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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Quilts and Blankets > Nunatak Arc Alpinist sleeping quilt > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

OWNER REVIEW by Richard Lyon
March 2, 2014


Male, 67 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (89 kg)
Chest 46 in (117 cm), waist 37 in (95 cm)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA

I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies.  I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences.  I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals.


The Arc Alpinist is Nunatak's signature Arc Concept sleeping quilt.  The Arc Concept, which the company describes as "adjustable girth quilts," employs two straps across the underside of the bag (see photo below) to provide the means of adjustment: tighten the straps to cinch the quilt closely around the body for warmth, or loosen them in warmer weather for increased ventilation. Because down that is compressed underneath a sleeper's body provides limited insulation, the Arc Concept emphasizes the topside and has an open V on the back of the Arc Alpinist 1quilt. An acceptable pad or combination of pads replaces insulation in the quilt to keep the sleeper’s underside from freezing.

A different ultralight (UL) principle is what directed me to quilt use in the first place, though not quite for the weight-saving reason.  UL prizes making gear do double or triple duty. The Arc Alpinist and its Arc family siblings, seven models at this writing (four of which are reviewed on this site) have no hoods. Two items likely to be in my pack anyway, headgear and, if dictated by the temperatures, a sweater or jacket, furnish the insulation lost by dispensing with a hood. Mild claustrophobia has always given me a keen dislike of sleeping bag hoods.  Enshrouding my head in a sleeping bag makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and accordingly I've always preferred semi-rectangular bags to mummies. A quilt combined with a jacket and hat offer a lighter weight alternative.

Other Arc Concept features generate weight savings as well.  Because an Arc bag's underside has the adjustable straps, zippers aren't needed and aren’t used. Nunatak’s stock sizes (see below) are cut on the trim side, and the company seeks out fabrics that are lightweight but sturdy enough to hold up to the rigors of backpacking.  

Nunatak is a custom shop. Listed dimensions are more guidelines than stock products, as the company encourages special features and sizing. (In fact Nunatak has no stock products; each bag is made up only upon a customer’s order.) Anything marked below with a double asterisk (**) relates to customization of my Arc Alpinist from the dimensions and weights listed on Nunatak’s website for a size Large Arc Alpinist.

Manufacturer:  Nunatak Gear LLC

Year of purchase: 2011
Listed Size: Large ("fits to [76 in/193 cm] height"); also available in Small (64 in/163 cm) and Medium (70 in/178 cm)
Listed weight, size Large: 22 oz (624 g) with the outer fabric used in mine.
Standard fill weight, size Large: 12 oz (340 g)
Measured weight,** including 4 oz  (116 g) overfill: 29 oz (822 g)
Listed dimensions: 55, 45, 38 in (140, 114, 97 cm) "usable width" at shoulders, hip, and foot, respectively.
Measured Dimensions:** 58, 48, 38 in (147, 122, 97 cm) width at the shoulders, hip, and foot.
Stuffed size: 7 x 12 in (18 x 31 cm), listed and verified accurate.
Baffle height, listed** 3 in (7 cm), measured  3.5 in (9 cm). Baffles are box constructed.
MSRP: Size Large, $464 US, plus $15/ounce for the down overfill.**  (As shown on Nunatak's website, different sizes of this quilt have different amounts of down and so are priced differently. Sometimes Nunatak adds a nominal charge for non-standard sewing.)
Materials: 800+-fill goose down insulation; 0.85 oz Pertex Quantum ripstop fabric on the outside, 1.0 oz Pertex Quantum ripstop fabric on the inside.**
Color: Black. (Note: The customer selects fabrics and color from Nunatak's inventory at the time an order is placed.)


My Arc Alpinist has four custom features:

  • Extra insulation – four additional ounces (116 g) of down fill, which raised the baffle height half an inch (120 mm).  As noted, had I had this quilt designed for me, the extra fill would have added $60 US to the price.

  • A differential cut - the inner lining baffles are sewn smaller than those on the outer shell, to maximize loft and hence get the most insulation out of the down in the quilt.
  • Increased shoulder and chest girth.

  • Inner lining of Pertex ripstop. Nunatak normally uses a lightweight nylon taffeta for lining its bags and quilts.
I didn’t custom design this bag, someone else did.  In autumn 2011 I was discussing couples’ quilts with Nunatak’s owner, Tom Halpin, and mentioned that his products had converted me to a dedicated three-season quilt user.  Good salesman that he is, Tom said I should try an Arc Expedition, Nunatak’s warmest Arc quilt, for winter use.  (Another member has posted an Owner Review of the Arc Expedition on this site.) After commenting that my budget might not allow for that, Tom said that another customer had just cancelled his order for a Large Arc Expedition-Arc Alpinist hybrid that had been already been made up, would I be interested? A suitably discounted price and immediate availability (ordinarily a customer must wait weeks or months for a bag – it’s custom-made, after all) meant that I would be.

That accounts for the custom features other than the down overfill, which I chose. A differential cut is standard on the Arc Expedition and my quilt’s dimensions lie between the two products’ listed dimensions.

Had I ordered the bag from scratch I’d have specified the first three extras, as I sleep very cold and have found my other Nunatak quilts a bit confining at the top.


My first use was a three-day, two-night trip in Montana in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in January 2012.  This hike was scheduled as a hut-to-hut ski trip, but there simply wasn't enough snow to ski the planned route or to get in my mandatory downhill skiing, so we converted it to a combination hike and snowshoe camping trip.  Maximum altitude about 7000 feet (2100 m), in clear weather and unseasonably warm temperatures, up to 50 F (10 C) during the day and down to only 15 F (-10 C) one night.  I slept in my Hilleberg Unna solo tent (see Owner Review) wearing midweight merino long underwear, a heavy wool-poly blend hooded sweater, and my Golightly Cashmere watch cap (see Owner Review). Completing my sleep system was a three-quarter length down-insulated sleeping pad.

I stashed away the Arc Alpinist during spring and summer, returning it to my kit for a four-day, three-night service trip in mid-September 2012 on a work in progress, a stretch of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana, just east of the Montana-Idaho border between the towns of West Yellowstone, Montana, and Island Park, Idaho.  This section has since been opened to the public as the Lion's Head Ridge Trail, named after one of the summit face's prominent features.  Our group completed the CDT's crossing of Watkins Creek near our campsite at about 8000 feet (2450 m).  We had great weather with mostly clear skies and nighttime temperatures dropping to a low of 20 F (-7 C), though it felt colder thanks to blustery winds.  My shelter was again the Unna, and my sleeping clothes the same other than wearing my Nunatak Skaha down sweater (see Owner Review) over the hoody.  I used a full-length Big Agnes Q-Core pad that I was testing (see Test Report) instead of the down pad.

Frosty morningThe following month I slept in the Arc Alpinist on a two-night backpacking trip in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.  Weather was similar to the CDT trip, though perhaps a few degrees warmer at night and in the morning.  Certainly below the dew point, as this picture attests. I used the same sleep system as on the CDT trip but camped with a friend in my Stephenson’s Warmlite 3R tent.

Next came an overnight in early November 2012 on along the Blacktail Divide trail, also in Yellowstone Park. Again the Warmlite but with a major addition to my sleep system. Though clear and with little wind it was very cold, -3 F (-19 C) at the trailhead dropping to -15 F (-26 C) early the following morning. The weatherman had forecast the cold front, so on this trip I packed an overbag (my Feathered Friends Great Auk, see Owner Review), which I found was needed after about fifteen minutes of trying the Arc Alpinist plus a hooded down sweater and watch cap.  I also used a second sleeping pad, an egg crate-style foam pad underneath a down-filled pad.

Almost all of my use the past two winters took place in cabins in the nearby Gallatin National Forest or Yellowstone National Park. (For personal reasons – trying out a new couple’s sleep system - use of the Arc Alpinist in 2012-2013 was limited.)  Outside temperatures got as low as -15 F (-26 C) and by morning, long after the fire in the stove has expired, it seemed nearly as cold inside, though with no wind or condensation. I often slept on the floor of the cabin (others in my hiking group having appropriated the bunks) atop a foam pad, though I rated a bunk on one trip.

One other use was on a solo backpack in late May 2013 in Yellowstone National Park. Temperatures dropped to the forecasted 20 F (-7 C) at night so I brought this quilt.

On all these trips I wore the same “pajamas” as in fall 2012. On the Blacktail backpack I slept in my Bibler Ahwahnee tent (see Owner Review).

I also used the Arc Alpinist when sleeping in the basement of my home in December 2012, when guests occupied the house’s master and guest bedrooms. I keep the heat in the basement at its minimum, resulting in a temperature of 45-50 F (8-10 C). At these temperatures I didn’t need a down sweater.


In this section I shall try to avoid discussing benefits and problems with quilt use generally, or the merits and demerits of quilt systems versus sleeping bags.  For those interested in my views on this subject I invite you to read my Owner Review of my Nunatak Back Country Blanket. This site also includes a highly informative comment on quilts under “A Bit More on this Subject.” Here I discuss this particular hybrid quilt’s performance and my views on its suitability for cold weather backpacking.

Warmth. First and most importantly, my Arc Alpinist is warm. I have had no problem in it alone down to 15-20 F (-10 to -7 C) so far, despite my penchant for sleeping on my side and fidgeting through the night.  True, I’ve had help from an insulated sleeping pad, but at these temperatures I’ve used the same or similarly rated pads with other bags and quilts. (I’ve always believed that my down pad added 10-15 F degrees (6-9 C degrees) to my bag’s rating, offsetting the differential I factor into sleep system selection to account for my very cold sleeping.) I’ve found each of my quilts from Nunatak, certainly including the Arc Alpinist, rated quite accurately, even taking account of my extra fill. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that more of the down’s on top, or maybe because Nunatak pitches its products to UL devotees who often sleep under tarps instead of inside a tent. Whatever the reason, I trust this company’s ratings.

The frigid Yellowstone overnight was well below the Arc Alpinist’s limit for me, even with an extra pad, so I wasn’t surprised that the quilt was overwhelmed. Bear in mind the recorded temperature was seventeen Fahrenheit degrees (ten Celsius degrees) below the rated temperature for the Arc Expedition, and twice that for the Arc Alpinist.

Fit. I like very much the cut and fit of the Arc Alpinist. As noted it is slightly wider across the shoulders and chest than my other Nunatak quilts, which adds a bit of wiggle room for this regular toss-and-turn sleeper.  Physics, not to mention many proponents of minimalist gear, says that extra dead air space should reduce insulating ability. If that’s the case I’ll take the trade-off for an easier fit for my boots and socks when in-bag storage is necessary and the peace of mind and body that I receive from a good night’s sleep.  The confining feeling of being sewn into my bag creates nervousness and unease that make it more difficult for me to fall asleep.  I don’t have that feeling inside the Arc Alpinist.

Storage. This quilt packs down small. Except to measure compressed size for this Review I have never had it inside a stuff sack used only for the quilt; always it has gone into my Sea to Summit eVent Compression Sack (see Test Report) along with a down sweater and occasionally a pair of sleep socks and my watch cap. (Note: Though Nunatak sells UL stuff sacks, the company does not furnish one with the purchase of a sleeping bag.) I don’t think that the weight and bulk of the down jacket or sweater and cap should be added to the Arc Alpinist when considering this product. It’s true that without a toque and down upper body layer I’d be cold - too cold - in the quilt but I need and use both other items for other reasons on every cold weather trip around camp and, when it’s really cold, at meal and rest breaks on the trail. They or similar garments would be in my pack anyway. I doubt I’d pack a lighter sweater even with a hooded bag, given my cold-prone nature.

As is true of all my Nunatak quilts, the Arc Alpinist lofts up quickly after compression. Back at home I store it in a cotton bag that came with a sleeping bag that I have since sold or donated.

Durability. After perhaps twenty nights the quilt shows no sign of deterioration, reflecting Nunatak’s consistently superlative workmanship. I give top marks to the outer Pertex fabric, the lightest fabric presently offered by Nunatak and my only reservation when I ordered this quilt. So far it has proven completely downproof and has suffered no harm from exposure to assorted camping items stored inside my tent. The inner fabric is somewhat coarser than the lightweight taffeta Nunatak ordinarily uses for quilt lining, but as I have little or no skin exposed when sleeping at the temperatures at which I use the Arc Alpinist this matters naught. The inner fabric, the one custom feature I wouldn’t have elected, has also proven to be downproof. On reflection maybe a ripstop fabric inside a winter bag isn't a bad idea, given the likelihood of storing things in with me.

Care. I’ve not needed to wash the Arc Alpinist. Its manufacturer’s instructions for this task mirror those of most makers of down garments and bags – no-agitator machine washing using down-specific soap, commercial dryer or air-drying, hand kneading any clumps that have formed in the process. I heartily endorse Nunatak’s final instruction – avoiding use of foreign objects such as tennis balls to shortcut the kneading.


Size is just about right for me.
Cozy and warm.
Packs small.
Versatile – by modifying venting and clothing layers this quilt will fit my kit in every season but high summer.


Very little. Maybe an inch or two (3-5 cm) additional girth at the shoulders, and I’d probably have requested a brighter outer color.

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