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Sleeping bags are a staple piece of camping gear for tent users, but are they suitable for hammocks? There’s lots of conflicting information on the topic so I’ve put together this guide where I’ll look at the pros and cons of each piece of gear and explain the use cases for each.
So, can you use a sleeping bag in a hammock? Yes, you can use a sleeping bag in a hammock. It will keep you warm on top, however, your body weight will compress the bottom so it will not be effective at keeping chill off your back. This is why many campers will opt for a top quilt and an underquilt instead.
Keep reading to find out more about top quilts and why I recommend them over sleeping bags for hammock camping.
What is a Hammock Top Quilt?
A top quilt is a blanket that’s been designed for use when camping in a hammock. They will have either a down or synthetic filling and made from similar materials to a sleeping bag. Often, they will have a foot box which wraps around your feet.
To understand what a top quilt with a foot box would be like, imagine a mummy sleeping bag that has been unzipped ¾ of the way so you can keep your feet toasty but the majority of your body will only have a top layer.
As a top quilt only provides insulation on top of your body, you will need to use them in conjunction with an underquilt or sleeping pad. An underquilt tends to be better for hammock dwellers but each has their benefits.
Sleeping Bag vs Top Quilt for Hammocks
A top quilt is an alternative to a sleeping bag when using a hammock, you shouldn’t need to use them together. I prefer a top quilt in my hammock, but to help you decide here is a breakdown of the pros and cons for each.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping Bags
Both sleeping bags and top quilts have their advantages and disadvantages. In the next two sections, I’ll take a look at each piece of kit separately and explain the main pros and cons of each, starting with sleeping bags.
Sleeping Bag Pros
If you’ve transitioned from camping in a tent to using a hammock, chances are that you already own a decent sleeping bag. It makes sense to trial the sleeping bag for your first few times, rather than spend money on a brand new top quilt straight away.
You can always upgrade to a top quilt at a later date if you become a fan of hammock camping or need to carry your gear on a multi-day hike.
As much as I love camping in my hammock, if I’m going camping with my family or heading to a campsite where privacy can be more of a concern, then I might switch back to a tent.
Technically, I could use a top quilt in my tent too, however, I much prefer to have a sleeping bag when tent camping. If you have a top quilt then it’s less versatile and mainly suited towards hammocks.
With such high demand for sleeping bags and a huge number of manufacturers, the price has been driven down with a decent budget sleeping bag available for as little as $30.
However, keep in mind the quality of cheaper gear. It will often have a synthetic filling and not rated for 4-season camping.
Sleeping Bag Cons:
Using your sleeping bag zipped up in a hammock can be a nightmare to get in and out of so I’d highly recommend that you use it unzipped or at least half zipped.
This presents another problem as even a single unzipped sleeping bag is far too big for use in a hammock, let alone if you have a double. There will be an excess of material that isn’t doing anything to insulate your body but makes it hard to find a comfortable position.
A sleeping bag has far more excess material than a top quilt which means it’s much heavier. A decent sleeping bag will typically weigh around 3-4lbs, whereas a top quilt is more likely to weigh around 1-2lbs. For ultralight backpackers, this is a huge saving and can make a real difference.
There’s also the size of the products when packed away. A sleeping bag can use up to twice the amount of space in a backpack. For both sleeping bags and top quilts, remember to look for compression sacks that can significantly reduce the packed size.
Pros and Cons of a Top Quilt
So now that we’ve looked at the sleeping bag, it’s time to take a look at the pros and cons of using a top quilt instead.
Top Quilt Pros:
Top quilts are a much better size for a single hammock than an unzipped sleeping bag. They tend to be mummy-shaped too which means they sit snuggly in the hammock whereas a sleeping bag is hard to get decent shoulder coverage when you’re not using it as intended.
Of course, you could choose to keep your sleeping bag zipped up, but getting into a sleeping bag in a hammock is a challenge by itself. If you zip it up before getting into your hammock, you could wind up with a muddy or wet sleeping bag.
Just like using a blanket at home, a top quilt is simple to use. Just throw it over the top of you and it’s done. This is compared to the task of using a sleeping bag in a hammock. Not only is it easy, but it feels more natural to anyone used to sleeping under a duvet.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of a top quilt over a sleeping bag is that it’s more compact and lighter when packed away. This is hugely important to backpackers who carry their gear around on multi-day hikes and camping trips.
Top Quilt Cons:
If you opt for a top quilt, it can be used whilst tent camping, however, it tends not to be a popular choice for campers. This is because it only insulates the top of your body and doesn’t have a hood to keep your head warm.
These things can be resolved by using a sleeping pad and wearing a hat, however, it wouldn’t be my first choice for tent camping.
Top quilts are still a niche audience, mainly purchased by hammock campers. For this reason, there are few manufacturers offering top quilts and not many budget manufacturers as you’d find with sleeping bags.
With fewer options to choose from, the prices are still more expensive than sleeping bags, often 2x the price or more. However, the quality of the products is also high so you are still getting good value for money.
Are Quilts Better than Sleeping Bags for Hammocks?
Both top quilts and sleeping bags have their purposes. If you already have a sleeping bag then there’s no harm using it for the first few times hammock camping as it will still keep you warm.
If you plan to use your hammock a lot, it’s worthwhile investing in a top quilt, especially if you’ll be lugging your gear around with you as they tend to be more compact and lighter to carry.
A good top quilt will be more expensive than a sleeping bag, but you’re also likely to get a better quality product as they are designed for more serious campers.
Do you need a sleeping bag with an underquilt?
Yes, when you sleep in a hammock with an underquilt, you still need some form of top insulation. This could be a sleeping bag, however, most hammock campers will opt for a top quilt instead. Both will work well to provide warmth at night, although a top quilt is lighter and more compact to carry.