New Gear Home Testing and First Impressions - Will my 50 degree (48) synthetic wearable quilt be warm enough for the Appalachian Trail in summer?

About the quilt

Coming in at .972 ounces lighter than the manufacturer stated weight, I am very happy with the addition of this poncho quilt to my kit! This piece of equipment can be both worn as a puffy jacket (t-shirt-length 'sleeves') and used as my sleeping quilt. The quilt will fit under my rain poncho, allowing me to keep it dry and boost my warmth greatly in windy, cold, and wet conditions.

50 inches at its widest and 74 inches long, this quilt is oversized to let me get full, comfortable coverage out of it. I can tighten the pad straps and shoulder draw string around me to fully wrap up my body almost like I would with a sleeping bag. 

The shell fabric is .74 oz/sq yd, 10 denier ripstop with a DWR coating commonly found on lightweight jackets on the outside fabric to give protection from light moisture buildup. The use of Apex Climashield continuous filament insulation allows for the quilt to be one big, tough piece of lofted insulation. With no sewn baffles or stitching required to keep the insulation in place, and with its solid construction there are no cold spots in this quilt. This is a nice change from my 50 degree down hammock top quilt that I always have to shake the feathers back into the center to get warm enough while using it on chilly nights.

This is a piece of equipment that I have been very excited about testing in the cold before we get into summer temperatures. My goal in this test is to figure out whether I'll be safe using the quilt as my only piece of lofted insulation at 40 degrees Fahrenheit on the last 500 miles of my AT hike this summer. 

This piece of equipment is one of the most recent changes to my gear list and has been a huge part of getting my summer kit down below the 5 pound mark. If you haven't checked out my summer kit for the final 500 miles of the Appalachian trail check out my lighter pack page here!

My first impressions of the new quilt

The fabric is very crinkly and and stiff for being 10 denier fabric. It is slick, but almost sticky on toes and fingers where there is more moisture. I'd say it's almost 'plasticky', but I guess that's fairly normal for this kind of material if it hasn't been broken in yet.

The velcro that helps form the foot-box has three snaps spaced out along its length, I guess for added holding power. It makes super loud tearing sounds when you rip it apart. The head slot that allows the quilt to be worn as a poncho only has snaps to keep it closed. It concerns me a little that there is no velcro here, but I realize that the velcro would be uncomfortable against my neck. The foot end remains open open unless you cinch it shut with the draw cord in the hem of the fabric. Everything is nicely stitched and there are some little touches, like how the cord locks for the draw strings are tacked to the quilt, that I really like. The hem fabric is much thicker wherever button snaps and velcro are attached, making me much less worried about damaging the quilt while manipulating these features.

Again, it concerns me that the head slot isn’t sealed, since snaps mean that valuable heat might escape through the little openings where the fabric merely overlaps. Hopefully my bivy prevents any drafts and traps whatever heat might otherwise escape, though it may be nice to be able to purposely vent the quilt some in warmer weather without having to sleep uncovered.

I love the ability to open it up like a blanket. I want to play around and see if I can just barely form a shallow foot box and leave it mostly open still. After some fiddling, it seems that the velcro would poke me too much if it wasn't used to form the foot-box or the quilt laid out fully opened.

First test of the quilt - Indoors

I laid in bed after opening the quilt. My goal was to try to use it instead of the comforters and see how it felt. My 50 degree hammock top quilt works perfectly for this purpose. The 50 degree down quilt hasn't been warm enough to use on its own in the low 40s. My thinking was that if I got a little too warm under the new quilt, then I'd know that it was much warmer than the down quilt. Checking on the house temperature, I saw that it was 68* F in the house. (I usually get on my fiancee's night-shift schedule, so this was during the day. Plus, I live two women that get cold easily and like to crank the heat almost year round). 

So with it open fully, my thinking was that I should be a little warm under the quilt while sleeping if it’s a “48*” based on my typical comfort experience and history of "sleeping hot". I got much too warm within about 15 minutes. Kicking my feet out from under the quilt helped some, but I was borderline sweating between base of my neck and my shoulders so I ended up having to push the quilt down below my armpits. I was covered only from my pecs to my knees and still needed to switch back to the lighter bedsheets. For me, this was a great first test to see how warm I could go with my setup. I may have to resort to sleeping in my bivy with no quilt at all on the warmest nights.

Next will be to test it out as a jacket on the porch at night with 40 or lower lows, the record low for the most northerly part of the trail section that I'll be finishing up this summer during the month that I expect to be there.

Damn I look good in anything. Time to try a hiking kilt.

Second test - Outdoors (Jacket Test)

The next night it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit when I started my jacket test. The temperature dropped to 37* during the test, but we'll just call it 40. The weather application on my phone said it “feels like 32*”. This may have been due to the 80% humidity reading. It should be noted that there was only a little wind. 

On the east coast around this time of year, I’d say this was a pretty "cold" 40 degrees for me at night. If you aren't moving around and producing excess body heat 40 degrees is cold enough that your hands will lose the dexterity to perform fine motor-skill dependent tasks well and your toes will get cold inside your shoes with light cushioned wool socks. Depending on when and where you plan to hike, it's a pretty good idea to make sure that your summer kit can hold up in 40 degree temperatures. Here's how I tested my quilt.

I purposely hadn't eaten before going outside to make sure I was producing less body heat, was only moderately hydrated so my body had to work harder to maintain its temperature, and I made it a point to move as little as possible to avoid generating extra body heat.

Never look at the shape of your head too much.
It'll start to get to you. (Lots of hair in there)
The quilt formed pretty easily into the poncho. The “sleeves”, or overlappings of fabric that form sleeve-like things, covered my arms down to the crook of my elbow, fully covering my biceps when I stood normally. The quilt wraps around me well, closing up in the front with the sleeping pad strap it came with. Underneath I wore only my running tank-top that provides very little, if any additional warmth.

My goal was to sit or stand outside without moving at all, except to mess with my phone, for a long period of time. I set a timer for 45 minutes, and proceeded to sit down on a thin, white plastic chair and write the first draft for this post. This test simulated low-energy camp activities like scraping together dinner and talking to other hikers that might make me keep my arms outside the poncho for longer periods of time, and keep me from getting to bed.

My fingers were a little cold, and after 30 minutes or so I tucked my arms inside my poncho. My very light UV buff did a great job at keeping my head warm. In these simulated, hypothetically very cold early summer/ late spring conditions (sub 45 degrees at lower altitudes in the mid Atlantic sections of the AT) the strategy will be to wear my rain jacket underneath this poncho quilt to trap much more heat. 

Where it is warmer, I can tell now that the rain jacket’s extra warmth will NOT be necessary around camp, though I think I'll hold on to it for extra comfort on the colder nights.

I like that the poncho quilt comes down around my buttocks and hips, though the front is left more open only to around the top of my groin area. I think, in the future, I'll turn the poncho around and use it the other way if I can so that I don't sit on the side that hangs down farther.

Again, the head slot opening snaps closed with three snaps that are pretty evenly spaced out. The outside snaps just barely closed without being too tight around my neck and offered a perfect seal for the head slot that otherwise I would have lost a lot of heat through.

For the first 30 minutes or so my trail runners and light cushioned merino wool socks kept my feet comfortably warm, though I knew my toes would get cold eventually. My fingers got cold typing up my notes, and I decided to sit and wait out the rest of the timer with my hands inside the poncho. In camp I’d either move around a bit to warm up and eat more food or jump into my bivy and sleeping setup for the night to get warm.

At the end of the 45 minute period I wrangled my arms out of the poncho quilt where I had them tucked away and decided to sit there and finish typing up more of this post on my phone before I go inside. My thinking is that pushing myself a bit beyond the set time limit will help me get a better idea of in-the-field performance.

My stop watch ticked on for another 20 minutes, which means that I sat still out there for over an hour. 

My feet were getting cold, my nose is ran a little, and my hands got cold again when I took them out to type, but I’m VERY happy with the performance of my new poncho quilt at a humid and cold 40 degrees. I didn't have that panicky desire to get inside from the cold, which would have made the test a complete failure.


Planning ahead and testing your gear in conditions that are at least 10 colder than what you expect to encounter is very important. Push the limits of your equipment where it is SAFE to do so, like on a front porch where you can bail out and get inside. 

What my test tonight has told me is that 40 is my bottom temperature comfort rating for my summer kit. I know that I can eat and move around and be MUCH warmer. Laying down all tucked into my full sleeping system will similarly be MUCH warmer.

At 40* F I anticipate it will take some good site selection and backpacking trickery to stay toasty all night in camp though. Wearing my rain jacket to bed, eating more fatty foods, being active before bed, utilizing my bivy sack, using a more tightly enclosed tarp pitch, and putting my feet inside my cuben backpack are all things I can do to boost warmth where temperatures are unexpectedly this cold. 

With my skills and experience, I believe that my personal “survival rating” of this summer kit would be significantly colder. That, though, is something to only be kept in mind for emergencies. If any planning phase of a backpacking trip gets to the point of thinking, "could I SURVIVE the lows and record lows historically found for this area and time of year?", you’ve taken it much too far. Comfort is really the floor for a good backpacking kit. It's not necessarily that you'd be in danger, there's videos online of people going out with no sleeping bag and pushing their limits, but you won't be comfortable. If you aren't comfortable you aren't going to get quality sleep. 

At the end of the day, having just barely enough isn't sustainable. It will wear you down very quickly and hurt your ability to make good hiking mileage and will probably cause you to cut your trip short. On multi day hikes quality sleep is a really big deal. Being comfortable and safe is a really big deal. Don't fail to be honest with yourself about what you need to be comfortable. 

That said, knowing HOW to use your existing equipment to stay safe in temperatures well below the safety rating of the equipment you’ve brought with you is an extremely good idea. Imagining that everything will go to plan on your trips is an old recipe for a bad time. It's worth putting the time into learning some survival skills and bushcraft. Hey, you're already interested in all this outdoor stuff anyway right? Why not expand your skillset some more?

The next thing to do will be to see how the poncho quilt fits under my poncho tarp. No reason to go out on trail without seeing how well it works first. Also, I may try the poncho quilt out with my sleeping set up on the back porch soon to see how everything works together in similar temperatures but I’m quite pleased with my findings from the last two nights for now. I know from experience that I'll be way warmer tucked into my sleeping gear for the night. EDIT: See the 31 degree Fahrenheit test of my 50 degree rated poncho-quilt here!

I hope you enjoyed this post. I'm probably less than two months out from my start date for my hike, and I'm getting excited about learning new things and sharing them here. I'll be heading north from near Harpers Ferry, WV around the middle or the end of MAY depending on how the weather and my ride up there work out and I think I'll run into a whole heck of a lot of flip-flop thru-hiking starters!

I'm waiting for commenters saying "why don't you have any floors?!" We are in the process of putting in new floors ourselves and we are actually going to start installing today. Straight plywood is much too splintery, though I kind of like the way it looks. I'll try to take some pictures of the installation tomorrow if there's anything interesting about the process.

See you next time!

If you are interested in overnight trips, section hikes, or long distance backpacking and don't know what things you need to bring don't worry, there's a heck of a lot of equipment that's available to you and you can get out and get started on reasonable budget. Check out my equipment guide if you are looking for a place to start. You can read for free with a trial of kindle unlimited.