The Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads on the Appalachian Trail: 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey

Each year here at the Trek, we ask hikers on the Appalachian Trail all about what sleeping systems they used on their hike. In this installment, we’ll cover the type of sleeping systems used, how these systems have changed over time, temperature and insulation type hikers chose, and the most popular sleeping bags, quilts, and pads from this year’s survey.

We had a total of 409 responses this year. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey! The data was collected from October through November of 2023 through our survey, which was marketed using our social media platforms, Backpacker Radio, and TheTrek.co. Some responses from previous years were removed, and obvious mistakes in start and end dates were adjusted. No obvious duplicates were found.

Sleeping Bags and Backpacking Quilts

The quilt vs sleeping bag debate has been growing over the years, and each year we see more quilt users. The trend continues: quilt use has grown from 51 percent last year to 56 percent this year. The number of hikers that used sleeping bags has gone down by 4 percent this year.

Meanwhile, 6 percent of hikers used some combination of underquilt, overquilt, and sleeping bag. (We often see hammockers using a combination set up like this.)

Finally, 3 percent of hikers used a different type of sleeping system altogether — for instance, some included blankets or hotel sheets in their setup.

READ NEXT – The 2022 Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads on the AT (prior year survey)

We’ve tracked quilt use compared with shelter type since 2015. Hammockers  have always been more likely to use quilts compared to those in tents. As quilts gain popularity, the gap between hammockers and tenters is lessening.

However, there is still a 10 percent difference between the two, with 71 percent of hammockers using quilts compared to 61 percent of tent users. It is important to note that there were many fewer hammockers than tent users in our survey, and this could skew the data.

Satisfaction

The overwhelming majority of hikers were satisfied with their choice of sleep system, with 92 percent being at least somewhat satisfied. Over half of hikers gave the highest rating of “very satisfied.”

Quilt users tend to be more satisfied with their choice than sleeping bag users. 12 percent of hikers with sleeping bags reported some level of dissatisfaction, compared to only 6 percent of those with quilts.

There weren’t many negative comments about hikers’ sleeping bag/quilt choices. Most commonly, hikers stressed the importance of getting a warm enough quilt and said they wished they had swapped to a summer quilt during the heat of the summer.

Meanwhile, 92 percent of hikers were at least somewhat satisfied with their choice of sleeping pad. Hikers had more to say about their sleeping pads. The main complaints were about their pads popping or being too noisy.

Here are some comments from survey participants who were unhappy with their sleeping systems this year:

“Xlite popped (delaminated) twice”

“Nemo Tensor failed in the first few weeks, but they were nice enough to send me a free one to my house”

“All inflatable pads were noisy, many Therm-a-Rests failed, I will likely use a foam pad on my next thru.”

“The inflatable pads everyone uses are ridiculously loud and annoying.”

Switching and Replacements

This year 38 percent of hikers switched out their sleeping bag or quilt at some point during their hike. Of those, 5 percent replaced their bag with the same model.

The overwhelming majority of hikers who replaced their bag or quilt did so intentionally with the seasons —86 percent cited that as their reason to switch. Thirteen hikers replaced their bags because they were too heavy, six because they were too cold, and only one hiker replaced their bag because it was worn or damaged.

Insulation and Temperature Ratings

Next, we asked hikers about the insulation and fill in their sleeping bag or quilt. While natural down, synthetic, and water-repellent down (e.g. DriDown) were all common choices, natural down was the most popular and was used by 64 percent of hikers. Only 1 percent of hikers used a mix of synthetic and down.

We also asked hikers about the temperature rating of the bag or quilt they started with compared to the one they ended up with. The most common overall temperature rating by a huge margin was between 20 and 29℉, with 47 percent of hikers having a bag in that temperature range. Those who swapped their bag typically chose less-insulated bags.

It is worth mentioning again that almost 40 percent of hikers chose to swap their bag with seasonal changes. Hikers with different start dates and locations experienced very different weather as well. We asked about the coldest temperatures endured in their respective bags, and responses ranged from -15℉ to 53℉.

For northbound hikers, the median low temperature endured in their starting bag was 20℉ compared to 40℉ for the bag they finished with. For southbound hikers, those numbers were 30℉ and 20℉ respectively.

Inflatable pads were the most common type of pad used this year, similar to other years. Foam pad usage has decreased somewhat, from 14 percent of hikers using a foam pad last year to 9 percent this year.

Meanwhile, 6 percent of hikers used a pad with a combination of foam and inflatable, and 3 percent did not use any pad. (All of the hikers who did not use any pad were hammockers.)

Most Popular Brands and Models

Finally, we asked hikers their favorite brands and models of sleeping bag or quilt and sleeping pad they used this year. Let’s start with the quilts. The most popular brands are listed in the table below.

BrandResponses
Enlightened Equipment161
REI39
Hammock Gear24
NEMO21
Zpacks16

Top Overall  Sleeping Bag and Quilt Model – Enlightened Equipment Revelation

The Revelation has yet again taken the top model of quilt. It has for quite a few years now. Enlightened Equipment also remains the top overall brand, with almost 40 percent of this year’s hikers using their quilts. The second-most popular model on the AT this year, the Enigma, also belongs to Enlightened Equipment. Check out the table below for more details on individual quilt models.

ModelResponses
Quilts
Enlightened Equipment Revelation82
Enlightened Equipment Enigma55
Hammock Gear Burrow20
UGQ Bandit8
Sleeping Bags
REI Magma18
Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag10
NEMO Disco9

Top Overall Sleeping Pad Model – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

The NeoAir XLite was the top model this year and has held that position for several years now. The remaining top sleeping pad models are listed in the table below.

ModelResponses
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (Regular and Women's143
NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated53
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm32
NEMO Switchback21

READ NEXT –

Summary

  • 56 percent of hikers choose quilts over sleeping bags; this preference continues to increase every year.
  • The vast majority of hikers were satisfied with their sleeping systems. The most common complaints were sleeping bags being too hot or cold and sleeping pads popping.
  • 38 percent of hikers swap out their sleeping bags or quilts seasonally. 20–29℉ is the most popular temperature rating for a sleeping bag or quilt.
  • The majority (64 percent) of hikers opt for natural down insulation, but Dri-Down and Synthetic fill are common as well.
  • Inflatable sleeping pads are the most popular, with 82 percent of hikers opting for them.
  • Enlightened Equipment remains the most popular brand for sleeping bags or quilts; the top two overall quilt models were the EE Revelation and Enigma.
  • The REI Magma is the most popular sleeping bag model this year (sadly, REI just dicontinued this model).
  • Therm-a-Rest and NEMO Equipment hold all of the top spots for sleeping pads this year, with the NeoAir XLite as the top model again. The NEMO Switchback was the most popular foam pad this year.

Thank You!

Congratulations to all the Appalachian Trail hikers this year — and a huge thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out the survey! Upcoming posts will detail AT hikers’ favorite backpacks, sleeping bags, and stoves/filters. To stay up to date on the latest survey posts, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

More From the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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Comments 1

  • John : Jan 26th

    I think questions about pillow type and brand would be interesting to add to the survey. How many use an actual pillow versus a stuff sack with clothing? What brand of pillow is most popular?

    Reply

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