Over the years, I’ve been asked repeatedly to write about the items in my backpack, especially those I’ve had problems with or have found that I’d rather not live without. The Katabatic Sawatch backpacking quilt belongs to the latter category.
If you’ve missed out on the sleeping bag vs. quilt debate thus far, here’s an abbreviated version: Sleeping bags have backs and, thus, give sleepers an extra layer between themselves and the ground. But, that layer is so compressed that it can’t function as it should, so the back of a sleeping bag is actually wasted weight.
I became a quilt convert way back in my AT days, when Quiver used a lightweight, summer one. At the time, I used a synthetic 15-degree Eureka bag — and, unless it was a balmy summer night in Pennsylvania, I was chilly. (The cool, wet spring and autumn nights of Appalachia make for less-than-warm sleeping, especially in a body that is metabolizing more than it is consuming.) Quiver’s bag was ridiculously small, ridiculously light, and much warmer than it seemed as though it should be. And, while my knees or hips or shoulders or elbows often seemed to poke my sleeping bag, displacing stuffing and letting in the cold, the quilt seemed to have plenty of fabric to go around. I came to see quilts not as backless sleeping bags but as a later species in the evolution of backcountry sleeping gear.
There was one big problem about Quiver’s quilt for me: down. So, when I learned about the ethical down movement, I was intrigued. “Ethical down” is a byproduct of the meat industry and is generally not the feathers of birds painfully forcefed for foie gras. It’s not a perfect rating system, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. And, I found it acceptable to my moral compass, akin to buying leather shoes at a secondhand store.
Katabatic Gear is a small company based in Colorado, and the down they choose to use is ethically sourced. In winter 2015, with cash accumulated from long hours doing tech support at the local Verizon retailer, I splurged on the company’s 15-degree model, the Sawatch. Because of my tendency to hike in moist environments, I chose water-resistant 850fp down for the filling.
When my quilt arrived, I couldn’t believe how light it was. At home, I pile on the blankets in the winter, appreciating both their warmth and their weight. Here was a piece of gear that I found unbelievably light, and yet, as I tested it on a winter evening, I could tell that its warmth was the real deal.
The Katabatic Gear Sawatch is one of my no-brainer pieces of gear: It does exactly what it’s supposed to whenever I need it to and hasn’t let me down. It kept me warm on snowy nights on the PCT; I slept when most other hikers were shivering.
It’s wonderful to pull it from my pack after a long day of hiking, wrap it around me, and watch its loft increase. By the time the night’s temperatures start dropping, it’s one big, poofy blanket of loveliness. On warmer nights (50-60 degrees), too, it hasn’t proven too challenging to sleep with, as it’s easy to lie under a corner of it or remove my feet from the foot box. (Pro-tip: On cold nights, shake the down toward the center of the quilt so that it is on top of you; on warm nights, shake it away from you to the sides of the quilt.)
The one challenge I’ve found with the Sawatch is laziness: It comes with these tiny ropes to secure it to your pad for extra warmth, but I never seem to have the gumption to make that happen. Even without the straps, I’ve found that, as long as I have a good, uncompromised barrier between myself and the ground, I’ve been warm enough to sleep on snow.
The Sawatch is made with the attention to detail that you’d expect from a small business. The luxuriously soft fabric comes to a collar at the neck and can be fastened behind the neck with a couple of thick snaps, sewn in an opposing way to enable pairing them in the dark. The quilt comes with an ultralight stuff sack, as well as an organic cotton bag for off-season storage. To be honest, I’ve made use of the cotton bag for other gear, as I never put the Sawatch away.