Earlier, Ploss and I had an email discussion about backpacking quilts – specifically, the enLIGHTened equipment Epiphany quilt which purports (correctly) to be the world’s lightest backpacking quilt. How does it achieve this distinction? Cuben fiber, baby! Before I place my advance order (would if I could) let’s take a look at some of the comparable quilts on the market, see how the various materials used stack up, and envision how they might compare against some of the lightest traditional mummy bags on the market today.
As a…satisfied owner of the now defunct BPL Cocoon Pro 90 Quilt I’ve come to appreciate the freedom, flexibility and significant weight savings a quilt has to offer, but the reality is that the 11 oz. synthetic Pro 90 is merely adequate to the task at temperatures above 50 degrees, and I have yet to use it without having a down jacket/pants set at least on hand. Down fill obviously offers greater warmth at a lower weight, but it’s crucial to keep down quilts and sleeping bags dry; a waterproof, or extremely water resistant, shell is required lest you find yourself cold, wet, and carrying a double-weight soaker. Cuben Fiber is perhaps the ultimate primary shell material available, originally designed for America’s Cup racing sails:
It is 50% lighter than Kevlar, four times more durable than Kevlar and lasts as long as Spectra and remarkable weighs less than 1/2 oz. per square yard. It flexes without loosing strength. Cuben Fiber is a laminated fabric constructed from plasma treated Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers and monofilament polyester film. Cuben Fiber retains 100% of its original strength after being folded 250 times. It is not effected by salt water nor does it soak up water. It has great UV resistance and is extremely water resistant. Uses: great for extremely lightweight tarps, rain gear, stuff sacks, packcovers.
Despite this glowing endorsement, Cuben fiber remains a fringe material for your everyday backpacker for whom concerns about durability persist; it’s not necessarily as puncture resistant as some would prefer, and as with most ultralight equipment a high level of attention to care is required to maintain the integrity of the material.
Originally I had intended this post to cover some of the key differences between a quilt and your typical mummy bag, but I probably can’t add much that Steve Evans didn’t cover in the video referenced above, nor that you could explore from the expert community at Backpacking Light. Instead, I’m merely going to cover some of the backpacking quilt options available in order to highlight how significantly weight can be reduced with the use of Cuben fiber/Momentum 90 for the shell, and down fill.
For the sake of the comparisons below, for the Epiphany I’m assuming a sized Medium 0.33 oz/yd2 Cuben/800+ down fill w/2″ loft, “rated” to ~40 degrees (ratings being subjective at best and arbitrary at worst) which should weigh in near 11 oz – remarkably the same weight as my aforementioned summer season BPL Cocoon Pro 90. Please note: the products listed below are chosen for their relative comparable length and temperature rating. I’ve chosen to compare quilts a 6′ man such as McLovin could use comfortably near 40 degrees. A very short list of said comparable backpacking quilts on the market today:
|enLIGHTened equipment||Epiphany||Cuben+Momentum/800+ Down||$400*||11 oz.**|
|GoLite||Ultralight 3-Season||Waterproof-Breathable Pertex/800+ Down||$275||25 oz.|
|Jacks R Better||Shenandoah||DWR Nylon/800+ Down||$190||15 oz.|
|Mountain Laurel Designs||Spirit (45 deg.)||Momentum Taffeta 20d X 20D DWR/2010 Climashield Apex||$185||14.5|
|Nunatak||Arc Edge||0.8 oz. Quantum/800+ Down||$332||11 oz.|
*Product not currently available; suggested price
It’s important to note that several of these products e.g. the Arc Edge, are listed with their stock length which is several inches shorter than McLovin would actually prefer. At a glance, the Jacks R Better Shenandoah would probably get the early nod for best bargain at $190, 15 oz., and 800+ down fill rated to at least 40 degrees with a 2″ loft; the MLD Spirit is effectively a summer bag only in the 45 degree model listed above, but an 18.5 oz. (regular) 30 degree alternative is a mere $200. In all, each of the quilts listed offers a little something different depending upon your particular needs, and you should peruse all of the variations available from these generally cottage manufacturers, as I’ve listed only a tiny sample of the quilts they have to offer.
So why would I consider spending twice what I could pay for a JRB or MLD quilt in order to have a slightly lighter model from enLIGHTened equipment? Cuben baby! But not necessarily because I’m riding the space-age material bandwagon (I am). No, what I really am looking for is the roomiest, lightest, warmest and waterproofiest quilt available, one that will afford me the opportunity to reduce my clothing weight (carried) on appropriate occasions, without undue concern about getting the thing wet. Given Cuben fiber’s water-resistant vapor barrier characteristics, the at least hypothetical opportunity to use it into near freezing temperatures, the comfort only a quilt can provide inside of a bivy sack, and the flexibility to combine with shoulder season down insulating layers as desired, the Epiphany meets all of my requirements for a single, versatile multi-season sleeping solution.