You don't have a lot of room in your backpack when hammock camping so you've got to make your equipment count.
It's why the top quilt vs sleeping bag debate rages on year after year. When you're just getting started it's hard to know which one is best.
You'll be glad to know you can use either one on your adventures, but there is a winner thanks to the benefits it provides.
Hammock Top Quilt vs Sleeping Bag
In most cases, a hammock top quilt is better than a traditional sleeping bag because it's lighter, warmer, more compact, and easy to ventilate. Sleeping bags are more versatile, cheaper, and you probably already have one. Luckily you can use a quilt or sleeping bag.
What's the difference between a top quilt and a sleeping bag?
I used to think a sleeping bag would be a hundred times better before I used a top quilt. I had such low expectations when it came to quilts?
I thought a hammock top quilt would always fall off. Surely it would let in more cold air. If quilts were so good why was I just hearing about them?
It's easy to see why they're almost interchangeable if you know exactly what they are.
What is a sleeping bag?
A sleeping bag is an insulated quilt that wraps around your entire body. You can close a sleeping bag by getting inside and zipping it up.
What is a top quilt?
A top quilt is a backless sleeping bag minus the hood. Quilts have a footbox at the bottom and they sometimes come without a zipper.
If you think they sound similar it's because they are almost identical. Top quilts and sleeping bags are also made from the same materials.
Why Use A Quilt Instead Of A Sleeping Bag?
Even though quilts and sleeping bags are very similar, I think a top quilt does have more benefits even though I love them both.
We'll take a look at the strengths of each one and you can decide which one reigns supreme.
Top quilt pros
- Warmer ounce for ounce
- Lighter to carry
- Easier to pack
- Better ventilation
- Easy to move around
- Fits in a hammock
Warmer ounce for ounce
Sleeping bags don't keep your entire body warm when you're in a hammock. You'll need a sleeping pad or underquilt to provide you with bottom insulation.
Once you lie down the sleeping bag will be squashed so much it provides you with almost zero insulation. So the back of your sleeping bag is useless.
Top quilts are backless so companies eliminated the area of a sleeping bag that won't do anything to keep you warm at night.
A backless, hoodless, and sometimes zipperless quilt uses fewer materials. But a top quilt rated at 30 degrees is as warm as a sleeping bag rated at 30 degrees.
It means hammock top quilts are warmer ounce for ounce, which I think a lot of people who haven't used one before will be surprised by.
Can you use a quilt for winter camping?
Hammock top quilts can be used for winter camping as long as you have one with a temperature rating low enough to handle the conditions you're sleeping in.
A quilt rated at 0°F made from 850fp down is going to keep you just as warm as a good sleeping bag if you know how to use it properly.
Do you plan on camping in such extreme conditions? A good top quilt is going to be good enough for almost everyone who goes camping in winter unless you live in Siberia.
Lighter to carry
Top quilts weigh around 16-24 oz depending on the temperature rating you want. Sleeping bags at the same temperature rating weigh around 20-32 oz.
A backless quilt with no hood or zipper doesn't weigh very much. Even though it doesn't sound like very much it's a nice bonus.
If you manage to reduce the weight of multiple pieces of camping equipment in your backpack they all add up and you'll notice the difference on long treks.
Easier to pack
Even if you don't notice the difference when you're carrying it on your back you will notice it when you're packing the top quilt away.
Top quilts can compress down to a very small size that will fit easily into your backpack. No zipper means you won't have to deal with stiffer metal parts.
Saving space with one of your main pieces of camping equipment is a huge bonus. A relief for anyone who has spent ages trying to stuff everything into their pack.
I prefer camping in hotter climates but I also like taking a sleeping bag or top quilt with a low temperature rating just in case.
I'd rather be too warm versus too cold and unable to sleep. When I've used a sleeping bag I've run into problems because I don't want to sweat all night.
When you use a top quilt you don't need to take more clothes off or unzip your sleeping bag. You can just pull the quilt down a little and you'll have instant ventilation.
Top quilts are amazing in summer because you will never overheat. If you have a good sleeping bag liner you won't need to worry about the quilt covering you.
Easy to move around
Some people get upset when top quilt fans talk about this one. It's not always easy to move around when you're in a sleeping bag.
If you're using a top quilt and you need to take a poop in the woods during the night it will take you a few seconds to get out of your hammock.
When you're in a sleeping bag it's slightly more difficult. I'm not saying it's almost impossible so please don't get upset.
It's just easier to get in and out of your hammock when you're not zipped up in a mummy sleeping bag. If you need to get out multiple times during the night it's annoying.
Your arms are also free in case you want to grab your mobile or read a book. Constantly squeezing your arms out of your sleeping bag is frustrating too.
Fits in a hammock
The best way to sleep in a hammock comfortably is by sleeping diagonally. When you sleep diagonally the hammock flattens out and feels better on your body.
Top quilts are better designed to fit inside a hammock snuggly. When your feet are inside the footbox it's not going to fall off but it has more leeway.
Zipping your sleeping bag all the way up inside a hammock when it's not freezing isn't always the best bet. Nobody wants to be mummified in the middle of summer.
If you don't use a sleeping bag as intended it might not cover your shoulders and won't offer you enough protection. Quilts fit over your body perfectly when you're in a hammock.
Sleeping bag pros
- You probably have one
- Easy to find deals
- Comes with a hood
- More versatile
- Prevents cold drafts
- It's more comfortable
You probably have one
If you've ever been camping before you probably have a sleeping bag lying around somewhere. You don't need to buy new equipment if you already have something suitable.
Just make sure your sleeping bag has a suitable temperature rating for the weather conditions you'll be camping in. Check old bags for wear and tear too.
Even if you don't have a sleeping bag you might have used one in the past. There is nothing wrong with sticking with what you know.
Easy to find deals
Great top quilts and sleeping bags both cost a lot of money to the average person. But you can find good prices for either item if you look hard enough.
I tend to think it's easier to find better deals on sleeping bags. Even though they're technically made using extra material which should make them more expensive.
There are a lot of companies with lots of sleeping bags in their inventory. It makes sense because it's a more popular piece of camping equipment worldwide.
Competition can drive down prices because everyone is trying to battle for enough customers to grow their companies. The savings you can make during a sale is significant.
Camping can be pretty expensive by the time you add up the cost of everything you own, so it's nice to save money whenever possible.
Keep in mind, unless you find a good deal a top quilt will likely be cheaper.
Comes with a hood
It's nice to have a hood even though you don't need one. You will be able to wear a hat at night and rest your head on a pillow.
But if your sleeping bag has a hood you don't need to remember to bring anything extra. In winter you'll need a lot more protection for your head.
Once you're wearing a hat and lying on a pillow inside a sleeping bag hood you'll have maximum protection from the cold. You can't say the same if you only have a top quilt.
Top quilts aren't very popular to use when tent or tarp camping. There is something nice about being fully enclosed especially when camping under a tarp.
Tent and tarp camping is incredible even if you prefer hammock camping. I know you can sleep in a hammock full-time but why miss out on extra fun?
It's also impossible to use a top quilt in a cheap hotel or hostel if you want to avoid touching sketchy bedding in case it's covered in bed bugs.
If you're going camping for long periods you might find it's necessary to sleep indoors now and again. It is when you're camping in foreign countries.
Prevents cold drafts
Once you're inside a mummy sleeping bag you know you're going to be warm all through the night. When it's zipped up almost all of your body will be covered.
For a top quilt to warm you effectively when it's cold you might need to put your sleeping pad inside it or use straps to keep it wrapped around your body.
If you don't secure the top quilt and you move during the night you could end up with air getting inside, which is going to make you ice cold and uncomfortable.
Securing the quilt means you won't be able to use it as a blanket. Instead, it's just going to be a lighter and more compact sleeping bag.
At least a proper sleeping bag won't take you ages to set up unlike a top quilt when you have to adjust straps to achieve maximum comfort and draft protection.
It's more comfortable
You should use an underquilt for your hammock if you're going to be using a top quilt. Because quilts are backless your back is going to be resting on whatever's available.
Use an underquilt and you'll get to sleep on your comfortable hammock. If you use a sleeping pad you will have to rest your body on that.
I know sleeping pads are pretty comfortable but it's not the same when your bare skin is directly in contact with them. You're supposed to feel amazing whenever you go camping.
When you're in a sleeping bag you will always be sleeping on soft down and lovely fabric, so it's going to be more comfortable if you sleep on a pad.
Sleeping Bag vs Quilt Winner
Top quilts are a little better than sleeping bags if you're going hammock camping during the warmest months of the year. I doubt many recreational campers go in winter.
It's just more comfortable using a top quilt in warmer conditions where you don't need lots of protection during the night. You need ventilation when it's hot and humid.
The fact they're lighter and easier to pack is great too. Every camper wants to save space in their backpack when they head off for a few days.
You can easily get away with using a top quilt when tent camping in summer too, but I do prefer sleeping bags for extra bug protection when you're tarp camping.
What about a quilt vs sleeping bag winter camping?
If you're the kind of person who enjoys camping in winter a sleeping bag is probably the right choice for you.
It's just much easier using a sleeping bag because you don't have to set up straps and worry about drafts in the middle of the night.
And even though you can wear a hat to keep your head warm I enjoy having a hood wrapped snuggly around my head when it's cold.
Let's look at the winner so you'll know which one to use:
Summer camping = top quilt
Winter camping = sleeping bag
If you already have a decent top quilt or sleeping bag you'll be able to use either one when camping in summer or winter.
Each one might have more benefits than the other in certain temperatures, but they're both fantastic bits of camping equipment.
Once you become a more experienced camper you'll likely end up with both after a few years, so you'll be able to choose between the two based on your mood.
Using A Sleeping Bag/Quilt Hybrid
Some companies do have a sleeping bag/quilt hybrid that tries to give you the best of both worlds with minimal downsides.
Sierra Designs Cloud sleeping bags are a good example because they don't have any insulation on the bottom although they look like a normal sleeping bag.
A unique design also eliminates the need for a metal zipper. The shoulder pockets are insulated and you'll get a hood for your head.
You need to think carefully about the qualities you want first because a hybrid model still has some of the downsides. It is easier to stick with top quilts and sleeping bags.
Using sleeping bag as top quilt
Can you use a sleeping bag as a top quilt? You will end up using a sleeping bag as a quilt if you have one when you're camping in summer.
If you're fully insulated inside a mummy sleeping bag with a low temperature rating you'll end up sweating in the bag.
Even though you'll be able to use a sleeping bag as a quilt it's not ideal because it's not designed to give you real protection when it's open.
It might be too warm outside you won't even notice it doesn't work right, especially if you're already in a sleeping bag liner.
You'll probably only notice it's cold when the temperature gets so low you need to zip up the sleeping bag.
At what temperature do you need a top quilt?
There isn't an exact temperature when it's better to use a top quilt thanks to the ventilation it provides. Any time during the summer months should be okay.
In spring and autumn, you can combine a top quilt with an extra layer of clothing and a sleeping bag liner if it's cold at night.
Do I need a top quilt with an underquilt?
Top quilts and underquilts sound like they should be used together, but they're completely separate pieces of equipment.
I know why people think they should be used as a combo if they've never used them before. Quilts and sleeping bags can be used with an underquilt.
Plus quilts and sleeping bags can be used with a sleeping pad. Everyone needs to find out the right combination for themselves through trial and error.
Do you need a sleeping bag if you have an underquilt?
You might not need a sleeping bag or quilt if you go camping in summer because it's so warm. A sleeping bag liner might be all you need to stay cozy.
Or maybe a few layers of clothes will be good enough. An underquilt is only going to give you bottom protection so it's not guaranteed to keep you warm.
Take a sleeping bag or top quilt whenever you go camping just in case it gets colder than you counted on. It's always better to be safe than sorry in the woods.
Can I use blankets instead of sleeping bags?
A blanket could keep you as warm as a hammock top quilt in summer, but it's only a good idea if you're taking your car to a campsite.
Blankets will take up far too much space in your backpack and you'll struggle to fit everything in. They're just not practical to carry around with you.
But if you won't be doing much walking don't feel like you need to spend money on a top quilt because a blanket will be good enough in summer.
It's not going to help when the temperature starts to drop because it's not warmer than a down or synthetic top quilt and it won't have a footbox.
Can you put a blanket in a sleeping bag?
Again, if you're taking a car to the spot where you'll be camping it's okay to bring a blanket with you to stuff inside your hammock.
If you position it properly it's going to give you an extra layer of protection from the cold. It's a good trick to use when you don't have a good sleeping bag.
Look at this as a way to make you a little more comfortable. A blanket and basic sleeping bag combination shouldn't be your primary way to stay warm.
Hammock Top Quilt vs Sleeping Bag Conclusion
A top quilt is lighter, easier to ventilate, and warmer ounce for ounce than a sleeping bag so it's a better choice in summer. Sleeping bags are more comfortable and easier to use in winter conditions, so which one you choose depends on when you go camping.
Some people are going to prefer one over the other. Modern thinking campers will probably like quilts and traditionalists will like sleeping bags.
But it's important to note you can use a top quilt or sleeping bag, plus they should be combined with an underquilt or sleeping pad.