For many people, sleeping out in a hammock, bivouac or a tent is an awesome experience. Even more so as modern-day sleeping systems are much different than they used to be a couple of decades ago. They’ve become technologically advanced and provide a level of comfort capable of satisfying even the pickiest campers.
But that does not diminish the fact that you’re still sleeping outside. Especially if camping is a four-season adventure for you. And if you need to make sure you’ll have enough warmth through the night.
If you’re a fan of hammock-camping, both sleeping pads and underquilts can keep you warm. But do you need a sleeping bag if you have an underquilt?
Whereas underquilts are often considered an alternative for a sleeping bag, in certain conditions, you may need to use them both. Especially in temperatures below 70 degrees.
Both sleeping pads and underquilts come with certain advantages and disadvantages. And it is those details that will help you make the right choice for your overnight trip. Read this article to learn about the pros and cons of both, as well as other alternatives you might not have considered.
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What is an Underquilt?
For modern-day hammocks, an underquilt is basically a blanket that has the looks of a sleeping bag. And feels like it, but without a pouch area. It comprises a single layer of soft, warm loft you can suspend under the hammock where your weight won’t squash the isolating fibers.
Underquilts help to create a lot of trapped air that will keep you warm and comfortable during your sleep. Thereby, an underquilt acts like a pod that encloses your hammock.
If you’re a frequent hammocker, you know that two common concerns for overnight comfort are bug netting and a rain tarp. There you can purchase separately or get them as parts of the hammock tent system. But what to do to maintain warmth when cold nights sneak up your backside?
An underquilt may just be the solution for this problem, similar to sleeping on the ground in a tent. When sleeping in a bag – with either lofty down fill or a premium synthetic insulation – your body weight compresses it. This way, the cold ground conducts warmth away from your body.
The same happens with your bag when sleeping in a hammock. It compresses under you and allows the cold night to steal away your body’s warmth.
Many people believe that underquilts are more comfortable than sleeping pads. Especially if you’re a fan of seeping in a hammock, as it allows you to actually feel the actual fabric of the hammock. A bit weightier than a sleeping pad, underquilts are still a lightweight option.
Pros and Cons of Underquilts
When weighing for or against underquilts, you should know that they provide more warmth than sleeping pads. If you’re don’t mind camping in extreme weather, an underquilt and its uncrushed loft are sure to keep the heat in.
Generally speaking, an underquilt can only insulate you from below. You’ll probably want something on top of you, especially if camping in cold weather. It could be a quilt, a sleeping bag, or even a light blanket to keep you warm. Speaking of blankets, here’s whether (or not) they can be used to substitute for underquilts.
If traveling light is your primary reason for getting an underquilt, you should opt for a down underquilt and top quilt pair. And a pad under your feet and lower legs in cooler weather.
- More comfortable than sleeping pads.
- Don’t weigh much.
- Provide more warmth than sleeping pads.
- Won’t interfere with your hammock sleeping position.
- Superior warmth with models with high-loft fills.
- You can move around more freely inside your hammock.
- More expensive than sleeping pads.
- Don’t pack as small as sleeping pads.
- Difficult to attach if your hammock is not designed for an underquilt
If you’re camping on a budget, getting an underquilt may be a pricey option. Moreover, there’s a limited offer of ultra-light underquilts that pack into a super small size. And they may not provide enough warmth.
Attaching an underquilt under a hammock that was not designed for it may be challenging. You’ll probably need a web of bungee cords or rope underneath hoping that it doesn’t come undone during the night.
Bottom line is – utilizing an underquilt will keep your lower half warm. IT also means you’ll stay snug and comfortable in your hammock. On the other hand, other solutions can perform the same function in a hammock, like a sleeping pad.
Some campers prefer hammock sleeping pads over underquilts. A hammock sleeping pad can be an inflatable pad, a closed-cell, or made of foam. They are typically tapered at both ends so you can snug in your hammock. There are also square versions. They usually fit in your hammock with you.
Opting for an underquilt or a sleeping pad is a personal choice. Whereas there are certain pros and cons to both options, the good news is that they will keep you warm.
Sleeping Pad Pros
- More versatile than underquilts. If you need to sleep on the ground, a sleeping pad is your best option.
- Lighter than underquilts. You should opt for a sleeping pad if you are hiking or concerned about the weight.
- Cheaper than underquilts. If you’re camping on a budget, there’s a variety of options at a lower cost.
- Great sleep experience. A half-inflated sleeping pad is compared to sleeping on a cloud. And it will provide warmth. So, if your choice is sleeping, try only inflating it halfway.
Sleeping Pad Cons
If you don’t have a hammock designed for a sleeping pad, it is likely to shift at night. So, if you toss and turn during sleep, you may find your body (or parts of it thereof) off of the sleeping pad or out of your hammock entirely.
- Too narrow. You might get cold if you have broad shoulders.
- Too short. It may be challenging to find a sleeping pad that fits you if you’re tall. The result? Cold feet, head, and shoulders.
- Not as warm as underquilts. For cold weather camping, an underquilt is undoubtedly a better option.
- Condensation issues. Your sleeping may be soggy in the morning, especially if you use foam pads.
Do You Actually Need a Sleeping Bag for Underquilts?
Now that we’ve explained the pros and cons of underquilts, you might be wondering if you need a sleeping bag. Yes, you do! If you need underquilts, the weather may be cold enough to need at least a blanket on top.
Underquilts are designed to protect you from below. It means the upper half of your body will be exposed to the nighttime chill. You may go with extra clothes, but you’ll be more comfortable if you wrap yourself up in a sleeping bag or a blanket.
Having your warm underquilt with you does not diminish the fact that you need an extra layer of warmth on top of you. The entire point of underquilts is to make a barrier between you and the cold air.
When Do you Need a Sleeping Bag with an Underquilt?
A sleeping bag in a hammock is not necessary for temperatures 70 degrees and above. Otherwise, you will need a sleeping bag and an underquilt to keep you warm in your hammock. If it’s windy, you’ll need to utilize both even more.
Staying warm in a hammock is quite challenging, even during summer. Moreover, moisture, temperature, wind, or breeze can make the whole venture even more overwhelming.
Using a sleeping bag inside your hammock is sure to keep you warm. Nevertheless, the weight of your body will compress the bottom of the sleeping bag. And leave your backside a bit more exposed to cold air. This is when underquilts may save the day.
Therefore, combining a sleeping bag and an underquilt may be a great option. For hammock campers, in particular. They may be pricey but are quite effective. Their price depends on the type of insulation – synthetic or down.
A down-underquilt is budget-friendly, but you need to make sure it doesn’t get wet or it’ll lose its insulating properties.
Other Alternatives to Sleeping Bags
There are other options that will keep you warm and protect you from the elements when camping in a hammock.
Emergency Blankets. Although they may not be perfect as a warm quilt or pad, emergency blankets are cheap and pack up amazingly small. The crinkly material may disrupt your sleep, especially if you’re a restless sleeper. And they tend to hold condensation.
Reflectex. You can find this NASA-designed product at most hardware stores. It’s an insulation material that looks like aluminum foil-lined bubble wrap between two layers of heat-reflecting material. Reflectex is quite cheap and you can find it in different sizes. Carrying it with you may be challenging, though.
Sunshade for a car. Sunshades reflect the heat and keep your car cool. You can shape them into a (rather rigid) sleeping pad. They may be difficult to pack and carry and may not be warm enough if the temperatures dip low.
Rainfly. Definitely one of those things you should always have when hammock camping. It is basically a fancy tarp that you can tie to the trees above your hammock and stake to the ground on the other ends. They’ll help to keep morning dew off of you and protect you from the wind.
Hammocks are a great way to experience camping and sleeping under the stars. Coming in a variety of options, you may find yourself ditching your ground tent to snug in your hammock. Just think about all the gear you should have with you to make your camping trip a blowout.
Sleeping in a hammock in a sleeping bag without an underquilt or an alternative can be colder than sleeping on the ground. Therefore, make sure you stay warm by bringing an extra layer of insulation.