Dear Alpine Ascents: Backcountry Quilts

dear alpine ascents: backcountry quilts

Hey Alpine,

I’m headed out to Washington in mid-September for a 6-day course (stoked) and I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about backcountry quilts.  Apparently all the cool-kid alpinists are using them.  Can I bring one on my course?

Steve House in Training 

dear alpine ascents: backcountry quilts
Sleeping on snow for a 6-day course?  Not a good time for a backcountry quilt!

Hi Steve House in Training,

Thanks for reaching out and psyched that you’re coming on a mountaineering course! You’ll be kiwi-coiling and setting up Z-pulleys before you know it. Backcountry quilts – so hot right now.  They gained popularity in the world of backpacking due to their weight/space-saving advantages and now they are starting to pop up in the mountaineering world – particularly for light and fast summer alpine adventures.  Let’s break down some of the pros/cons of down quilts, specifically when it comes to our home turf of the Pacific Northwest.

Backcountry Quilts Work Well When:

  • You are sleeping on dirt.
  • You’re in lower elevation terrain.
  • You are blessed with long summer days with warm temperatures and a stable forecast.
  • You are trying to shave weight and keep your pack small.

*You could consider using a backcountry quilt when camping on snow for just a night or two if the forecast calls for warm weather.    However, you must use two sleeping pads – a closed-cell foam pad + an inflatable pad (preferably one with insulation inside of it, like the Exped down sleeping pad).

Backcountry Quilts Don’t Work Well When: 

  • You are sleeping on snow for a prolonged period.
  • You expect cold temperatures or the forecast is unstable.
  • You are in a higher elevation subject to diurnal cooling at night.

What to Consider When Packing For Your Trip:

You might not know the weather forecast for your trip until about a week out, but the staff at Alpine Ascents will have a pretty good idea if you’ll be sleeping on snow or dirt based on what trip you’re going on and when you’re going.    Depending on the forecast, you may be able to use a backcountry quilt on the following programs.

If you are considering using a backcountry quilt, please contact the Gear Department for their professional opinion.   Remember, we won’t know the forecast for your trip until about a week out from your climb.   A backcountry quilt may shave a bit of weight off your pack, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your comfort.    If your sleeping set-up is not warm enough, you’re almost guaranteed to have a poor night’s sleep which can result in a lackluster performance on summit day.  You always want to set yourself up for success!

So to make a very long story short, a backcountry quilt won’t work for your 6-day course in mid-September.   We’ll be expecting cooler temperatures, the possibility of fresh snow, and the forecast tends to be somewhat finicky and unstable.   Alas, not this time future Steve House!

See You in the Mountains,




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