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:
|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!
fleece has different weights, right? do you know what weight fleece you used for this? I’d love to be able to get it into the 280g range for an upcoming trip. a 280g tq will put me xul.
Yes, fleece has different weights. I’m not sure the weight of mine. I cannibalized a blanket for mine. I’m guessing it was a mid-weight.
This tutorial can be used to convert a rectangular sleeping bag into a top quilt?
You don’t need to do much to convert a rectangular sleeping bag into a top quilt, just unzip it down to the footbox and you’re good. If you want to really do surgery, remove the zipper and sew it back up, adding snaps, ties, or sew up the footbox as illustrated.
Well i hope all turns out well after the surgery, i have a 3Lb coleman sleeping bag that i bought it last year before doing hammock camping, and is too bulky and heavy to used it on the hammock, i’m gonna convert it into a top quilt. at least i expect to cut off some weight and bulk.
When I go car camping or on summer camps, that’s when I bring out my bulky heavy gear that can take a little more abuse. Let me know how it goes!
How might this design work as a early fall/late spring under quilt?
To make an under quilt you’ll want to have channels on the long edges to thread some shock cord. This design is for a top quilt. I have plans for a simple single layer under quilt on the weather shield post. https://theultimatehang.com/2013/02/diy-jacks-r-better-weather-shield/
Derek, How did you anchor the Hammock to the walls? Great idea for the kids rooms…I think…
Check out my post on hanging a hammock indoors.
I jut got my fist hammock (WBBB) and I’m not sure what I want to do about insulation yet. I already have a Thermarest pad and a 20 degree down bag. Should I just use these with my hammock, or ditch them for an under quilt and top quilt? I want to save weight, but I’d rather not spend another $300 if I don’t need to. I just want to be warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot! I’ll be thru hiking the AT. I’ve been told an UQ i necessary, even in the summer?
An under quilt isn’t necessary, but it can make hammock camping a little easier and more enjoyable. Some folks swear by them, while others insist that pads are fine. If I were you, I would try the pad/bag combo first and see how you do. I used that combo for years. The only complaint I had was in the dead of winter, I needed more padding and insulation, which increased weight and bulk. Switching to an under quilt and top quilt saved weight and was ultimately warmer for me with less gear involved. Cost is a barrier. But you don’t need a top quilt, if the sleeping bag you have works for you. Convert your sleeping bag by unzipping it down to the foot box and simply drape it over you just like a quilt. As it gets colder, slide the pad _inside_ the bag to keep it from sliding away from you.
When it gets warm, you still need insulation underneath you. In fact, I’ve found that a hammock requires more attention to the insulation beneath you than when sleeping on the ground, due to convective cooling. They are great at keeping cool in the summer, sometimes too great. When I lived in Virginia with high heat and humidity, I slept most of the night with nothing, but in the early morning hours, I needed something — a fleece sleeping bag was enough.
As I said, some people find no issues with using pads. I sometimes even pull them out to use on some trips.
First off, thanks for all the great advice! I’ve been reading the site for a few days in preperation for buying my first hammock.
Given that it’s a lot to spend at once, I’m not sure I’m ready to invest in an underquilt just yet. I live in South Carolina and usually avoid camping in cold temperatures.
I’m debating if it would be better to just sleep with the bag inside the hammock, or to find a way to rig it to hang underneath and use a lightweight fleece blanket on top. I’d expect the temps to be in the 60’s at the lowest. I don’t really want to peform surgery on the sleeping bag – so I’m at a bit of a loss as to how easy it would be to suspend it underneath the hammock since there’s no existing channel to run a line through. I was thinking I could cinch the ends with pieces of rope and hang it from the carabiners holding the hammock? Maybe not as wind-proof as just sleeping in it, but it would keep the sleeping bag from compressing underneath me.
You can wrap a sleeping bag around a hammock. It can work pretty good depending on the hammock and sleeping bag. This is known as the pea pod or burrito style. It can constrain your ability to sleep diagonally. My preference would be to use a pad. You can make an inexpensive under quilt using an inexpensive kid sleeping bag or a poncho liner.
Love the site! Just bought the kindle edition of your book – loving it so far too.
My partner and I just bought our first hammocks (we went with the skeeter beeter pro). We’re struggling where insulation is concerned. We both camped a lot in our youth but don’t have any old sleeping bags lying around, so that’s not a simple/cheap option for us.
We’re planning on backpacking mostly for our camping, and price is a pretty significant issue for us, so I’m thinking of starting out trying your DIY suggestions for underquilts and top quilts – the one issue being we live in Canada and want to be able to camp at least April – October… which means facing 20s (F) is pretty realistic.
Do you have any suggestions of a good starting place? Will your DIY solutions with some added insulation work in those kinds of temperatures? What would your tip be for cheap/effective insulation for folks who don’t already have sleeping bags and pads kicking around?
Thanks so much!
Welcome to the site! My great-grandpa settled portions of Canada, so I have some affinity to the North 🙂
If cost is the driving factor, doing projects yourself can save some money. Do you already own any camping gear such as sleeping bags and pads? If so, you can use those in your hammock as-is. I used a cheap, blue, closed-cell foam pad for a few years until I could afford an under quilt. Pads are inexpensive and light, and you can double them up in colder conditions.
If you really want to get dirty with DIY, you might consider sewing your own under quilt. Synthetic insulation by the roll from ThruHiker.com is one place to get good prices and materials. You can make a synthetic quilt for much less if you have some basic sewing skills.
Thrift stores and military surplus stores are also great places to find good deals on gently used gear at good prices.
But to be quite honest with you, if you plan to hammock or camp more often, I would highly recommend investing in good quality insulation. Hammocks can be made super cheap and still be high-quality. Insulation becomes your life-blood and will pay for itself many times over.
Thanks for the reply Derek!
Unfortunately we don’t have any old sleeping bags lying around – which is the problem. We’re trying to get something good/affordable together for this year before investing in better equipment once we’ve saved up some.
Without old sleeping bags kicking around, the best choice seems to be DIY – I don’t want to invest in a sleeping bag when it’s only going to be a placeholder… but maybe we’ll find a good deal in a surplus store to get us through the year.
Thanks again! Looking forward to our first hammock outing.
Derek, I made your DIY poncho underquilt (no-sew) last May for my trip to Havasupai and slept like a baby. I tried it again last fall near Lava River Cave and was a bit chilly. I had been using a cheap (free) promotional sleeping bag inside my hammock as well but decided I need to do something more after that chilly experience. For this October’s trip to Havasupai, I plan on converting my no-sew underquilt into a sewn version using your guide and some sort of batting. I will also be trying my hand at your top quilt. From your experience with this project, do you feel; that fleece is good enough? Any other suggestions? I seem to have missed out on that big Costco down throw craze last year. I want to be comfortable but I also don’t want to carry extra weight as my last trip proved to me (and by me I mean my back) that every ounce counts.
Extremely helpful post. I think, I will go for it. Such an easy thing to do. Never thought it could be so easy.
At this moment on my camping trips I am using the Coleman Converta camp cot (http://campingandcamping.com/coleman-converta-camping-cot-review/). Yeah, it is bulky, but I mostly go car camping, so I am not short on space (Chevrolet Avalanche).
I always wanted to try to sleep in a hammock. My friend has one. I will borrow it and try to sleep in it first in my sleeping bag, that in this DIY quilt.
Thanks again for sharing!
That’s a nice hammock. Is it going to be good on my existing 5th wheel hitch and just put on a mount?
Thanks for the info. I am doing my planning for my next trips and this looks like a simple option.
Thanks Mike. It’s an easy DIY project and works great for lightweight camping.
This was exactly the sort of information I was looking for. I full-time hammock sleep instead of a bed, but, especially in winter, I need some sort of top cover. I considered using my outdoors top quilt, but it is far too warm. A fleece top quilt would be perfect, and inexpensive. Now I have a good idea of how to sew a foot box in it.
Thank you! I’m glad it worked out.