Sunday, 30 January 2011

First Look: Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit quilt


The sweet pain that is waiting for another Mountain Laurel Design product to be lovingly constructed and delivered is over. This weekend I finally took delivery of my new MLD Spirit quilt. I heart quilts.

Design and construction:

As with most of MLD's products there are various product options to choose from. My particular Spirit quilt is the 30 degree (-1C) rated model. I opted for the XL size as I am a smidge over 6 foot tall and would be using it as an over-quilt in certain circumstances. Unlike the majority of quilts available the Spirit quilt sports an adjustable foot-box. There is a soft velcro strip, snap, draw-cord and 'plug' that allows the foot-box to be fully sealed, vented, slackened off for use over another bag or even opened up completely into a flat quilt for summer. How useful this range of adjustment will be remains to be seen. It's certainly an area where even more weight could be saved if you are happy with a simply stitched, non-adjustable foot-box. The quilt's ability to be opened completely flat speeds up drying and means it can double-duty as a hammock under-quilt for those monkey-loving backpackers that like swinging from the trees. There is a single back strap with low profile clips that is completely adjustable under a wide variety of conditions and sleeping pads and can be used from both sides. In addition to the neck draw-cord and snap it allows the quilt to be sealed tight around the user in cold, draughty conditions. With the options I chose my Spirit quilt tips the scales at 578g.



The main body of my quilt is constructed with Pertex Momentum 50, a lighter version of the micro-grid ripstop Momentum 90 that MLD use on the majority of their other products. The Momentum 50 option saves around 30% in weight. Currently only available in an eye-watering yellowy-orange, under my yellow DuoMid it's going to make for a real sunny morning whatever the weather outside! I also opted for the eVent head and foot strips, added in an effort to combat condensation from my breath and tent walls. The weight saving of the Momentum 50 option over the standard Momentum 90 more than offsets the weight increase added by the eVent strips. Nice! The synthetic insulation is Climashield Apex at 120 g/sq/m. Cord sleeves are constructed from Epic for water resistance and durability.


This winter I plan to use the quilt to augment my Western Mountaineering Ultralite down sleeping bag. The combination of a synthetic over-bag/quilt used in conjunction with a down sleeping bag is well known as a way to combat cumulative moisture build-up. Basically evaporative moisture from my body will condense in the synthetic quilt rather than the down bag where it will be easier to dry and cause less loss in insulation loft. That's the theory anyway. It's a system that I know Jorgen used to good effect last winter across the Sarek and will prove invaluable for a similar trip for me this year. I know some people opt for vapour barrier technologies but that is a strategy I have yet to experiment with and, to be honest, don't particularly like the sound of. There is another reason for combining two lighter '3 season' sleeping bag/quilts. Modularity. I will use the Spirit quilt on it's own in the coming year as a more moisture-resistant option to my GoLite Ultra 20 down quilt on certain trips. I can't justify buying myself a dedicated deep winter sleeping bag/quilt just now. A suitable -20C rated down bag/quilt is a major investment when weighed against the few nights a year that I might need one. Maybe next year I'll do more winter camping and will be able to justify it. It would certainly be a lighter option. In the meantime, combining my 'summer' quilt with a 'spring/autumn' bag makes sense.


Nielsen Brown said...

Thanks Joe for an informative report, quilts are definitely the best option in my view and the mix of synthetic and down for cold conditions seems ideal. My plan is to use a down quilt and synthetic clothing to reduce the moisture accumulation in the down. I look forward to hearing more on the orange quilt.

Unknown said...

The "system" just keeps on growing. Interesting bit of kit. Having bit the bullet and gone for the big trad winter bag I'm not likley to move to a system like this in a hurry but still very interested in how you get along with it. Will you be using your combo with your bivvy bag? Any thoughts on use of bivvy bags (goretex event variety) in deep cold?

Mac E said...

Modularity is good, although you can pay for it a little with the weight I've found it worthwhile.

I'm curious about quilts, almost everyone who switches from a regular sleeping bag likes them but I'm not sure they'd suit me. I suppose I could experiment by shaking all the down in my Ultra Minim to the top and placing my sleeping mat inside the bag.

Like Dave I went the traditional winter bag route.

Eugene Smith said...

This is the first time I've seen a Spirit Quilt from MLD reviewed, these don't seem to be a very popular item from Ron, or at least aren't discussed much in the blog world. It looks very nice, the eVent zones at the collar and foot should help with brushing against your shelter and condensation from breathing. I'm having a 30F quilt made right now and had considered incorporating eVent into the design but opted not to for weight savings, drying out a damp quilt in the morning or on a break along the trail is a non-issue for me in my dry environment.

BPL is currently having a sale on their 23.9 oz. BPL UL240 "all season" quilt (Pertex Quantum shell, proprietary insulation, CLO value of 7.5), price is now at $154 USD for members and will drop everyday by 10% until inventory is cleared. Might be a good time to snatch up a synth quilt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, an informative review. And the design seems to be smart for multi purpose use.

I am also considering a quilt as an "over bag" for a serious winter sleeping bag (1420g of 680+cuin down). But I am a bit worried about moisture accumulation to the hood of the bag. Any insights about that?

Fraser said...

You've spruced the place up!

I've fancied a quilt for a while, but haven't yet pulled the trigger. I've been muddling along with what I've got, so far, they're just too much other stuff I want to buy!

Martin Rye said...

Superb spec. Worked for Skurka across Alaska so it is good. No bivy needed. Very, very nice spec and kit. Ron does make exceedingly good kit.

Joe Newton said...

Roger - yes, quilts rock. I'll still have one sleeping bag (they're useful for use in huts too) but quilts are so much more versatile, comfortable and lighter.

Dave - I've not made the plunge for a big winter bag, we'll see how I get on with this combination for now. I won't be using it in a bivy though, I have a single-skin Black Diamond Firstlight shelter for the winter mountains.

Richard - yes, there is a slight weight penalty due to the doubling of the shell materials and other 'fixings'. I hope you get to try quilts out, I've never heard of anyone not enjoying their benefits even if they do stick to traditional bags in winter. Winter isn't the time to try them out for the first time!

Eugene - yeah, I've not seen many reviews of the Spirit quilt either. I guess it's a pretty niche product, most people would go 'down' the down-fill route. The BPL quilt is a simpler product and probably the Spirit's big rival.

korpijaakko - I've suffered from moisture accumulation in my down quilt on cooler nights where I've managed to turn and twist myself into a position where I've ended up breathing directly into it. I think the key is to try and make sure you keep your airway clear and dry your sleeping gear in any good weather you get!

Fraser - I think that after a shelter it's the sleeping bag/quilt where some of the biggest weight savings can be made. I really don't miss a sleeping bag in '3 season' camping. I prefer the 'freedom' of a quilt. It's just like sleeping at home! Your tent or bivy keeps the draughts out.

Martin - typical MLD finishing and attention to detail. Yep, if it's good enough for Skurka on his little walk...

It'll work well in the MLD InnerNet where the synthetic insulation will cope with any moisture issues.

Unknown said...

Joe, what pad will you be using with your winter set up?

Joe Newton said...

Dave - in the past any cold weather camping has only been for a night and not too far from civilisation so I've reclined on the sublime comfort and warmth of an insulated inflatable mat from Exped, albeit with a premium of almost 1kg in weight...

This year I'll be on a couple of trips that will be longer and more remote so I'll be switching to the rugged reliability of a full sized closed cell mat with a small inflatable on top for a bit of plushness. A CCF pad takes up more room and often needs to be on the outside of the pack but this also lets you roll it out quickly for lunch stops and breaks. Currently I have a 12mm Multimat CCF pad and a Thermarest ProLite Small. I'll let you know how this combination holds up to the cold soon.

Unknown said...

Thanks Joe. Looking forwards to reading how you get on. Wrestling with this right now. My down mats (yes I mean matS) are leaking. Bought a POE Ether elite in desperation, mainly because its cheap, and was hoping to get away with that combined with a Duo mat in Gausdalen in March. Now that I'm thinking it through properly I reccon the combo might come up short. Uncle CT suggests using a 3/4 length a ridge rest with the POE.

Joe Newton said...

Dave - I agree with Uncle CT - a CCF pad, like a Ridge Rest, will be crucial to insulating you from the heat-sapping snow.

Anonymous said...


Glad to see your quilt arrived. I haven't gotten mine out yet but I'm hoping for this weekend.


Anonymous said...

Joe - Yeas, most of the moisture around the hood is from breathing. But I believe that in the long run some moisture comes also from the natural sweating from head, neck and shoulders and that freezes to the hood. A synthetic hood over the down would collect that moisture leaving the down dry. But this is important only on long trips without drying possibilities.

I use CCF sleeping pads for winter. I have one bigger (65cm wide general CCF pad) and standard Ridgerest for extra insulation. The new Ridgerest Solar seems like a really good option but might also need some boost in deep winter conditions. CCF pads are bulky, but quite light and 100% foolproof.