With a solid training week coming to a close and preparations reaching a lull, I wanted to take a moment to review a piece of gear that is going to be invaluable to me on my upcoming Appalachian Trail self-supported record thru-hike attempt, my Enlightened Equipment 50 degree Enigma quilt.
To give some background, a quilt is similar to a sleeping bag, except sports a simpler, more efficient, and lighter design. While a sleeping bag wraps all the way around you, a quilt maximizes the insulation by only covering above you and letting the sleeping pad take care below. They usually come without a hood or with a detachable one. To most new backpackers they’re daunting for their simplicity in the same way that new hikers flock to tents over tarps. Unfortunately this kind of misunderstanding really halted the quilt’s progression as an innovative piece of backpacking gear. For years quilt companies simply didn’t have access to the top fabrics and were way behind the field in design. The fully enclosed counterparts were often lighter despite being fundamentally inefficient.
When I started checking out the market for new, lighter gear to replace my battered gear from my previous trips, I was elated to find Enlightened Equipment leading the way in lightweight sleep systems. Their 10 denier nylon fabric matched that of the outdoor gear giants and the option for 800+ fill down showed their dedication to using the highest quality materials for their quilts. I continued my search for competitors to make sure EE was truly the best and nothing came close. There was no getting around it, I needed an Enlightened Equipment quilt for my hike and to carry anything else would put me at a disadvantage from the gun.
When it came time to choose which quilt to purchase, I was baffled by the amount of options that EE had. Between the options to choose a short quilt and a slim one, pick the 800, 850, or 900 fill down, and an open footbox versus closed, I really was amazed. They have a quilt for every person of all needs and sizes, all seasons, any trip in any conditions. In total, if I’m not mistaken, EE makes 216 different size and loft quilts for their Enigma series alone. If you add in the option for water resistant down, different color and weight fabrics, that number rises to something beyond my mathematical capabilities. Most companies offer a regular and long. And to be honest, usually neither of them fit anyone.
Being a little person, the short/slim option caught my eyes. I was looking next to the 50 degree option and saw the number 8.93 next to the “Total Weight (oz)” row. That number was so much lower than any of the others that I couldn’t believe it. I closed my laptop, went to class, got some studying done, came back that evening after thinking about that quoted sub-9 oz figure all day. I pulled up the EE website once more, clicked on Enigma, pulled up short/slim 50 degree, 900 fill. And still, 8.93 ounces.
Despite the amazing reviews all with incredible praise for EE reassuring me that the temperature ratings were accurate if not even better than advertised, I was still a little skeptical. I switched back and forth between 40 degree and 50. I analyzed temperature data for nearly the entire Appalachian Trail for nearly every possible time that I could be out there. I knew the temps would likely drop below freezing at least once on my trip. Was I willing to commit to a summer quilt? Honestly, how warm could a sub-9 ounce quilt even be?
I committed though. The temps on most of the trail would be overwhelmingly hot in mid-summer and I needed to get the quilt that tailored toward the majority of the trip. Worst case scenario I had a 30 degree bag I could carry for the first couple weeks if the quilt proved to be too cold.
But when the quilt arrived in seemingly in an empty box, I felt much more reassured. I opened it up and let it loft up on my bedroom floor. I was absolutely amazed. It was nearly as thick as my 30 degree down bag that weighed nearly twice as much. Then I excitedly compressed it down to nearly the size of softball and weighed it. Even a hair lighter than advertised.
I’d be lying if I said I still weren’t a little hesitant, even after seeing how it lofted up to nearly two inches and the footbox alone looked like it had enough down to fill another whole quilt. I couldn’t wait to try it out but when my spring break hike down in the Smokies rolled around with sub-freezing temp predictions I hesitated to bring it. At the last minute I committed and I’m so happy I did. I walked into the woods with a sub 3.5 pound base weight and after a 42 mile first day I set up camp in a valley and prepared for the chilly night ahead. I wrapped myself up in my tarp for a vapor barrier and laid down to sleep. Despite the temps dropping twenty degrees below the quilts rating I slept as soundly as I do in a comfy bed at home. I woke a couple times with a draft and then easily tucked myself back in to quickly fall back asleep. On the second night I discovered that I could pull it up over my head like a mummy quilt and keep uber-warm that way.
I am thrilled about the performance of my sleep system and how warm the quilt kept me. Part of me was convinced it was magical how it could perform so well but I’ve come to recognize that superior construction and the highest quality materials are the trick to EE’s quilts.
I’ve really thought a lot about who I would recommend the EE quilts to and have really become convinced that they’re appropriate for just about anyone. The fact is, the sleeping bag is inefficient, conceptually flawed, and not nearly as versatile as the quilt, for even the beginner backpacker. Unless you’re setting out on an Arctic expedition -EE doesn’t make a -20 version (yet)- then you should be backpacking with a quilt. And there’s no company that comes close to the quality construction and affordability of Enlightened Equipment. My 50 degree Enigma is by far my favorite piece of gear in my arsenal right now and I couldn’t be more excited about hiking the AT with it.
Check them out at: www.enlightenedequipment.com
Disclosure: I am sponsored by Enlightened Equipment and they provided the Enigma quilt for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike record attempt.