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Hands-on Gear Review
Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700 Review
Cons: Heaviest ultralight bag, not as warm as advertised, low fill power down
Bottom line: The largest quilt design is great for bigger people and is possibly the most comfortable bag we tested.
The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700 is an innovative quilt design that is super comfortable and larger than any other quilt, but unfortunately uses low fill power down that makes it heavy and bulky. At almost 2 lbs., it is the heaviest ultralight bag in this review, the one quality that kept it from being rated much higher overall. However, the silver lining is that with only 700 fill power down, the quilt will only set you back $250, making it the single most affordable ultralight sleeping bag. We loved its super wide zipper-less design because it was wide enough for two people (or one person and a dog) on warm nights, and on cold nights was big enough to wrap completely around oneself with no gap, something that could not be said about any other quilt design we tested.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700 is another highly unique quilt that we really loved to use. We absolutely loved its zipper-less, strapless, buckle-less design, and thought it was the most comfortable sleeping bag in this review. We were slightly disappointed that the materials used, in particular the 700 fill power duck down, was so sub-par compared to the competition, or it would have ended up rated a whole lot higher. Using low fill power down meant that it needs a ton of insulation fill to accomplish the same thing that lighter high fill power down could have. As such, it was the heaviest bag in this review, which dragged down its overall score. If you like the idea of using a quilt instead of a mummy bag, and aren't attached to having the lightest bag possible, then this is a great option to investigate.
The Backcountry Quilt 700 has a temperature rating of 15F according to its packaging and the marketing material from Sierra Designs, but we aren't sure why. It has an innovative "hide-away hood" feature that allowed it to be tested for the EN standard, where it received a "lower-limit" score of 17F. Hidden on a tab of Sierra Design's website is the fact that is has a "comfort-limit" score of 28F, considerably higher than the advertised 15F. We really put these numbers to the test near the top of the Larkya La pass in Nepal, where we camped out in this bag at 15,000ft. on a night where we were struck by a surprise blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow in eight hours of constant storminess. We estimated the overnight low at 10-15F, and wearing all of our clothes, shivered most of the night in this "summer" bag. But hey, still here to write about it!
To accomplish its temperature rating it uses 17.85 ounces of 700 fill power Dridown hydrophobic duck down. While is sewn with superior box baffle design, one can't help but notice that there are many holes in the continuity of the insulation. Given these things, we found it surprising that it is as warm as it is, but taking that 28F "comfort-limit" rating as a benchmark, we think it does a nice job of meeting that standard. Compared to the similarly rated Katabatic Gear Palisade 30, or the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, this quilt is wide enough to wrap fully around oneself, leaving no opening on the bottom where a sleeping pad must act as part of the warmth envelope. So while the insulation is sub-par, the design still manages to provide impressive warmth.
Our one-size-fits-all quilt weighed in at 31.5 ounces, making it the heaviest bag in this review. The included stuff sack adds an extra 0.8 ounces. At two pounds, many would argue that this quilt should not even be considered ultralight, especially considering the fact that the Sea to Summit Spark I, our lightest sleeping bag, weighed in well under one single pound. That argument is completely valid in our eyes, and we hope that for future editions of this cool quilt, Sierra Designs at least gives the option of a much lighter version, even if it costs more.
Comfort is the strongest attribute of this spacious quilt, and simply put we found it to be the most comfortable bag in this review. Unlike other quilts, like the higher scoring Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, this quilt is so tall and wide that it is designed to completely wrap around a person, thereby sealing off the warmth envelope. On the coldest nights, when even an insulated sleeping pad beneath oneself is transmitting the cold upward, this attribute made a noticeable difference. By wrapping all the way around, it also eliminates the need for any buckle or strap or button or zipper enclose system, which means far more convenience, and also relieves one from potentially sleeping on buckles and such, or feeling a cold draft entering when the buttons come unsnapped in the middle of the night.
At the top end of the comfort spectrum, this quilt tied with the Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 30, which we found to be the most comfortable non-quilt, for much different reasons. Like that bag, the Backcountry Quilt also has a hood, the innovative hide-away hood. We'll discuss it more in the features section, but we did find it to be warm and comfortable.
This quilt was very versatile, as easily at home on a warm summer night as during a spring or fall snowstorm. It was second only to our Editors' Choice winning Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL, which had the extended range of serving as a completely flat blanket, or as a fully zipped up hoodless mummy. The enclosed foot box of the Backcountry Quilt 700 helped keep the feet warm on those cold nights as it was far more sealed off than those quilts, like the Revelation 20 that needed a draw string to close up the bottom. Like we mentioned above, despite having less loft than any other bag, it still performed impressively well at cold temperatures. And while we certainly knocked it for using lower quality down, we have to give it a thumbs up for making sure that down was DWR treated, alleviating any worries we had about absorbing condensation inside the tent.
The quality of the features on this quilt was another strong suit, although there really weren't many. In the end, we had to give it props for its "anti-feature" design, eschewing all the complicated pad attachment systems like those found on the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30. The few features it does have are two sewn in hand pockets at the upper corners of the quilt, and the strange but functional hide-away hood at the middle top of the quilt. While we rarely used the hand pockets and didn't find them to be very useful, the hood we used on the coldest nights we slept out, and were surprised at how well it kept us warm.
Unlike the deep, over the forehead hood found on the Western Mountaineering HighLite, the hide-away hood is on top of the quilt. It is really a hidden, overlapped pocket type hole that you stick your face through when using it. When not using it, it is so low profile as to not even seem like its there. By sticking your face through the hole, your head ends up wrapped in a pillow, and suddenly the quilt that was on top of you is surrounding your head. You are now tucked away completely inside the quilt, rather than laying underneath it. Honestly, it's a bit hard to explain, but trust us when we say its cool, low-profile, light, and that it actually works.
This quilt is rated to 28F, so can be used happily as a three-season sleeping bag. While it is not as light as the other bags in this review, it still makes a relatively light backpacking sleeping bag, or is a good option for comfortable car camping as well.
With a retail price of $250, this is the least expensive bag in our review. Although it is heavy, we feel like the price is justified (in fact, it most likely costs so little simply because of the low fill power duck down). We loved sleeping in this quilt, and think that almost anyone else would as well.
The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700 is the most comfortable quilt in this year's review, quickly endearing it to our hearts. It is also functionally warm to down below freezing, which makes it a great versatile option for camping during three seasons. That said, it is also the heaviest bag we tested, which may disqualify it for use while thru-hiking or for more serious gram counters. If it wasn't for the weight it surely would have scored higher in our overall ratings. Unless you need the lightest of the light, we think this is a cool quilt that is well worth checking out.
— Andy Wellman
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