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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Quilts and Blankets > Nunatak Arc Expedition sleeping quilt > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Nunatak Arc Expedition Backpacking Quilt
By Raymond Estrella

March 23, 2012


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. 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 ultralight, I try to be as light 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 evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Nunatak Gear LLC
Web site:
Product: Arc Expedition backcountry quilt
Size: Large
Year manufactured/received: 2010
MSRP: US$ 606.00 (Base price before extras)
Temperature rating: 5 F (-15 C)
Weight listed (in Epic fabric): 36 oz (1021 g)
Actual weight w/ extra down over-fill: 37.9 oz (1074 g)
Color: Black
Fill weight as ordered: 24 oz (680 g) of 800+ goose down
Baffle height/loft listed: 3.5 in (8.9 cm)
Loft observed: to 4 in (10.2 cm) between baffles

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

Arc ExpeditionThe warmest quilt made by Nunatak Gear, the Expedition lets me take my love of backpacking quilts into winter conditions. Extremely packable, very warm and light weight for the rating, the Expedition has become one of my favorite pieces of gear. While quite expensive I find it to be well worth the price for this sweet hand-made quilt.

Product Description

The Nunatak Arc Expedition backcountry quilt (hereafter referred to as the Expedition or 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 foot-box much like is found on all my traditional sleeping bags. But instead of a zipper running from the foot-box up to the top the Expedition just has the sewn edges of, well, a quilt.

The quilt is made with baffled construction to eliminate cold spots. The chambers which are filled with 800+ fill goose down run horizontally and are spaced 5 in (12.7 cm) apart.

While the Expedition may be used draped over me like a traditional quilt, since this one is made for cold temps it makes more sense to keep it wrapped around my body. To facilitate this there are two nylon straps on the back that attach on one side with lightweight center-release buckles. Using these straps the Expedition 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 pulling the opening of the now almost-a-sleeping-bag Expedition closed as much as needed. This way I don't have to heat any wasted air space inside the quilt.

Nunatak Gear is a custom shop. All their gear is 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. As I tend to sleep cold around my chest and arms I had them add an extra two ounces (58 g) of down to the top half of the quilt.

Like my hospital gown the back is open

One thing to note about made-to-order gear is that each order has to wait its turn. This can mean a wait of months depending on the size of the queue at the time of purchase. I waited three months for the Arc Expedition.

I had Tom (the very amiable owner of Nunatak) make my quilt with the main outer shell from EPIC by NexTec. This polyester microfiber features a unique and very durable water-resistant fiber encapsulation. I'm stuffedThe result is a highly breathable, extremely water-resistant, soft and pliable material that allows for excellent loft. The Epic is a little rougher feeling than most other shell materials. (But that is OK with me as I never use it inside-out;-) I chose all black for the color to facilitate sun-drying it if it gets coated by condensation or blowing snow (spindrift).

The lining is made of highly breathable nylon taffeta. It has a very silky finish and feels great. The inner liner and outer shell are made with a 4 in (10 cm) differential cut to allow it to loft to its fullest extent even when drawn tight around me.

Measuring from the inside, mine is 72 in (183 cm) long. The foot-box is 11.5 in (29 cm) in diameter and is 18 in (46 cm) deep. The quilt is 52 in (132 cm) wide at the top.

Like my other quilts from Nunatak the Expedition uses some very nice down fill. 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. The stuff sack I put it in (seen to the right) is 8 x 17 in (20 x 43 cm) although it can easily compress another 30% smaller.

Field Conditions

At High Creek Camp

I first used it in the San Gorgonio Wilderness on a winter climb of Mt San Gorgonio in California. We made a base camp at High Creek at 9200 ft (2800 m) elevation; there was 8 ft (2.4 m) of snow on the ground. Temperatures got down to 17 F (-8 C). Above is a shot of the Expedition at this location.

Then it went to Minnesota for a bunch of winter hikes and campsites. A late fall hike along the North Country Trail saw temps at 19 F. Once snow hit it went to Buffalo River State Park (winter camping) where it got down to 8 F (-13 C). The picture below was taken on this trip.

Two sledpacking trips on snow, one on the Halverson Trail at McCarty Lake and one on the North Country Trail east of Itasca saw temps around 5 F (-15 C), and a backpacking trip to Anaway Lake was about the same.

Colder temps were seen backpacking to Hovde Lake where it got down to -1 F (-18 C) and saw a little scattering of snow. The next week I was in the same area but went to an unnamed lake further east. This trip saw warmer temps with a low of 10 F (-12 C).

Just before writing this I took it on a long road trip that saw one night of camping at Bemidji State Park, three days sled-packing in Voyageurs National Park center section out of the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, and three days sled-packing in the northern section of the Park out of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Low temps during the course of the trips ranged from -1 F to 30 F (-18 to -1 C) and all nights were on snow.

At Buffalo River


As may be seen in my other reviews, I fell in love with quilts for sleeping in the backcountry in 2009. As a toss-and-turn side-sleeper I found that sleeping bags, made to be most efficient for back-sleepers, just did not work well for me unless I wanted to carry a wide heavy bag. Quilts turned all that around for me and Nunatak quickly became the brand I went to with their high quality and willingness to configure the quilt exactly the way I want it. The Expedition is the third quilt that I have purchased from Nunatak to be reviewed here.

The move to a winter quilt took quite a leap of faith for me. But once I tried it I found myself wishing I had done it sooner. The volume it takes up in my pack is 40% less than my 0 F (-18 C) rated sleeping bag and the weight (including a down balaclava) is 38% less. It does take a little more thought and planning though.

The Expedition has excellent loft. Even though Nunatak Gear says that it has 3.5 in (8.9 cm) loft, that is what it measures right at the baffles. Mine puffs up another in (1.25 cm) between the points that the shell is attached at the baffles. This translates into extra warmth. And right now, two years after I got it the Expedition still lofts up just as fully as the day I pulled it out of the Tyvek envelope (I kid you not) that Tom from Nunatak shipped it in. On the last trip I took it on I suffered a horribly fractured ankle and I was not able to unpack the stuffed Expedition for three weeks. I was concerned it may have been too long in the sack, especially considering I had not been able to air it out after hiking with it. I needn't have worried, it lofted up immediately. Here is a shot of it in Chippewa National Forest south and east of Leech Lake.

Near the NCT

The first place that the Expedition (and any backpacking quilt I own) saves weight and materials is that there is no back to it. My sleeping pad provides the insulation here. So it is imperative to have a good high R-value pad to use with it to avoid being chilled from the cold ground or snow I am camped on. The lowest R-value pad I tried with it so far was a Big Agnes Insulated Aircore (claimed R-4.1). This trip on the North Country Trail just east of Itasca State Park was 5 days after our first snowstorm and deep freeze of the year. While the snow had melted by the time I took my hike the ground was frozen hard. Even though it was 19 F (-7 C) that night I was cold on the pad while I was almost too warm on top.

To show the difference the pad makes when using quilts I was at -1 F (-18 C) on snow with an R-9 Kooka Bay GoosePad and was perfect. The exact same temperature was the low on my night at Hovde Lake where I started out on a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Season (R-4.9) but got cold during the night and moved onto an R-5.7 pad I brought too. (I ended up cold on that too, more in a minute.) What I found works best for me to the temps the quilt is rated for is a pad with an R-value between R-6 and up.

While Nunatak suggests that the Expedition may be used with the back straps secured to my sleeping pad, I never use it that way. If it is warm enough I will just tuck the quilt around myself with only the bottom strap hooked up, but once the temps drop I attach the higher strap also. By tightening the straps I can keep the quilt from opening when I toss and turn from side to side as I do all night long. Only on the coldest of nights have I needed to snap the top and draw the quilt closed.

For me and my flopping-around-all-night, knee-kicked-out style I find that a wide pad works best with the Expedition. Regular width pads let me push the quilt over the edge too often letting in a blast of frigid air. Tapered pads in the regular width are even worse for this, which is the reason the R-5.7 pad saw me cold. As it was a regular size pad and tapered pad at that, I kept slipping off it in spots resulting in lost heat. (I never got cold through the pad itself.) My favorite pads for use with the Expedition have been between 23 and 25 in (58-64 cm) wide, like the 1st generation R-6+ Kooka Bay GoosePad (see review) seen below at Anaway Lake.

Anaway Lake

The other place that the Expedition saves weight is that there is no hood like is found on most winter sleeping bags. This is probably my favorite thing about quilts in general and the Expedition for sure. With a regular bag I was forced to turn the bag with my body to keep from smothering in the hood. This doesn't work that well with the way most bags I buy using a variable fill ratio that places less fill on the bottom. The Expedition lets me turn just like I do in my own bed. To keep my head warm I wear a down filled balaclava, (see review) usually but have used other head gear at times. Here is a shot of the Expedition on an R-8 Exped pad with the down bala alongside.

Quilt with down balaclava, toasty

If I am using my gear sled I always stuff the Expedition in the stuff sack seen earlier. But If I am carrying a backpack I usually forgo any stuff sack, instead just putting the quilt in the bottom of my pack and loading everything else on top of it. The only time this changes is if I need a day-pack during the trip. In that case I use a small cuben fiber frameless pack as a stuff sack but just place the Expedition, in the pack, at the bottom of my big backpack and again let the weight of my gear compress the quilt.

Nunatak suggests using the Arc Expedition as an over-bag with their Arc Alpinist quilt (which I own too, see review) to make a sleep system to go into below 0 F (-18 C) temps. While I have not done this yet myself, I did use it as an over-bag for my son when he spent his first night camping in snow over his 20 F (-7 C) sleeping bag. It worked well and he was toasty all night.

On Cutover Island

I always wear a long base layer when sleeping in the Expedition to help keep it clean. I usually bring a light-weight set (top and bottom) but if the expected temps are close to or below the Expedition's rating I will bring a medium-weight or, rarely, heavy-weight set instead. The only time I have not worn base layers was on my last trip. A freak 2-day warm storm came in and dropped 12 in (30 cm) of wet snow on me and spiked the temps up to 30 F (-1 C) the first night. (The picture above of the Expedition on my R-9 2nd gen Kooka Bay GoosePad was taken at Cutover Island a couple hours before the storm hit.) I was actually too warm and had to move to briefs and t-shirt. That night the humidity went way up too and I got quite a bit of condensation on the top of the quilt nearest my head. I was able to just wipe most of the moisture off. The next night was the same with the same results. The Epic did not wet-out anywhere, but having to stuff it with some moisture on the quilt two days in a row (and no sun to dry it with even if there wasn't snow falling) resulted in a bit of moisture in the down. Not enough to make it clump but I could tell the difference. Fortunately I had a resupply down day between the two sections of the park and was able to dry it (and all my other soaked gear) in a motel. Fortunately the temps dropped back down for next portion of my next hike. (I know, funny to hear somebody happy to see 0 F/-18 C temps.) Here is a shot of the Expedition (on the recliner) and my other gear spread all over my motel room. (Housekeeping probably thought an REI display exploded in the room.)
Hikers always trash the rooms...
The Expedition shows no signs of wear whatsoever. Everything is still in great condition, no loose threads, stretched out cords or straps and no down loss. In fact I see less stray down with the Expedition than I do with any of my other quilts. (Or coats and parkas for that matter.) I am extremely satisfied with this sweet quilt and expect to get many more years of winter use with it.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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