Pack a down blanket for travel in just carry-on!

An age-old question for a traveler: bring a sleeping bag?
The debate:

  • A sleeping bag takes up room in your only bag.
  • Most places, even hostels, give you great blankets these days. Unlike the 80s, it’s not likely you’ll need a sleeping bag unless camping.
  • Ah, but not all places have blankets. Some have acrylic blankets that just cannot touch. Some are dirty and don’t have a clean cover.
  • So do you take your own sleeping bag for the few nights you need it?
Me, holding up my down blanket so you can see how tall it is. Only you can't see how wide it is here.
My packable down blanket.

I did take that sleeping bag. A down mummy bag. (Although by my 40s, I’d removed the zipper and the hood and used it as a blanket and I’d wished for a lightweight down blanket.) Anyway, those few nights of need made it worth the space.

But in 2016 that all changed. Well, not all… Now my answer is “no” to a sleeping bag — because now I have one of my best travel finds…

My wish had come true! I was so happy to discover the ultra-light Double Black Diamond Packable Down Throw. Nylon and Polyester with 700 fill powder down fill.

“It’s 45° outside and from my bed at Laya’s house which is pressed right against the outside wall, I can hear the wind blowing — and I can sharply feel the cold of the wind that I’m hearing. However, in my bed, wrapped inside my great down travel blanket — my Double Black Diamond Packable Down Throw blanket — I am toasty. I am quite happy to find that this $20 Costco purchase works very very well as a travel blanket and instead of a sleeping bag.”

That’s a journal entry from a late November 2017 visit to the mountains in Northern Israel. It’s just one entry in which I note how comfortable I am in bed with that great down blanket. I’ve said the same during October and November in northern England, in Ireland, and in Austria, among other places.

I’ve also slept with this blanket in hotels and slept with my sleeping bag even in 5-Star hotels because I trust it more than a hotel blanket and to me, it’s a familiar comfort.

I even sleep with this blanket when I’m not traveling. It has become my blanket, not just a travel item. For parts of two winters in Los Angeles, I have had heavy cotton duvets at my disposal, my friends offering them to me and being surprised when I show them my deceivingly thin blanket and saying this is plenty for me. (Yes, it really gets cold at night in LA. At least, a relative cold.)

Deceptively thin

When you first take this blanket out after it’s been stuffed for a while, it’s going to be quite flat and thin. (Especially if you pack it like I do.) Anyone who doesn’t have the same blanket will look at it and tell you (or think) that you’re crazy for thinking this will keep you warm. My hosts tend to say things like: Are you sure? It looks very thin. That won’t keep you warm. Don’t worry about being polite. Please use mine. At times I even question my own insistence that this will be quite warm and comfortable. But I always wake up warm and comfy.

One secret to this ultra-light thin blanket being warm is air. Just like all down, it fluffs when there’s air in it and that air helps the down keep you warm.

A tip: Try to take it out when you arrive at your new abode. Shake the blanket. Wave it around. Turn it a few times to get each side. Then leave it in a pile with nothing on top of it and let it fluff. By the time you go to sleep it will be thicker. If you are going directly to bed, you’ll awaken to notice the air has fluffed it.

Another reason this is warm is that the cover, half nylon and half polyester, keeps your body heat in and the cold out. Actually, there are many nights when I slide a foot, leg, or arm out to cool off and let some new air in. (And normally I wake up cold anytime I fall asleep.)

By the way, I can’t wear polyester clothing for even 10 minutes so I avoid polyester whenever possible, but this blanket doesn’t bother me at all.

Customizing my Double Black Diamond Down Blanket

The blanket is 60″ x 70″ — an excellent size for perhaps a person 5’6″ or perhaps taller. However, I like to wrap my blanket under my feet and also like to tuck it under my chin. As I am 5’8″ I wanted my length. In the DIY group where I first learned of this fantastic blanket, people spoke of cutting 3 columns off because they didn’t need so much width. It’s possible to take some of that and use it to add width, but I didn’t feel that was necessary and I like tucking it around me as well.

Instead, I bought about 7 or 8″ of ripstop nylon and sewed it to the end that became my blanket’s bottom. First, I used a sewing machine to do a simple fold-over to finish the short sides and one long side. Then I folded an inch of the last long side and sewed it onto the bottom of the blanket along the existing sewn line to avoid adding even the tiniest of holes to the nylon. That’s because I prefer to keep every bit of down that I can. My result was about 6″ of under-foot length.

My down blanket with extra ripstop to make it my perfect length.
Sloppy sewing but my blanket is my perfect length.

I like that my addition adds very little bulk or weight to the blanket.

This solution works well for me because I don’t need it for warmth; only to tuck it under my feet and keep the blanket over or around me. The nylon is particularly slippery at first so having it tucked keeps it from sliding off in the night.

By the way, I also wrote about this blanket in this packing list article.

What you’re looking for in the store

This is the typical display of this blanket at Costco. September 2016 it was Item #638823 and it was $19.99. The price was the same in Spring 2018. It’s seasonal. You’ll find it maybe July until it sells out or through September, at least in Southern California.

The blanket at Costco

You can find it online too, typically for twice the price. I’ve never found a website for the company though. (It is or was made by Blue Ridge Home Fashions.) There are also similar down​ blankets​ for more money, but I not seen or tried them.

Packing this down blanket into a single travel bag

This is called “packable” blanket and thus, it comes with a thin (light) nylon stuff sack that has a slider to close it. It’s a good-sized bag to store your down blanket at any time. However, I need every bit of space in my backpack as you lkely will.

I found four options for packing it:

  1. Keeping the sack the original size, then letting the blanket be compressed as I packed my backpack (or other single-bag/suitcase). That worked but made packing and closing my bag more difficult.
  2. Squeezing it into a vacuum bag and rolling the air out of it. This didn’t work well for me as the compression bag adds bulk. Perhaps this would work in a tall suitcase or backpack, but I need my full height for my packing cubes of clothing.
  3. Making the stuff bag smaller. I’d done that with my original sleeping bag. In fact, I’d about halved the size of it removing height as well as width. However, this is rather permanent and when staying someplace a few days I like to let the blanket have space and air so I don’t crush it so much and it fluffs better when I need it.
  4. My solution: I’ve kept the bag its original size but push it 1/3 more down into the bag (as in the photo), then twist the extra at the top. In the photo below I tied it but now (not shown) I pull it over to one side, then use straps to hold that extra down and compress the entire width. Then it’s ready to be packed into my travel bag.
    I had a set of Bluelounge’s medium-sized Pixi ties and I wrapped two of them as tightly as I could spreading each piece of elastic to compress the blanket in its bag quite small. (However, after two years of use, pulling them so tightly, I broke the elastic’s connection. My next compression will be bulkier but perhaps easier: the smallest plastic bucket I can find, so far 1/2″ and 1/2″ webbing that will pull tight and stay tight.) In this photo you see on Pixi tie and one experimental temporary strap that didn’t have enough grip to hold tight.
    For my next travel I may carry two stuff sacks: The original for when I’m staying in one place and a smaller one for packing it into my backpack.
Me holding my stuffed down blanket.
The blanket doesn’t need all of the stuff sack.
The blanket compressed.
Pixi ties compress to perhaps half the width.

Here you can see the space it occupies in my backpack. (These photos were taken by the very kind Randall Mills as I had the honor of presenting a seminar on Independent Travel at a MENSA gathering.) You may notice a green Pixi strap.

My travel backpack/suitcase fully packed as I show its contents. Notice the small stuffed down blanket.
Notice the stuffed blanket in my fully packed Eagle Creek carry-on?

The full blanket in use

Here’s a look at the blanket on a full or queen sized bed. I actually took this photo to display all of my packing items but my 3 dry sacks aren’t shown here. You can see my extension at the bottom.

My down travel blanket on the bed.
See, it’s a full-sized blanket! And it fits in that carry-on with all these packing cases full.

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