Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: GoLite UltraLite 3-Season Quilt

Pic sniped from GoLite site
The more bike camping and S24O'ing I do, the more obsessed I'm becoming about dialing in the perfect sleeping solution. The "sleeping solution" is defined as: shelter, sleeping bag, and pad. When I'm hauling my sleeping solution (as opposed to base camping, where we drive in, set up a super luxurious campsite, then do day rides), I want as light and non-bulky as possible.

In the past few years, I've gone from tent, to Hennesey hammock, to REI minimalist bivy. My sleeping pad has shrunk from 3/4 fat Thermarest, to regular ultra-light Thermarest, to 3/4 REI pad, and finally to the crazy light-but-still-puffy regular NeoAir Thermarest. The only constant has been my trusty REI Sahara 30F down sleeping bag. It's been a great bag: small, light, and good to about 35-40.

Last winter, the PR people for GoLite contacted Out There Monthly and I ended up receiving an UltraLite 3-Season Quilt to review.

First off, I'd say that at $275, the 3-Season Quilt is probably not something I would've gambled on had I actually been spending my own money. The idea of a quilt is that it's just intended to cover the top of your body -- since in a traditional sleeping bag, you're compressing the down that you're laying on, and therefore negating any loft or insulative value -- what's the point of adding that extra material and down? So, a quilt is basically a blanket with a foot box and straps to wrap around the sleeping pad. Without using a quilt, and at nearly $300, the concept is a gamble.

Winning combo: GoLite Quilt + NeoAir

But the fact is -- is that my bike camping is very 3-season. Maybe once or twice a year I'll have a night that dips below 30 F. Usually the norm is lows of about 40-45 F for most nights I'm sleeping outside. This is perfect quilt weather.

The quilt is 1.5 lbs. It's 800 fill down and rated to 20F. It stuffs down into a bag about the size of a football. Compared to my current REI bag, the quilt is about 1/2 pound lighter, about 1/2 as bulky, 10 degrees warmer, and about twice as expensive.

Yep, pricey. But the fact is, this is the kind of purchase where you spend the money to help shave the last pound or so and reduce the bulk from your sleeping solution.

So far, I've used the quilt 3 times and I've been impressed. The lowest temperature was just shy of 40F. I slept with a stocking cap, shorts, mid-weight wool socks, and a mid-weight long-sleeve wool shirt. I was happy and warm. I'm pretty sure for freezing weather, that piling on some heavier clothing layers would get me happily through a cold night.

In all cases, I slept on a regular-sized NeoAir Thermarest pad, which is a great pad. Same deal on the NeoAir though: it's super pricey but shaves off the bulk and weight in a smart way, as it's also way more comfortable than the shorter, less poofy, less R-rated pad that it replaced.

The GoLite Quilt as a waterproofed foot box and waterproof fabric around the top of the bag. That's smart -- given that these are the areas where condensation builds up -- either from having your feet hang out somewhere or as a result of being in a bivy.

I was skeptical that a quilt would keep me warm, and I still wonder how well it would work with a 3/4-length not-so-great pad -- so I do have to give credit to the NeoAir here too -- which I did buy at full retail -- if you're keeping track. I think a good pad is essential for this quilt to shine.

So, it's warm. It works. But here's the biggest and best part of the quilt that I hadn't thought of: movement and sprawl. I'm so used to being Tutankhamun'ed in my mummy bag, that it never occurred to me that a quilt would allow me to sleep more like I do at home: which is sprawled all over the place. That's the money piece. If the quilt wasn't warm, it wouldn't matter -- but it is. And the fact that I can sleep in my normal sprawl seals the deal.

Sleeping solution in the rear sack: GoLite Quilt,
REI Mimalist Bivy, NeoAir Thermarest, a bit of tyvek.
So, would I spend my money on this quilt?
Knowing what I know now, I would. My sleeping solution now fits in a medium-sized rear saddle bag on my bike. It's nearly $500 worth of sleeping solution, so it's not without a huge cost, but it's dialed in and it's light and it's comfy. In the summer on for-sure-dry-nights, I'll replace my bivy with a bug net. But otherwise, I'm dialed in.


adventure! said...

Interesting! I didn't know these existed. This is definitely something to think about when i get some moolah and want some ultralight gear. Right now I'll stick with my Domex down bag that I found for free!

One question: Do you just sleep directly on your sleeping pad? Or do you put something underneath you?

John Speare said...

I just sleep on the pad.

Trail RN'n said...

I love my quilt! Bought it after reading your review. I have hiked the Appalachian Trail with it and use a similar design for the PCT in 2014. After getting off the trail I hate being in my car and am commuting on my bike now. May I please ask what type of saddle bag is on the bike in this picture? I am currently looking at canvas and leather bags. Thanks!

John Speare said...

Trail RN'n - the saddle bag is one that Rivendell used to sell called a Little Joe; they're no longer made, but they sell some that are similar:

I'm glad you dig the quilt; I love it too. Have fun on the PCT.