspended off the ground gives me better air circulation to stay cool on hot summer nights, so I can attach a warmer, 35°F-rated down under quilt loose for increased air flow should I get too hot.

One-Season Top Quilt Comparison

For this trip, I’m focusing on getting a one-season top quilt. Here are some of the options I am looking at:

Gear Weight Cost
AHE Owyhee 3oz Climashield 50°F TQ 766 g $180
JRB Shenandoah 40°F 800FP TQ 426 g $170
HG Burrow 50°F 900FB TQ 426 g $169
S2S Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner 230 g $55
JRB Weather Shield 70°F† TQ 265 g $38 (DIY for ~$13*)
JRB Summer Fleece Blanket 40°F 510 g $30
AMK SOL Thermal Bivvy 50°F 255 g $30
DIY Insultex 50°F TQ‡ 97 g $17*
DIY Fleece 50°F TQ 380 g $12*

*Material cost plus “what is your own time and labor worth?”

†The Weather Shield doesn’t come with a warmth rating as it is primarily a shell, but I’ve found it comfortable as a top quilt at 60°F (15°C), but ventilation is important.

‡Insultex (iX) is an interesting insulation material. It is slightly breathable, but functions a lot more like a vapor barrier. A single layer iX top quilt could function well (and is light!), but I’ll have to account for condensation and possible clamminess and chills.


DIY One-Season Top Quilt or Liner

Since cost is a driver in my choice (especially since I’m outfitting two quilt sets), looking at do-it-yourself projects is one of my options.

The illustration below shows a basic template I drew up for a do-it-yourself, one-season, single-layer quilt. Use this for making a quilt using fleece (of various weights), a cotton or silk liner, a synthetic bag (Thinsulate or Insultex), or even a simple nylon or polyester shell.

For my do-it-yourself top quilt(s), I’m trying a few different materials to see which will perform the best, taking into account cost, weight, and warmth. I have some fabric and insulation laying around, so I’m sewing up a few versions without any extra cost.

My first quilt was a single-layer iX top quilt that weighs only 97 g! To add some condensation and material protection, I also sewed a top quilt layer out of some cotton fabric, creating a Polynesian-style lava-lava (or sarong). This gives me a multi-use item as I can use the lava-lava as a wrap, a towel, a beach throw, and a quilt liner. I used snaps on the lava-lava to create a foot box while allowing me to keep it multi-functional. The combination of the lava-lava with the iX layer seems to work okay, giving me a multi-function top quilt weighing 323 g (11.5 oz).

My next quilts were made by cutting apart a queen-size (90×90 in/229×229 cm) fleece blanket I had on hand. As a bonus, I was able to use the scraps to make a pair of matching fleece hoods!

Many fabrics and insulation options come in 60-inch (152 cm) widths, but even a 45-inch (114 cm) width works well as a top quilt (taking into account your body size and preference). If you purchase fabric, you need only buy 2 yards (183 cm) of fabric to make a single-layer top quilt as illustrated.

I’m still doing some testing to see which top quilt choice I will bring, but this project has been enlightening and fun at the same time. I hope you enjoy!



DIY-One-Season-Top-Quilt

DIY-2-quilt-2-hood

lava-lava-top-quilt

Snaps along the edge convert the lava-lava into a quilt liner with a foot box.

Snaps along the edge convert the lava-lava into a quilt liner with a foot box.

I put the Insultex insulation layer over the lava-lava to reduce snagging against my skin.

I put the Insultex insulation layer over the lava-lava to reduce snagging against my skin.

inpecting-quilts

Styling the hood and fleece top quilt.

Styling the hood and fleece top quilt.

Fleece top quilt vs. an Insultex quilt and lava-lava.

Fleece top quilt vs. an Insultex quilt and lava-lava.

Here are the two quilts and hoods I made from a single queen-size fleece blanket. Compared with a 1L Nalgene.

Here are the two quilts and hoods I made from a single queen-size fleece blanket. Compared with a 1L Nalgene.