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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Quilts and Blankets > Nunatak Back Country Blanket > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
Nunatak Back Country Blanket
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
November 7, 2010; updated December 31, 2012
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 66 years old (at the date of the addendum)
Height: 6' 4" (1.91 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA
I've been backpacking for almost half a century, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose to carry a bit more to enjoy camp conveniences I've come to expect.
Additional Tester Information
Two pieces of personal information color this review. I am cold-prone. I sleep cold even at home and regularly pack a sleeping bag rated 10 –15 degrees F (6–8 degrees C) below the minimum expected temperature. Also I'm mildly claustrophobic and have always preferred semi-rectangular bags to mummies.
The Back Country Blanket (or BCB, to use Nunatak’s abbreviation) is a trapezoidal down quilt that can be used as a blanket or cinched up to form a semi-rectangular sleeping bag.
Manufacturer: Nunatak Gear LLC (www.nunatakusa.com).
Year of manufacture: 2005
Year of purchase: 2006
MSRP: Size Long, $479 US. Down overfill, $10 US per ounce (28 g) when I purchased it, now $15 US.
Materials: 800+-fill goose down insulation. Nylon taffeta on one side, spinnaker cloth rip-stop nylon fabric on the other. Nunatak no longer offers this latter fabric. When placing an order the customer chooses fabrics from Nunatak’s then-available inventory.
Color: Navy blue exterior, black interior. Fabric inventory dictates color choice.
Rating: 20 F (-7 C) as a sleeping bag (without overfill).
Note: Nunatak makes all its down products to order, with the customer selecting fabric, fill, and other made-to-measure details. Though each product does have measurements, features, and prices listed on the manufacturer’s website, these are guidelines rather than fixed figures. Nunatak encourages customization; this is a company that strives to furnish just what the customer needs. Customization explains the substantial discrepancies in the listed and measured columns below. Listed dimensions are for size Long, 0.8 oz rip-stop fabric, the closest in weight to the spinnaker cloth on my Blanket. Measured dimensions are for size Long + 6 inches [15 cm], 0.95 oz spinnaker rip-stop fabric, and 6 oz [170 g] down overfill.
Weight, listed 24 oz/680 g, measured 31 oz/879 g
Length, listed 76 in/193 cm, measured 82 in/208 cm
Baffle height, listed 2.5 in/64 mm, measured 2.75 in/70 mm
AS A BLANKET. The listed widths are Nunatak's listing for girth as a sleeping bag.
Width at shoulder, listed 61 in/155 cm , measured 59 in/150 cm
Width at hip, listed 53 in/135 cm, measured 51 in/130 cm
Width at foot, listed 46 in/117 cm, measured 42 in/107 cm
AS A BAG. Measured across the Blanket when closed as a sleeping bag. No listed widths.
Width at shoulder, 28.5 in/72 cm
Width at hip, 24.5 in/62 cm
Width at foot, 20 in/51 cm
How It Works
As can be seen from the photos, the Back Country Blanket may be used as a quilt for one or two people or as a full sleeping bag for one person. It's easy to convert from the former to the latter. Velcro strips along both sides mate to form a cylinder, and the cylinder turns into a cocoon by cinching up the toggle-and-loop draw cords at the top (shoulder) and bottom (foot). I've used several intermediate variations. At temperatures low enough to require a sleeping bag but not desperately cold, or if I'm wearing a sweater, I can leave the top uncinched and vary the amount of Velcro that I close to regulate ventilation and wiggle room. By loosening the cord at the foot I can walk around "wearing" the BCB, which is very handy for nighttime bathroom trips or camp chores on a chilly morning.
Why I Bought It
Because of my preference for base camp backpacking, because I've always bought equipment designed to last, and perhaps also because I'm a contrarian who tends to resist trends, I've remained a mid-weight backpacker even after learning that today there is available highly functional gear that's much lighter than what I have been using. The last time I approached a birthday with a zero in it, I decided that less weight just might make me a happier camper. This jolt of common sense coincided with my first purchase (a sweater) from Nunatak. I liked that sweater so much for ski touring that when the Blanket was posted on Nunatak's "Clearance" page I made an impulse purchase, with the intention of combining the two as my backcountry sleep system. (The Clearance page includes "seconds, overstock and demos" that are offered "at considerable discounts." The BCB that I purchased was either a prototype or a shell that someone else had ordered but later cancelled.) As I had done with the sweater, I spoke first with Tom Halpin, Nunatak's founder, about the accuracy of the temperature rating and at his suggestion purchased an additional six ounces (170 g) of down fill to accommodate my cold sleeping. This addition brings the total fill in my Blanket to 18 ounces (510 g).
Because it was on the Clearance page, I received the Blanket shortly after placing my order. As each “standard” product is made up only after an order is received, and often includes some custom work, a lead time of several weeks is common. I note this to alert a prospective customer, not to find fault with Nunatak. I consider this a normal consequence of bespoke work.
Over the past four years the Blanket has been my sleeping bag of choice on at least fifty backcountry nights, almost always only for myself. Twice I’ve shared the Blanket, used as a quilt, with a friend. Nighttime temperatures have ranged from 6 to 50 F (-14 to 10 C), with all use (except my home try-out, described below) inside a floored tent. My normal backcountry sleepwear is merino wool long-sleeve shirt and long merino bottoms, supplemented with a down or heavier merino sweater when the temperature drops below freezing, and I usually wear wool socks. I also always cover my head, using a hoody, lightweight wool or synthetic cap, or my Golightly Cashmere Watch Cap (Owner Review on this site), depending on the expected temperature.
I don’t use one particular sleeping pad with the Blanket. I tend to use a down pad in colder temperatures and a three-quarter length inflatable pad at other times.
Some representative examples of trips with the Blanket include:
Dallas, late February 2006. Shortly after receiving the Blanket a "norther" (a winter cold spell that occasionally sweeps across the North Texas prairie) gave me an opportunity for home testing on my back deck. Wearing a down sweater over my wool top, I slept on a chaise lounge on the back porch, with the Blanket fully cinched up, a full-length sleeping pad under the Blanket, and a tarp laid over me as an extra layer and protection against the occasional snow flurries. I was comfortable in temperatures that got down to 25 F (-5 C). In the morning I loosened the foot cord, stepped into my shoes and walked back into the house. A promising start.
Texas Hill Country, April 2006 (backpacking debut). Two of us used the BCB as a top quilt, inside a tent, on an overnighter when the temperature dropped to 45 F (8 C). My friend wore a second merino top layer and a fleece cap, each of us had a full-length pad underneath, and we laid our windbreakers on top of the pads. About half way through the night I gave up fighting my friend for half the Blanket and put on a merino sweater.
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, August 2006. This was a weeklong base camp backpack, during which my sleepwear included a down sweater over a short-sleeve merino shirt that I was testing and merino bottoms, sleeping inside a tent. Temperatures dropped to 35-40 F (2–5 C) at night. Again no problem with the cold. Because I wore the down sweater I had the side of the bag about half open.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Idaho, October 2007. An eight-day, seven-night backpack along the Bechler River. On the first night the mercury dropped to 6 F (-14 C), but then nighttime temperatures reverted to a more normal 20-25 F (-7 to -5 C). That chilly first night was the only time I’ve pulled the hood on my down sweater over my head when sleeping; on the other nights I relied on my watch cap. No shivering except when I needed to go outside to answer nature’s call. On all nights I cinched the Velcro to about ten inches (25 cm) below the top of the bag.
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, August 2008. Another weeklong base camp backpack, with warmer temperatures, below 40 F (4 C) only once. I didn’t need a sweater, and slept comfortably warm every night.
Rock Creek, near Missoula, Montana, July 2010. This was a car-camping night, when a friend and I used the Blanket as a top quilt. Each of us had a pad and rain shell underneath. The coldest temperature was about 50 F (10 C), so neither of us minded when the other tugged the Blanket to one side.
I mention a couple of non-backpacking uses under my likes and dislikes below.
The BCB’s overfill, extra-long length, and ability to vary its configuration to suit the present conditions make it the most versatile bag I’ve ever owned. It has kept me warm below its rated temperature yet works just as well in the summertime. If I could keep only one sleeping bag, this would be it.
Fit. The BCB's ability to open along one side suits a side-sleeper like me, as I can extend my arms out that side. The first time that I slept entirely inside the BCB with top and bottom cinched up I found it to be tight at the shoulders, even though it's listed as Nunatak's widest bag. From reading Nunatak's explication of its design philosophy, however, I don't consider this a flaw; weight saving is always this fine company's top priority. It's I who needs to get used to the sacrifices required to lighten my pack. When used a sleeping bag the BCB is elsewhere quite roomy, with ample space for a water bottle or other gear that I might want to keep from freezing. Particularly with the extra length, it allows tossing and turning inside the bag, which I do often and which most mummies greatly restrict. This was my first bag that opens at the foot and I like this feature. One night in Montana I made use of this to sleep with one foot exposed to help treat a blister. At any time it's one more means of regulating ventilation.
As a two-person quilt the Blanket is satisfactory only if the users are close friends neither of whom is a blanket hog. I might remove this limitation with a custom quilt with about twelve inches’ (30 cm) greater width. I’ve seriously considered this, and not only for top quilt use. It could work in colder temperatures by mating with my current Blanket to make a couple’s bag. Any down wars could be easily resolved by an immediate truce, each combatant retreating to her or his own cocoon. [See addendum below for results of this approach, modified somewhat.]
Despite the extra six inches (15 cm) of length the Blanket, when stuffed into a compression sack, fits easily into the bottom of either my expedition or weekend pack.
Fabric. I didn't choose the spinnaker cloth fabric, but I'm very pleased with it. While a bit shinier than what I'm used to, this fabric has a pleasant, soft hand with none of the slipperiness I've encountered in many fabrics used in lightweight gear. I always camp with a floored tent and am therefore less concerned with water resistance than if I used a tarp or bivy, and I appreciate the weight saving. While it appears quite thin, the spinnaker fabric has so far proven to be scratch- and sharp object-proof. But not completely downproof, as I occasionally notice an escaping feather. The taffeta inside fabric has remained downproof.
Water. The Blanket's only encounter with water was a coffee splash while my friend wore it as a wrap. I immediately sponged the coffee out with water, and washed the spot after I returned home, and the fabric and down showed no ill effects.
Cold rating. I was really (and pleasantly) surprised by the BCB's performance on my one below-freezing night, especially as I didn't use a tent, and if anything subsequent experience has made me even happier. At colder temperatures the Blanket’s extra length helps me get inside up to my chin, and with a down sweater gives me two down layers over my torso, the area where I am most affected by cold.
Velcro seal. This also has exceeded my expectations. I've often criticized garment makers for using Velcro instead of a zipper, as unexpected movements can force open a Velcro seal at exactly the worst moment. When I've used the BCB as a bag the Velcro has stayed together at the places I put it together, and it kept the wind out the only night I slept outdoors. Velcro doesn't snag on the fabric, and of course it weighs less than a zipper.
Care. I've cleaned the Blanket several times, by hand in the bathtub, using a down-specific product. It took a couple of days to dry completely, but when dry the loft looked as good as new.
What I Like
Versatility. As discussed above I have been able to adapt the Blanket to every temperature I've encountered, down to 6 F (-14 C). Its versatility extends beyond backpacking. With its extra six inches (15 cm) my BCB is exactly the length of a standard queen bed, so it's a useful quilt in my guest bedroom, though in that service I must take care to keep one of my dogs from expropriating it as her day bed.
Weight Saving. When I bought it the BCB weighed just under a pound (454 g) less than the next heavier bag in my gear closet, and much more from colder-rated choices.
Design. The Blanket lacks a specially designed foot box, draft collar, inside pocket, and similar features that are often available on bags designed for lightweight backpacking. For me that's a big plus -- there's so much less that can go wrong. Everything Nunatak has included serves a purpose and this product works. Who needs anything more?
Quality. It wouldn't be fair to Nunatak not to mention this. Sewing, down quality, and everything else are top notch.
What I Don’t
If I do order that second BCB from Nunatak, I shall request at least an additional four inches (10 cm) at the shoulders, just for solo use. My Blanket is a tad too snug for me when it's a cocoon.
Recent use of a Nunatak Arc series bag and a bag with a pad sleeve has spoiled me in one respect – both keep the sleeping pad beneath me. I’ve tried sticking the pad inside a cinched-up foot area of the Blanket, but that’s too narrow to hold any of my pads.
ADDENDUM - December 31, 2012
Since posting my Owner Review I acquired a second Back Country Blanket for use with the original Blanket as a couple's sleep system. This second Blanket is the standard Medium size, dimensions listed below, with two extra ounces (42 g) of down fill.
Fabrics: Sage green 1.0 Pertex Quantum outer, black nylon taffeta inner
Weight: listed 24 oz (680 g), measured 28 oz (794 g) (includes overfill)
Length: listed 74 in (188 cm), measured 72 in (183 cm)
Standard down fill: 11 oz (312 g)
Baffle height: listed 2.5 in (64 mm), measured, 2.75 in (70 mm)
Temperature rating (before overfill): 20 F (-7 C)
MSRP: $469 US - $439 for the quilt plus $30 for the overfill
As a quilt:
Listed: 61 in (155 cm) at the shoulder, 53 in (135 cm) at the hip, 46 in (117 cm) at the foot
Measured: 62 in (157 cm) at the shoulder, 54 in (137 cm) at the hip, 44 in (112 cm) at the foot
As a bag [Given for information only; as noted below, I have not used this Blanket as a bag for one person.]
Width at shoulder, 27 in (69 cm)
Width at hip, 25 in (64 cm)
Width at foot, 18 in (46 cm)
The only couple's sleep system that I had previously used regularly, some years ago, involved zipping a fully unzipped semi-rectangular bag to a cotton "coupler," really a cotton sheet with a zipper to fit the bag, sold by the sleeping bag manufacturer for this purpose. One recurring problem led me to abandon that approach - the zipper continued to stick, even after pre-trip applications of lubricant. That system had the advantage of natural fiber against my underside but no insulation underneath other than a sleeping pad and the rated capacity of the sleeping bag limited use to warmer weather. I cannot recall ever using a bag sized for two such as some manufacturers, including Nunatak, offer.
I've used the two-BCB couple's system for six backcountry nights and three car camping nights, in Wyoming, Texas, and Montana. The coldest nighttime temperature experienced in this service was 20 F (-7 C), the BCB's pre-overfill stated limit. All use has taken place in a fully floored tent, usually my Bibler Ahwahnee (separately reviewed on this site). My sleepwear was the same as noted in my Review above, except that I never wore my down sweater when sharing the Blankets. My camping partner wore similar sleepwear except once on a car-camping night when she brought flannel pajamas. Each of us had a separate sleeping pad.
I have used this second, significantly smaller Blanket by myself as a top quilt on a few other occasions in summer and fall, with nighttime temperatures between 40-70 F (4-21 C). At those temperatures I decided I didn't need the extra length and down fill my larger Blanket provides. While the weight saving is minor, without the extra length this more standard BCB packs down considerably smaller than its big brother.
I'll begin with an explanation of why I chose a narrower rather than wider Blanket as the second sleeping quilt, contrary to my prediction two years ago. When it came time to plunk down the cash I figured that as one of the quilts would be underneath us and thus furnishing only limited insulation, there was no need for the extra length of the original Blanket on the bottom. The Medium's standard size is actually two inches (5 cm) wider at the shoulder and chest, and four inches (10 cm) wider at the foot, than my custom-cut Large, and the extra width could be used to mate the quilts with the Velcro, making use of the extra length on the sides of the mated quilts when occupied. The extra long Blanket has seven ounces' (198 g) more down. That and its extra length, clearly visible in the photo, make it much the warmer of the two. I think it belongs on top. The Medium gives sufficient length for individual use by either of the two women who have shared this set-up with me (on different trips of course), and the standard Medium length is adequate for my solo summer top quilt use. This arrangement has worked well enough. To date no Blanket wars have been fought over length of the bottom quilt.
Neither Blanket has Velcro strips across the bottom, so the set has no closure there beyond cinching up both Blankets at the foot. Given the original's extra length I have learned to mate the side strips at a point that leaves a bit of length to tuck under the bottom quilt, giving some extra protection against an unwanted draft. These precautions have sufficed inside a closed-up tent.
Being able to open one's side of the quilt by opening the Velcro quite effectively permits either sleeper to adjust ventilation and warmth level simply by opening or closing the Velcro on his or her side. This also means greater arm movement, which in turn means considerably more wiggle room than a top quilt. Obviously partly open sides work better at higher temperatures, but even when it was chilly I didn't notice any reduction in warmth on my side when my companion "unzipped" hers. On the coldest night we kept the two Blankets connected and our arms inside, and neither of us tossed enough to break the Velcro seal. Another benefit of the side openings is that each occupant's side doesn't twist up in the middle even when its occupant turns sideways.
With a width of the bottom quilt less than two-thirds the width of a king bed, a couple's use remains intimate. (Some might say that's the point.) The users still had better be good friends. But sealing up the sides even part of the way has dramatically reduced unwanted Blanket snatching, a sin I have been unjustly accused of more than once. It makes a big difference when an extra panel lost to a grabby partner means no draft or, more aptly, when losing a panel or two means no cover at all on one side. And of course shared warmth inside makes both occupants more comfortable, or at least warmer. Definitely I was warmer at 20 F (-7 C) in this system with my friend than at the same temperature alone in the warmer of the two Blankets.
Solo use as a quilt in warmer weather, mostly in Texas, has worked well too. Particularly when I use it with an insulated sleeping pad, I don't mind not having a quilt underneath me. When the mercury drops below 50 F (10 C) I can Velcro up the side and add a sweater or second long-sleeved merino shirt for added warmth.
When it first became available the 1.0 ounce Pertex Quantum was Nunatak's pride and joy, if one were to believe the material on Nunatak's website. I can certainly see why. It has proven far more downproof than the slightly lighter weight spinnaker in my other Blanket. It has repelled occasional dampness without anything penetrating to the down, and dust and leaves brush off easily. The stitching and fabric remain intact. I can't say it looks as good as new, for I never saw it new, having purchased it from a friend who was cleaning out his gear closet. But it's in great condition. I washed it by hand immediately after buying it but haven't needed to do so since.
At less than four pounds (1.8 kg) this is in my opinion a reasonably lightweight couple's system, and it takes up less pack room than the other alternative I've used. Based upon use at 20 F (-7 C) I am confident that its minimum temperature for two is well below that figure.
All in all, a very practical couple's sleeping system. Versatile too, as I've made independent use of the second Blanket, and have lent it to friends for solo use.
The only unpleasant thing about this bedtime arrangement is its cost. I benefited from finding one Blanket offered on sale by Nunatak and the other at a discount because it had been used, and was lucky enough to acquire two Blankets that when paired suited my requirements. Luck it surely was; another consequence of dealing with a cottage provider is that there simply aren't so many of its products in the field. I don't often see any Nunatak quilt offered on the secondary market. But a sleep system, particularly one used in sub-freezing temperatures, is not a place where I think it prudent to cut corners. I rate my two-Blanket arrangement good value and recommend it to any couple whose budget has room for it.
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