Gear Review: Katabatic Gear Sawatch Sleeping Quilt 15
Gear Review: Katabatic Gear Sawatch Sleeping Quilt 15
Disclosure: The following product was donated for the purpose of review.
Introduction: Katabatic is one of those killer small name companies that keeps churning out extremely lightweight down bags. The Sawatch quilt, named for the Colorado range that contains the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, has earned the ‘highly recommended’ label by BackpackingLight. But whether the company and their award-winning quilts register on your radar, what should catch your attention is that their 15*F sleeping bag weighs only 1.5 pounds. For a sleeping bag, which can often be the heaviest of your ‘big 3’ purchases, that’s a pretty huge bragging point. So, I sought to find out whether or not this down bag with its reinforced baffles lives up to its lofty reputation (pun intended).
Size: Small (up to 5’6”)
Dimensions: 52 in. width (shoulders), 43 in. width (hips), 38 in. width (feet)
Temperature Comfort Rating: 15 F
Weight: 23.7 oz
Size in stuff sack: 7 X 12.5 inches
Fill: 850 fill power water-resistant goose down
Price: $535 (detachable hood not included, runs $65 to $85)
Best Feature: Warm, light, and comfortable
Worst Feature: Expensive, adjustable cord clips sometimes hard to use
Circumstance of review: I used this quilt for the shoulder season in New Hampshire, mostly during weather between 30 and 50 degrees, with lows briefly in the high twenties. I never got the bag wet, but I did use it in an environment with plenty of condensation. I myself am 5’4” and about 150 pounds – and I tend to sleep cold, preferring bags that are rated about twenty degrees below the actual air temperature for maximum comfort.
Warmth: A quilt is quite different than a sleeping bag. Unlike a regular bag, the quilt wraps around the sleeper and insulates from the top, usually leaving a gap where their pad meets the quilt. The idea is that your pad is already insulating you from the ground and if you have the quilt securely fastened around your pad, it will fully insulate you from drafts above. The upside is that the quilt weighs less, is more comfortable to move in, and has a wider temperature range. The downside is that there is more room for error (i.e. drafts getting in and ruining your body warmth seal) if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Cords, Clips, and Straps (the set-up):
Katabatic has made one big change to the normal quilt design by adding their cord clips. Instead of wrapping the quilt around the sleeping pad, the quilt actually clips into the sleeping pad via two cords tied around it. This minimizes leaking in of cold air from the sides or the ground. If the temperature drops and the first set of clips aren’t cutting it, you can clip into a second set to make the quilt extra snug. The clip system makes the quilt much more akin to a sleeping bag – but one whose temperature rating is adjustable. On the other hand, if you don’t want your bag to attach to the sleeping pad, you can add the included straps to it and tighten or loosen them as you please.
I like a lot of pictures on gear reviews, so here is the full assembly. Above is the back side of my sleeping pad where Katabatic recommends you tie a half hitch (as with most knots, this is easier than it sounds. It’s one that people use all the time in climbing due to its simplicity and the fact that you can untie it with one quick pull.) Next to that picture is the mat before the sleeping bag is attached (by the way, I get into this later but I don’t recommend using a closed cell like the one I have here for warmth purposes and because it doesn’t seem as stable for attaching cords.)
The left picture shows the first set of clips attached to the cord, while in the right picture both sets of clips are attached for added warmth. You can see how the double clips really tighten the bag up.
From inside the bag, you can see where it attaches to both cords. The left picture shows what the bag can look like with just the first set of clips attached, for a warmer night. The right picture shows both sets of clips attached for cold weather. There’s a huge range of space (and warmth) available with this bag.
And lastly, the attachable straps, in case you don’t want the bag attached to your sleeping pad (this was my preferred set-up for its ease, but I used the cords during cold weather):
I’ve never used a quilt before, so I went into this review knowing that there would be a learning curve for me. I was concerned that I wouldn’t stay warm enough in a quilt, even if it was rated at for 15 degrees, so I did some research and tried a few different set-ups. I found that no matter what strategy I used, I was cold when first setting up. But as long as I set it up correctly, I heated up more than enough – even waking up sweating when it was below freezing. Factors affecting warmth were:
- Tossing and turning – I am a stomach sleeper, confessed cover hog, and nighttime tosser. I was concerned that the quilt would not insulate me well against my usual flailing, but was pleasantly surprised that it actually kept the draft out while still giving me a little more wiggle room. I think the larger width of this roomy quilt might be responsible for my delayed heating time (a larger person would heat up faster) – but once the air in the bag was warm, so was I. I did have to be aware of my surroundings – I couldn’t throw myself around whatever way I wanted, I needed to be strategic about flipping over. The small clasps, also, could be a little difficult to adjust and occasionally came undone. Eventually I switched to using the included straps to pull the bag close, which actually worked just as well as long as I made small adjustments to avoid letting a draft in. The clips still seem to be the best way to go for a very cold night, but for ease of movement I’m switching to the straps for milder weather.
The bag with cords clipped widely (left picture), with both sets of cord clips for cold weather (right picture), and with straps alone (bottom picture). As you can see, the straps can keep the bag pretty snug.
- Sleeping pad – Although Katabatic says the Sawatch works with any pad, I found I wasn’t really able to use my closed cell thermarest zlite. The cords I need to tie around my sleeping pad cause the Z lite to bend and bow out when I sit up, allowing tons of air in with small movements. I can use it with the straps, because they do not require me to attach to the sleeping pad, but when using a quilt I am much more aware of the lower temperature rating of my closed cell. I switched to a prolite and found it perfectly warm enough, but be warned that a quilt does not combine well with a colder pad. I’m thinking now about possibly investing in an xtherm to retain more heat, but it will probably be unnecessary unless I want to use the Sawatch closer to winter.
- Hoods – Hoods and quilts are sold separately through Katabatic. I did not use the hood that would go with this system, which meant that I cinched the bag around my neck and used a hat. I didn’t notice a huge problem with this, although I am also two inches shorter than the height of my bag so I’m able to scoot down into it. I slept inside a tent most nights and found that with the additional insulation, I didn’t need the hood – but if I were to sleep outside during 30 degree weather or lower (or if I were to try to use this as a winter bag in say, the huts in the White Mountains) I would buy a hood like Katabatic’s windom.
- Sizing – I actually found that I had a little extra foot room, causing my feet to be one of the last things that warmed up despite the extra down in the foot box. This might be because quilts, especially Katabatic’s quilts, are wider and allow more range of motion. I didn’t find it too roomy overall, though – I like a little extra space to move around. This bag is rated for 5’6”, but it can fit a taller person – in fact, I had my six-foot-tall friend try it out and it covered his shoulders. I would still recommend a larger size if you are over 5’10”, but if you are 5’8” or 5’9” – especially if you’re not a heavy person – It might be a better investment to buy the small.
Comfort: This bag is pretty plush. The fabric is so nice that I wished I didn’t have to wear my base layers inside. As soon as I can use this bag in warmer weather, I’m going sans long underwear. On a practical note, though, I loved that I felt less restricted in the wider bag and that I had more options for setting up – wide and spacious for Summer nights, tight and cozy for Fall or Spring. The straps worked fantastically, but I did find the second set-up option (the cord that clips to the bag) a little bit frustrating. I don’t have a lot of patience for set-ups, admittedly; I avoid tarps that require a multiple guy-line song-and-dance. But, on the other hand, I like to be warm.
In short, I like that the bag attaches to the pad, ensuring more control over warmth and drafts, but I don’t like how hard it can be to detach. I found that the clips could be tricky to move or unclip, leaving me with some close-quarters maintenance when I wanted to sit up.
Overall, the clip system was more work than I wanted to put into setting up my camp at night. But, when the temperature dipped down to twenty, I found myself doing it anyways. The cold weather option is great to have and I’m sure it will get easier as I get used to it, and the bag does come with the second option – the straps – that works for me.
Pros: The Sawatch is a fantastic product. It was exceptionally warm, breathable, and comfortable – all for a meager pound and a half of weight. The most stand-out feature of the Sawatch is probably its versatility, though. The straps, once they are attached, make for a quick and easy adjustment that does not slip during the night, while the clips and cord create a very warm, adjustable set-up without adding much weight.
Cons: There are not many downsides to this bag, but I tried to think of anything that might deter a future buyer.
- The quilt temperature rating depends on your sleeping pad also having a decent temperature rating. In other words, with a closed-cell or minimalist pad, there is a greater loss of warmth in this quilt style, and the buyer should be aware of that.
- Quilts can be tricky to adjust, and the Sawatch’s unique cord and clip system does have a learning curve.
- The hood comes separate. I don’t actually think this is a big con, because I personally prefer to use a hat with my bag. It saves on weight and I’m going to want to continue wearing the hat when I get out of my bag. But, at $535 it is an expensive bag and the hood adds an extra $65 to that initial cost.
Value: Katabatic does not cut costs in their products – but they also don’t cut corners. If you are an infrequent camper and not particularly concerned with weight, you can certainly find a cheaper bag. Similarly, if you plan to hike exclusively in areas with very little rain fall or humidity, you might not want to front the extra money for a hydrophobic down. But if you are looking to save weight on a long-distance, wet hike (like the AT, for example…), this bag is worth it.
A wide temperature range on a bag costs more, but it can also save you more. Having a quilt that works from spring to summer to fall is certainly cheaper than buying a warm weather bag and a cold weather bag, and no where is this more pertinent than on a thru-hike, where you will be hiking through multiple climates (Pictures from the top of the bag really show how versatile a quilt can be. In both pictures, the quilt is clipped to the cords).
Sleeping bags are hard to assign a value to because they are very expensive to make and they lose their value with use. Micro-tears in the material, compression sacks, and the natural oils from your skin (especially when you’re not getting regular access to a shower) all cause sleeping bags to lose their loft, decreasing the value of a used bag. The weight-savings, warmth, and overall quality of down bags are really not comparable to the quality of synthetic, and unfortunately, down is expensive. Not to mention that Katabatic’s down is expensive because it is ethically sourced, which means it is certified through the Responsible Down Standard and you can actually track it. The bottom line is: there are a lot of areas in hiking where you can skimp and save, but if you want a really high quality sleeping bag, you have to pay for it.
The Sawatch and other sleeping bags can be found at www.katabaticgear.com
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