Enlightened Equipment Quilts

In 2013 I purchased my first of several Enlightened Equipment quilts. Although I’ve been camping all of my life, this quilt gave me my first truly comfortable night of sleep. Since then, I’ve purchased several more quilts from Enlightened Equipment and helped many family members and friends make the conversion. Now, almost everyone I backpack with has one or more of these trusty hiking companions. I read recently that about 75% of 2017 Appalachian Trail Thruhikers slept in quilts by EE.

So what is a quilt?

Have you ever wondered what it is in a sleeping bag that keeps you warm? It’s not down. It isn’t foam. It certainly isn’t cotton.  Still trying to figure it out? It’s air! If you were lying out in the open, your body would heat up the air around you and it would rise or blow away. This constant loss of heat to the environment would leave you cold.  Now pull a blanket, quilt, or sleeping bag over you. What does it do? It traps a layer of air between you and the outside world. You heat up that air, but it is trapped and can’t get away. You stay warm.

A Quilt is like a sleeping bag, but only the foot closes up. The rest is open underneath.

If you’re in a sleeping bag, part of it is under you. The weight of your body compresses the air out of that part. If there’s no air trapped in that part of the bag, it can’t keep you warm.  That’s the real reason you sleep on top of a pad when you camp. The pad traps air between you and the ground so that you don’t waste all of your warmth trying to heat the Earth.

Sleeping Bag
Cavewomen slept in sleeping bags. Get enlightened!

So, a few years ago, someone asked “if the part of the sleeping bag under you doesn’t help keep you warm, why carry it?” He cut that part out, sewed up the edges, and the first quilt was born. Soon, custom quilts were being made from scratch and not cannibalizing sleeping bags.  The new inventions exploded among the ultralight backpacking community because they were lighter and more comfortable than sleeping bags. Gone were the days of feeling trapped as you slept, losing circulation in your arms, fighting with zippers, and struggling to keep from overheating. Finally, a good night sleep.

Enlightened Equipment Quilts

When I first heard of Enlightened Equipment, they were just a small business operating out of employees homes in Winona, Minnesota. I called to ask a few questions, and the owner, Tim, answered the phone. I read a blog post about him volunteering to fix a DIY quilt project someone had botched. Ordering one of this hand-made quilts meant waiting 6-8 weeks. Part of the long lead time stemmed from a commitment to making nearly custom products for each customer. You got to pick a quilt pattern, fill power, fabric, foot-box style, width, length, and an inside and outside color. And the average quilt cost less than $300.  That’s not bad for having that many options when the nearest competitors were topping $600.

Enlightened Equipment Quilts
I’m getting a lot of mileage out of this photo, but she really does look cozy!

Times have changed. Enlightened Equipment now sells on Amazon and Massdrop. According to a survey on Appalachian Trials, three-quarters of 2017 AT Thru-hikers used EE Quilts. If you’re in a hurry, you can pick a standard option from their “off-the-shelf” menu and have your quilt overnight. For those still seeking a custom product, there are even more options.  All of this, and the quality is still there.

Choosing Your Enlightened Equipment Quilt

Having a lot of options is great. Choosing the right options can be confusing. To help narrow it down, this post will focus just on Enlightened Equipment’s standard quilts.  Sometime in the future I’ll write a post about their other options, like convertible sleeping bags, under-quilts, and comforters for the home.

Chose your Model

The main line of Enlightened Equipment Quilts comes in three models: The Revelation, Enigma, and Accomplice.  The Revelation is the tried and true original. It is basically a tapered down blanket with an end that folds together and zippers closed.  This model is great because it can be converted into a blanket for warm weather or use at home.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation
Zippered Foot-box on Revelation Quilt

The Enigma is a newer, simpler version with a sewn foot-box and not a zipper. It may not be as adaptable as the Revelation, but its a little lighter and doesn’t come with the troubles of a zipper.  Since the permanently closed foot-box holds out drafts, it’s actually a little warmer.

Enlightened Equipment Enigma
Sewn Foot-box on an Enigma

The Accomplice is a bigger version of the Revelation that sleeps two people. Apart from being wider, it also has a draft collar that tucks in between the shoulders of its occupants to keep the cold out. This is a great choice for a couple seeking to share the warmth.

Enlightened Equipment Quilts
Left: Enigma Quilt; Center: Closed Revelation; Right: Open Revelation

Choose Your Fill

The Revelation and the Enigma come in Standard and Apex versions. The standard version is filled with down, while the Apex version is filled with a synthetic material.  Down is lighter and more compressible while Apex is cheaper and more moisture tolerant.   So far, the accomplice doesn’t come in an Apex version.

Fill Power
My 40 degree sleeping contains 750 fill power down. It fits in a 4 liter dry bag and weighs just over a pound.

If you go with the down version, you will also have to pick a Fill Power.  Fill power has nothing to do with how warm the quilt is.  It describes how compressible the down is. A higher fill power quilt will be lighter and more compressible. Because picking out high quality down is time-consuming, high fill power quilts are more expensive

Choose a Temperature Rating

Enlightened Equipment lets you pick 6 different temperature ratings from 0 to 50 degrees!!!  The temperature rating is directly proportionate to how thick the quilt is. Making a thicker quilt requires more fill and more fabric. This makes it heavier and more expensive.

The “loft” of a sleeping bag or jacket governs its warmth. According to the US Army Quartermaster, 1 inch of loft will provide about 40 degrees worth of insulation.

It is important to note that women are colder than men.  Women have slower metabolisms and their fat is distributed differently around their bodies. (No, I didn’t call you fat. Really!)  Enlightened Equipment doesn’t make women’s specific quilts, so you need to keep this in mind.

Pick a Color

Enlightened Equipment offers 19 colors for the outside and 12 colors for the inside. You can pick any combination you want, but here’s some advice: If you pick a bright color for the inside, it will help reflect radiant heat back at your body. If you pick a dark color for the outside, it will help absorb more warmth for the sun. This can be particularly helpful when you hang it out to dry.

Color options for EE Quilts
That’s a lot of colors!

Add Racing Stripes

No, they don’t make you faster. Enlightened Equipment Quilts have the option for waterproof striping on the head and foot ends. This can be helpful when sleeping in a lean-to shelter or under a tarp when the wind is blowing in rain. This fabric is a little heavier and adds a small cost.

EE Quilt with Stripes
The red quilt in the middle has black water resistant stripes on the ends.

Whoah! That was crazy. Next time I’ll tell you about sleeping pads and under quilts. Happy Trails!

Wait, come back!