This Instructable details how to make your own Down Hammock Underquilt for easy, efficient insulation in a hammock.
77" x 45" ("full" length)
18.2 oz with suspension.
20*F (or below) temperature rating (3+" loft)
Why an Underquilt?
In the camping and backpacking world, hammocks are becoming a popular alternative to tents. There are many potential advantages to hammocks, but one common complaint/disadvantage is the warmth of a hammock as temperatures drop. Because the hammock is suspended, airflow underneath the hammock removes heat through convection. Without proper insulation, sleeping in a hammock can be very chilly as temperatures drop below 60F. The traditional approach to hammock insulation is the same as ground insulation: an insulating pad underneath a sleeping bag. The pad is necessary because laying on bottom half of the sleeping bag flattens it. This eliminates its insulating loft. The pad+bag combo certainly works, but many have difficulty positioning, adjusting and staying on top of the insulating pad leading to cold spots throughout the night. It's also generally more difficult to get into and out of a zippered sleeping bag while in a hammock.
A much simpler, efficient and potentially warmer setup uses two separate pieces of insulation instead of the sleeping bag. First, an "underquilt" is attached underneath the hammock. This insulation doesn't have any weight on top of it, so it stays lofted and traps body heat below the hammock fabric. This eliminates the need for a pad underneath. Then, a top quilt, usually with some kind of sleeping bag style "footbox", is pulled over top to insulate above. Think of it as a sleeping bag in two halves with a hammock running through the middle.
This approach to hammock insulation is very simple to setup and use. It's also weight and pack efficient, eliminating a pad in favor of the two quilts whose weight and packed size can often be less than just a traditional sleeping bag itself.
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Step 1: What You'll Need
To make an underquilt, you'll need to choose the fabric and insulation right for your application. For this project, I wanted the lightest weight possible and was targeting insulating down to ~20*F. Heavier, more durable fabrics would cost less and work just as well. You can use any breathable, calendared fabric that is listed as "downproof". I suggest browsing the selection at ripstopbytheroll.com. They can source everything you need for the whole project and had the best prices and selection I could find.
- Sewing Machine
- Sharp scissors
- Seam ripper
- Pins or binder clips
- Measuring tape
0.5 oz NS50 Noseeum mesh - 3 yards
3/8" grossgrain ribbon - 1 section (5 yards)
1/16" Shock cord - 1 section (25')
1/8" Shock cord - 1 section (25')
Mini cordlocks - 1 package (12)
Painters tape (blue, 1") - 2 rolls
*The amount and fill power of the down you use will be very specific to your project. In the next steps, I'll go through how to decide how much you'll need. I purchased mine from downlinens.com by the pound since I needed enough for both an under and top quilt. There are plenty of sources by the ounce such as ripstopbytheroll.com, thru-hiker.com, diygearsupply.com and others.
Step 2: Planning
Everyone's perfect underquilt is different. Length, width, weight and temperature rating are the basic considerations, but this involves more variables than you can shake a stick at. You'll need to decide on total length and width, suspension type, baffle style, baffle height, target loft, down fill power, overstuff, etc. To keep things simple, I've just described my exact project here, but there is a lot of information available on all options on the Internet. I strongly suggest reading through hammockforums.net as there is an absolute wealth of information on all things hammock there. I was only able to do this project because of hammockforums.
The style I chose is very popular and very similar to purchasable products on the market. This style has vertical, differential cut baffles. To make a quilt like mine, you can start by making a copy of this spreadsheet and entering your own numbers: CatSplat's Underquilt Calculator
My quilt dimensions in the calculator are:
Baffle height: 2.25"
Chamber height: 2.75"
Down fill power: 800
I added 2.5" seam allowance on the inner shell and .5" on the outer shell. Details of why will be later in the instructions.
Step 3: Measuring / Cutting
Once you have your material dimensions calculated (including seam allowances):
- Lay out the inner shell fabric on a flat surface (This was the orange in my case).
- With calendared fabric, one side is shinier than the other where it was rolled flat. This shiny side needs to face the down insulation. Lay the shiny side up when taping out your pattern.
- Use painters tape to mark the outer borders of the shell. Be sure to account for your seam allowances here.
- Use painters tape to mark your baffles as well. The tape only serves as a guide and will peel off easily after sewing the baffles in place. In these images, you'll see I used clear scotch tape, but this is only because I ran out of painters tape. The painters tape works much better. It's much more visible, easier to lay down and easier to peel off after sewing (even if you sew through it accidentally).
- Once all your tape is down, measure all your sides and baffle spacings again to be sure everything is correct.
- Cut the pattern out by sliding a sharp pair of scissors along the painters tape border.
- Repeat these steps for the outer shell (blue for my project).
Notice in the pattern calculator that the *outer* shell has larger baffle spacing and is overall wider than the inner shell. Also, the two baffles on each side are larger by the size of one of the baffle walls. This is because of the rounded shape of each down chamber. You want the inner shell to lay flat against the hammock and outer shell to puff up and provide the loft. If you don't use this "differential" cut, the chambers will compress when pulled against the hammock reducing loft and insulation.
Step 4: Hem the Shells
- For both the inner and outer shells, fold the unfinished edge over about .25" (onto the same side with your baffle tape - the shiny side) and sew a simple folded hem.
- On only the inner shell (orange in my case), fold down the corners another inch and sew them in place. This will give nice finished edges to the shockcord channels you'll create on all four sides later.
Step 5: Cut the Baffles
Credit to Joe Brewer for this ingenious method of cutting the baffle material.
- Measure the length your inner shell as is to determine the length of your baffles. Add a couple inches for margin. You can cut off the excess later.
- Lay out the noseeum mesh fabric and measure to the length you need. I measured and cut off a length of about about 82" (by about 62" - the stock width of the fabric).
- Carefully roll up this material along the length (the 82")
- You should be left with a tube of noseeum ~62" wide (the stock width of the fabric).
- Lay the tube on a hard surface and hold it in place with books or other heavy, flat objects.
- Cut off the uneven end of the tube so that you have a nice straight edge on one end.
- Measure from the straight edge and mark the tube at your desired baffle material size. This is baffle height + 2x your seam allowance. I wanted a 2.25" inch finished baffle and used .5" seam allowance so: [2.25" + (2 * .5") = 3.25"]
- Cut the tube at your mark.
- Unroll the cut material and you should have an 82" x 3.25" baffle. Repeat for as many baffles as you need. I needed 8 to create 9 chambers.
Step 6: Sew Baffles to the Inner Shell
- Sew the mesh baffle material onto the inner shell along your tape lines.
- Fold the mesh over .25" and sew through two layers for added strength.
- Keep the shell material taut, but do not stretch the mesh. This takes some practice, but if you stretch the baffle, it will tend to draw up the shell material after sewing (shortening the quilt on that baffle line).
- A piece of painters tape placed (baffle height + seam allowance) away from your needle makes a simple guide to keep your baffle height exact as you sew.
- I sewed each baffle about 3" at a time. It was time consuming but was the easiest way to ensure both shell and baffle stayed exactly where I wanted them.
- The mesh had a natural tendency to roll in one direction. Do yourself a favor and fold your seam the same way or you'll be fighting the material all the way down the baffle. It doesn't matter if you fold this seam under or over.
Step 7: Sew in Grossgrain Loops for Suspension
This quilt has a "secondary suspension". This just means there are loops at each corner for a small piece of shockcord to attach to the long primary suspension. This lets you adjust exactly where the quilt will sit on the primary suspension. Without it, the quilt tends to slide and shift toward the middle of the hammock potentially reducing coverage or creating air gaps.
1. Cut 4 lengths of grossgrain ribbon about 7" long.
2. Fold the ribbon in half to create a loop on one end.
3. Position the loop so that it protrudes about 1" from the end of the quilt.
4. Position the loop about 1" from the long edge of the quilt as well. When you fold this over to create the shockcord channel, the loop will be at the top edge of the channel. This just keeps cord management a little tidier.
5. Sew in place with double box stitches for strength.
Step 8: Connect the Shells Together
Start by sewing one shock cord channel along one long side of the quilt. Which side you choose doesn't really matter now.
1. Place the outer shell (blue in my case) on top of the inner shell (orange) about 1" inside the edge. (Baffles on the inner shell and baffle tape on the outer shell should be facing each other on the inside).
2. Fold the orange edge over the blue to create a 1" channel along the edge. Pin or clip in place as needed.
3. Sew the inner and outer shell together along the length of the quilt.
Step 9: Sew the Outer Shell to the Baffles
1. To make the material easier to manage, roll up the outer shell and clip it in place. Leave one baffle tape line exposed at a time.
2. Pick up the next baffle on the inner shell and move it over to the exposed baffle line.
3. Fold the edge of the baffle material about .25" so you will sew through two layers for strength.
4. Check your total baffle height with a ruler as you go. Mine was 2.25".
6. Sew the baffle down the length of the quilt. Try not to sew on the tape line. This will make it easier to remove.
7. Remove the baffle tape line.
8. Unclip and unroll the outer shell to expose the next baffle line.
9. Repeat for all baffles.
Don't sew the other long edge of the quilt together yet.
Step 10: Sew on Your Label (optional)
For a little added touch, I decided to order some printed fabric labels from the Internet with a logo on them. You obviously don't have to do this, but if you do, now is a good time to sew it in place.
1. On the unattached, long edge of the outer shell, find a spot for your label. I chose about 1 foot in from the head end.
2. Tape the label in place.
3. Sew all four edges.
You might want to practice with scrap shell material and extra labels. The tension and stitch length may need to be changed. Remember to change it back when you're done.
Step 11: Sew the Final Side and Bottom Closed
1. Sew the other long side closed making the same 1" channel as before.
2. For the bottom, you will need to pleat the outer shell (blue in my case) as you go. This is because the outer shell chambers are wider than the inner shell (the "differential cut" from earlier).
3. Match up and pin each baffle seam so they don't move.
4. Fold the excess outer shell material into a pleat on each chamber.
5. Fold the inner shell over to form the 1" channel like all the other sides. Pin at the pleats if needed.
6. Sew the channel in place, with pleats, along the bottom of the quilt.
Step 12: Stuff the Down
Now, for the fun part! I used "The Shopvac Method". This certainly works and is *fairly* clean, but is definitely time consuming. You can search for other methods on hammockforums.net as well.
1. Hang the quilt with the open end up (you can use your grossgrain loops!)
2. Take the extension tube off a shopvac hose.
3. Cover the end of the tube where the hose connects with noseeum mesh and rubber band it in place.
4. Connect the tube back onto the end of the hose. Now you can vacuum down into this and it will be trapped in the tube.
5. Start vacuuming down into the tube.
6. As soon as any down is in the tube, it will lose quite a bit of suction. For efficiency, don't stop at that point. Use your hand to help stuff down into the tube. It will continue to be sucked down the tube slowly.
7. After a few handfuls, remove the tube from the shopvac (make sure the mesh stays on).
8. Place the tube on your scale and zero it.
9. Put the open end of the tube into a chamber of your quilt.
10. Blow through the mesh end to deposit the down into the chamber.
11. Put the emptied tube back on the scale. The negative weight shown is the amount of down you just added to the quilt. Record this number every time.
12. Repeat until you reach the desired amount of down in the chamber (from your spreadsheet).
13. Shake the down into the bottom of each chamber as you go. This will help keep the down from floating back out of the quilt and also lets you visually check that each chamber has roughly the same amount of down.
14. Clip the top of each chamber closed when filled.
13. Repeat for all chambers.
Step 13: Sew the Top Closed
1. Make sure all the down is shaken to the bottom of the quilt and each chamber is clipped closed.
2. Take the quilt back to your sewing machine and sew the head end, 1" channel in place closing the top.
3. Remember to pleat the outer shell just like the bottom as you go.
4. Fluff up the quilt to distribute the down throughout each channel evenly.
5. Measure that fluffy goodness to estimate your temperature rating. Mine has about 3" of loft throughout.
Step 14: Add the Suspension
1. You need something long, narrow and stiff to fish the shockcord through the channels. I used a straightened coat hanger with a bend in the end.
2. Carefully push the rod through one channel, scrunching the material as you go until it protrudes from the other end.
3. Tie your 1/8th inch shockcord to the end of the rod.
4. Carefully pull the rod back through the quilt to thread the shockcord through.
5. Repeat for all the other channels.
6. For the shorter, end channels, insert a cord lock on each end so it can be cinched around the hammock ends.
7. Tie the ends of the long channels' shockcord together at each end. This will attach to your hammock suspension to hold it under the hammock.
8. If desired, tie a short loop of shockcord from each corner tie out to the main suspension line using a prussik knot. Adjust along the length of the suspension to hold the quilt in place.
Hang your hammock and new underquilt and admire all your hard work!!
Instructions for a matching top quilt coming soon.