I was a complete backpacking newbie when I decided to head off to explore New Zealand’s backcountry. Owning zero gear beyond some secondhand boots and a beat-up pack, I called a college friend and ultralight pro for some help. Her number one recommendation was the minimalist Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt ($270).
As a cold sleeper, I was plenty skeptical that a piece of ultralight gear could withstand the chilly Southern Alps. But after using it every night for nearly five months straight (on a leaky sleeping pad, to boot) and on numerous camping trips since, it’s proven me wrong time and time again. Having now accumulated a hefty collection of outdoor gear, I can confidently say the Revelation quilt is the most reliable and versatile piece of gear I own.
So, What’s a Quilt?
Before I go further, I’m sure plenty of you have the same question I asked my friend: What the heck is a sleeping quilt? Virtually unknown outside the ultralight community—though they shouldn’t be—quilts cut weight without cutting warmth by eliminating the least effective and heaviest parts of a traditional sleeping bag: the back, zippers, and hood. Sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of warm air around your body. When you lay down in a sleeping bag, your weight compresses the insulation on the bottom and doesn’t leave any space for air, so the bottom of your bag actually does very little to keep you warm. A quilt is essentially a down blanket that can be either loosely draped over the sleeper for warm nights or cinched in with a few lightweight and well-placed straps for frigid climes. As a result, a quilt can be up to 30 percent lighter than a sleeping bag but just as warm.
How It Works
The best part about the Revelation, and quilts in general, is its versatility. Instead of having a bag for each season, the Revelation can be used as a nearly year-round sleep system. During hot and humid trips to the Everglades, I keep the footbox and top half open, essentially using it as a blanket (and even sticking my leg out for extra ventilation). On frigid nights in the Rockies, I zipper the footbox and cinch the drawstring cords closed at top and bottom, creating a heat seal around my feet and shoulders. For maximum warmth, the quilt comes with lightweight buttons on the back and top, eliminating draft and creating a cozy down cocoon. To keep my noggin warm, I opt for a beanie, which I’m usually carrying with me anyway, but for those who want something a bit extra, Enlightened Equipment sells separate insulated head covers.
The Revelation has two elastic straps that attach under a sleeping pad to keep it in place for the night while sealing in body heat. The system is ideal for side sleepers or toss-and-turners like me who struggle to stay comfortable in a traditional bag.
Customizing Your Quilt
Enlightened Equipment allows you to build your own quilt: You can choose the fabric, insulation type and level, temperature rating, length, width, and even colors. My ten-degree-rated quilt is made from ethically sourced, hydrophobic 850-fill down inside a lightweight, water-resistant ten-denier fabric that’s durable, breathable, and comfortable against bare skin. Even during nights in New Zealand, where my shoddy tent dripped rainwater on me all night, my quilt kept me warm and dried in minutes while laid out in the back of my station wagon as I hit the road the next day. Weighing just over a pound, it was hardly noticeable in my pack on weeklong treks into the backcountry. While custom Revelation quilts start at an affordable $250, Enlightened Equipment also offers a “warehouse” section where you can buy returned or scratch-and-dent products for a discount—that’s how I got mine.
Overall, the Revelation quilt accomplishes the rare feat of not sacrificing an ounce of comfort for an ounce of weight. You don’t have to be a dedicated ultralighter to appreciate how shaving pounds adds up over a few days on the trail. And you don’t have to be a backcountry pro to appreciate the superior sleep a quilt offers over a traditional bag. So, whether you’re spending weeks beneath the stars or doing some occasional car camping, it’s time to become a quilt convert.
Lead Photo: Courtesy Enlightened Equipment