Katabatic Gear Flex 22 Ultralight Quilt Review
Have you ever been boiled alive in a sleeping bag that’s too warm? Have you ever been woken by a pesky draft when your narrow quilt lifted an edge? Katabatic Gear’s versatile Flex series of ultralight quilts attempts to fix both these issues with the ability to open up or lock down to handle whatever conditions you run across. Throw in hydrophobic ExpeDRY down, and you are ready for just about anything.
Over the past four years, I have used Katabatic’s Alsek, the 22°F option from their Elite series of quilts which all have a closed footbox. It has served me well, and I have enjoyed discovering the additional features of the Flex series.
Katabatic Gear Flex 22 At-a-Glance
Weight: 21-28 ounces (size and fill dependent)
Weight, my quilt: 25.2 ounces
Sizing: three lengths corresponding to user height — 5’6″, 6′, and 6’6”. Regular and Wide-width options in all three lengths.
Size, my quilt: 6’6″ regular width
Temp Rating: 22°F comfort (also available in 15, 30, and 40-degree versions)
Fill Type: 900FP goose down, ExpeDRY treated (untreated 900FP goose down and 850FP ExpeDRY duck down also available)
Packed Volume: ~8L with included stuff sack
Material: Pertex Quantum Eco (.85 oz/yd2) outside, Pertex Taffeta (1.0 oz/yd2) inside
With the flexibility of the pad attachments and opening footbox system, this quilt will be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. The lower comfort limit of the Flex 22 is 22°F when it is clipped and closed up. I have also slept fine in temps up to 60°F. While the hydrophobic down and DWR helps with humid and wet conditions, aquablazers and serious paddlers may want to give more thought to synthetic sleep systems.
Circumstance of Review
This quilt dropped onto my stoop in the midst of an intense training month for Skurka’s Wind River High Route (WRHR). It saw many miles and nights across Colorado’s Front and Elk ranges for quick weekend hits, culminating in an 8-day trek in Wyoming where conditions put this bag to the test. I rounded out the season with a quick 50-mile loop on the Colorado Trail around Silverton.
Katabatic Gear Flex 22 Features
Katabatic’s signature pad attachment system
This is often regarded as the best pad system of any UL quilt manufacturer. Katabatic provides two 2mm cords to wrap around your pad of choice and mates them with four clip-in points (two each at the shoulder and hips) to keep drafts out. The primary cord clips (‘bread tab’) have two slots of different diameters that provide different staying power. Use the larger by itself for a little mobility, or use the smaller hole with the additional secondary quilt clips (‘mitten hook’) to really keep out drafts.
The outside fabric of the quilt is larger than the inside, meaning that when it’s wrapped tight against your body there is still room for the baffles to stay lofted
Blanket and Foot Vent Modes
While most quilts are entirely zipperless to save weight, it usually means an inoperable footbox that gets steamy when temps rise. The flex series puts a zipper all the way down the footbox, paired with a drawstring and snap closure at the end. It can be opened fully into a rectangular-ish blanket, or just opened at the bottom for the damp-footed.
New to their Flex series of quilts, an internal stash pocket is now included to keep freeze-sensitive equipment warm on frosty nights.
Most thru-hikers are going to use their sleep system of choice across several seasons, meaning they need to be comfortable in a wide range of conditions. Quilt manufacturers typically provide a way to attach your quilt to your sleeping pad, sealing out drafts and keeping you covered on cold nights. When warm, you can always forgo the attachments to get more airflow. The Flex series takes the vent control even further, allowing you to completely unzip the footbox, or open the drawstring at the end to stick a foot out.
Katabatic uses horizontal baffles that allow you to (gently, and time consumingly) push fill towards the edge of the quilt to decrease the amount of insulation over your body. I have only exercised this option once, accidentally, with my Alsek after washing all my down garments in a machine. It’s a slow process to adjust, but someone with a 22°F quilt might appreciate it on a warm, humid night on the East Coast.
Overall, I find Katabatic’s temperature ratings accurate, if not conservative. That said, as it was summer, I never quite got this bag down to 22°F even when camping at 11-12,000ft on the WRHR. My past experience with their Alsek model (also 22°F) leaves me to believe I can take down in the 20s comfortably. It helps that they overfill the footbox to prevent cold feet, a common first zone of discomfort.
Katabatic sources their down from Allied Feather and Down, which are part of the Bluesign and Responsible Down Standard programs. Allied Feather and Down also have a program to track individual lots of down using Track My Down, meaning there is great transparency in the sourcing and environmental impact of your bag of feathers.
Ethics aside, the down used is super high loft 900FP goose or 850FP duck. Choosing 900FP goose allows the same loft with slightly less fill weight and therefore a lighter overall package. It also slightly reduces the chance of animal smell compared to duck, although I don’t think this would be noticeable based on past duck down products I have owned. While 1000FP down does exist, I’ve never seen it in a sleeping bag. This stuff is pretty much the cream of the crop.
ExpeDRY is a chemical-free alternative to other hydrophobic down treatments, utilizing gold particles to aid in moisture evaporation. Untreated down collapses heavily when wet, reducing loft and losing its insulating properties. While it’s not a full waterproof treatment, ExpeDRY will substantially mitigate the deleterious effects of humidity and minimal water ingress past the bag’s shell. For no weight penalty and only $5 extra versus untreated down, this is a worthy upgrade.
Combine that with splash and dew-resistant DWR spray on the bag’s exterior Pertex Quantum shell, and you can survive quite a bit of bad weather comfortably inside your quilt.
Hoodless / Draft Collar
Keeping with the ‘cut what isn’t needed’ ethos of quilt design, Katabatic’s quilts are hoodless. While this can be a jarring transition for mummy bag users, sleeping bag hoods are generally overly large and inefficient. They also provide more insulation than needed for the temp rating of the bag. Most hikers will already have a hooded layer or hat for nights when temps are borderline freezing. If you are really pushing temps, Katabatic sells separate down hoods, as do many other brands.
Grosgrain Straps for Padless Use
If you are a dedicated hammock camper, occasional car camper, or sleeping on a hostel mattress, using a quilt standalone can be difficult. Katabatic includes 2 grosgrain ‘ribbons’ to make using it without a typical sleeping pad easier.
Katabatic Flex 22 Pros
Pocket Keeps Filter Unfrozen
New to the Flex series is an internal stash pocket for your freeze-sensitive gear. Having several nights just below freezing, I was happy to have a place for my water filter in my quilt to protect the integrity of the filter element. There wasn’t quite enough room to comfortably store my phone in there at the same time, unfortunately.
Blanket Mode for Nap Time
While most people will unzip and unsnap the footbox for warm nights, I mostly used it for midday naps and bedtimes that happened before sunset (It gets dark at 10PM in the summer, I can’t stay up that late!). This ‘blanket mode’ gives a nice, napping-on-the-couch-at-home feel that a mummy bag doesn’t quite match. While this is not a 2 person quilt, I also deployed blanket mode on a few warmer nights to make canoodling with my partner a little easier.
Vent Mode Good for Drying Feet
In addition to blanket mode, the Flex series has an opening at the feet that can be adjusted with a snap and a pull cord. This allows you to keep your legs wrapped up but your feet outside. After several days of squishy late-season snow, paired with drippy glacier travel and significant stream crossings, my feet were often wrinkly and wet by bedtime. Being able to leave them outside my bag in the evening before temps dropped was great for drying them out without soaking the feathers.
I was initially worried about the openable footbox being a source of drafts even when shut. However, with the positioning of the snap (which requires a half-fold to close) paired with a drawcord, I never felt a cold spot even on windy, cold nights.
Katabatic Flex 22 Cons
Footbox Features Add Weight and Bulk
While the flexibility that the zipper, snap, and cord provide is nice in varied conditions, it is undeniable they add weight. Eliminating the full-length zipper cuts a ton of weight. However, reintroducing a shorter zipper at the footbox is a compromise. Between similarly specified (6’6”, 900FP) Elite and Flex series quilts from Katabatic, the extra features of the Flex add .9oz to the total weight. That might not seem like much, but more significantly, the Flex series packs to a nominal 8L of space, whereas the Elite fits into 6.5L. That’s a significant 23% difference for someone squeezing into a 30L or 40L backpack.
Pad Straps are Another Evening Chore
While Katabatic’s pad attachment system is plenty effective, I do find it annoying to set up every night. While you could theoretically pack it with your pad, I worry about the abrasion from the plastic hardware damaging the fragile materials common in UL equipment. On lazy nights when I just can’t be bothered to tinker with another little thing, I have tried to go without and have consistently regretted it. People who opt for a wide model can get away with it a bit more as they are more draft-resistant.
While this may seem to be an unfortunate necessity, other brands like Nunatak have circumvented it by using Edge Tension Control systems to keep the back opening tight and less prone to air leakage.
Growth of a Loved Company
There’s no question that Katabatic makes good quilts. A friend who’s used more than a few bags in his 25,000 miles of hiking once described his Palisade as ‘the Ferrari of quilts.’ Unfortunately, to get bags in the hands of everyone who wants one, they have had to make some compromises.
While all their gear was once 100% made in Colorado, they have since moved a significant portion of the labor (sewing the shells) overseas. Quality checks, filling with down, and final sewing is still done in Colorado, however. Qualified seamstresses are hard to come by in the US. However, this change was certainly a letdown to the ‘small, made in the USA’ fans nonetheless.
Other changes that I’ve noticed since purchasing my Alsek in 2019 are the removal of the carbon-neutral shipping option (it’s included if you opt for the ~$12 Route shipping insurance), and switching the material of the included storage bag from organic cotton to recycled poly/nylon. Carbon-neutral shipping has its champions and detractors, and the organic cotton vs. recycled plastic conversation is beyond the scope of this review, but sustainability matters to the backpacking crowd. Hopefully, these changes were made for the right reasons.
I think Katabatic makes some of the best quilts on the market. Their Flex series is a great option for those looking to extend a single quilt across a large range of conditions. The ExpeDRY treatment is a worthy upgrade to protect against the performance degradation of wet down.
At $440 (in my configuration), there are certainly cheaper quilts around. However, I happily paid full freight for my last Katabatic quilt and would do so again if I lost both of these. The thoughtful design and effective pad system are worth the extra cost over some of the cheaper competitors, in my opinion. Finally, while the extra features of the Flex are helpful, whether or not they’re worth it for the .9 oz weight penalty over the Elite quilts will vary for each user.
Similar Ultralight Quilts
Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20°F
Weight: 17-30 ounces
Nunatak Arc UL 20°F
Weight: 19-28 ounces
Hammock Gear Econ Burrow
Weight: 23-28 ounces
Katabatic Gear Alsek 22°F
Weight: 21-27 ounces
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Disclaimer: The Flex 22 was donated for the purpose of review
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