My Homemade Hiking Quilts

I made these awhile ago, but currently the details only reside on a web forum.  I wanted a better place to put them.

Alright, here goes nothing. I am placing an order with thru-hiker for the materials to sew TWO quilts…one for myself and one for my wife. Here’s what I’m ordering:

2x Down Quilt Kits:
Smoke Grey nanoseeum netting (both)
Momentum90 liner (both)
1.1oz sun shell (mine)
1.1oz dark green shell (wife’s)
24oz down (total)

8x anchorable cord locks (for draw cords at head and feet)
20ft flat cord (for draw cords)
2ft velcro

I am basing my quilts on neatoman’s quilt, previously linked by Hanger in his quilt thread. I like the ability to use it as an overbag when I need something warmer. My quilt, however, will have a rough temp rating of approx 20 deg. When used in combo with my lafuma down sb (40-45 deg), I figure I ought to be able to get close to a 0 deg system at a semi reasonable weight (roughly 3lbs for both for me…less for my wife). I am second-guessing the idea of having extra fabric flaps on the sides, but I will not make a final decision on that until I actually sit down to work on this.

I’m going to have fun with this. The wife is going to be out of town for a conference this coming weekend through the middle of next week, and this is what I’ll be doing to keep busy. I know, I know…I’m a party animal, right?  I only hope that either the lack of a seam guide on the machine doesn’t result in wacky seams…or, the local singer parts dealer has one (and the other parts I’m missing, but don’t necessarily need for this project).

The best part, of course, will be the satisfaction I get from completing it. Once it’s done, I’ll be able to add to Reality’s proud accomplishments thread.

Note where I wrote that the kit contains 24oz of down.  It’s the 800+fp stuff thru-hiker sells. Once I come up with measurements for the wife’s bag, I’ll be able to figure out how much hers needs. But for mine, the full 12oz will actually give me a bit of overfill (even accounting for a little loss to the 11th dimension according to the M Theory). I’ll be making the wife’s bag slightly warmer b/c she’s a cold sleeper.

My materials came in the mail yesterday. I’m going to start working on finalizing the dimensions of my quilt (I have some preliminary ones…I just need to decide if they will work, of if I need to make any changes) when I get home from work tonight, and possibly start cutting tomorrow after work.

I am going to need to track down a good scale that measures in grams (my current scale doesn’t even handle tenths of an ounce, and really doesn’t register until I get over 7oz). I will need it so I can measure out the down for each chamber correctly.

I also need to decide how I’m going to mark my cuts and seams on the fabric. I tried using blue painter’s tape on my preliminary mock-up (using bargain fabric from joann), and it really didn’t stick well to anything.

I’ve put in several hours’ worth of work on my quilt so far, and I am ready to post a few photos and a description of the work I’ve done. Forgive some of the fuzzy pics. I’m still trying to pin down the various settings in my new digital camera. There’s a lot more to this one than to my old one.

Tools used:
Craftsman 25ft heavy duty locking tape
Craftsman stainless steel carpenter’s square
Ryobi laser level
Scotch blue painter’s tape
Scotch magic tape
Black sharpie

I’ve decided on my quilt dimensions and design. The quilt will be 75″ long. The width will be 48″ at the head and hips and 38″ at the foot. I based the measurements on those of an existing sleeping bag and my own measurements. The ‘hip’ measurement was taken from my own body and I determined it to be 40″ from my feet. I have decided NOT to put flaps along the perimeter of the quilt due to extra hassle and that 48″ will be plenty to wrap around myself. I am 5’8″ and 155lbs for reference.

Laying out the head end of the quilt.

I found that the small carpenter’s square I had really wasn’t big enough considering the long measurements I was making (75″ at the longest). It got me close, but I had to double check everything and move my tape guides a couple of times before I had it all right. A larger square MIGHT have eliminated the adjustments.

Also, taping the fabric down to carpet is a less than ideal situation. I used up a LOT of time and tape trying to keep the thing secured to the floor. Not to mention, due to the small workspace, I oftentimes had to sit on the fabric. I have a larger room, but I don’t have the ability to keep the cat out of it. I was not going to leave the fabric taped to the floor so the cat could play with it all night for a couple days. No way.

Perimeter guides marked.

I used a lot of blue painter’s tape because I had a bunch left over from painting the house. I moved on to using scotch tape later on because I started running out of the blue stuff. I like the blue tape better because when laying the shell fabric over the marked liner, it is easier to see the blue tape than the clear stuff.

Seam allowances and baffle guides marked.

Here you can see all of my seam allowance, cut, and baffle guides. I gave myself 2″ of seam allowance and 5″ baffle spacing. The 75″ overall length of the quilt worked out well for this and allowed me 15 baffles all of the same width.

Shell fabric ready to cut.

You can see the tape guides on the liner showing through the shell fabric. I used a sharpie to mark dotted lines on the shell for those guides instead of using a solid line because the sharpie bleeds through the yellow 1.1 ripstop. The dots should blend in well with the black thread I’m using.

Close-up of dotted line marks on the shell.

Tomorrow, I will be cutting everything out and getting ready to sew the baffles.

I’m pretty sure I can still use it as an overbag. Even though I’m not making flaps, there will still be flat spots around the perimeter where the seams join…maybe an inch at most. That’ll be enough space to put some velcro or omni tape. In the discussion about the JRB Down to Earth system, there’s been some good ideas thrown around about maybe putting on a fabric backing to hold a pad in place (rather than attaching the quilt to the pad directly). I’m thinking something like that would work well to complete an overbag.

Today, I wanted to get the machine ready to start sewing, and maybe sew a couple of baffles. That plan was pretty well shot when I realized that the tape I used to mark seams on the liner is going to get in the way of sewing (around the perimeter, where the baffles will overlap the side seams). So, per Diana_of_the_Dunes’ advice, I’ll be getting a silver sharpie to trace the lines out and take the tape off.

Also, I want to emphasize that you should do some sample stitches on a scrap piece of fabric before you get to sewing the real thing. You REALLY want to make sure that all your settings are correct on the machine and that everything will go smoothly. It turns out, if I try to go too fast on my machine, it will fling loops of thread around the needle and the various tensioning bits of the machine and create a royal mess. I had to pin down an acceptable speed to get everything set correctly.

Also, on my machine, the stitch length adjustment is pretty arbitrary. I had to play with it a bit to get it set at the right # of stitches per inch. After a bit of toying with the machine (and lots of cursing when the thread would tangle), I got everything set up correctly and running smoothly. I should be ready to lay down some seams pretty soon!

After a pretty nasty headache as a result of inexperience with a sewing machine and improper setup, I’m back on track with this thing.

I tried starting to sew my baffles the other day, only to find out that my machine was skipping stitches ALL OVER the place, resulting in nasty tangles. I put sewing on the bag on hold so I could figure out the problem with my machine. After some research on various sewing sites on the web, I had a list of items to check before I contacted a service technician.

The skipped stitch issue was caused by the bobbin hook not catching the loop of the main thread underneath the stitch plate. So, I pulled some covers off and turned the hand wheel so I could see what was going on. Lo and behold, I saw that the needle was installed backwards! Silly me…when I changed needles for the smaller one for this project, I put it in backwards, so the little scarf on the needle (which helps to create the main thread loop) was on the wrong side of the needle. I switched the needle around, and no more missed stitches.

I did encounter another problem, however. My tension settings were WAY off. So, after a couple of hours of playing with the tension settings and sewing on a piece of scrap fabric, I got everything set up correctly, and I was able to start sewing the baffles onto the liner of the quilt today.

I have to say, I like the way everything is looking now. It won’t be long before it starts to look like a real bag.

Ok, since the weather was sour today (several inches of snow changing over to sleet and then to freezing rain) and my boss called me to tell me to stay home, I decided to sit down and make some progress on my quilt. And oh, what sweet progress it was! I am now ready to stuff the quilt with down.

But before that, some updates. First are some pics from sewing the baffles onto the Momentum90 liner fabric.

Baffles taped to the liner.

Baffles sewn onto the liner.

Baffle seam detail.

Today’s work. I got all the baffles sewn to the shell, along with both seams at the short ends and one of the long sides.

Side seam detail, illustrating how the side seams overlap the baffle seams to prevent down loss.

Now, I’ve gotta get myself a good postal scale and I can start filling this bag with down. I’m starting to get the hang of the sewing machine and handling the fabric, so everything is going so much faster now than when I started. Now, if I can avoid huge gaps between work when I start the wife’s quilt, I should be able to whip it out in no time. I’m pretty stoked about this thing now because it’s actually starting to LOOK like a quilt. I tried it on for size this evening and I am happy with the measurements I chose. The length lets me pull it to my neck and tuck it in to cut off drafts (I absolutely cannot sleep with my head under the covers, so I made mine a little shorter relative to my height than diana_of_the_dunes), and the width lets me wrap it almost completely around myself if need be.

I made a real nice mistake last night, too. Haha. As you can see in the pictures, I originally cut the mesh really long so I could make sure it got enough overlap. Once I sewed each baffle to the shell, I would cut off the extra length. On one of them, I nipped the momentum90 with the scissors, leaving a nice v-shaped snip in the fabric.

It’s not a HUGE deal since the snip is in the seam allowance. However, it’s close enough to the bag that it won’t be getting folded under. I had to cut a little patch of fabric out and use a wide, tightly spaced zigzag stitch to patch the hole (pretty much to prevent it from ripping out later on).

D’oh! Silly me. That’s what happens when you’re getting close to your anticipated goal and you start to rush a little bit.

Okay, so the quilt is more or less finished. There are some small details left, like omni-tape for closing the footbox and a small down-filled flap at the foot to seal off drafts in the foot box, but the quilt is minimally functional!

I had a hard time with the last few seams. The fabric kept getting in the way, and there were a few spots where folds of fabric got sewn in on the underside, and I’d have to pull a seam and restitch. In spite of the difficulties, it’s all finished and I’m quite proud of it. I did not take any pictures during the messy affair of filling the baffles with down, but here are a few shots of finishing touches.

The whole thing…stuffed.

Corner seam details


I found a stuff sack for it and tossed this thing on the scale. It comes in at 21oz including the stuff sack! That’s lighter than the 40deg down sleeping bags my wife and I have been carrying. I’m thinking those sleeping bags aren’t coming out of the closet much from now on. The little extras I need to add probably won’t even add an ounce, I bet.
I can cram it pretty small if I need to. I put it into a 5×9″ Equinox silnylon stuff bag…just to see how small it could get. It was an awful tight fit, though, so I won’t be using that bag regularly. I like the fit better of the Granite Gear #4 airline stuff sack. It is about 6×14″. These are stuff sacks I already had and wasn’t using much, so I decided to put one to use.

There are some spots I’m not especially happy with…mostly spots where I goofed and had to pull out a seam. Even still, I tried hard to minimize the appearance of those mistakes. On one or two slips of the seam ripper, I put nice holes in the yellow ripstop shell. I used some urethane sealant to patch the holes and stop any fraying. If you didn’t know the spot was there, you’d never see it…thank goodness. I’m too much of a perfectionist for my own good. The one I make for my wife next should go more smoothly with fewer mistakes…and it’ll probably look better, too. It’s funny…she told me last night that she never expected this thing to end well, and she’s pleasantly surprised that it did. She was wearing it around the house like a cape for awhile.

I MIGHT have been able to cut the weight just a tiny bit more if I had trimmed the baffle mesh as I got it sewn in. But you know, I doubt it would have been much more than half an ounce.

The last bits of sewing I did, I was really starting to notice the needle getting dull.

I think I used right at 12oz of down, and the temp rating should be about 20 degrees (at 2.5″ of loft).

I found some (Omni-Tape or no-snag Velcro). This stuff can be tricky to find at times. My old links broke, so you’re going to have to hit Google for up-to-date product listings.

Today I started on my wife’s quilt. Due to dragging my bum out of bed late, and a couple supply errands (I needed new needles and bobbins for my sewing machine), I didn’t get started until a little later than I wanted. But…I made as much progress on her bag today as it took me a month to do on mine, so it’s all good.

By the end of the night, I should be ready to start sewing, and by tomorrow, I should be mostly finished with it. I’m not going to post progress pics of this one, but I will post final pics when it’s done. I think the best thing about this for my wife is that I customized the dimensions of it to her body. Mine came in at 21oz, and hers (for the same loft) should be a couple oz lighter since it’s both shorter and narrower than mine.

I’ve got both quilts finished…just in time for a few days at Mammoth Cave NP next weekend (even though daytime temps will approach 80, and nighttime temps in the mid 40’s to near 60). Still, these are lighter than the 40deg sleeping bags they are more or less replacing. Mine comes in at 23oz including the Thermarest Stuff Sack Pillow, and my wife’s weighs 21oz including a Granite Gear airline stuff sack. These weights include drawcords at both ends (the drawcord at the head does indeed help keep the quilt pulled close when you want it), no-snag velcro to close off a footbox, and a little down-filled pocket at the foot to seal off drafts when everything is cinched down.

His & Hers quilts…finished. My wife’s is a little bit lighter, and also a little bit smaller than mine.

Close-up of the foot box covers. I got this idea from neatoman’s quilt.

His & Hers quilts stuffed.

Estimated Temp Rating: 20F
Loft: 2.5″ (with ~1oz overfill in each bag)

7 thoughts on “My Homemade Hiking Quilts

  1. Man, you did a super job on these quilts. I was looking at the kits at Thruhiker earlier today and now I see that you used them for yours. I like the way that you did yours rather than the way they had it on the Thru Hiker site.
    I have purchased a sewing machine and I have been toying with stuff sacks. I got some of the 1.1 oz from walmart that I have been toying with. I still need to get a little more familiar with my machine but I am thinking that I will be embarking on this same adventure, hopefully soon…..I just have to figure out if I should save my money for a WM or go with this and trust in my abilities……
    Anyway, great job. I may have to email you for some tips when I get started, like how did you do the footbox, and stuff…..

    1. yeah, I got my stuff from thruhiker. They changed the kits after I made mine, so now they include the momentum fabric for both sides, instead of letting you choose ripstop for the outside. I like using the ripstop on the outside. I may be nuts, but it feels a little stronger and less prone to snag on things like zippers.

      when I did mine, the cost was a HUGE savings from the commercially-available quilts (at the time, only Nunatak was making them), but now that JRB and others make them, too, the cost difference is much less significant. Still, I think I spent about $150 on the materials for one ($300 for the two I made), which still amounts to savings.

      The footbox on mine couldn’t be simpler, really. There’s a drawcord in the foot end that cinches it all up. That little flap is like a semicircular pillow I sewed on at the very end to plug the tiny hole left after closing up the drawcord. The velco holds it closed. I could have ‘finished’ things nicer by anchoring the ends of the drawcord or putting the anchored barrel locks on, and maybe a toggle or something to hold the velco closed at the waist end of it, but it works fine as-is to be honest.

      I still haven’t pushed the temp limits of this thing all that much (how many years after the fact? hehe). I did have it out on a cool, windy night while hammocking (temps got down into the low 50’s but the winds were pretty constant all night…my exposed face got the occasional chill), and it kept me warm with nothing but a $10 pad underneath and no special clothes.

  2. Pingback: Backpacking Quilt
  3. Nothing but admiration, here. Found this from a reference in Hammoc Forums. Fine set of pics, well place. More might be better; but please don’t go to vido unless you edit most of the video time out. Even then, the right stills, such as you have chosen here, with the right text require the reader / student to be attentive and study, rather than keeping him (barely) awake.

  4. Thanks for all the info …you’ve gone to great leanths to be as informative as possible with out full diagrams. ..and that’s understandable. built for one fit ….I have thoughts in making a top quilt that has a polar fleas bottom with a pouch for a pad for not so cold days and of course a bottom quilt for the bottom of the hammock with no pad for the coooold days not needing the pad but the insulation below …working on a design that will still keep the weight down but more universal. ..just a thought …and thanks again for sharing. …chazz….

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