Home-crafted Sleeping Bag
A 1.5 pound derivative
of Hungry Howie's Quilt
conversion to quilt at end of page...
In September of 2003 I built a homemade down sleeping bag from a readily available kit. The bag weighs 1.55 lb (702 g) and has a loft of about 3 inches. It is built of 1.1 oz ripstop and is filled with 12 ounces of 800+ down. Here is a set of directions, if you wish to work toward such a goal:
I have been looking forward to building a down quilt for several months. I have admired the quilt created by Hungry Howie for a number of months. I have used a quilt made from Polarguard II since last winter, but wanted a quilt that weighed less and was warmer.
Some last minute experiments with my synthetic quilt led me to believe that a simple sleeping bag might even be better.
Here is what we are aiming at, the finished bag:
Risk's Bag being tested by EllieD
Materials from a kit
I obtained the Hungry Howie quilt kit from Thru-Hiker for $123 plus postage. It has almost all the resources you need to complete either the Hungry Howie quilt or the bag described here. You need to borrow a good sewing machine, a vacuum cleaner, and buy some all-polyester thread, and about 5 hours of your time to make the bag. In the kit you will find about 5 yards of 1.1 oz ripstop (half black, half sky blue), 2 yards of noseeum, and 12 oz of excellent goose down.
Cutting out the pieces
Instead of using the plans designed by Hungry Howie, I cut out a much simpler design. Using a cheese knife, I heated the blade to red hot in a propane torch and cut out the design in the picture above. I cut it out twice. Once in black cloth, and once in blue cloth.
Next I went all the way around both the blue and black cloth with a simple 1/2 inch hem.
Sewing the noseeum pockets
Next I used scotch tape to mark off where I wanted the noseeum dividers to go. On the diagram, these are the blue lines that cross the quilt vertically.
After cutting 11 strips of noseeum 5 inches wide, I sewed each one next to a strip of tape on the black piece of cloth. I did not sew through a double thickness of the noseeum as recommended in Howie's directions. I just held the noseeum next to the tape and sewed with a half inch margin. Make sure all the tape is removed from the black cloth after you get all the tape on the blue cloth.
Sew the top-most noseeum to the blue cloth. Remove the tape from next to this noseeum strip.
Now place the pieces of cloth on a table to the left of your sewing machine, with the top-most strip all the way to the left and the blue cloth on the bottom.
Fold the black cloth to the left to get it out of the way.
Now insert the blue cloth through the foot of the machine so that you can sew the next noseeum strip to the second from the top strip on the blue cloth. Most of the blue cloth will be between the foot and the arm of the sewing machine. Sew the noseeum so that the line of stitches is to the left of the tape.
Remove that piece of tape.
Now pull the blue cloth out a bit to the next piece of tape, and use the next piece of noseeum on the black cloth.... etc. etc. etc.
Remember to pull off the tape from the blue cloth each time you sew a strip of noseeum. You will not be able to go back and remove the tape later.
Sewing up the edges
When you have finished with all the dividers, I pinned the edges of the blue and black pieces of cloth together. I then sewed the top and one of the two sides closed, making sure I was catching the noseeum in the seam. When sewing across the top, I made sure that I was going to be able to use at least one of the seams for a drawstring... I did not sew across the hem. I also sewed one edge of each of the two bottom semicircular areas.
Next, I went along the open edge and sewed across the noseeum and part of each pocket, leaving about 3 inches open for each pocket. Into this opening, I will shortly be blowing down. For the bottom semicircles, make sure you leave exactly one opening for each pocket.
Adding the down
I read Howie's suggestion to use a tent. My wife was in favor of this, but said she wanted me to go outside. It was too hot to get in a tent outside. I tried stuffing down into the pockets on the front porch. Bad idea. Even going slowly, I soon had lots of down blowing around.
I finally decided to come inside and use a vacuum cleaner. I had 4 bags of down, each with about 3 ounces of the fluffy stuff. I calculated that I need to put about an ounce of down in each pocket. This is what I did:
- I took a paper towel cardboard tube and used duct tape to tape a scrap piece of noseeum across the end of the tube from the outside.
- I pulled about a third of a bag of down out of a plastic bag and put this in the cardboard box the cloth and down came from Thru-Hiker in. The box is about 12x15x15 inches. One ounce of down fits pretty well in the box.
- I held the noseeum end of the cardboard tube up to the end of a vacuum cleaner hose, with the vacuum running.
- I stuffed the other end of the tube full of down with my free hand. I stopped with the tube about half full.
- I then took the cardboard tube away from the vacuum, inserted the open end into the slit in the first pocket of the bag, and blew with my breath so the down would pop out of the tube into the bag. It took about 7 or 8 fillings of the cardboard tube to use up the one ounce of down in the box. The process takes about 5 minutes.
- I closed the slit in that pocket of the bag with a 3 inch long piece of duct tape.
- Then I went back, got more down in the box, filled the next tube, etc...
When I finished, I still had half of the last bag of down left to work with. I checked out the pockets, and found the ones that still needed a little down. I used the remainder of the down to make the filling uniform
Final seams for a quilt
When I was convinced the down was where I wanted it to be, I removed the duct tape, once piece at a time, and sewed up that edge.
Next I turned the bag with the black side outward and folded the bag in half. I sewed the red line in the diagram above. This makes a great quilt. I took a nap, and enjoyed the quilt for a day.
Final seams for a bag
Next, with the black side outward, I sewed the brown line in the diagram above. This converts the project from a quilt to a bag without a zipper.
I threaded a cord through the hem in the black cloth and fitted it with a drawstring keeper before tying the ends of the cord together. (A 50 inch long soft shoe string works well for this.)
Then I turned the bag right side (blue side) out and began camping with it.
I hope these instructions are clear. If you have suggestions for improving them, let me know.
Specs and usage notes
The final sleeping bag fits in a nice small stuff sack. It weighs 702 grams with the stuff sack, which is 1.55 pounds. It has about 3-3.5 inches of loft, which is slightly increased when using it in a hammock.
I can tighten the drawstring around my neck and use either a hooded jacket (for very cold nights) or a fleece balaclava (down to about freezing). For very cold weather, I can sleep on my side and bring the top of the bag up over my head, even though I am 6 feet tall. For warm weather, I can slide the bag off my shoulders or down to my waist to regulate heat.
And best of all, I finally have a warm sleeping bag without a zipper!
Update, November 29 2003:
I converted the bag to a quilt with extended foot box today. I have been feeling too closed in with my recent experiments with the TravelPod and even a bit claustrophobic. With the overlap pad, I need good insulation around my legs, but the pad gives me good insulation from my bottom upward. So I split the seam that closed the bag about 2 and a half feet. Now it is a great cross between a quilt and bag.
Update, 3 December 2003:
I have used the converted bag as a quilt several cold nights now. The effective insulation of the down has been increased by putting all that expensive down insulation above me instead of laying on a third of it. This works very well in a hammock where I have a pad that comes up to my shoulders on each side. I just tuck in an inch of quilt on each side and then the full amount of down is over the top of me.
This same strategy works well when lying flat on a mattress or a camping pad. The insulation is needed over the body, not under it. The quilt gives a 4 inch layer of down over the whole chest and abdomen.
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