Nunatak Gear Arc Alpinist Backcountry Quilt
By Raymond Estrella
March 12, 2010
Orange County, California, USA
6' 3" (1.91 m)
210 lb (95.30 kg)
I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, plus many western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly UL, I try to be as near to it as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with brother-in-law Dave.
Manufacturer: Nunatak Gear
Web site: www.nunatakusa.com
Product: Arc Alpinist Backcountry Quilt
Year manufactured: 2009
MSRP: US$ 464.00
Temperature rating: 20 F (-7 C)
Weight listed: 23 oz (652 g)
Actual weight: 23.7 oz (672 g)
Insulation (fill): 800+ fill-power goose down
Fill weight listed: 12 oz (340 g)
Baffle height/loft listed: 2.5 in (6.3 cm) Verified accurate
Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty
The Nunatak Arc Alpinist is a very comfortable, light weight, sleeping bag replacement. By utilizing the sleeping pad as the bottom insulation, less materials need to be part of the "bag" making for a small light package. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that it is pretty expensive. But I also believe that I got what I paid for. Read on and see if you agree with me.
The Nunatak Arc Alpinist backcountry quilt is claimed by the manufacturer to be a quilt for all seasons. As can be seen in the photo (courtesy of Nunatak Gear) to the right the quilt is made in an arcing taper. At the bottom is a footbox much like is found on all my traditional sleeping bags. But instead of a zipper running from the footbox up to the top the Alpinist just has the sewn edges of, well, a quilt.
|Image courtesy of Nunatak Gear|
The quilt is made with baffled construction to eliminate cold spots. The chambers which are filled with 800+ fill-power goose down run horizontally.
In warmer temperatures the Arc Alpinist is used as a traditional quilt, just spread over the user. But when temps drop it has a couple tricks up its shell. On the back are two nylon webbing straps that attach on one side with lightweight center-release buckles. Using these straps the Alpinist may be secured around me and my sleeping pad. The tighter I pull them the more sealed up I shall be keeping cold drafts out and my body heat in.
To really make it warm the straps can be pulled almost closed around just me, not the pad. Then the top may be closed by way of a metal snap. Once this is done an elastic draw string can be tightened by pulling the opening of the now almost-a-sleeping-bag Arc Alpinist closed as much as needed.
Nunatak Gear is a custom shop. All of their gear is hand made to order and there is a multitude of choices available as far as size, fabrics and amount of fill. While their web site shows standard configurations and weights everything can be ordered to fit one's specific needs or desires.
I had them make my quilt with the main outer shell from Pertex Quantum fabric. This is a super breathable 20 denier fabric. But I had them make the footbox of EPIC fabric from NexTec. This polyester microfiber features a unique and very durable water resistant fiber encapsulation. The result is a highly breathable, extremely water resistant, soft and pliable material that allows for excellent loft. As I often get my bags wet at the foot from hitting my tent walls I wanted to use this to keep from possibly wetting out the down. I chose all black for the color to facilitate sun-drying it as I often need to in fall and winter. The inside lining is black taffeta.
I did not change the measurements as it looked like his Large would be perfect for me. It is 72 in (183 cm) long. The footbox is 11 in (28 cm) in diameter and is 18 in (46 cm) deep. The quilt is 52 in (132 cm) wide at the top.
The quilt is very soft to the touch and the down is some of the puffiest I have ever seen. It lofts up very fast. Nunatak does not provide either a stuff sack or protective storage sack so I had to purchase them after I got the quilt. Here is a picture of it stuffed in a Sea to Summit waterproof drysack. It can compress down much further if I want it to, but this is good enough.
I first used the Arc Alpinist for two nights on what turned out to be a 33 mi (53 km) backpacking trip from Sonora Pass to Kinney Reservoir in northern California. We had 6400 ft (1950 m) of gain on trails that ranged from fine dust to granite and volcanic rock. The temps ranged from 29 to 52 F (-2 to 11 C). I carried a 30 lb (13.6 kg) pack.
I put two nights in it on an out-and-back trip in the South Sierra Wilderness. The temperatures ranged from 32 to 52 F (0 to 11 C).
Next I used it two nights in the Domeland Wilderness. The temps ranged from 27 to 50 F (-3 to 10 C).
On Halloween I did a solo trip to the top of Mt San Gorgonio where I spent the night on the summit. Even though I slept at 11500 ft (3500 m) elevation it only got down to 35 F (2 C) for a low. Trying to see a black quilit in a shaded tent is hard but the Arc Alpinist is sitting on my NeoAir pad in this shot on the summit.
I spent a snowy, rainy day trying to get to a couple of trailheads and finally gave up due to snow. Instead of hiking I camped at Indian Flats where it rained solid most the time. It got down to 34 F (1 C) at night.
I slept two nights in the Arc Alpinist (one at the trailhead, one on the trail) on a 50 mi (80 km) backpacking trip that started in San Bernardino National Forest, skirted two Indian Reservations and ended northern San Diego County. This up-and-down hike saw lingering snow in the trails on rocky terrain up high and sandy desert terrain lower. The temperatures ranged from 25 F to 42 F (-4 to 6 C) and one night saw very strong winds.
Last I took it up to San Jacinto State Park in a big snow storm for an overnighter. I stayed at 8900 ft (2700 m) in Tamarack Valley. Temps ranged from 22 F when I started and got down to 13 F (-6 to -11 C). It snowed all day and most the night, 6 to 8 in (20 cm) total accumulation after I stopped.
I suppose I should start out by saying that I am a side-sleeper that turns from side to side all during the night. I can't sleep on my back. Because of this I have trouble using mummy bags as they are meant to be used, on my back with the hood closed. I can use them if I turn the entire bag with me, but many of the lightest sleeping bags use less fill on the bottom or is some case no fill at all with means I have to keep the bag on its back.
I discovered the wonders of backcountry quilts last year with a model from a different manufacturer (see review). I found that a quilt was a perfect way for me to sleep comfortably with all my tossing and turning.
While that quilt was quite comfortable I was not happy with its loft and lack of warmth. A couple of my fellow BackpackGearTest colleagues recommended Nunatak quilts. I was already familiar with them as I had bought some down mukluks from them about five years ago.
I contacted the owner Tom Halpin via the emaill address listed on their web page, and explained what I was looking for. I wanted a quilt that would take me to 20 F (-7 C) without the use of added bulky clothes. I told him that I always wear a set of light weight base layers to protect my bags, and often bring a fleece beanie. I wanted the foot of the quilt to be of the same waterproof material that my Mukluks are, and I wanted the quilt to be all black in color to facilitate sun drying should it get wet from condensation.
I told him that I am a bit of a cold sleeper and asked if I should add extra down. He suggested that I try it with the normal amount of fill, and that should I need it to be warmer he would take it back and put more down in.
Since all their down items are made-to-order it took a while to get the Arc Alpinist. I believe this one took 7 weeks to get. But when I got a Priority Mail Tyvek Envelope addressed from Nunatak I thought Tom had made a mistake and sent me somebody's jacket or something. What could be in this little envelope? But sure enough my Large Arc Alpinist was inside.
The craftsmanship was top notch. I could not find the slightest defect in the construction of the quilt. The down lofted up beautifully and I was very happy to see it as thick as advertised. It is so soft and cushy that my children both had to "test" it out for me by "camping" with it a night each in the front room. They gave it twin thumbs-up!
I give it a big thumb-up too. I have been very satisfied with its performance in the field. I have had it down to 25 F (-4 C) without being cold. Almost all use has been on top of a NeoAir pad.
I found that I rarely needed to strap sides of the quilt together, instead usually just tucked it under me. When it gets too cold I did strap it to the quilt once, but found it warmer and more comfortable to just strap the quilt under my body so that I was lying on the straps.
I always bring a fleece hat of some kind with me and will put it on when it gets too cold.
Normally I do not wear anything but some light base layers when I sleep. I wear them more to keep my bags clean than for warmth. But I know that many people use their clothing and insulation layers a part of a total sleep "system" with the quilt the main component. As an experiment I purposely took the Arc Alpinist on a cold winter trip where I paired it with some medium weight fleece pants, an Icebreaker 200 wool top and a MontBell TEK jacket that I am testing. (See report.) For my head I brought a down filled balaclava and I wore SmartWool winter hiking socks on my feet. This combo kept me quite warm even though the night saw the temperature plummet to 13 F (-11 C) once the storm broke and the skies cleared.
One by product of the dropping temps was a massive amount of condensation formed everywhere in my tent. I had quite a bit of wetness on the quilt near my head but it did not soak into the shell. Here is a picture inside my tent. The green item at the head of the Arc Alpinist is my down balaclava.
While the experiment was a success I will stick to just using my quilt alone as my night-time warmth. But it is nice to know I can bolster it in an emergency.
I have come to love my Arc Alpinist. If I were to lose it today I would order another one tomorrow. They are quite expensive but I feel it is well worth it and expect to be using this fine piece of gear for many years to come.
Due to how well the quilt has worked for me I ordered two more quilts from Nunatak, a 5 F (-15) rated Arc Expedition for winter, and a 32 F (0 C) rated Arc Specialist for summer use. Watch for reviews of them during the coming year.
"I measure happiness with an altimeter"
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Read more reviews of Nunatak gear
Read more gear reviews by Ray Estrella