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Favourite gear: Katabatic Gear Elite and Flex quilts

Katabatic Gear make some of the best down quilts available. Three Points of the Compass is fortunate enough to own two of their range. They have been used for hundreds of nights while backpacking and each is a favourite piece of gear. They are superb.

Katabatic Palisade left and Katabatic Flex 15 right
Bottom of Katabatic Gear Palisade 30°F, left and Katabatic Gear Flex 15°F quilt, right. The open back of the quilts that are facing up here face down, against a sleeping pad, when in use

Most backpackers will be using a sleeping bag on trail. There are many designs of these, some good, some bad. Some are made using down, a natural avian product, others use synthetic materials that attempt to mimic the light weight, low bulk, insulating properties of down. Three Points of the Compass has always found traditional sleeping bags a little inflexible and usually too constricting, particularly as I am a restless sleeper. I made the change to quilts for backpacking some years ago and have never looked back. The advantages of quilts- lighter comparative weight, less constrictive and more adaptable to different temperature ranges, suit my requirements and style of backpacking. They are very much part of a ‘sleeping system’, a good quality inflatable sleeping pad being an essential additional element. Following extensive research I settled on a quilt from Katabatic Gear and have never regretted my expensive purchase. So much so that I subsequently bought another quilt from them.

Katabatic Gear were founded in 2009 and have been making quilt-style sleeping bags, bivybags, and hoods since 2010. The company is named after katabatic winds. These are downslope gusts of high density air that pick up speed as they come off high elevations down a slope under the force of gravity. Katabatic keep all of their work in-house in order to keep tight control on quality control and have built a solid reputation.

Katabatic Gear: Palisade 30°F quilt

The Palisade 30°F Quilt is part of Katabatic’s Elite range. Originally available in five temperature ratings, this is now reduced to three. These mummy shaped quilts come with comfort-rated temperature choices of 30°F, 22°F and 15°F. I purchased the 30°F Palisade quilt as a wide, 6’6” option in March 2014. Because the quilt is ‘only’ rated by the manufacturer down to -1°C (30°F), I had it over-stuffed with an extra three ounces to push its limit a little further. The quilt is filled with 850 fill power (fp) ‘HyperDry’ hydrophobic goose down. I went for the water resistant down option because most of my backpacking is in the UK, renowned for frequently damper or more humid conditions. I am also an extremely restless sleeper on trail, sleeping normally on my side, switching from side to side, and am not a fan of particularly restrictive sleeping bags so was wary of buying too tight a mummy style quilt, hence my choosing the wide option. It turned out to be the perfect choice for me. Shoulder width of the quilt is 147cm (58″), hip width is 122cm (48″) but can be looser depending on how tightly I have it wrapped around me. The extra width permits me to sleep on my side yet still have the quilt either loosely draped over the sides of my pad or tucked in nicely around the body. My quilt weighs 756g, so 671g less my 3oz overfill. Katabatic have a list weight of 658g +/- 5% for my long/wide 850fp quilt. Which puts mine around 13g higher than the listed spec. While this could reflect many years of use backpacking and body oils and salts etc. having accumulated and adhering internally it is probably unlikely as I wear base-layers while sleeping and have had the quilt professionally cleaned once. Packed volume is very reasonable at around 6.5lt. The Palisade has been a best seller for Katabatic for some years and I can see why.

The outer shell fabric is down proof Pertex Quantum ripstop (0.85oz/yd) and has a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. The inner is made from down proof Pertex Quantum Taffeta (1.0oz/yd) which is lovely and soft and again has a DWR treatment. There are few colour options from Katabatic (fine) so I went for the muted grey outer with black inner. A black inner enables a quilt (or sleeping bag) opened in the sun to better absorb its rays and dry out more effectively, well, in theory!

Katabatic Palisade quilt, bottom (open) side
Katabatic Palisade quilt, bottom (open) side
Katabatic Palisade quilt, top side
Attachment system for Katabatic Gear quilts
Attachment system for Katabatic Gear quilts

There are a number of other features that make the quilt work well. Differential cut allows the bag to loft well to around two and a quarter inches (5.7cm) thick. This means that the inner dimensions of the material are smaller than the outer layer enabling the baffles to properly curve around the sleeper. The engineering of the baffles is really carefully thought out and effective. Not all manufacturers do this for some unknown reason. The continuous baffles mean that down can be moved around if necessary to suit the prevailing temperature, in theory. That is how Katabatic advertise this feature however my quilt is overstuffed so I have less opportunity to move it around in the baffles. Possibly more so in the future as the down will lose some loft as the years pass. The factory over-stuffed down collar cinches up tightly if required via an additional beefy snap popper. The drawcord in the collar is massively overkill in its thickness, it is way over-specced. I could swap it out for a thinner cord but have never bothered. Though the thicker cord is easier to find and manipulate in the small hours of the morning.

I do need to consider additional head wear if the temperature is going to drop substantially. I have worn either my Kora Yakwool hat, or my PHD Minimus Down hat on colder nights but usually do not have to bother. If the night is just a bit chilly, because I have the long version of the quilt, I can tuck myself right into it with the quilt covering my head with face exposed to keep my moisture laden breath outside of the down. The foot box is well shaped and has factory over-stuffed baffles. It really is a beautifully made piece of gear with a lot of careful thought. Quite simply, despite this being a fairly expensive purchase from a cottage manufacturer in the USA, and costing even more to ship to me in the UK, this is easily one of my favourite pieces of backpacking gear. Three Points of the Compass has, just occasionally, when cold is pinching at the nose in the single digit hours of a night, while I am toasty warm within, given heartfelt thanks to this quilt.

The quilt comes with a couple of cords that have to be passed around the sleeping pad and tied with a simple half hitch. Some people will put four marker points on their pad with a Sharpie to indicate the correct positioning for the cords. While this would work, having used these quilts for hundreds of nights I am able to easily position them correctly without markers and can easily set up in the dark. It is simply a matter of getting familiar with your gear. Each cord weighs 5g, so 10g in total and a simple knot is all that is required with each cord.

The system that Katabatic Gear use to keep the quilt tight (or loose) around the body is both ingenious and effective. Each rigid plastic cord lock has two positions. The first position has a larger hole that allows the lock and quilt to slide along the cord easily. Clipping into the second position with a smaller hole locks the cord clip and quilt in place and can be used to tuck the quilt into the body, thereby excluding draughts and cold.

Prior to introducing cord locks, Katabatic relied on the user simply using a slip knot on the pad cords
Prior to introducing cord locks, Katabatic relied on a simple knot for the pad cords

This method of fixing the quilt down into either a sliding or fixed position is a very adaptable system. It takes a little time to get used to, once you do, it is an almost automatic process carried out without thinking. There are any number of YouTube videos that show the method far better than I can explain.

A major advantage for me is that the Katabatic quilt stays positioned as I turn and twist inside it. I don’t end up knotted inside a sleeping bag or with my face into the hood. This is a big plus for me. There have been various complaints from users that they find it very difficult to clip their cords into the plastic cord locks. Firstly, it does take a little practice, secondly, they are stiff to start with and take a good few nights to wear in and get a little looser and easier to use. Another design feature that keeps the quilt in place around me while I sleep is a continuous elasticated cord that runs around the edge of the exposed back, this draws the quilt in under the body. No doubt it adds a few grams of weight but makes the quilt work better without any user input.

Palisade quilt is supplied with a large cotton storage bag
Palisade quilt is supplied with a large cotton storage bag
Cord locking system on Palisade quilt
Cord locking system on Palisade quilt. The secondary mitten hook cord clip on the left really pulls the quilt down around the torso in colder and breezy conditions. Central primary cord clip is in the first sliding position on the cord (shown loose here) that would normally be round the pad. Primary cord clip on right is in the second position that locks it in place on the pad cord

My backpacking shelter is normally either the ZPacks Duplex or MLD Duomid, these are both single skin and can get condensation on the inside surface which can be shaken onto me by wind rattling it free or I may brush against. If this is the case I can get the footbox of my quilt a little damp. This is where the water resistant down shines. I have never lost loft but I can certainly see a little damp at the foot of the quilt at times.

A particularly cold night on the Southern Upland Way, my breathe has condensed on outside of quilt
A particularly cold night on the Southern Upland Way, my breath has condensed on the outside of the quilt nearest my mouth

On particularly cold nights, my moisture laden breath can condense on the outside of the quilt during the night. Beads of water are dried off and the quilt aired when possible. I take a lot of care to air my quilt when I can and when a trip is over, it is hung open in my home for many days to properly dry out before being packed away. If it is summer, then it gets hung over a line in the garden on the hottest and breeziest of days. On trail I usually drape it over the top of the shelter when I can to air. Quilts (and sleeping bags) are stored at home uncompressed in large plastic Really Useful Boxes.

Pallisade quilt airing on top of ZPacks Duplex. Beinglas, West Highland Way
Palisade quilt airing on top of Z-Packs Duplex. Beinglas, West Highland Way

Katabatic Gear: Flex 15°F quilt

After a few years and hundreds of nights enjoying my Katabatic Palisade quilt, I decided to buy another and had no hesitation returning to Katabatic Gear. I wanted to push the comfort rating a little further while also changing the quilt style to a more open design with the aim of expanding my use options. Katabatic introduced their Flex line of open quilts in late 2015 after I had purchased my Palisade. There are three quilts within the Katabatic Flex range with comfort-rated temperature choices of 30°F, 22°F and 15°F. I settled on the Katabatic Gear Flex 15°F quilt. This is a blanket style quilt with short zip that enables a footbox to be created. The footbox can be either poppered shut, or also pulled tightly closed with a drawcord. So closing up much like the Elite range Palisade or alternatively offering the option of opening the quilt right up to act as a rectangular quilted blanket. One advantage of this open form is that it can be draped around the shoulders while sitting in the shelter or outside on cooler evenings or mornings. Again, this quilt has the excellent Katabatic attachment cord lock system and a down filled collar with drawcord. The additional mitten hooks found on the Palisade are not found on the Flex range. I have no issue with this as I have very rarely used these. The extra width of the wide option means that I don’t find them necessary. This quilt is a very flexible product capable of handling a wide range of temperatures but I wanted the ability to really tuck it around me when the mercury dropped severely where it would stay well wrapped around me despite my usual restless turning. So again, I went for the wide 6′ 6″ specification, both longer and wider than the standard option. With the wider quilt I don’t even bother putting the cords around the pad in warmer weather, relying instead on the extra width stopping any draughts. The quilt materials are the same as with the Palisade- the outer fabric is down proof Pertex Quantum ripstop (0.85oz/yd) with durable water repellent (DWR) coating. Inner is down proof Pertex Quantum Taffeta (1.0oz/yd) with DWR treatment. I had it over-stuffed with a further two-ounces of down and went for a blue outer with black inner. The quilt is manufacturer rated down to -9°C and my bespoke over-stuffing may add a little more to this ‘comfort’ rating however the quilt cannot actually loft any further as it is restricted by the thickness of the baffles. When closed up with zip and collar popper the Flex 15°F quilt has a shoulder width of 147cm (58″) and hip width of 130cm (49″), which is a little wider than the Palisade. Packed volume of the Flex is considerably more than the Palisade at around 12.5lt. I can stuff either quilt into a HMG large size Pod, who list the volume at 12.3lt. The Palisade is loose within this Pod while the Flex 15°F is tightly packed.

Katabatic Flex 15 degree quilt, bottom (open) side
Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt, bottom (open) side. Zipped up and footbox closed
Katabatic Flex 15 degree quilt. Zip slightly done up, cord slightly tightened on footboard, popper snapped closed
Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt. Zip slightly done up here and cord slightly tightened, popper is snapped closed to create a closed footbox with just a little ventilation. Or it can be left open, or tightly closed up
Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt top side

On my scales my Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt comes in at 936g, so would have weighed 869g excluding my 2oz overfill. Katabatic list the wide/long version of the Flex 15°F with 900fp as weighing 845g +/- 5%. For a quilt that can push into four-seasons, I am more than happy with this. Both of my quilts have differential cut. This means that the down is able to fully loft to around three and a quarter inches thick inside the baffles. This is around an inch more loft than the Palisade quilt.

Katabatic Flex 15 quilt, outside, undone
Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt, outside, opened
Katabatic Flex 15 degree quilt, inside, opened
Katabatic Flex 15°F degree quilt, inside, opened
Drawcord on neck collar
Drawcord on neck collar part cinched

As with the Palisade 30°F quilt, the Flex 15°F has a quite thick cinch cord for the neck collar with equally robust cord lock. If lying on my back (seldom) the cord drapes uncomfortably across my face at times. Sleeping on my side, three quarter prone or stomach sleeping (most of the time) it normally doesn’t bother me.

There is a very lightweight 3C coil YKK zip fitted to this quilt. I did anguish over this a little, anticipating it breaking on me if put under strain. It hasn’t yet though I do still wish Katabatic had included a thin lightweight clasp or popper at the point where the zip ends, just to take any strain off it. If it did fail on me mid-hike, it certainly isn’t the end of the world as it is under my body. I suppose I could sew on something myself and may get round to it one day. Unsurprisingly, as with my other quilt, the Flex 15°F has become one of my favourite pieces of gear, possibly usurping the Palisade for top spot.

Cord lock and elasticated loop for straps
Cord lock and elasticated loop for straps. The mitten hook found on the Elite range of quilts is not included on the Flex quilts. No loss there
Katabatic have changed the pad cord they supply with their quilts. Each now comes with a cord lock. These locks are not necessary
Katabatic have changed the pad cords they supply with their quilts. Each now comes with a cord lock. These locks are not necessary
Two additional straps are supplied with the Flex quilts
Two additional straps are supplied with the Flex quilts. These are for use with the quilt alone, separate from a pad. I never use them

As purchased, the Flex 15°F came with a non-waterproof 20g Silnylon stuff sack, a large cotton storage bag, two 2mm cords for attaching to the sleeping pad and optional webbing straps for use without a pad, perhaps while hammocking. The 2mm cords that came with this quilt differ from the ones I had previously had supplied with the Palisade. These latest ones (each weighing 6g) have a cord lock. I can only presume that some users struggled to tie a simple knot as the locks are not required at all. Two Flex straps are supplied for using the quilt while hammocking etc. These weigh a further 6g each. I have never used them or carried them.

What else is supplied with the Katabatic Gear Flex 15 quilt
Everything additionally supplied with the Katabatic Gear Flex 15°F quilt

Increasingly these day, purchasers of down products are being given the opportunity to check on the source of their down. That was the case when I purchased my Katabatic Flex quilt. I was supplied with the Lot number and entering this into trackmydown.com informed me that it was Grey Goose down supplied to Katabatic from Europe (Hungary, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine), having a Fill Power of 936 (against a stated fill power of 900) and was indeed given the Hyperdry treatment that I ordered as an optional upgrade for the Flex 15°F. This is a fluorocarbon free treatment that provides increased water resistance to stop the down clumping and losing loft if wet. The down supplier, Allied Feather + Down, informs us that their treatment is 30-40 times more hydrophobic than untreated down, four times faster drying than untreated down, has a 95% compound adhesion compared to ~60% in ‘conventional methods’ and uses far less water than conventional processing in the treatment process.

Katabatic quilt opened and spread to air on top of shelter at the end of the day
Katabatic quilt opened and spread to air on top of shelter at the end of the day (along with the feet and trail shoes)

At 756g my Katabatic Palisade quilt is a good quality lightweight choice for much of the year. The ability to either loosely drape it over me or have an arm or leg poking out means that it can be used in summer, while it can also be pulled tight and tucked right around me for when the mercury drops. I could simply wear further clothes within the quilt while sleeping as it gets colder but instead find the Katabatic Flex 15°F more suited as I can continue to wear the light baselayers I prefer to sleep in. At 936g this is a further 180g over the lighter Palisade, plus whatever pad cords I decide on, so another 10g for either quilt. The Flex 15°F is also considerably bulkier. However the sheer flexibility offered by the Flex means that I am increasingly favouring it for anything other than the warmest summer months. One thing to note is that I also spec up to a warmer mat in the colder months. The 15°F and 30°F ratings from Katabatic are not arbitrary. They are comfort ratings and will extend beyond these. Everyone sleeps differently, some sleep hot, some sleep cold. A ‘comfort’ rating of any sleeping bag or quilt from any manufacturer will differ for every individual. Which is one reason why the flexibility provided by a quilt can be so effective.

Katabatic 15 degree quilt in use in the cavernous two person ZPacks shelter
Katabatic Flex 15°F quilt in use in the cavernous two person ZPacks shelter on a spring backpacking trip in Scotland

I have used various sleeping bags over the years. There is little that focuses a mind more than when lying, shivering, in foetal position in the long cold hours thinking of the sleeping bag or quilt that should have been used. My Katabatic quilts now mean that I do not lie awake pondering this. These quilts are made in the US and were an expensive option for a UK based hiker. My Palisade quilt cost me $485 plus another $42 for the 3oz overfill in 2014. Shipping was another $69, so $755 in total. For my second purchase, my wide long Flex 15°F quilt cost $450, the 2oz down overfill a further $20. Shipping was another $57.76, so $527.76 in total. Expect to pay some import fees on top of this, possibly even a carriers ‘administration charge’. I note that Katabatic’s overall prices have inevitably increased in the interim years. There are alternative US, UK and Europe based manufacturers of top notch quilts, but, Three Points of the Compass was already more than happy with the Palisade quilt and this further expensive purchase was worth it for me. Everyone should make their own call. A top quality quilt would be an expensive mistake for someone who then finds that this style of sleeping doesn’t suit them.

This blog is part of a short series looking at favourite pieces of backpacking gear. Others in the series have been:

Katabatic Flex quilt on the Gritstone Trail, February 2022
Katabatic Flex quilt on the Gritstone Trail, February 2022

12 replies »

  1. Really interested in the step to a quilt however having gone from a standard sleeping bag to a mummy not so sure.
    I think I am missing something which might be the combination of items.
    The mummy bag and starting off clothed really has worked for me so far.

    Like

    • And that is fine. For you. A decent night’s kip on trail is important and we all find what works for us individually. The lightest, tightest option works for many, the ultralighters and endurance racers et al. These days, all I want is a decent, warm nights sleep, while remaining lightweight and unconstricted as well, of course!
      The easiest step is to take your normal sleeping bag and open it up and try as a top quilt. It may not be able to exclude drafts like the purpose built backpacking quilts, but will give you an idea on the principle and reality

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the reply. I do get a bit more room as I am a regular and they make most sleeping bags large. Just checked and the mummy bag I use a lot is 1-2 season so I do really push my luck however I run warm normally so that might help.
        Sure I have said this before however you are the best lightweight UK user I have found so if you are using a quilt in Scotland recently it got to be worth some serious thought.
        I know it makes a big difference in sleeping bags however not sure how one would work however does anyone use a liner in a quilt?

        Like

      • Sure, some users will incorporate a liner into their quilt sleep system. However I can’t see the sense in that as it would be a return to restriction and tying myself in knots during the night. What is more effective, is to use an outer bivvybag which cuts down any draughts and adds a few degrees. I have occasionally incorporated my Katabatic Bristlecone bivvy into my system, though not often, as I don’t often require it

        Liked by 1 person

      • My car camp sleeping bag liner just folds over the edge however it was diy.
        We know layering works so I wonder if anyone has tried it with sleeping kits. It would be lighter as you would carry a thinner quilt.

        Like

      • Give it a go! I would suggest not to try something radically new to you in the colder months however…

        Like

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