Big Agnes Fussell Quilt Review: Jack Frost and Snap Pops
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Have you ever been confounded by all the straps and bungee cords on ultralight quilts? We took Big Agnes’ Fussel UL quilt bikepacking from sea level to 3200m in elevation to test its novel snap button and patch system. Find out how it fared over four months of use.
I’ve never taken the big outdoor brands too seriously when it comes to ultralight quilts. This is probably because 1) quilts remain somewhat on the edge of mainstream camping, and 2) there are just so many good options available from small manufacturers in the United States – such as those from Enlightened Equipment or Western Mountaineering, for instance. Just to see the breadth of what’s on offer, I’ve quoted Miles’ handy boxout further down in this review, featuring models that are comparable, temperature-wise, to the Fussell UL featured in this review.
Not that making a direct comparison has been that obvious. Despite the Fussell’s extremely high quality, 850-fill power DownTek water-repellent down, Big Agnes doesn’t even list a ballpark temperature figure in their spec sheet! Instead, the recommendation is considerably more nebulous: “It’ll be the envy on thru-hikes, desert campouts, music festivals and spontaneous couch surfing sessions.”
Still, given the lack of a uniform rating system across sleeping bag manufacturers – not to mention a dearth of music festivals right now – at least it gave me a clean slate for figuring out what temperatures I felt comfortable using it in. And once I did accept such unexpected vagueness in a $249 quilt, it largely won me over, mostly because of Big Agnes’ novel use of snap buttons and adhesive patches. These effectively transform the Fussell from an open quilt that’s perfect for lying under on a hot summer’s evening, to one that’s integrated with your mattress, capturing more heat on cooler evenings. It’s a neat and user-friendly system that avoids the often fiddly straps and bungee cords that many quilts employ, the likely reason they’ve remained somewhat fringe despite their low weight and versatility.
So, how does it work? The Fussell is supplied with 10 sets of 3M snap button patches (though you only need eight) that mate to the buttons on the quilt, holding it in place. Where to stick them, however, isn’t entirely obvious, especially if you’re using a model of air mattress other than Big Agnes. In my case, a relatively slender Exped SynMat HL.
The aim is to strike a balance between allowing the quilt to fully loft, creating enough wiggle-room to move around in, and avoiding any unwelcome draughts. Big Agnes’s mattresses are typically very wide and I noticed how the patches in their promotional video were placed on top of the outer edges. But as there are no suggestions included in the kit, choosing where you stick yours on other brands of mattress is a bit of a leap of faith. Given the narrower width of the Exped, I ummed and erred, finally positioning them at the seams. When I did eventually stick them down, I realised the quilt was inside out! Not that it really matters – just bear this in mind when looking at the photos.
The patches adhere really well – I simply cleaned the areas with alcohol first, as my mattress is somewhat oily and dirty! The patches can initially be adjusted, but after a few minutes, they set tight and have yet to peel at all. Nor do they add significantly to the bulk of the mattress. Once in place, I found the whole system very user-friendly, as it’s simply a case of quickly connecting the quilt to the mattress. After a long day in the saddle, the time it takes to set up a quilt has always been a minor bugbear of mine and in this regard, the Fussell really scores. There’s still an element of adjustability, depending on ambient temperatures, as you don’t have to snap all the buttons in – I tended to use the bottom four. I was also able to tuck my narrow mattress into the enclosed footbed, which worked well. Just note that if you’re a restless sleeper, the snap buttons may pop open occasionally. And, given the absence of adjustable elastication – as seen in other quilts – there’s ultimately less fine-tuning available. Additional patches are available if you end up changing mattresses.
Aside from the open quilt and snapped-in mattress system, there’s a third option too: you can simply button up all the snaps on the quilt itself and call it good, effectively creating a classic mummy-shaped sleeping bag without a hood. The buttons are low-profile enough that they don’t dig in when you’re lying on them, and there’s enough overlap around the fabric that the end result doesn’t feel drafty at all.
As for sizing, the Fussell is triangular when opened up, tapering down to an enclosed footbox (from 60″ to 50″ to 45″ / 152 to 132 to 114cm in width). The quilt is sized for six-footers or shorter; I’m 6’1” (1.85m) and I’d say that’s about the limit. Note too that I generally pack my Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody, which makes up for the lack of hood that’s inherent in quilt designs. Otherwise, a thin beanie could be useful on cooler evenings.
In terms of construction, the Fussell features square baffling throughout. This helps keep feathers in place – though if need be, you can still shift them around to where you want them most, as the baffles aren’t completely closed. There also two clever little ‘hand pockets’, so you can sit up and wrap the quilt around you, or use them to completely embalm yourself as you walk around in the morning, a fashion icon in the campsite.
The Fussell packs down small enough using the bag it comes with, though as you can see from the images below, there’s the potential to compress it considerably more – just don’t leave it compressed for too long. As you’ll notice, there’s ample room to stow it in my Tailfin AeroPack with my sleeping mattress, clothing, and a washbag. Big Agnes quote the packed sizes as 3.5″ x 5.5″ (9 x 14cm) when compressed, and 6″ x 10″ (15 x 27cm) in its provided stuff sack. At 482g, it’s not the lightest in the quilt world by any means, but it’s minimal enough to make a real difference to your packing system.
How about an approximate temperature rating? Over the course of the last few months, I’ve used the Fussel UL at elevations between sea level and 10,000 feet (3000m+) – in damp and humid coastal climates, dusty dry forests, and jungle vegetation. With anecdotal evidence alone, I’m going to suggest it’s a 40°F+ (4°C+) quilt. As you can see from the chart above, its fill weight is largely on par with 35-40°F quilt models from other brands, so that makes sense. Numbers-wise, it’s similar to the Kabatic Gear Flex, which costs $80 more.
But like other quilts of a similar fill weight, it can also handle lower temperatures when teamed with gear you probably already have with you. Used with my Exped insulated sleeping pad – and bundled up in extra layers or a set of thermals – I’ve been comfortable down to sub-freezing temperatures too, on the odd night where frost has covered my tent. This is especially true if you pair the Fussell with a silk liner – mine is by Sea to Summit – which adds several degrees of warmth. In fact, a silk liner is useful anyway – not only is it handy when crashing out in dubious budget hotel rooms, but it also helps keeps your quilt clean and avoids the need to sleep directly on a plasticky air mattress, which isn’t especially pleasant. There’s plenty of room for mine in the Fussell’s stuff sack.
As someone who doesn’t own a dedicated mid-winter sleeping bag, I also imagine the Fussell would work well in conjunction with my 20°F (-5°C) quilt, providing enough of a boost to tide me over into the 10°F (-12°C) realm.
In terms of its build quality, the Fussell has stood up well to repeated use, with no loss of precious feathers or damage to materials or stitching. After four months, it still lofts really well, as you’d expect from down of this calibre. Incidentally, if you want to find about more how this down is sustainably sourced, you can read about DownTek here.
- Snap buttons make it very easy to use compared to other quilt systems
- No straps or bungees to potentially lose
- Well made with certified down – lofts very well
- Fairly priced considering the quality and amount of down fill
- Warm enough for summer use or shoulder seasons with a liner/some layers
- Hard to know where to position adhesive patches, as mattress shapes vary
- Once in position, there’s no adjustability compared to a strap or bungee cord system
- Snap buttons sometimes pop open if you wiggle around too much
- Best for those who are 6′ (183cm) or shorter
- Like all quilts, factor in a liner and beanie too
- Model Tested: Big Agnes Fussel UL
- Weight: 1lb 1oz / 482g
- Fill weight: 9oz / 255g
- Packsize: 6″ x 10″ / 15 x 27cm
- Compressed bag size: 3.5″ x 5.5″ / 9 x 14cm
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Price: $249
- Manufacturer’s Details: Big Agnes
As a brand, Big Agnes has brought some clever innovations to the outdoor industry – like the lightweight LED strip lighting that features in some of its tents. Beyond the initial conundrum of placement – more guidelines would be welcome – the Fussell UL’s use of adhesive patches and snap buttons make the whole ‘quilt system’ easier to manage, especially for those new to camping. Whilst the Fussell may not be the lightest summer quilt on the market or pack as many features as some of its cottage industry competition, it’s the most user-friendly quilt that I’ve tried. If you’re like me and tend to kick off bedsheets in your sleep, you’ll find the snaps do a good job at keeping the quilt in place – even if they not as fine-tuneable as a more complicated bungee cord system.
And, despite my initial apprehension at a $249 quilt marketed as ideal for sleeping on sofas – along with a perplexing lack of temperature rating – I have to say that the Fussell has really impressed me. Yes, it is perfect for kipping at a mate’s house. But with its high quality, 850 DownTek fill, it’s a very capable bag for summer bikepacking trips where weight and pack size really matter.
In fact bar ‘expedition’ and mid-winter riding, I can’t see myself needing anything else for 90 percent of the riding I enjoy – especially if I add in a silk liner or sleep in an extra layer when needed. Certainly, it’s an ideal accompaniment for travels through Europe and North America in the summer, and in my case, Mexico and Central America throughout the year.
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