Thru-Hiker: Gear and Resources for Long Distance Hikers
Fabrics And Materials Fabrics And Materials The Workshop: Make Your Own Gear Projects Articles for Lightweight and Long Distance Hikers

French Seams

Knee Articulation

Hood Pattern

Installing Wrist Elastic

Down Underquilt

Mitten Pattern

Using Continuous Zipper

Titanium Solid Fuel Tablet Stove

Lightweight Backpack

Manual Buttonhole

Basic Seams for Homemade Gear Projects

How to load thread into the bobbin

How to Check and Adjust Thread Tension

Mesh Stuff Sack

Folding Wood Burning Pack Stove

0.5 oz V8 Stove

Cat Stove

Down Quilt

Make Your Own Silnylon Stuffsacks

Henry's Tarptent & Tarptent-for-2

17 oz Down Quilt

by Jeremy Padgett

This is my first Homemade Gear, and it is probably not the easiest project to have started on. However, I am very pleased with the outcome and have so chosen to share it, and the process, with the general public in order to promote and inspire the making of homemade gear. Here I'll explain what you'll need, in materials and knowledge, and how to make it.

To better acquaint myself with the art of sewing, I made several prototypes before beginning on the final draft. I made these with $1.00/yard fabric and sewed away. It doesn't matter how many mistakes you make when money's not a factor. However, when it's time for the real deal, and your Benjamin is floating on the line, mistakes suddenly become quite dramatic. I did not produce a pattern, only measurements that I modified throughout the entire process. Nor will I produce a pattern to be used on this website. I do this to serve no other purpose than encouragement for total customization. For your own comparative purposes, know that I am 5' 10" and 145pounds.

I learned a few small, but helpful, tricks along the way, don't worry, they're all included to make this as pain-free as possible.

Before I even begin this, however, I must discuss why a quilt is far better, under most circumstances, than it's equivalent sleeping bag. Insulation works in one of two ways: either by dead air space (loft) or by reflection (radiation). A mixture of these two types of insulations should be avoided especially when working with down in order to maintain maximum loft and vapor transfer. The first type of insulation, dead air space, is what is used in sleeping bags and in most insulation found today here on Earth. They work on the principle of tiny particles trapping heat produced by a [body] and keeping them warm by discouraging convection. If convection takes place, warmth will be lost. Therefore, the particles/fibers that fill the space must be so fine so as to hinder convection altogether. Using this, we can now say that the thicker the particles trapping air (loft) the greater the warmth that it provides (i.e. it has to be fluffy to work). If one lies on the bottom part of his sleeping bag, all of the insulation under the body is crushed and is therefore no longer useful insulation (It should be said at this point that heat rises). So why have crushed insulation on the bottom? You already sleep on some sort of pad (it's main purpose is insulation, not comfort); use it instead of dragging along the extra "dead" insulation on the under part of your sleeping bag. This is why a quilt will keep you warm, yet weighs half as much as its equivalent bag, and compresses twice as much.


The Ins and Outs of Working With Down

Be sure to order 10% more down than you'll need due to its tendency to disappear. To discern how much down you will need, you first need to know the temperature that you want the quilt to be warm to. Using prominent industry standards, the following chart shows equivalent loft-warmth ratios. I have converted them to be relevant with making a quilt.

Comfort Rating in Degrees Fahrenheit

Respective Loft Height in inches











After determining the temperature, and hence loft, that you'll need, use the formula Length x Width x Height = Approximate Volume (cubic Inches). Divide the Approximate Volume by the fill power of down (i.e. 550, 650, 775, 800, 830) to determine how many ounces of down you will need. Make sure to add 10% to that number to have a margin of loss when working with the down.

Example: The average dimensions of my quilt are as follows: 72-inch length, 45-inch width, and 2.5-inch height. Multiplying them together, we arrive at 8100 cubic inches. I know from talking with Feathered Friends that the down that I will be ordering is 800+ fill power, meaning that one ounce will take up at LEAST 800 cubic inches. Divide 8100 ci by 800+ fill power to get 10.12 ounces of down. Multiply the answer by 1.1 to achieve a safe margin of loss. In my scenario, I ordered 11 ounces of 800+ fill down.

The weight and quantity of down that you need will vary greatly depending upon quality of down.

Because down is a loose insulation, precautions must be taken to ensure insulation it covers you at all times. A simple way to do this is by making a sewn-through bag. This is done by simply sewing the top and bottom pieces together in strips every 7-8 inches creating pockets to put the down into. This method creates "cold spots" easily, however, and should only be used to make bags who's temperature range is 30* or higher (i.e. 40*F) Another way to keep the down is by sewing strips of fabric to the top and bottom pieces of fabric to allow a certain loft. This method is known as baffled construction. A baffled bag is much better a preventing cold spots when adequate loft is accounted for. This is the method I used for making my quilt. The baffles are best made out of No-See-um mesh netting.

Other Considerations when choosing supplies and materials

I suggest making the quilt out of two separate colors: a light color on top, and a dark color on bottom. This not only enhances looks, but performance as well. A light color will absorb less heat and therefore will loose less through heat radiation. Thus, it will hold more heat in the bag when used on top. A darker color can be used on the bottom to speed up dry out time in the backcountry. Also, when the user wishes to not be seen as easily, the darker color can serve as camouflage in the night. The breatheability of a fabric is also vital. The human body emits nearly a pint of moisture every night during sleep. A fabric that is not breathable will trap this moisture, encouraging mildew and loss of loft. It is important to air out a sleeping bag every morning, in any case, to ensure complete dryness. A fabric that is too breathable, however, will let too much heat escape right through the individual threads and will hinder the bags performance. Use a lightweight down-proof breathable rip-stop nylon. A Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish will make a limited amount of moisture (from the outside) bead up and roll off of the quilt, rather than soaking in.


Threads and Needles

The color of thread is totally up to you; however, make sure it is 100% Polyester thread. No cotton core stuff, it MUST BE 100% Polyester. Cotton thread, even cotton core, will rot fast in the field, leaving you, again, with a pile of materials and no sewing machine to put them back together. Use the smallest needle that you can find, the smaller the needle holes, the more difficult it will be for down to escape. I used a size 9 needle.

What I Used

5 yards of 1.1oz NON-coated Rip-Stop Nylon (Sky blue, black)

2 yards of Slate colored No-See-Um mesh netting (different color than shell fabric makes it easier to see)

11oz of 800+fill Feathered Friends Down

100% Polyester Thread

Note: It is important to keep in mind that I'm a little guy at 5'10" and 140lbs. I suggest buying some inexpensive fabric to figure out your dimensions beforehand.

So What's the Plan?

What you'll need to cut:

Cut two identical pieces for to shell. Make one out of the lighter color (for the top) and the other out of the dark material. The picture in the steps below illustrate the dimensions of my quilt, you may need more or less in some areas. You'll also need to cut 6-inch strips to use as your baffles.

Remember to add two inches on each side for seam allowance!

After you get to step 5, you'll also want to measure and cut two pieces of fabric for use as a footbox. They will measure about 14"x 9"x 10"x 9" all the way around, but you won't know the dimensions exactly until you get there.

After you get to step 5, you'll also want to measure and cut two pieces of fabric for use as a footbox. They will measure about 14"x 9"x 10"x 9" all the way around, but you won't know the dimensions exactly until you get there.

Before You Start:

It will help if you complete steps one - four the night before you begin. Still allow two more days of sewing.

Unless you are a tailor, your bag will NOT be perfect. Such is the reality of making one's own gear. As long as it works, it is beautiful in my eyes and, I'm sure, in yours.

Set your Sewing Machine to 8-10 stitches per inch

Use Scotch Tape to make all marks on the fabric. This will eliminate marking the fabric with markers and/or chalk. Scotch tape peels off as you sew.

How to Make Your Own Down Quilt


Step One: Spread out the fabric on a spacious floor. Measure and mark your dimensions. Cut out the pattern. Using Scotch Tape (instead of marking the fabric with a marker) "mark" your baffles onto the fabric. Scotch Tape peels of easily but do not sew ON it, sew above or below it. Baffles should be 5-7 inches apart (mine are 7) starting from the foot.

Step Two: Spread out the other piece of fabric on the floor and lay your pattern (baffle marks down) on it. Tape if necessary. Cut out the pattern on the second piece of fabric. Using the First piece as a model, mark the new piece with scotch tape indicating where the baffles are to be placed. Finish Marking the Second piece after removing the first piece.

From Hereon out, the first piece will be referred to the top, and the second as the bottom.

Step Three: Cut the No-See-Um netting into strips. These will be your baffles. Make them one inch taller than you need them. You will tuck them under to form a stronger bond when sewing. Using the guides that you have made from Scotch tape, sew the strips of netting onto the top fabric, remembering to peel off tape after EACH baffle (otherwise it will be impossible to take it out).
Step Four: Sew the Baffles, which are now connected to the top, to the bottom piece. Again, peel of the tape as you finish EACH baffle.
Step Five: Measure the foot width of the fabric. Make, mark, and cut your foot box piece accordingly. Sew a baffle onto the inside of the outside foot box piece. Sew the outside foot box piece onto the foot of the bag inside out as to hide the stitching. Also sew the bottom ridgeline up to the knees in the same fashion.
Step Six: Turn the bag wrong side out. Sew the inside foot box piece to the foot box baffle. Sew the inside foot box piece to the foot of the bag 3/4 of the way around. Leave the rest until you stuff.
Step Seven: Sew up one side of the bag, leaving one open to stuff. You are now ready for the "Quarantine" part of making a down bag.
  Step Eight: find a place your house where there is NO breeze but plenty of light. Vacuum it. Set up your Sewing Machine inside. Take in with you the following: your quilt, seam-rippers and scissors, scotch tape, down. Keep the vacuum cleaner close by waiting for cleanup. DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING IN THAT YOU DON'T WANT COVERED IN DOWN. Thinking through your final steps and mumbling your final prayers (this is where the morbid organ music begins) go through what you about to do.
  Step Nine: Close ALL doors and windows. Stuff the foot box and sew it up. Stuff the remaining compartments and TAPE them as you go. This will allow you to redistribute down amongst the compartments if you have put too much or not enough in a certain compartment.
Step Ten: After you are satisfied, begin sewing the baffles closed. I began at the top, working my way down. It worked for me. After reaching the bottom ridge at the knees, switch to the other end and work your way back. Try it out inside the tent. Go back and double stitch around the outer seams and around the inside foot box. Vacuum the remaining down off of the tent and yourself. Then vacuum the tent and yourself again. Do it again, and again, and again.




Thru-Hiker tested weight: 17 oz

Material: 1.1 oz uncoated ripstop nylon, 800 fill power down

Hungry Howie's reported temperature rating: 20 degrees