Review: Sierra Designs Nitro Ultralight Backpacking Quilt

Ultralight Backpacking Quilt
Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 35/20
35-degree: $250, 1 lb. 5 oz.
20-degree: $280, 1 lb. 11 oz.
Women’s 20-degree: $340, 1 lb. 11 oz.
One size in each model

For some backpackers, taking a quilt instead of a sleeping bag for multiple nights in the backcountry may seem risky—what if it’s not warm enough? In reality, many backpackers who switch from a bag to a quilt for its lower weight find it not only adequately warm but more comfortable than traditional mummy bags—and rarely switch back. Sleeping in the 35-degree Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt on several nights from Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Hells Canyon, and City of Rocks to the Cascades showed me that it has the warmth and low weight and bulk of the best quilts and some features that set it apart.

The Nitro Quilt comes in both 35-degree and 20-degree versions, and both pack plenty of warmth for summer in many mountain ranges or spring and fall temperatures in the desert Southwest destinations like the Grand Canyon and the parks of southern Utah. Stuffed with 10.2 ounces of 800-fill, water-resistant DriDown feathers, the 35-degree quilt has an EN limit rating of 27° F and a comfort rating of 37° F. The 20-degree Nitro Quilt has 14.8 ounces of 800-fill, water-resistant DriDown and an EN limit rating of 21° F and a comfort rating of 32° F.

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The Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt open.
The Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt open.

While I didn’t experience any nights that challenged those ratings, I suspect they are pretty realistic: As someone who doesn’t get cold very easily, I believe the 35-degree quilt would keep me warm enough (wearing one set of base layers) down to the low 40s; and true to the meaning of the limit rating, I’d survive under the quilt if the temp plunged into the 20s.

I slept very comfortably under the 35-degree quilt on several nights with lows around or above 50° F on backpacking trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and Hells Canyon; camping in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve with nights around 50; on a six-day rafting and kayaking trip through Desolation and Gray canyons in southern Utah, with lows in the 50s and 60s; camping in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, and on a mild night in a campground on the outskirts of Mount Rainier National Park prior to a five-day backpacking trip on the Wonderland Trail.

Not once did I feel like the quilt’s comfort range was challenged. In fact, although I took a 30-degree mummy bag on the Wonderland, expecting cooler overnight temps than we experienced, the quilt would have been more than warm enough for the coolest nights on that trip, which hovered in the upper 40s Fahrenheit.

At a few ounces under (for the 35-degree Nitro Quilt) or a few ounces over 1.5 pounds (for the 20-degree), the quilt boasts a high warmth-to-weight ratio. The stuff sack for both Nitro quilts measures 13×7 inches, but both can be squished down smaller in a compression sack—the 35-degree to about the size of a football. In fact, there simply are not many lighter and more packable sleeping systems for the backcountry.

To compare it with some better sleeping bags, the Feathered Friends men’s Hummingbird UL 30-degree bag (the women’s model is the Egret UL 30) weighs just an ounce more than the Nitro Quilt 35 and is unquestionably warmer, but is also, of course, more bulky, and costs $180 more. The Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32, four ounces lighter and a bit warmer, costs $110 more.

Don’t discount the value of the comfort of using a quilt—it’s more akin to sleeping in your bed, with the ability to pull it over you or shuck it partly off as needed, and to sleep in any position. Truth is, many of us use a sleeping bag unzipped, draped over us like a quilt or blanket on mild nights in the backcountry, when it’s too warm to crawl fully inside the bag.

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The Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt integrated hood.
The Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt’s integrated hood.

When wrapping the quilt around yourself, the V-shaped, oversized design has a circumference of 56 inches at both the shoulders and hips, which feels as roomy as sleeping under a blanket instead of inside a mummy bag. Sticking your hands into the insulated hand pockets lets you wrap the quilt around you for sleeping on your side or stomach. Its enclosed foot box with a spacious 40-inch circumference keeps feet from slipping out, and an integrated hideaway hood effectively functions like a hat if the temperatures drop low enough to need it. The 75-inch length fits people up to six feet three inches.

With a shell and lining both constructed of 15-denier nylon ripstop, as with a lot of ultralight gear, the Nitro Quilt will endure normal use, but avoid exposing it to sharp edges.

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Warm for its Weight
Warmth When Wet

The Verdict

If you get cold easily and happily use a 20-degree sleeping bag even on nights pushing 50, a backpacking quilt may not be for you (except on nights well above 50° F). But for many backpackers, the Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 35 or 20, stuffed with high-quality, water-resistant, 800-fill down, will deliver all the warmth needed on many trips—perhaps most trips—and offers a comfortable sleeping experience. It may even relegate your traditional mummy bag to “backup” status in your kit.



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See all of my reviews of sleeping bags that I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear, and my articles “Pro Tips for Buying Sleeping Bags” and “10 Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.”

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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Leave a Comment

6 thoughts on “Review: Sierra Designs Nitro Ultralight Backpacking Quilt”

  1. Hello, and thanks for the review.

    Did you feel like the hood was effective for side sleeping? I was reading elsewhere it might not be.

    Also, how does the quilt stay secure to your sleeping pad (let’s say an inflatable)? Is there an integrated sleeve, or something else?

    • Hi Quentin,

      Good questions. I’m a habitual side sleeper, always, and most nights I didn’t use the “hood” (which obviously isn’t like a hood on a traditional sleeping bag). But as with a sleeping bag, when the hood is over your head, you have to turn this quilt with your body, to some extent; and when you do, this hood helps keep the quilt in position over you even more than with a sleeping bag (because you’re zipped inside a bag). However, as is obvious, this “hood” is not as secure or as warm on your head as a sleeping bag hood.

      No, the quilt doesn’t attach to an air mattress in any way and that makes sense to me because a quilt is more like a blanket that you will position according to how covered you want to be—and there’s not any real bottom side to a quilt, as with a bag. Even then, a bag with a sleeve or straps for an air mat presumes that the user does not sleep on his or her side, right? That wouldn’t work with a quilt.

      Hope that’s helpful. Good luck.

  2. Thanks for the great review. I really have enjoyed my Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 35. I have slept comfortably several nights into the low 40s in just a lightweight baselayer. One night this August in North Cascade Canyon in GTNP, it rained and the temperature dropped to the upper 30s. I put on my puffy jacket and was comfortable. The Nitro Quilt is very wide at the top, which allows me to tuck it well, but I do wish it had at least one set of attachment points for a strap to attach it to my sleeping pad.