Sunday, May 23, 2021

Breakdown: My 2021 Sleeping Systems for Every Season


It's been a while since I posted a big breakdown of my various gear combinations.  Back in 2015 I wrote one that focused on my sleep systems, for example.  That's the last time I did a big breakdown of my sleeping gear here on my blog, but I've written and discussed sleep systems quite a lot on various forums, such as the UL subreddit. One such post over there got a fair amount of up-votes and positive feedback, which was me making a case for using only two quilts to take care of one's year-round backpacking needs. I called it a case for a two quilt system, and you can read that post here.  You should definitely give that post a read if you are unfamiliar with the two quilt system and its benefits and nuances.

But when I wrote that post I was in the process of upgrading one of my quilts (the summer Apex quilt), and since then all of my sleep systems are more or less complete.  So this post will breakdown my current sleep systems, as not only has a lot changed (and for the better), but sleep systems are one of the combinations of gear that I get asked about or comes up in conversation the most.  Both the novice camper or backpacker to the grizzled old outdoors enthusiast, everyone seems to have their own preferences and opinions about the best equipment for a good night's sleep.

And rest is very important when you're out there, so I often recommend to others (especially greenhorns) that if you are going to splurge or spoil yourself when it comes to gear, you should prioritize a good sleep system.  This can be tricky for someone who is new to sleeping outdoors, as you have to dial in your preferences and everyone has different needs when it comes to being comfortable.  So it may take some trial and error if you're new to all this, and you should also not expect to sleep 100% as comfortable as your own bed at home (assuming you have a comfy bed at home).  But that being said, some of the best sleep of my life I've had sleeping outside under my tarp or in a trail shelter.  So here's the gear that provides me with pretty damn good sleep while I'm out and about.

The Quilts

I will start with the two quilts that make up my two quilt system.  One is a Climashield Apex synthetic quilt, and the other is a down feather quilt.  I will get into the details and specs of each quilt below.  Both were made by ULEnchilada, an all around nice guy and fellow UL nerd named Ryan that I met on Reddit who occasionally makes custom quilts.  I was lucky enough to be able to order both of these quilts from him, and he's got excellent skills as a quilt maker.  But this is just a hobby of his, so he doesn't have a store or website or anything (yet).  You can send him a message on Reddit if you want to check if he is able to make you a quilt, but he's just a one man operation, so he may or may not be able to offer his services.  

Together both of these quilts take care of all my needs for backpacking.  The Apex quilt is my summer quilt, the down quilt is my spring/fall/3 season quilt, and they can be used together in the winter (down quilt on the inside, Apex quilt on the outside).  So let's start with the summer quilt:

  • Size: wide/long

  • Inner and outer shell: 0.66 oz MEMBRANE 10 taffeta nylon

  • Insulation: 2.5oz Climashield Apex

  • Approximate temp rating: 10C/50F

  • Options: four tie-out points for straps under the quilt, neck snap, neck drawstring, slightly larger footbox to help with combining with the down quilt

  • Weight (including straps and small plastic S-clips): 375g/13.2oz


Next up is the goth AF down quilt:

  • Size: reg/long

  • Inner and outer shell: 0.75 oz MEMBRANE 10 Ripstop Nylon

  • Insulation: 255g/9oz of 950 fill dry goose down, but 2.5oz Apex insulation in the foot end of the quilt (helps with wicking moisture from feet)

  • Approximate temp rating: 2C/35F

  • Options: four tie-out points for straps under the quilt, neck snap, neck drawstring, hang loop on the foot end (so I can hang the quilt to air out when needed)

  • Weight (including the straps and S-clips): 455g/16oz


And here is a picture of both quilts in winter set-up, which I am confident have a temp rating of about -8C/18F.  With proper layers, I could push this quilt combo even further to a limit I'd give an educated guess of around -15C/5F (more on my layers later).  As you can see, they fit well together:

The Sleeping Mats (and One Important Accessory)

From right to left:

  • Gossamer Gear Thinlight (inside a silpoly stuff sack, included in the weight), 87g/3.1oz, R value 0.5

  • Gossamer Gear Airbeam (discontinued air mat), 295g/10.4oz, R value 1

  • Neoair Xlite, 350g/12.3oz, R value 4.2

  • Neoair Xtherm, 465g/16.4oz, R value 6.9

And on the bottom is the SOL Escape Lite bivy, 150g/5.3oz.  This is not a sleeping mat, but didn't know where else to include it!

The Thinlight foam mat and the Airbeam mat are my summer options, depending on where I am going to be hiking.  If I will be going off trail or plan on sleeping on the ground, I take the Thinlight and find a nice, flat, mossy spot to sleep (if I can, and I usually can).  If I am following a marked trail mostly and plan on sleeping at least a few nights in a trail shelter, then I will take the Airbeam.

The Xlite is the pad that gets the most use, and is used for 3 season conditions, usually in the spring, fall, or in the summer above treeline.  The Xtherm gets the least amount of use, but I am happy to have it, as it is a solid mat for winter use.

The SOL bivy, like the Xlite also gets a fair bit of use.  If you follow my blog/vlog or posts on the UL subreddit, you've probably aware of my praises of this piece of gear.  But if you're out of the loop, it is a warmth bivy and is made of a breathable fabric with a reflective layer on the inside of it.  I've had it for many years and it's still going strong, though it is showing some wear.  I would replace it with an identical one right away if/when I need to.  

It's job is to be used together with my down quilt when the temperatures are on the colder side of 3 season conditions.  It bumps my down quilt's temp rating to about -3C/27F, and has the added benefit of keeping my quilt dry and keeping condensation off of it.  Used in combination with my Borah Dimma bivy or a tent I am confident that I can (and have) push the overall temp rating even further to around -5C/23F.


The Tops, Sit Mats and Extras

Sleep systems of course don't exist on their own out there.  There are other pieces of gear that help complement your sleep system, and two things that can help a lot are top layers (AKA the puffies) and sit mats (AKA butt pads).  

One additional piece of gear that is not pictured below, but that I often use together with my sleep system as an extra, is my frameless pack's back panel/frame.  I use a frameless pack for the majority of my trips, and when I do I always have a foam back pad inside of it.  This back pad provides structure to the floppy pack, comfort while the pack is strapped on and I am hiking, and then at camp I can take out the back pad and add it to my bed.  Sometimes I put it under my legs, and sometimes as a small torso mat under my other sleeping mat.  

It's a trimmed piece of Decathlon M100 foam mat, weighs 35g/1.2oz, and has an R value of 1.  The sit mats below are used in a similar way to boost the warmth of my sleeping mats by putting them underneath.  Remember that R value stacks!

And of course another extra is my pillow, which is an Exped UL inflatable pillow, which clocks in at 47g/1.6oz.  A pro-tip is to use your buff as a pillow case.

But now let's look at the puffies and the butt pads, from summer to 3 season to winter:


  • Borah down vest, 105g/3.7oz
  • Generic foam mat, 25g/0.9oz, R value 0.8

3 Season:

  • Enlightened Equipment Torrid jacket (size large, 20D outer shell, 10D inner), 285g/10oz
  • Thermarest Z-Seat, 58g/2oz, R value 2.6 or the generic foam mat (depending on the temps)


  • Montbell Alpine Light down jacket, 410g/14.5oz
  • Thermarest Ridgerest Solar (discontinued) foam mat, trimmed piece for a big-ass sit mat, 130g/4.6oz, R value 3.5

The last extras worth mentioning are my packed bottom layers of clothing.  I didn't feel like taking a picture of them, because, well, they are just leggings.  You've seen a pair of them before.  I also recently ordered a new pair of bottoms, which are the EE Torrid pants to match my jacket for colder 3 season conditions.  So for summer trips I use a pair of REI silk base layer bottoms (100g/3.5oz), for warmer 3 season generic merino wool bottoms (165g/5.8oz), for colder 3 season the Torrid pants (170g/6oz), and for winter I can use both the merino bottoms with the Torrid pants on top.


That about wraps up everything that makes up my sleep systems for trips all year round.  Here are some total weights for typical trips for each of these seasons, but I will just include the core items (i.e. quilt + mat):

  • Summer (off-trail) - 462g/16.3oz

  • Summer (on-trail) - 670g/23.6oz

  • 3 Season (warmer temps) - 805g/28.4oz

  • 3 Season (colder temps, +SOL bivy) - 955g/33.7oz

  • Winter - 1295g/45.7oz


Stay warm out there.