Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt Review 2018

  • Ultralight Backpacker
  • Wilderness Backpacker

Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt Overview

To quilt or not to quilt: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the extra weight and size of a sleeping bag, or to try something new?

The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt makes this an easy answer. Simple to use, admirably compressible, and lightweight (1 lb 14 oz) for its comparatively low price point, the Backcountry Quilt allows those sleeping on the fence to give this new trend a try. The Backcountry Quilt also sports some super cool features like insulated arm sleeves and an integrated hood — and due to these clutch add-ons (most quilts are bare bones), this quilt rocked my world during a freezing stretch on the Appalachian Trail.

Due to its price point and surprising features, we’re awarding the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt our Budget Pick for the Ultralight Backpacker and Wilderness Backpacker.

Budget is always a relative term, and we are fully aware that $250 for a backpacking quilt may not seem budget at all. The Backcountry Quilt is cheaper than comparative alternatives for a bit more weight, and we believe in awarding high quality gear. If you’re in the market for a quilt, you probably want a down piece and weight is of the utmost concern, and this product hits those two points. You can make a quilt for less or grab a simple down blanket from Coscto and tweak it into a quilt, but for a ready-made product we feel this is the best priced quilt out there currently for what you get.

Grab a cup of hot cocoa, snuggle in with our comprehensive backpacking quilt guide, and read the full Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt review below.

Backcountry Quilt 700 20 Degree Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 1 lbs 14 oz. (850 g) A fine, relatively low weight compared to sleeping bags, but not the lightest quilt out there.
Type Sewn Footbox Quilt with hood The Backcountry Quilt has a footbox that is sewn closed (no zipper), and there’s a built in hood, which is very unique for quilts. For more info on the difference between quilts and sleeping bags read our guide.
Size Regular | Fits 6’4″  (193 cm) Sierra Designs only offers the Backcountry Quilt in one size, and it’s big enough for just about everyone.
EN Testing EN Lower Limit: 17F, EN Comfort Limit: 28F One of the only quilts on the market that has been EN Tested. It lives up to these temperatues if used correctly. Read more about how temperature ratings are determined in our guide.
Insulation Type 700-Fill PFC-Free Dridown Not the highest loft down out there, but decent. The PFC-free Dridown is a water-resistant treatment that no longer uses environmentally harmful PFC. Read more about sleeping bag insulation in our Guide.
Fill Weight 17.6 oz (500 g) A little more than half the weight of this quilt is down, which shows you how warm it will be. This quilt is decently warm!
Shell Fabric 20D polyester ripstop The shell fabric is burlier than other quilts, and it’ll be more durable because of it. Read more on sleeping bag and quilt shell fabric material in our Guide.
Water Resistant? Yes The shell is treated with DWR and the down has a hydrophobic treatment, so the Backcountry Quilt is quite water resistant.
Baffle Pattern Horizontal The Backcountry Quilt uses horizontal baffles. Read more on sleeping bag and quilt baffle patterns in our Guide.
Zipper No Zipper This quilt has zero zippers. Wrap it around you to seal in warmth.
Draft Tube No There is no zipper, so no draft tube.
Neck Baffle? No, Hood While there’s no neck baffle, there is an integrated hood if you’re really cold. This works well.
Pocket? Sort of, Hand-arm Pockets Not a traditional pocket, the hand-arm pockets are sleeves inside the quilt to help keep your arms warm and orient you in the night.
Manufacturer Warranty Limited Lifetime Sierra Designs offers a limited lifetime warranty for its products, and has good customer service should something break.
Retail Price $249.95 A very competitive price for a nice down quilt. Quilts are a niche product for backpacking, so this falls in the budget realm.

Gear Review of the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt

Origins: Easing You In

My cousin and his 14-year-old son are hiking the entire Appalachian Trail as we speak (er, read and write), and my uncle and I decided to meet them for a week-long section hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. I traveled to Tennessee with a prodigious amount of gear shoved into a duffle bag, and was ecstatic to discover that everything actually fit in my pack, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400. This was thanks in large part to the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt. It squished nicely into the bottom of my pack, and if I had brought the -20 degree sleeping bag I was considering, I would have had to find a post office and ship half of my stuff home.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-appalachian-trail-start
Section hiking the Appalachian Trail. Everything fits well in the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Southwest 3400.

We were to endure a surprising cold snap during the trip, with temperatures dipping into single digits (Fahrenheit) during the night, which provided a perfect testing ground for the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

The first morning we gorged ourselves at the local restaurant, then hit the Appalachian Trail under a light misting rain. As we made our way up and into the mountain range, we were surrounded by the wispy, bluish fog that gave the Smokies their name. By late afternoon and twelve miles of solid elevation change we found ourselves at one of the many shelters along the Appalachian Trail, and decided to stop for the night. And it’s a good thing too. By then, the lightly falling rain had turned to snow.

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Snow was no joke on this trip.

I set up my sleep area in the stone hut as the temperatures quickly dropped, and by dusk we were tired enough (and it was cold enough) that we hunkered down for the night.

I laid there for 12 hours straight. And, for the most part, I was warm! A couple times I had to retuck the quilt under my sleeping pad or make sure it wasn’t letting any cold air in, which is typical for most quilts, especially when you’re sleeping in them for the first time. Sometime in the deep recesses of the night my feet got a little cold, but I was very comfortable, even in temperatures that hovered at the quilt’s 20 degree rating that night.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-pad
The Backcountry Quilt and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite are a good combination, and worked in the listed temperature ranges. A warmer sleeping pad would have been better overall though.

Night one, a definite success.

Digging Deeper

Usually quilts are made for ultralight backpackers, who have a habit of going as light and minimal as possible. While Sierra Design’s Backcountry Quilt certainly fits that bill, it also has two clutch features built in that make it unique compared to other quilts: a built-in hood and insulated arm pockets.

Over the next few nights I became intimately familiar with the Backcountry Quilt’s insulated arm pockets, which are two specific, lined holes for you arms on the interior of the quilt. Holy cow did I love this feature! I cannot overstate this. Not only did they allow me to have my hands over my head and maneuver around effectively, they also served as navigation waypoints in the darkness of the night.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-arm-sleeve
The insulated arm pockets on the Backcountry Quilt warm up your arms and keep you oriented in the night. A clutch feature.

With this quilt you never have to wonder how the bag has shifted while you squirm and roll over; you simply find the hand pouches and instantly orient yourself. By the middle of the week I was even orienting myself in my sleep, which is better than most sleeping bags, let alone quilts.

This feature alone makes the Sierra Designs Backcountry quilt my new favorite — please don’t tell my other sleeping bags.

Comfort 

This is an extremely comfortable quilt! The toe box is the perfect size to fit around your sleeping pad and still allow enough room for your feet and legs. The insulated hand sleeves are sublime. Even the built in hood is incredible, allowing you to stretch out and cocoon yourself at the same time, because the hood sits on your head like a fastener.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-hood
The zipper-less hood can be slipped into if your noggin is cold.

The Backcountry Quilt gives you the full range of movement other quilts are known for while making sleeping even more comfy.

Warmth 

While I was impressed with the overall warmth of the Backcountry Quilt, it must be noted that there were many other factors to account for. The first night the temperatures were in the 20’s (F) and my feet got cold in the middle of the night. After that I draped my down jacket over my feet every night.

I also slept in most of my clothing every night, and used the Sea to Summit Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner, which is supposed to add 15 degrees of warmth. Lastly, after the first couple nights I learned I could stick my head in the hood (with a beanie on), put my hands in the arm sleeves and pull them in toward me, and create a draft free sleeping womb — this strategy kept me warm even when it dropped into single digits later in the week. The upshot is that if you use the other gear available to you and learn the intricacies of the quilt, you can stay very warm in most conditions.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-sleeping-in-shelter-2
The reality is that cold is cold, and the Backcountry Quilt worked in the teens and lower, but with a lot of extra layers and a liner. Dial in this quilt to get it warm as possible, and know you’ll need extra warmth below 15 degrees.

The Backcountry Quilt is EN Tested, which is unique among quilts, and has an EN Lower Limit rating of 17 degrees, which means it should been warm enough at that temperature for men (aka, me) with a layer of clothes and a standard sleeping pad. However, as is common, EN ratings are usually a little high compared to actual usage. My sleeping pad, the shelter I was in, and quilt placement all accounted for extra cold-ness.

In the end I was warm enough during single digit nights, so this quilt passes the cold test with pretty high marks.

Durability 

I used the Backcountry Quilt during the week-long section hike, so I can’t comment on long-term durability. But it held up like a champ during that trip.  It was in and out of a duffle bag, thrown around a plane, slept in for a week, and shoved in the bottom of my pack, all with zero issues.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-in-tent
The lack of zippers, clips, and any moving parts means it’s hard to break this quilt. Sierra Designs used a burly 20D shell fabric, too, which is higher than most other backpacking quilts.

Something important to note is that the Sierra Designs Backcountry quilt doesn’t have any zippers or straps, and I would venture a guess that it is these elements that have the most issues on other quilts and bags. Short of it catching a snag on something sharp, this quilt should last a long time.

Fit 

I was way impressed with the fit of this quilt. I’m 5’9”, 155, and have wide shoulders. I also like to move around quite a bit during the night, sleeping on my side, stomach, and back. There was room for my feet, and even enough material that when I was on my side with my hip sticking up, the quilt stayed wrapped under the sleeping pad.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-in-sleeping-pad
The sewn footbox means you can slip a sleeping pad inside the quilt for stability.

The other quilts I’ve tried have felt restrictive, and have let in cold air everytime I move. Not so with the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt.

Grievances

Zilch. Seriously, nothing critical stood out during a solid section hike. But I will mention that the Backcountry Quilt is not the lightest or most packable option on the market when compared to other similar quilts. Having said that (and having tried lighter, more compressible quilts) I didn’t mind the slightly extra weight and bulk. In fact, I believe the increased heft had a psychological impact on me that made me feel warmer and more comfortable.

Sierra-Designs-Backcountry-Quilt-review-nalgene-size-comparison
The Backcountry Quilt next to a standard 32 oz. Nalgene. Small, but not tiny.

If you’re looking for the absolute lightest, most compressible quilt on the market, look at the Katabatic Gear Sawatch 15 or Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20. If you want something a bit beefier with more features and a thicker shell fabric, the Backcountry Quilt is well suited.

Final Word

I entered this endeavor skeptical and afraid that I would freeze to death in the snowy climes of Tennessee, and walked off the trail simply blown away by this quilt. I could outfit a small army with all the sleeping bags and quilts I own, and the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is my new number one.

Where to Buy Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt

We tested the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700 20 Degree, which is the most recent update to their quilt line. Sierra Designs also offers the Backcountry Quilt 700 35 Degree, which has all the same features but uses less down, weighs less, and is therefore not as warm.

We like the 20-degree version because it’s more versatile, but if you’re focused on summer backpacking and don’t run cold the 35-degree may be right for you.

Compare Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt prices below.

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josh mathe bio pic

Josh Mathe

Josh Mathe is passionate about squeezing every last drop from life, and helping others do the same. He is the best-selling and award-winning author of "I, Athlete" and "In the Footsteps of Greatness", as well as a speaker, fitness expert, nutritionist, ultra endurance athlete, and life adventurer. Josh is the owner of One10 Performance & Nutrition, and when not in office he spends his days in the mountains moving as fast and light as possible. Josh holds a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition, and is a certified sports nutritionist (CISSN), Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), and endurance coach. He lives in Sacramento, CA with his wife and three crazy animals. For more information or to contact Josh directly, please visit his website.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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