Gear Review: Therm-a-Rest Vela 20 Two-Person Quilt
The Vela is Therm-a-Rest’s first and only line of couples’ backpacking quilts. As the outdoor equipment industry trends increasingly ultralight, the Vela 20 is Therm-a-Rest’s answer to a growing demand for a lightweight three-season sleep system for two.
This is a minimalist quilt that’s not overloaded with bells and whistles. Weighing in at 35 ounces, the Vela features 650-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™, a generous semi-rectangular cut with ample room for two, and a sewn footbox. If you’re in the market for a quality two-person sleep system with a reasonable price tag, the Vela quilt is definitely worth a look.
Note: this review is for the 20˚F version of the quilt. The Vela is also available in a 32˚F version.
I’m Ibex, a lifelong mummy bag user whose hatred of the cold has held me back from experimenting with quilts in the past (despite my burning curiosity). My partner, Lotus, who was once swept away in an icy torrent on a frigid November hiking trip, is staunchly pro-warmth/anti-quilt and thinks the whole concept of deliberately eliminating half your sleeping bag in the name of weight savings is madness. We’re both avid thru-hikers who have been trekking together since meeting on the Appalachian Trail two years ago. Prior to receiving the Vela, we slept in a makeshift double bag created by zipping two mummies together. What better pair to review a couple’s backpacking quilt?
How We Tested It
Lotus and I tested the Vela on backcountry trips in Arizona’s San Francisco Mountains and Colorado’s San Juans. In both locations, we spent plenty of near-freezing nights above 11,000 feet in the Vela. Both of us sleep in wool base layers atop Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm inflatable pads (the warmest on the market). On non-hiking nights, we’ve also used the Vela in lieu of a comforter in our camper van.
A note on COVID-19 safety: In order to safely test this quilt during the pandemic, we took precautions that included sticking to local trails for testing, self-quarantining for two weeks when we moved to a new backpacking location, and practicing social distancing and frequent hand-washing on trail.
Therm-a-Rest Vela Quilt Tech Specs
Weight: 35 ounces
Fill weight: 29 ounces
Fill material: 650-fill duck down (Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™)
Shell material: 20D polyester taffeta
- Footbox girth: 100 inches
- Hip girth: 82 inches
- Shoulder girth: 82 inches
- Length: 80 inches
- Limit: 20˚F
- Comfort: 32˚F
Therm-a-Rest Vela Features
- Stash pockets: The quilt has two zippered pockets, one at each top corner, that measure about 5 ½ by 5 ½ inches each. They’re ideal for storing small items like headlamps.
- Sewn footbox: By my measure, the footbox is calf-length (about 14 ½ inches deep) and 40 inches wide between the two hang loops at either corner.
- 650-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™: This water repellent duck down retains loft and warmth even when wet. From Therm-a-Rest’s website: “boasting unrivaled temperature regulation, it dries three times faster, absorbs 90% less water and maintains its loft 60 times longer than untreated down.” We didn’t have a chance to put the Nikwax down to the test, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness here.
- Perimeter snaps: Three snap loops on either side of the quilt allow the user to mate the quilt with their sleeping pad (with the additional purchase of Therm-a-Rest’s adhesive Mattress Loop Kit) to keep it in place and reduce drafts. The loops can also be used to mate with other Therm-a-Rest quilts and blankets for added warmth. Lotus and I used the loops to snap the sides of the quilt together on cold nights for added warmth.
- Full perimeter baffles: Generous baffles line the edges of the quilt to create a seal against cold drafts.
- Box baffle construction: Compared to sewn-through baffles, in which down-filled pockets are created by simply sewing the top of the quilt directly to the bottom of the quilt, box baffles use a thin internal mesh wall to create a more 3-D baffle shape. This technique reduces heat loss through the seams and minimizes pressure on the down so that it can loft fully.
Quilts: Backpacking quilts differ from traditional mummy sleeping bags in several key ways. First, quilts are open at the bottom. They save weight by eliminating a lot of material on the underside. Quilts let the sleeping pad do the hard work of insulating your backside. Quilts also lack features like hoods and zippers that add weight and bulk. Backpacking quilts are therefore lighter and less expensive than mummy bags, but they also tend to be draftier.
Couples’ sleep systems: Couples’ sleep systems have always been a bit of a niche market. They have some potential advantages over individual setups—for instance, the ability to share body heat with your partner, not to mention the weight and cost savings of a double bag/quilt compared to two individual setups. It’s also just plain nice to be able to sleep together with your significant other.
On the other hand, two-person systems have long been plagued by criticisms. For one thing, double bags tend to be extra-roomy so that both occupants have enough room to move around. This introduces a lot air gaps and makes the whole setup draftier and colder. Double systems can also be really bulky—so much so that it’s impractical to fit it inside one person’s pack. Finally, if the couple becomes separated overnight for any reason, only one person ends up with the sleeping bag/quilt. That places the other in a potentially life-threatening situation as temperatures drop.
Like any other piece of gear, double bags and quilts have their pros and cons. It’s up to the individual backpacker to weigh these for themselves.
What We Liked
Warm enough: In our opinion, the Vela is true to its temperature rating. It never got cold enough to test the 20-degree limit rating. However, we did test the 32-degree comfort rating on numerous freezing or near-freezing nights and found it more than warm enough. On more than one occasion, Lotus and I found ourselves peeling off base layers and sticking various limbs out from under the quilt to cool off in the chilly, near-freezing air in the early morning hours. Based on this experience, we’d expect the Vela to keep us warm down to at least 25˚F.
The Vela’s generous cut, which provides plenty of extra material for tucking in, contributes a lot to the warmth of this system. Remarkably, we didn’t find the quilt drafty at all.
On colder nights, we fastened the plastic snap loops along the edges of the quilt to snug it in around our shoulders and backs. Mind you, this isn’t how the snaps are supposed to be used. They’re designed to mate with other Therm-a-Rest products—but they work just as well for this purpose. Snapping the sides of the quilt together cuts down dramatically on cold drafts and also draws us closer together so that we can share body heat. On warmer nights, leaving the quilt unsnapped and wide open provides maximum comfort and ventilation.
Comfort: We loved the luxurious feel of this quilt. The taffeta shell fabric has a cool, buttery texture that feels great against the skin. We also loved the quilt’s generous dimensions. At 80 inches from collar to footbox, the Vela is long enough for most humans. Even your average NBA star could stick his feet down in the footbox and pull the quilt up to his forehead. Lotus and I are both under six feet and we can easily pull it way up over our heads. It’s also very wide and covers us both easily. All this extra material gives us plenty to tuck in around our hips and shoulders to eliminate cold drafts before they begin. It also makes it unlikely that the quilt will slip off of us when we turn over at night. As stated above, this really makes the whole setup warmer.
It’s worth noting here that the footbox on this quilt is quite generous. The photos on Therm-a-Rest’s website make the footbox look extremely shallow, but in reality, it covers my calf easily. What’s more, the quilt itself is so ridiculously long that I can easily feed some of that slack into the footbox, increasing the depth until it comes up to mid-thigh. It’s even possible to slip the footbox over the ends of our sleeping pads, which keeps the quilt secure.
Lightweight: The Vela is cheaper and more generously cut than comparable double quilts, all while being about as light or lighter. How the heck does that work? We have no idea, but we’re not complaining. At just over two pounds, the Vela still manages to provide plenty of warmth and wiggle room. This is all a significant weight savings over our previous four-pound couple’s sleep system.
Versatile: The Vela quilt is light and packable enough for use on extended backcountry trips, but also comfortable enough for use as a comforter at home. We’ve found it ideal for van life. We’re saving a ton of space in the van these days because the Vela has eliminated the need for a separate comforter and backpacking sleep system. The Vela is even small enough to bring along on chilly day hikes. It makes hanging out atop cold, blustery summits so much more enjoyable.
Price point: In fairness, I received this quilt for free for the purpose of review, so I can’t really talk about the price. But at an MSRP of just $369, this double quilt costs the same or less than some single quilts and sleeping bags on the market, providing an opportunity for huge savings. And compared to similar double quilts and sleeping bags, the Vela is an absolute bargain.
What Could be Improved
Uneven down distribution: We thought the distribution of insulation within the baffles was noticeably uneven. By holding the quilt up to the light, we could see that the down tended to pile up in certain areas, leaving other parts under-insulated. The quilt still keeps us warm, but we wouldn’t mind a few extra baffles to reduce down migration.
Hard to find the footbox: I know this sounds dumb, but what can I say? It’s like trying to find Narnia. The Vela is a pretty squared-off quilt, and all four sides look approximately the same at first glance—especially in the dark. Somehow we always end up spending a solid minute or longer each night flailing our legs around hopelessly in search of the footbox. Making the bottom third of the quilt a different color might help.
No customization: Compared to other quilts on the market, the Vela lacks customization. It only comes in two temperature ratings (20 and 32), one standard length (80 inches), and—if it matters to you—one color (gray). It would be nice to see a variety of length/girth options for those who’d like to save more weight. We’d also like to see an even warmer version, say around 10˚F. Perhaps, if the Vela line performs well, more variations will be introduced in the future.
Pocket is on the small side: The stash pockets on the Vela are under six-by-six inches. That’s big enough for two headlamps, but not much else. Given that this quilt is rated for subfreezing temperatures, it would be handy to have pockets big enough to store all your temperature-sensitive items, including water filters, fuel, and electronics.
As a side note, if you do plan to use the pockets to keep stuff warm overnight, you ought to turn the Vela inside out so that the patterned side is facing out. This way, most of the insulation will be on the outside of the pocket protecting it from cold, while the interior side of the pocket will be less insulated and will soak up your body heat.
The Bottom Line
At $369, the Vela is on the inexpensive side for a two-person quilt. This doesn’t mean it’s poorly made. We loved its luxurious yet lightweight feel and thoughtful design. The Vela has converted us into quilt lovers despite our initial anti-quilt bias prior to this review. We intend to keep using ours for both backcountry trips and daily use. There are precious few couples’ quilts on the market to begin with, and next to its competitors, the Vela offers high quality at a bargain price.
Comparable Two-Person Quilts
- Weight: 36.75 – 42.09 ounces
- Fill: 850-fill goose down
- Length: 72″ (regular) – 84″ (extra long)
- MSRP: $455-$480
- Weight: 26.7 – 30.3 ounces
- Fill: 900-fill DownTek water repellent goose down
- Length:66″ (short) – 78″ (long)
- MSRP: $469-$529
Disclaimer: This product was donated for the purpose of review.
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