Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt
The Enlightened Equipment Enigma is a popular ultralight quilt with backpackers, thru-hikers, and other weight-conscious adventurers. The Enigma has a simple, but carefully crafted design, with a sewn closed toe box. It’s constructed to be used as a sleep system, in conjunction with a sleeping pad and straps.
Enlightened Equipment Enigma At-a-Glance
Bag Type: Quilt (closed toe box)
Weight: Varies, 10-37 oz (~20 oz for a 20 degree)
Packed Size: Varies
Everybody has different body types, comfort levels in varying temperatures, and style of sleeping. For hikers whose body types don’t fit the standard “regular” size sleeping bag or quilt, this can mean having too little (or too much) space. The beauty of the Enigma is in the ability for hikers to customize the quilt to their needs. Users have the following options to specify:
Fill Power: Choose between 850 or 950 GGD (Grey Goose Down) fill. The fill power refers to how much space the down can fill. The higher the fill power, the lighter weight the insulation. The 950 is more expensive, but shaves a few ounces off the total weight of the quilt without sacrificing warmth or insulation. The APEX is the synthetic option.
Temperature: Choose between temperature ratings of 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, and 0 degrees. When choosing a temperature, consider the season, altitude, and weather of the environment in which you’d be typically using it. It’s helpful to have an understanding of your comfort level (some sleep cold) and if it’s your first time using a quilt… remember, a 20-degree quilt alone will not be warmer than a 20-degree bag.
Length: Sizes range from short to X-long. See the size chart for details. For colder rated quilts (20 and below), it’s important to have the correct length. Extra space not only adds weight, but can be colder due to drafts.
Width: Sizes range from slim to X-wide. See the size chart for details.
Fabric Type and Color: Many color options. Choose between 7D, 10D, and 20D DWR-treated (Durable Water Repellent) ultralight nylon. The 20D will be most durable and water resistant of the options, but sacrifices breathability and weight. The 7D is the lightest and most breathable fabric option, but is less durable and more expensive. The 10D is a balance between the two. For more information on fabrics, see here.
Circumstances of Review
I’ve used my 30-degree Enigma over 100 nights in a variety environments and trails since winter 2017. I base my opinions of its comfort and performance with the four other quilts and bags I’ve used on various long trails. I also consulted with my partner, Dave “Dingo” Moore, who used a 20-degree Enigma while completing his Triple Crown.
* No products were donated for the purpose of this review. The opinions expressed here are based off my knowledge and experiences.
Quilts Vs. Bags
There’s little question that using a quilt allows hikers to shave weight from their packs. But that shouldn’t be the only consideration when making the jump from using a sleeping bag to a quilt. Quilts are designed to work best paired with a complete sleep system, with a sleeping pad and straps. The general consensus is that quilts are mostly as warm as sleeping bags. Here are some notable benefits of using a quilt over a sleeping bag:
- Quilts can be 20-30% lighter than sleeping bag equivalents (due to lack of hoods, bottom insulation and zippers).
- Less restrictive, can be more comfortable to move around in (particularly for side sleepers).
- Better warmth-to-weight ratio than bags, thanks to the lack of zippers and bottom insulation.
- Greater customization (which helps keep dead air space to a minimum).
- Take up less volume in your pack.
I’ve found quilts to be best in warm and mild temperatures. In temperatures below 20-30 degrees F, I just prefer a bag for the extra protection. When I compare chilly nights I’ve slept in a quilt vs. in a bag, the quality of sleep is not the same. I sleep far better with a bag, even when properly using the straps of a quilt, and I end up carrying warmer sleep clothes to make up for it. People’s experiences sleeping in colder weather with quilts varies, and it’s important to experiment to better understand your individual preferences. Since I know this about myself, I simply carry the extra weight of a bag to be well-rested if I know I’ll be in temperatures reaching low 20s or below. Remember that this is personal experience and preference. Some people use 0-degree quilts for winter camping and are plenty warm.
If you’ll be using your quilt during shoulder seasons or at higher altitude (or you tend to sleep cold), consider the following:
- Get a quilt that is 10 degrees warmer than you think you need. (For the variable weather of the PCT and CDT, that means the typical 20 degree may not be sufficient. I’d go with a 10-degree option.)
- Remember that a few months into a thru-hike, you’ll be carrying less body fat that would otherwise keep you warmer at night.
- Wool base layers or a sleeping bag liner go a long way in extending your comfort on cold nights.
- LEARN TO USE THE SLEEP SYSTEM! Proper use of the straps will significantly increase the warmth of the bag.
- Be sure you’re using a sleeping pad with an R-value above 3.0.
Livability and Comfort
As someone who tends to be pretty active during sleep, the Enigma is a really comfortable choice for me. The design is superb and fabrics soft enough to bury your face in. Side-sleepers especially find the versatility of a quilt allows for easier movement. Unless it’s below freezing, I don’t use the strap system and instead treat it like a blanket with my feet tucked in the toe box. However, in colder weather, active sleepers will find that without the straps holding the quilt in place on the sleeping pad, the quilt gets tossed off during sleep.
One of my favorite aspects of the Enigma is how quickly it dries. Mine is made of the 20D fabric, which is the most durable and LEAST breathable of the fabric options, and even that dries in 30 minutes or so if I put it out in the sun during a lunch break. The 7D and 10D are even more efficient.
The Enigma is incredibly light; my 30-degree weighs in at 13 ounces with 850 fill and 20D fabric (the heaviest and least expensive of the options). It packs down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle to take up very little space in my pack, which allows me to carry ALL THE FOOD. When I first started using my Enigma two years ago, I was a little worried about whether it was durable enough to hold up to my dog’s tent presence and general heavy use on multimonth hikes. The Enigma has been extremely dependable overall, even when enduring damp mornings cowboy camping and dog paws.
As you use the quilt, especially on a thru-hike where it spends so much time in a tight stuff sack, the down will shift around. This can create clumps and cold spots, which can be uncomfortable. There are three simple ways of redistributing the down:
- Throw it in the drier on no heat with a few tennis balls.
- Hold it from the bottom and lightly shake it so the down moves down the vertical baffles.
- Lay it down flat and move your hands along the baffles, moving the air and down fill around.
Many people complain about this, but it does allow users to redistribute the down where they need it most. Enlightened Equipment goes into further detail on this here.
Thru-hikers tend to be a filthy bunch, and many of us will go months on a thru-hike without washing our sleeping bags or quilts. We may be able to put up with the smell it develops, but once the quilt starts performing less effectively and loft is giving cold spots, it’s time to wash the quilt. Down time at a hotel, hostel, or trail angel’s house is the perfect opportunity to give your quilt some attention. Enlightened equipment suggests washing it by hand in a bathtub with down-specific detergent (I like Nikwax Down Direct) followed by 3-5 hours in the drier on the no-heat setting. It’s quite the process, so be sure to read the full instructions here.
When not hiking, give your quilt some TLC and store it in the bag EE provides. This will help preserve the down and extend the life of the quilt.
Pros (specific to the Enigma, not quilts in general)
- Carefully thought-out and trail-tested design; hand made in Minnesota.
- Closed toe box for weight-savings, comfort, and warmth.
- High quality and water resistant DownTek. (Yes, this is important! Helps it dry out faster.)
- Reliable attachment system using elastic straps with clips to secure sleeping pad and prevent drafts.
- Snap and drawcord at the neck for added warmth.
- Great customer service (mid our CDT hike, they added a few ounces of down to my partner Dave’s Enigma and had it back to him within 2-3 weeks).
- CUSTOMIZATION. There are very few other quilts on the market with more options to customize.
- Long lead times on custom orders (4-6 weeks).
- Rising prices in recent years once the whole quilt thing has caught on.
- Updated and stricter return policy. Custom items can be returned unused within 30 days for a 20% restocking fee (the fee is pretty standard for custom clothes and gear though).
- Some users find the Enigma isn’t as warm compared to similar quilts by other brands.
- High maintenance to care for.
* Enlightened Equipment recently changed how they stuff their quilts, which may improve the warmth complaints some people have.
I think the #1 pro of the Enigma is its performance and value for the price. They are well-made, durable, and a great choice for long-distance hiking. You really pay for what you get here. The more expensive the fill and fabric you choose, the greater weight savings. I think the Enigma is the fairest weight-to-price ratio of any on the market and it is definitely well-worth the wait time to order a custom one.
When compared to similar quilts, the Enigma stacks up well. It’s one of the lightest and fairly priced options on the market, with the greatest customization (which does mean longer lead times). The biggest complaint is that the Enigma sleeps colder than others, which could be a reflection of the temperature ratings, or the user’s comfort level and/or use of the straps and full sleep system.
Here’s how these popular quilts (regular size, standard fill, length and width) measure up in terms of price and weight:
Enigma 20: $315, 21oz
Z packs Classic 20: $340, 19oz
Katabatic Gear Alsek 22: $390, 22oz
Therm-a-Rest Vesper 20: $380, 19oz
Hammock Gear Burrow 20: $275, 19oz
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.