How did the Blue Bolt Solo Quilt perform in a Lapland winter expedition? A product review of a vapor barrier (vbl) quilt
When I’m making my own gear, it’s always based on my experiences and my own use case. But when I started making quilts for other people, I discovered that I had a lot to learn. So I’ve been asking everyone who’ve used the quilt in their hikes for their valuable feedback – the good, the bad and everything in between. In this series of posts, I will share their stories and what I learned from them.
First up is Robin Targon from Italy. He runs a company named The Walking Robin and, together with his team of highly-experienced guides, they offer adventure packages ranging from easy trekking (useful for learning the basic techniques of thru-hiking) to demanding expeditions to semi-unknown and wild destinations.
Robin created The Walking Robin, the first Italian site dedicated to the world of thru-hiking, in 2017 with the aim of promoting of thru-hiking in Italy. By 2019 he became an Environmental Hiking Guide associated with AIGAE and started taking small groups of people on thru-hikes in the wildest places in Europe.
Robin’s travels share an authentic approach to nature and adventure, fully reflecting his way of understanding exploration which started from a very young age when he was charmed by the mountains and became an explorer of his “home mountains”, the Dolomites.
Coming across thru-hiking a few years ago opened up a whole new way of exploration to him. It completely changed the way he thinks of about outdoor gear/equipment, nutrition, training and style of progression. During expeditions he experiments with numerous bushcraft and survival techniques, as well as testing different products, discovering their limits and potential.
The solo quilt I made for Robin had a comfort temp rating of 10°F / -12°C and a sewn-in footbox and for this quilt, I implemented some changes from the original quilt design thus labelling this design as v2.0.
Robin took to the quilt to some serious field testing – a couple hiking trips (used in total of 4 nights) in Italy and then to the Swedish and Norwegian Lapland (used for 9 nights). When he came back, he generously shared his feedback of how the quilt performed and what can be improved.
Below is Robin’s feedback on the Blue Bolt Solo Quilt (10°F / -12°C) in his own words (with some minor edits for clarity and formatting).
How did he use the quilt?
I’ve tested the Blue Bolt Solo Quilt on 2 excursions of two nights each and on a winter expedition to Lapland lasting 10 days (9 nights). The environmental temperatures recorded during the tests remained in the range -8° / -25 °C.
The Blue Bolt Solo Quilt looks like a good quality product: the materials used are obviously very good and the seams well made.
On the other hand, the stuff sack appears qualitatively of a lower standard.
I find the choice of color for the quilt (dark blue outer shell with orange inner liner) very pleasant.
At first glance, the absence stabilizing stitches between the insulation layer and the fabrics is a bit surprising, but it is not a problem as the insulation remains firmly in place and there is no risk of it shifting and leaving some areas of the quilt free of insulation.
The presence of an extension on the upper portion of the quilt, designed to completely cover the head when sleeping on the side, gives it a strange appearance, different from the other quilts on the market.
The edge of the quilt has a portion of fabric without insulation, which is called "draft stopper", is also a fairly unique feature of this product.
The model I tested was custom made and has a declared comfort temperature of 10°F (-12°C). On my scale the weight is 967 gm (34.1 oz) including the transport bag.
Considering that the insulation layer is made of synthetic fiber (which is heavier than goose down with the same insulating power) and that the comfort temperature is declared to be -12°C, the weight is in line or even lower compared to sleeping bag models with similar temperature rating. There are few quilts that have a similar rating temperature, so the comparison was made mainly with mummy-shaped sleeping bags.
The difference in size between a bag with synthetic insulation and one in goose down is relevant. The Solo Quilt by Blue Bolt Gear occupies a truly considerable space in the backpack, and that’s surprising considering it’s very light weight!
To overcome or limit this packability issue, I replaced the stuff sack supplied by the manufacturer (which does not include a compression system) with a waterproof bag equipped with a valve to obtain a similar effect to the vacuum. This way the quilt occupies a smaller volume, about 10 liters, equal to a cylinder 28 cm high and 20 cm in diameter.
The selling price for the Solo Quilt with a comfort temperature of -12°C is around $250 (around €230 at time of writing). It is an honest and competitive price. The other sleeping bags with the same comfort temperature / weight ratio are sold at an average double price.
It is rare to find sleeping bags (and even rarer for quilts) that declare a precise and realistic operating temperature range.
On the issue of comfort temperature and limit temperature, the manufacturers use different standards. I prefer the assumption in which the comfort temperature is the temperature at which you can sleep on your back by wearing only a technical baselayer (polyester or merino wool).
The limit temperature, on the other hand, is the temperature at which it is possible to sleep in a fetal position, also wearing a second layer of insulating clothing (fleece).
The Solo Quilt I tested is declared with a comfort temperature of -12°C. In my direct experience Blue Bolt Gear keeps its word with regards to the declared temperature rating. I have found that the comfort temperature for this quilt is between -8°C and -14°C, depending on secondary factors that go beyond the characteristics of the quilt. And the comfort limit temperature (which is not reported by Blue Bolt Gear) can reasonably be indicated as -16°C.
In my tests I was able to sleep comfortably up to a temperature of -22°C, however, wearing, in addition to the thermal underwear, a light fleece shirt, a heavier fleece jacket and a light down jacket for the upper body, plus lightly insulated trousers for leg protection.
These rating temperatures are realistic only in the presence of a mat capable of providing an efficient isolation from the ground. The previously reported values were recorded using the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm mat (R-value = 5.7). In the test performed using the Thermarest Z-Lite SOL mat (R-value = 2.2) the comfort temperature did not reach -6°C (the temperature at the time of the test).
The quilt, as I said previously, has an extension on its upper portion that allows you to completely cover your head if you sleep on your side. This allows to further raise the comfort temperature, however at the expense of the formation of condensation and ventilation. I will talk about these issues later.
The fabric used for the shell clearly has an anti-wind effect, particularly useful for those who use tarps or ultralight tents which, often, cannot prevent cold air currents from entering the internal chamber.
Blue Bolt Gear declares its quilt as "water resistant" which, in most outdoor products, can be translated as "able to resist the penetration of water in the absence of high pressure or for short exposure times."
So, it is ok for light rain, direct contact with the snow, but nothing more. I believe that the Solo Quilt responds exactly to these characteristics. In my tests the snow was unable to wet the quilt.
What can be improved
One problem I found is that when changing positions from one side to the other, it is easy for a portion of the back to remain uncovered, with a consequent drastic lowering of the thermal insulation. This is mainly due to three factors:
- the width of the quilt is a little bit smaller than other quilts I tested (though this is not really relevant);
- the compactness of the Climashield Apex layer does not adapt to the shape of the body as a goose down insulation can do;
- the absence of clips for attaching the quilt to the mattress which are present on most of the other quilts I’ve tested before.
I solved this problem directly and efficiently by modifying the quilt by adding two strings with clips to attach it to the mattress. The lower string was sewn 35 cm from the top edge of the footbox, the upper string 50 cm from the lower belt. The straps have been sewn to just include a minimum amount of insulation and does not include the draft stopper, in order to be more resistant.
The criticality that I found regarding the quilt’s water repellency is the absence of waterproofing of the seams. In an "extreme" (unwanted!) situation I’ve experienced, the quilt was covered with a layer of snow with a thickness of about 1 cm. Near the face, the snow melted due to the heat emitted during breathing and the water penetrated the quilt until it reached the insulation, in my opinion, through the only seam present in the area. I realized the problem the next day when, pulling the quilt out of its bag, I noticed how a large area of the "headroom" or hood was frozen.
This experience does not indicate a real problem of this quilt: to my knowledge no sleeping bags manufacturer do a waterproofing of the seams. However, it could be an idea to evaluate, in order to sell an even more innovative and diversified product from the competition. Arctic explorers would appreciate this.
The main peculiarity of the Blue Bolt Gear Solo Quilt is its characteristic of being a VBL (Vapor Barrier Layer). The inner liner (the orange fabric) stops moisture in the form of water vapor to pass through to the insulation, thus preventing it from getting wet or frozen from condensation.
This feature obviously leads to the question of whether the formation of condensation inside the quilt may or may not be a problem, at least in terms of comfort of use. Blue Bolt Gear states that there is no condensation, assuming that the breathable fabric of the "draft stopper" is sufficient to disperse the water vapor produced.
In my personal experience, I have not been able to verify the accuracy of both the statement and the hypothesis. The formation of condensation can be felt, proportionally to the increase in the humidity rate and to the lowering of the temperature.
I don't think the “draft stopper” is able to play the role of water vapor disperser for two reasons:
- during normal use the draft stopper is crushed by the insulation;
- even if the draft stopper is relaxed, the water vapor would turn into liquid water at the same time as it would come into contact with the draft stopper fabric (the temperature of the draft stopper, being very thin and free of internal insulation, depends very much on the temperature external).
Having said that, in my opinion, the formation of condensation is not a real problem and, more importantly, it must be considered as a normal consequence of the use of a VBL: a small nuisance to not risk your life over.
Comfort of use
This is perhaps the area in which the Blue Bolt Gear Solo Quilt can undergo significant improvements without special efforts. In addition to the problem relating to the change of position (previously explained in the "Coverage" section), I have encountered two other critical issues which, although minimal and not particularly problematic, can make sleeping inside the quilt less comfortable.
- the seam that closes the bottom edges of the footbox is very thick and is often annoying;
- the head cover (or hood) is not very functional in many situations.
I will elaborate point #2 because it is an innovative aspect of this product and that in my opinion deserves to be improved and made more functional.
- When you sleep on your back it is theoretically possible to roll the head cover up under your chin, so you can keep your head out. In reality, the volume of the insulation makes this operation difficult or at least uncomfortable but, more importantly, it often causes the shoulders to come out of the quilt. (This concern is probably less relevant in the version with a comfort temperature of -4°C which will have less insulation.)
To solve this problem, I sewed velcro strips on the head cover (directly on the “draft stopper”) and on the shell at chest level. This allowed to adjust the head cover externally (without having to roll it up) leaving the shoulders covered. The velcro strips, being sewn vertically, allows you to adjust how much you want to fold the head cover.
- On the other hand, when you sleep on your side and decide to completely cover your head, you feel a lack of air after a few minutes: the draft stopper does not allow sufficient air flow for a significant exchange of oxygen.
In practice I solved the problem by creating a small opening using the pillow (the head was wrapped in the quilt, while the pillows remained on the outside), but I think that this aspect can be easily improved by creating a system to fix a flap of the draft stopper to the external shell (a piece of velcro or a button could easily do the job).
With this solution, thermal insulation would be affected slightly but would allow a real and practical use of the head cover.
The Solo Quilt by Blue Bolt Gear is an innovative product from different points of view and this certainly represents its greatest value. It combines the thermal comfort of a warm sleeping bag with the lightness and comfort of a quilt and the necessary (in intense cold situations) blocking of the transpiration function of a VBL. The materials used are really good and the manufacturing skills are evident. The price is competitive and honest.
In my opinion, some improvements are necessary, however: those that I have described and illustrated in this review can be adopted quickly and with a minimum cost. With these minimal modifications, the Blue Bolt Gear Solo Quilt served me very well in my last winter expedition in the mountains of Swedish and Norwegian Lapland. It will surely become my sleeping bag for all future winter expeditions.
This has been the most thorough review yet the quilt has ever been through. I have taken Robin’s suggestions to the next version of the quilt (which would be v3.0). More details coming soon. Being a small cottage outdoor gear company is challenging for sure but it allows me to be agile and iterate quickly based on feedback like this. And the best part is I’m able to connect directly to adventurers like Robin who push their limits for the love of nature and wild adventures.
Thanks Robin! For getting the Blue Bolt Solo Quilt and for your very helpful review and suggestions of how to make it an even more competitive product. Your curiosity and your critical-thinking keeps me inspired to continue on making innovative outdoor gear. I invite you to come and do a thru-hiking expedition with me in the Indian Himalayas in the near future. I can definitely learn a lot from your years of experimenting with numerous bushcraft and survival techniques. Keep on with your wild adventures!