A time consuming but rewarding project for a backpacker that likes to Make Your Own Gear (MYOG) is a quilt. By forgoing a zipper and all the bag that would be crushed under you anyway, a backpacking quilt is a lightweight way to keep warm at night. Materials for the project cost around $170. For that price, a commercial down sleeping bag like the Kelty Cosmic 20 weighs 2.lb 13 oz. Using state of the art fabrics like 0.66 oz. Membrane 10 taffeta nylon and 800 fill down gets you a custom sized quilt, every bit as warm as a bag weighing only 1 lb. 7 oz.
The downside is the labor. Sewing all the baffles into place and sewing up the bag takes time. Stuffing the quilt is messy. But if you have some time to kill and enjoy making things it should be possible to build one in around 10 hours of labor, less if you are practiced at sewing.
The design is basic. There is a top and bottom layer for a rectangle with baffles sewn in to hold the down in place. The quilt I built uses a karo step baffle pattern to hold the down in place while allowing easier filling and the ability to shift down where you need it. Unlike traditional baffles that usually run lengthways or perpendicular to the bag, karo step baffles form a grid pattern with the intersections missing. Most choose to taper the bottom half slightly. The end quilt can be kept flat, have snaps installed to allow the bottom half to be closed like a sleeping bag or sewn together.
The first step is deciding the outer dimensions. I am 6’4″ tall so I choose to make my quilt 6’10” tall. That is the material length, after the loft and sewing allowances the quilt ended up being 6″6″. The width for my quilt is 56″ inches. This gives me plenty of quilt to wrap around me when it gets cold. I used 0.5 oz. Nano-See-Um for the baffles. The baffles are 4.5″ wide giving me half an inch seam allowance on both sides. I used closer to a quarter inch for my seam so I ended up with 4″ of loft at the baffles. There a few tools to help figure out how many baffle to use and how to place them like the one by Tacblades on HammockForums.net.
I highly recommend drawing out your grid for your baffles before starting. I choose a 12″ x 12″ grid with 8″ baffles. The actually sewing the baffles isn’t hard, just takes a bit of time. Just pick a side and sew all the baffles down. I used one long piece of Membrane so I could avoid a seam at what would end up being the head.
After one side is sewn down, it will look like this.
Next is sewing the top half down. Be systematic about this as it is very easy to lose track of where you should be sewing. If you mess up like I did, it is easy to fix if you haven’t moved on to the next row. After each row, I pulled it out and draped it to make sure everything was connected in the right place. Once all the baffles are sewn together, sew up the outside but leave about a foot unsewn for stuffing.
Stuffing the quilt can be very messy. I have heard that some people like to sit in their bathtub while they stuff to catch all the loose down. I chose to set up an old tent in my living room and set up shop in there. In my case, I’m taking apart a down bag I picked up on clearance that was too short for me and using that down for my quilt.
The result was a mess. I ended up losing a lot of the little down that I just couldn’t get unstuck from the old bag. Never again, I’ll buy my down in nice plastic bags in the future.
After you’ve finished stuff it and cleaned up your mess (at one point, I had drifts of down three inches deep in my tent), all that is left is to sew up the opening you used for stuffing.
At this point, you can be done. There are extras you can add such as loops to hang the bag out if it gets wet, a footbox if you want one, or a drawstring for around the top. If you have any other questions about quilts, there are a lot of resources on reddit, HammockForums, and YouTube. This is the video I found most helpful when I made mine.