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Hammock Camping: Underquilt vs. Sleeping Mat?

Gear Selection

24 March, 2021

Hammock Camping: Underquilt vs. Sleeping Mat?

If you’ve ever spent a hot and humid night in a tent, you can certainly understand the benefits of hammock camping. For those who’ve taken the leap of faith from tent to ultralight hammock, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. 

When winter rolls around, the wrong equipment can leave you vulnerable to a hammock camper's worst nightmare - ‘cold butt syndrome’. CBS occurs when the insulation that lies between you and your hammock becomes squashed under the weight of your body, rendering the underside of your sleeping bag useless and leaving you perilously exposed to the bitter bite of the cold wind. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you're bound to at some point.

How to avoid cold butt syndrome

Sure you can layer up, or even wear a snow jacket to bed - it all depends on how much weight you’re willing to carry. Unfortunately a traditional style sleeping bag or even a fluffy down jacket is not much help to the hammock camper. Their lofty insulation becomes compressed under your body, creating convective heat loss as the cold night air siphons-off your body warmth.

The secret to avoiding CBS is to create a layer of insulation on your underside that maintains its loft throughout the night. For insulation to be effective, it must remain lofted so that the air trapped within its fibers can be warmed from the heat created by your body. Lofted hammock insulation can be achieved by using an underquilt or sleeping mat.

Why you should use an underquilt? 

An underquilt is a single layer of sleeping-bag-like insulation which hangs beneath your hammockwhere the weight of your body can't crush the precious fibers protecting you from the elements. Often cocoon-shaped, underquilts are designed to keep you toasty as you sleep by trapping air that can be warmed by your body heat.

Can a sleeping mat achieve the same results?

Most campers would be familiar with sleeping mats. While it’s possible to find hammock-specific sleeping mats, many hammock campers opt to repurpose their regular closed-cell or inflatable, ground sleeping mat.

Unlike underquilts, sleeping mats sit within the hammock. Despite being under pressure from the weight of your body, sleeping mats are able to hold their shape and are not susceptible to insulation compression. Although they sit within the hammock, they work in a very similar way to the underquilt in that they trap a layer of air beneath you and rely on body heat to keep you warm. 

Which option is best for me? 

Before determining a best choice it's worth considering some pros and cons.

Ultralight Sleeping Mat

  • Versatility. Can be used for both hammock and ground sleeping.
  • Affordable. Sleeping mats tend to be cheaper than an underquilt.
  • Shift-factor. It's difficult to hold a sleeping mat in place, if you're prone to moving around in your sleep.
  • Size. Sleeping mats are often too narrow and too short to provide adequate warmth.
  • Effectiveness. When it comes to keeping you warm, mars are no match for a lofty underquilt.

Ultralight Underquilt

  • More comfortable. Won't interfere with your natural hammock sleeping position.
  • High levels of loft. More efficient heat distribution and retention.
  • Cocoon design. Increased warmth and protection.
  • Price. The price of warmth is steep, but arguably worth every cent when you're hammock camping.
  • Packability. Without a compression sack, underquilts may not pack down as small as a sleeping mat.

The bottom line

Insulation is the key to comfortable hammock-camping. Without it, you're going to have a cold and potentially dangerous night. An underquilt is the ultimate piece of insulation gear for hammock camping - providing unrivalled cold-weather protection. While many campers already own a sleeping mat, they may not have experienced anywhere near the same level of warmth. 

So which one is better? An underquilt is without a doubt the superior product when it comes to staying warm. 

If you’re still unsure about the whole underquilt thing, you may want to assess how often you go hammock camping, the weather/climate of your destinations, and your current experience with sleeping mats. 

If you’re a serious hammock camper, or you plan to sleep out during the cooler months, then an underquilt is a must-have. You’ll stay warm, protected, and sleep comfortably cold-butt syndrome-free for many more years to come. 

The Alton Goods Ultralight Underquilt combines market-leading materials and minimalist design in an efficient hammock insulation system.  

Featuring 850FP HyperDRY™ RDS Goose Down Filling, a Windproof Ripstop Nylon Shell With Durable Water Repellent Coating, and Warmth Sealing Draft Collars, this ultralight underquilt boasts an impressive warmth-to-weight ratio.

Cold and unforgiving conditions ahead? No dramas. This rugged and reliable number will keep you toasty warm!

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