Tag Archives: ultralight

Get Rid of Your Mummy Bag on the Appalachian Trail in 2017

“Every ounce of sleeping bag crushed flat under us as we sleep is an ounce of sleeping bag we’re carrying around every day for no reason.”

Scrolling through my phone yesterday, Google recommended an Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker data article put together by Appalachian Trials (now “The Trek“). Of course this sort of thru-hiker survey data is of the utmost interest to me so I naturally began to peruse the data to see what hikers are doing these days and some of the results really did surprise me.

Okay, to be fair I almost anticipated the data to reflect more silly things than I ultimately found but (both fortunately and unfortunately) I found that thru hikers in 2016 seem to be making some seemingly dumb mistakes in ways I didn’t quite anticipate.

Why You Should Get Rid of Your Mummy Bag:

appalachian-trail-thru-hiker-sleeping-bag-mistakes

Here’s some of the data from this year’s thru hiker survey on the Appalachian Trail according to TheTrek.co.

Surprisingly enough, it shows that 25.2% of hikers are now using backpacking quilts for sleeping in tents and tarps. In hammock sleep systems, about 33% of hikers are using top-quilts for insulation.

It’s crazy to me that a full 66% of hammock campers are making the mistake of carrying extra weight and taking up extra room in the pack by choosing to use a sleeping bag instead of the much more efficient top-quilt system (in this case combined with an under quilt for hammock use).

The problem with mummy bags

So what, exactly, is the mistake here? Well, let’s start by exploring how insulation works and how sleeping bags and quilts keep us warm.

At its most basic level, the majority of insulation operates by creating “dead air space” or a pocket of air which is unable to move. This immobile air is then brought up  to body temperature since it sits close to the body. Since the air can’t move, it’s then quite efficient at helping to regulate body temperature.

For notation’s sake, it’s worth mentioning that this is only one type of insulation. See this Dr Energy Saver article for a good overall primer on how insulation works and some common problems with insulation.

Some challenges of insulation on the trail are wind, water, and compression. If your insulation gets wet it will lose a large amount of its ability to insulate. If wind is allowed to blow through your insulation it will replace all that warm air with cool (or cold) atmospheric temperature air. If your insulation gets compressed, or smashed, for any reason it will then also lose its ability to trap and retain warm body temperature air.

Wind and water are obvious, but can you think of an instance on the trail when you might accidentally compress your insulation?

Maybe you fold up that puffy jacket and sit on it for an improvised sit-pad. You might notice that it doesn’t do much to keep the bum warm. That’s because you compressed it – it’s no longer able to trap air because you crushed it flat with your body weight.

On the inefficiency of sleeping bags:

Since compressed insulation does little or nothing at all to help insulate us from cold temperatures, it follows that we should aim to avoid compressing any insulation we’re using. Right?

Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag

Quilt (left) vs Mummy Bag (right)

Traditional sleeping bags surround the body like a cocoon on all sides to keep us warm while we sleep. Unfortunately, a large portion of that insulation is crushed flat every night as we sleep. If we’re side sleepers we may crush less of that insulation than back sleepers.

Every ounce of sleeping bag crushed flat under us as we sleep is an ounce of sleeping bag we’re carrying around every day for no reason.

Because that insulation doesn’t actually help keep us warm, why bother carrying it at all? How do we solve this inefficiency?

Backpacking quilts are the answer! Backpacking quilts are simply mummy bags with open backs. There is no material on the underside of a quilt – the quilt simply drapes over you and, in some cases, snaps on to your sleeping pad to surround you without placing any material underneath you. This completely removes the material that would otherwise be crushed when sleeping in a traditional bag.

why The continued use of mummy bags surprises me:

When I first started using backpacking hammocks as a shelter back in 2011 (found Hennessey Hammocks at Trail Days in Damascus, VA) it seemed that only a select few backpackers knew about hammock camping at all. Those who did, seemed to fully understand the niche pros and cons of the shelter.

Though there seems to be little objective data available, my empirical experience is that camping hammocks have gained popularity like wildfire over the last 6 years. With them has come the rise of backpacking quilts.

UGQ Zeppelin Under Quilt

Hammock under quilt by Under Ground Quilts – my favorite manufacturer.

Quilts seem to have sprouted largely from the hammock camping community where “under quilts” are used for insulation and comfort. I only became aware of the use of backpacking quilts as a result of getting to know cottage industry manufacturers in the hammock camping industry and ultralight backpacking world.

These days it’s much more common to hear people recommend the use of backpacking quilts on forums or by word of mouth. Apparently 25% of people are now using them and their use has grown 147% YoY (year over year).

Despite their weight savings when compared to same-temperature mummy bags and the fact that high quality quilts can be custom ordered to your exact specifications for less money than many name brand mummy bags at the local outfitter, mummy bags still own the majority of the market share. Why?

Better yet – according to the survey – why are 66% of hammock users still sleeping in mummy bags? This tells me that the hammock camping fad has become so popular so quickly that people are now hammock camping while thru hiking without even using properly researched equipment… By and large hammock campers rely on under quilts for insulation, they should really know better than to be sleeping in a mummy bag.

Why are mummy bags still so popular?

Mummy bags have been around for a long time and most big-name brands are making mummy bags and have models which have been popular for decades. Chances are your grandfather had a mummy bag and your dad did, too. It’s just the “thing” you “do” when you go camping.

By and large I believe the majority of hikers, backpackers, and campers in general don’t take the time to think or research their gear in great depth. Many people aren’t even aware that there are alternatives to mummy bags.

If you’ve bought all your gear at REI, then you’re probably not even aware that backpacking quilts exist or that you can order them to literally any temperature rating you would like. You may not be aware that they’re lighter than mummy bags, built by hikers for hikers, and more compressible than any other options on the market today.

I think mummy bags are still popular because the market is so saturated with them already. Most retail stores and manufacturers aren’t really looking out for consumers best interests. After all, backpacking quilts are superior to mummy bags in every way so why does the inferior product continue to exist? Most people expect to see mummy bags when they walk into an outfitter store and that’s what the box stores are happy to sell them.

Where to buy great backpacking quilts:

I’ll recommend one backpacking quilt maker above all others because I feel their balance of price to finished product weight and attention to customer needs is superior to all others. I have exclusively used Underground Quilts owned and operated by Paul McWalters for my quilts and tarps for years.

Paul makes my gear to my exact specifications every time, even when I ask for a snap or button to be left off to save weight. His company really goes the extra mile to make some great gear and I know him personally. Check out this great interview with Paul about his quilts!

I have meticulously researched and compared quilts made by other manufacturers and none of them have the price, weight, service, and product quality that I know I can expect from UGQ and Paul. Some very few may be lighter by fractional ounces, but the difference in price does not justify the weight savings in my opinion.

I have not and do not receive compensation for my opinions nor do I make money from sales of any manufacturer’s gear. They just make great quilts.

Other Quilt Manufacturers:

If you’re looking to compare quilts then check out these other makers:

Conclusion

I really can’t think of a great reason to keep mummy bags around except, perhaps, in the most harsh and extreme of cold environments such as arctic exploration. For any Appalachian Trail hike, a quilt is just fine even in winter.

With that said, it is my opinion that quilts should replace mummy bags and I sincerely hope to see 75% or more of hikers carrying quilts – not the other way around as the data currently reflects. They’re lighter and more compressible saving you energy, space, and potential injury on the trail.

Go chat with my buddy Paul at Underground Quilts and get yourself hooked up with a great new piece of gear – you’ll be glad you made the change.

Do you feel that mummy bags still have a place on the trail for most people? Leave me a comment and let’s keep the discussion going!

Happy Trails, people!

Five Things I’ve Learned About Ultralight Lifestyle

Over the last month or so I’ve made some huge progress toward adopting ultralight philosophy into every aspect of my life.

Here in the front country it’s not all about weight. Some of what I’ve worked toward has been lessening my financial expenditure (having an ultralight expense ratio).

Taking care of my body with the same care I would show to a cuben fiber shelter. Treating myself like the high-performance piece of gear that I am. Metaphorically speaking…

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. I enjoy the extra time! Selling my desktop computer and having my laptop die within the same two weeks opened up huge amounts of time. I sit here typing this blog post on my iPad Mini 2, the same device upon which I earlier was reading an in depth account of the causes of the Great Recession.

Ultralight in the front country means having an ultralight load on your time demands. It doesn’t mean doing nothing but, rather, finding what is exactly worth taxing your valuable time and doing only those things.

2. I’ve been able to reconnect. Getting rid of FaceBook meant reestablishing deliberate and thoughtful correspondence with intentional people. Even before deleting FaceBook, as I reached out to people to get contact info, it was nice to be intentionally communicating with some lost friends, rather than just commenting on their statuses.

Now, when I have something worth sharing, I send it straight to those to whom it matters. It feels much more clean and appropriate.

I’ve also been able to reconnect to things which matter to me. I’ve had more time to choose what to do with and I’ve filled it with things I enjoy. Walking to the library and perusing the shelves, reading books of topics as wide as motorcycle repairs to personal finance.

3. I feel more focused. Having less distractions on my schedule and around me physically leaves more room for me to focus on things that are truly important.

My to-do list today is about 12 items long and arranged on the Reminders app of my iPad (I’ve tried a few other apps but none seem to offer me any real value). I have the to-do list scheduled out so that i can get as much done as possible on one of my few days off.

4. There is little pressure. I have more time so I can go to bed a bit earlier, wake up a bit earlier.

I can shave each morning and enjoy the simplicity of a fresh shave with a clean razor (I’ve recently started shaving my head regularly). My drive to work is lazy, I never exceed the speed limit and watch as other cars shove part me to make it to their cubicle on time. Walking in to work I take it slow, enjoy the cold mountain air on my head and in my lungs.

With few financial pressures and absolutely no debt, it’s pretty easy to manage money. I work a job I love, make a very meager income, but still have more saved and disposable than most people I know. Of course, my “disposable” income I also save and will be happily investing while others are out buying 30’s of PBR.

Having ultralight finances and schedules means more time to enjoy the day. Just as we all love having a little more time to enjoy the morning on the trail with a hot drink in hand. Having a lighter, simpler pack, means more enjoyment of the trail. It’s no different in the front country.

5. I have room to make changes. From better time management and productivity, to exercise habits and long desired travel. With ultralight finances and schedule it’s so much more simple to find room for things I’ve always wanted to focus on.

Since I was a kid I loved video games and I still do. It’s a habit that’s stuck with me since I got addicted to the first Poke’mon game. More and more, however, in the past years I’ve begun to realize I’m wasting time. Finally, a month ago, I sold my very expensive gaming computer (along with a huge library of expensive games).

Why did I sell it? Not because there was something wrong with it. No, the computer was fine, and I took a huge loss financially on my investment.

I had been arguing with myself for ages to keep it because I’ve already spent so much on it. The other part of my brain, however, knew that playing games was slowly draining my potential.

Finally I just pulled myself up by the bootstraps and made the change I knew I really wanted to see. I wanted to move forward with my life more than I wanted to level up characters.

I wanted a positive direction for myself so much that I was willing to loose somewhere in the ballpark of a grand to get rid of a perfectly fine computer.

I’m glad I did.

Continue reading

Continuing the Ultralight Lifestyle

It’s been roughly a month since I’ve taken my disjointed passion for ultralight backpacking and brought it together with my interest in the concept of “minimalism”.

I’ve bought into the idea that minimalism is, roughly, defined as “removing all unnecessary clutter from ones life”.

This has lead me to get rid of two pair of skis, an old pair of AT ski boots, helmet, extra set of bindings, desktop computer, and laptop (well, almost).

I have shoved a great deal of my clothing into a box, leaving only enough for exercise and evening relaxation. Exactly one pair of jeans and two t shirts for every day life. To be fair, I spend the vast majority of my days in a ski instructor’s uniform.

My early 2008 MacBook Pro died a month ago and I was planning to trade in in with Apple’s recycle program. They were to offer me $0 for it and, considering my tendency to tinker, I decided to try to fix it. $6 later (for thermal compound) and a two evenings of work (one to tear it apart, one to reassemble) and I have a perfectly functional MacBook Pro again.

Turns out the solution was to bake the motherboard in the oven @375º for 7:30 minutes.

Anyways, with very few exception, I’ve spent the last month selling a lot of shit and accumulating as little as possible.

I’m moving back to a simpler way of doing things.

I’ve started waking up earlier to shave (head and face) with gel and a razor. It has become one of my favorite parts of my day.

I have more time in the evening to organize. Set up to-do lists, reminders, get in contact with people, and organize work and professional items.

I’ve been able to start playing footbag more often again, one of my on-and-off hobbies over the years.

I’m really looking forward to getting rid of my iPhone in May and going back to a basic talk and text phone. I love the simplicity and freedom I’m finding in every day life without being plugged in.

I’m able to save a huge percent of my income (expecting to save well over 50% this month) thanks to reduced consumption and increased awareness of my own personal finance.

I rode the bus in to work the other day (something I don’t do often because it’s absurdly logistically challenging) and it afforded me an nice hands off morning to listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcasts on finances.

Much like in the wilderness, excess items slow you down. They take up space in your pack. It takes longer to find the things you really need (rain gear) when you have to sort through three dry-bags of camera equipment and charging cables.

In the front country we don’t notice them. Even those of us accustomed to going with less while hiking often don’t realize how much stuff we have.

I have never been a chronic shopper, I have never held a cent of debt, I travel often so it prevents me from accumulating much.

Even so, after really focusing on fusing ultralight with minimalism… well, I’m curious to see how far this can go!

Going Facebook Ultralight

Well, after some planning and experimentation I’ve officially deactivated Facebook.

That’s right, Facebook, I don’t need you.

I found out the following in the process:

I really want people to know how cool I am by putting up pictures. No, seriously, it took me a while to admit this to myself. It’s really cool though because now I can purposely take photos of certain things and send them to people I think will appreciate them. Instead of just posting them on Facebook to get likes, I can share meaningful content with people I enjoy.

I used Facebook as a status symbol often. It’s painful to say it, but most often my Facebook posts would be sharing something badass I’ve done. There have been a few times in the last week where I’ve wanted to write up a status and realized I have no Facebook. It’s actually been really liberating. No one knows where I am or what I’m doing, I’m just doing it for myself. No one else.

• I can do anything at any time I want and no one cares. At first this thought seems kind of depressing. I go skiing on my days off and appreciate the beauty of the day. Mostly I just enjoy it myself and work on my personal skiing. If something is particularly worth noting or sharing, I’ll send a photo to a friend via message or call them.

• It’s actually taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I spend most of my time away from my childhood friends and family. Up until now most of them watched my doings from Facebook. Now, if I do or accomplish something particularly noteworthy I might tell those of them who are closest. Everyone else has no clue what I’m doing with my life. I like it.

• Facebook won’t actually let you export your contacts in any useful way. Before I deactivated, I downloaded a full copy of everything that’s ever happened on my Facebook (including contacts). That file lives on Dropbox, out of sight. Before leaving, I posted several statuses announcing my decision and imploring friends to send me their phone numbers and emails if they wanted to stay in touch. Some in particular I reached out to. Now I have a contacts list that is very deliberate and refreshingly clutter free.

I am really looking forward to moving toward replacing my iPhone with a basic QWERTY style slide out phone (always have been my favorite). I am rather reserved with my use of the iPhone compared to some but even so I find myself all too often seeing the world from the other side of an iPhone screen.

Getting rid of Facebook was an awesome first step I would encourage anyone to take.

My Ultralight Computer Geared to Travel

Well, I just got all set up with my fancy new travel computer. The goal was to remove the need for a laptop and desktop computer while still meeting these needs:

•Lightweight
•Compact
•Compatible with a broad range of apps and services
•Able to video message and send photos
•Able to use wordprocessing apps

So this is my first attempt at managing my website using only an iPad Mini 2 and an Anker Ultra Compact Bluetooth Keyboard.

So far I’ve been able to do everything from this little keyboard and it has full functionality. I can hit the home key without touching the iPad, I can adjust volume and brightness, show and hide on screen keyboard, play and pause music… just about everything without touching the iPad.

The keys are snappy and responsive too. No double inputs when typing.

It’s really quite a joy!

I have my WordPress app to manage this site where you currently are reading.

My next biggest concern was being able to read and respond to business and professional emails. Job applications are a huge part of my seasonal work and having the ability to edit, type, and send my resume and cover letters in nice looking formats is important!

Fortunately Google saved my skin with “Docs” the Google Drive app (and web service) that is a fully featured word processing program.

I can edit and attach my resume and cover letter using Google Docs. I can type up and edit the occasional document for any other purpose using the same service. And I like to use Google Sheets, a fully featured version of Excel.

Now to test the ability to format and upload pictures within the WordPress app…

Edit: After some testing, image adding using the WP App is less than desirable. Currently working on figuring it out!

Working Toward an Ultralight Lifestyle

For years it’s been appealing to me to apply my heavily ultralight backpacking style to my front country living. I think it’s finally time.

My older Macbook Pro has finally died and I will be getting rid of it soon. As I sit here typing on my desktop computer, it is listed for sale on Craigslist. I’ve decided to replace them both with an iPad Mini 2 which I ordered with a Bluetooth keyboard in order to easily facilitate emails, job resumes and applications, and keeping up on this site.

My iPhone 5 is eligible for an upgrade but it’s time to take another look at that. I’ve been saying to myself and friends for years that I’ve though about switching back to a “dumb” phone. It’s now or never, I suppose! So I’m going to sell the iPhone for what it’s worth and either reactivate or purchase a new pay-as-you-go QWERTY style “dumb” phone.

I will replace the lost functionality of the iPhone with the wifi only version of the iPad Mini 2 which I purchased. When I’m on the road or traveling, it will be phone calls and text messages only unless I’m near wifi. I will, for now, borrow a GPS car unit when needed but that brings me to the car…

I’m looking forward to selling the car. That’s right, I’m going to voluntarily get rid of a perfectly good car. Hopefully for a reasonable market value.

I’m hoping to be able to fit two (or three) changes of carefully selected clothes, a few small necessary front country toiletries, the iPad (and mini Bluetooth keyboard), my “new” dumb phone, and whatever select seasonal necessities in a backpack.

As I sit here looking around my room, having already sold two pairs of extra skis, an extra helmet, and a pair of boots… there’s not much left that I really need.

Here’s what I have left to tackle:

I have a printer but I’ll sell or donate it and just print the occasional page at the library or other office supply store.

I have an extra pair of ski bindings but they’re listed to be sold (soon hopefully).

I have an unnecessarily large pile of clothes for the season which I will donate much of.

My bed is an inflatable mattress which I will either store with the skis or ship home to be stored with family until next season.

The desktop and laptop, as mentioned, need to be sold.

There are a few odds and ends that I brought along which I will try to sell or donate such as an extra pair of shoes, a couple physical books (I recently switched to Kindle) and an extra laptop satchel.

I have a few other odds and ends which would be nice to store until next season (blanket, pillow, etc.).

Doing some research, I can get a hold of a 4 x 1 foot storage unit (what an odd shape!) for $20 per month. Probably worth it to store the few larger and more expensive items (skis, boots, inflatable bed, pillow, blanket, winter clothes etc) until next season.

I may gather up all my shit, put it into a pile in my room, and slowly whittle away at it. Getting rid of the car is going to be the biggest and most difficult leap of faith in this project.

Wish me luck!

Interview With UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s Paul McWalters

Readers, I always try to bring forth information about the outdoor industry that most of us just don’t get insight on regularly. Today I have an enormous treat for you. The following is a Q&A session with Paul McWalters, owner of UGQ Outdoor Equipment, maker of lightweight down filled backpacking quilts.

When I asked Paul if he would answer some of my questions centered around the “cottage”  industry, his products, and what it’s like to start your own outdoor gear company, he graciously acquiesced.  In the following lines you will find out about ultralight backpacking technology, cottage manufacturer insight, and a plethora of topics that I’ve just been dying to pick Paul’s brain on.

Photo

UGQ Outdoor Equipment (UGQ)

If you’ve ever been interested in making your own gear (MYOG), running a small backpacking gear company, or what it’s like on the other side of the “order” button when you purchase gear, this Q&A will certainly prove insightful.

Not every day I get to find out what it’s like to start a gear manufacturing company!


 

Q: (me) When did you know you wanted to start your own gear company and how did you decide on what products you would offer?

A: (Paul) I didn’t plan on starting UGQ at first, making my own gear was out of necessity due to lack of funds available for purchasing from the already established companies and the limited number of companies offering the gear I needed. My job at the time had seen some pretty major income reductions resulting in no “play fund” so I would DIY what I needed. Ordered some fabric and down, borrowed a sewing machine, which I proceeded to break in five minutes, and got busy.

Next thing you know friends were asking me to make quilts or tarps for them, so they’d buy double the materials on their dime which gave me extra materials to continue making revised gear for myself. Pretty soon I had email inquiries and decided a small website would get the ball rolling, giving me some extra funds to enjoy some backpacking trips and gear purchases…. Boy, I wasn’t ready for what happened next, 25+ orders my first month, apparently there is a demand for this stuff. It hasn’t slowed down any since and we keep growing month after month, year after year.

Products offered again were a result of what I personally needed at the time and my preference for down gear. I could have gone the synthetic route but after 2 decades backpacking with down I knew what to expect from the products in terms of benefits and risk.

Q: What process did you use in determining the pricing of your products and sourcing the suppliers of your materials?

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UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s 40º Flight Jacket quilt

A: Lets talk about sourcing first as that is the biggest hurdle. Finding a reliable and stable supply chain is quite the process and we still run into supplier delays these days. But working with the same suppliers helps build relationships. They get to know your business and can help out with improved material offerings. By having a stable relationship you can secure better prices and service. We work with some of the biggest material suppliers in the world, knowing the BIG BOYS also using them instills a confidence in our materials and our end products. It not just about the lowest price available, it also about the quality and assurance of that quality that is important in finding suppliers. All our major materials are tested to make sure we are receiving the best we can.

To make a competitive product you need to secure wholesale pricing which mean buying materials in large amounts. Back when I started it wasn’t the easiest thing to do as cash flow was not there. I’d buy in bulk for fabrics but in small lots of 25-50 yards or so and I’d buy down 8-10# at a time. While both of those helped with pricing buying in much larger amounts secures much better pricing. We now have a commitment contract with our down supplier for a certain poundage annually. This provides for a locked in price to avoid market fluctuations. We order fabric direct from the mill in the 1000’s of meter per order which again provides for much better pricing.

All of these savings are passed to our customers, we have a material cost for each of our products and a labor cost that is used to determine pricing.

Q: How many iterations of your current Flight Jacket Top Quilt have you created since the very first “draft”?

A: Not as many as one may think, the Flight Jacket is a great top quilt and will always have a place in our product line. The general construction has not changed much and is pretty much industry standard for a top quilt. We have made many little improvements over time that get integrated into the Flight Jacket without much hoopla. We did have one major revision to the entire construction of the quilt roughly 18 months ago and that is the product we currently ship today.

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UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s Renegade quilt (Available Jan 2015)

The fun part of our business is new product development, for the past 8 months we have been working on a new radically designed TQ. The RENEGADE will be release Jan 1, 2015 for purchase and is a completely different approach to top quilt design and construction. Featuring a more thermally efficient chamber design and a contoured shape overall the RENEGADE is built to provide maximum performance and comfort. No other quilt on the market that we are aware of combines the construction methods employed on the RENEGADE making it the most advanced quilt soon to be available.

Q: What are the greatest design improvements you’ve made to the Flight Jacket Top Quilts since your first draft and how do you believe they benefit the users of your products?

A: Our major redesign 18 months ago was a pretty big change. Up until then we had pretty much the same quilt as everyone else. They all had a few issues with down shifting and movement from chamber to chamber. The construction was known as open baffle meaning the ends of each chamber were open to the ends of the neighboring chamber. Marketed as letting you move down where you need it sure sounded good but I never have moved down from one chamber to another in a quilt or sleeping bag in over 20 years on the trails.

So we first redesigned the construction of the chamber to close them off, isolate them, keeping the right amount of down in each chamber. Then we narrowed the chambers from the industry standard of 5-8” to 4” maximum field chamber size. Both of these changes resulted in a much tighter and consistent down density which in the end keeps the user warmer.

We also switched to a 15d fabric at roughly the same time, a true garment-class fabric intended for down filled gear. After reviewing literally hundreds of samples we went with the 15 denier for its weight to performance ratio. It weighs .92oz per SY (square yard), independently tested to 850+ fill power down and has a DWR, durable water repellant, finish. At the time it was the best fabric available for our quilts. Just recently we have added a 10 denier .66 oz per SY fabric for the inner shells of our quilt. This provides for even more weight saving [versus] the 15 denier. We’ve opted to continue using the 15d for our outer shells for durability and it’s excellent DWR finish [which helps] keep both you and your down dry.

The inclusion of DWR treated downs has also been a major change. We were one of the first US based companies to start offering products filled with DWR treated downs. Our current offering that is standard in all our quilt is called HyperDRY and is about as close to water proof as it gets. Independent lab testing shows it outperforms virtually every synthetic fiber available today in terms of water repellency. This finish is applied at the nano level and designed to last for the life of the product. It also has been verified safe for the consumer and the environment which is of great importance to us and our customers.

Q: What advice would you give to DIY hikers who are looking to create the lightest and most individually tailored gear for their packs?

A: Understanding there are limits and understanding those limits is the key to making a durable and lightweight piece of gear whether it’s a quilt, tarp, or backpack. For example we now have access to 5d fabric. “D” stands for denier, the diameter of the thread used to weave the fabric. A 5d fabric is extremely light, .54oz SY, but can it survive the harsh environment of our packs as well as a 15d fabric? So when making one’s own personal gear the choice of hyper-light will result in the loss of some durability and only you can make that decision.

On a weekender or even a weeklong trip a piece of gear failing may be frustrating but will not trash the trip. On a thru hike it could certainly be a huge problem if you tear a tarp or lose half the down out of a quilt due to a poor fabric selection. So, weigh your choices carefully and choose wisely.

Q: Does UGQ ever plan to create synthetic fill quilts?

A: With the advances in DWR down and the more affordable duck downs on the market we do not see UGQ venturing into the synthetic fiber market in the near future. When, and I say when, there is a man-made fiber that equals all the properties of high fill-power downs we will certainly be the first in line. It will happen but it is hard to beat the quality of down that Mother Nature has provided us with.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge of operating a small business in the outdoor gear retail world?

A: Balancing work and personal life will always be a challenge for me. I take my commitment to [my] customers seriously; they have made a contract with us. They have provided funds and we have agreed to provide them (our customers) with a quality piece of gear made to their specifications. Sometimes I let this driving commitment occupy my life 24/7 and we all need proper balance in our lives. I’m committed to finding better balance as we grow, having staff takes some of the pressure off and I need to RELAX!!!! We are only human and we need family, friends and time off just like everyone else. Being a small business owner, burnout is always just around the corner, so care must be taken to take care of oneself as well as the customers.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone interested in starting their own backpacking gear company?

A: Be sure it is done from the heart in the pursuit of your dreams. Be sure to set reasonable expectations of yourself and be sure your commitment to others are reachable. We hate to say “no” to any request but if we can’t provide the requested service we will shoot straight and get it out front.

Be sure to be adding something of value that is missing in the market. For us it was the high quality and attention to customer service, we saw both lacking from most vendors at the time when UGQ was started. Funny, it seems to have turned around as customers are now expecting the same level of quality and service that we deliver from all vendors.

Q: Have you found help, advice, and acceptance from other cottage manufacturers or has it been more tense and competitive in this rather niche market?

A: We’ve had the chance to meet many of the other vendors and I think for the most part everyone is pretty respectful of others. I’ve had many a conversation with some of them regarding work and life, pitfalls to avoid, things that do work and things that don’t. The Jacks at Jacks Are Better have lent their 12+ years of wisdom in business to us and I am grateful to them for their sharing of this knowledge.

When I started we were the small fish in the pond, folks were pretty welcoming but in the end we are all in business in similar markets and as you grow you start to represent more of a threat. We’ve bumped heads with some other vendors recently on issues. I always try to resolve them with both respect and honesty as I believe that is the best approach. Sometimes there will be no resolution but at least you remained respectful and can sleep at night on a clean conscience.

Q: What piece(s) of gear is on the Christmas list for the man who makes his own gear?

A: Oh Boy!!! I recently have gotten into moto camping and the new bike is in need of some pannier boxes to haul the gear. I have big dreams of cruising the world on my bike at some point in life but I need to work on this whole relaxing thing a bit more. Apart from that I’m pretty content with belongings, in my youth it was must have have have… now with the wisdom of age it comes down to how you use what you have and not what you have. Friends are also more important than any material item, memories are created with friends and family hold them tight cause in the end those memories are all you will have left in life.

Q: Where do you think the biggest growth is in the outdoor gear industry? What growth trends would you expect to see in the next ten years across the industry?

A: I think we will see more sustainable materials and supply chains, you are already seeing it from major companies. TNF and our down supplier launched a Responsible Down Standard that is being adopted by many outdoor manufacturers. It’s a program that tracks the down used in down filled products from hatchling to the end consumer product. There will be a number on the down filled gear and a website where you can track the down. All certified by a third party to the ethical treatment of the animals. That’s pretty cool thinking and I think we will see more of that in the future.

Advancements in down are still coming, there are lots of new products coming to market, thermal downs, biotech downs, blended downs and more. These will only make gear lighter and warmer. We see test reports on our HyperDRY 850+ well above 900FP on a regular basis and this is a direct result of the HyperDRY treatment. Maybe someday we will see a standard fill power in the 1000+ range, it wasn’t long ago that 650+ was considered King of the Hill….

Regardless of what the future brings I’m sure I’ll be carrying that pack for many years to come into the mountains, reconnecting with nature, old friends, and my inner being….


I know Paul personally and own products directly from UGQ. This is not only a company I would recommend without reservation to any reader, its also a company and a product which I often recommend by word of mouth. I make the recommendations (and write this article) without any kind of compensation from Paul or UGQ. I make recommendations because I value the service and product.

Why? Because Paul (and UGQ) are friendly, cooperative, helpful, and insightful. They create top of the line lightweight products with cutting edge technology and Paul is always happy to make a piece of gear exactly to my specifications.

I hope you’ve gained some insight into what it’s like to create a lightweight backpacking gear manufacturing company. I hope that Paul will continue to let me pick his brain about the industry as I am always hungry to learn as I’m sure you readers are as well.

Please, drop us a line in the comments if you have any questions for Paul. If you’ve got burning questions you’d like answered by insightful industry leaders leave us a comment or send me an email and I’ll get that question answered!

Find UGQ Outdoor Equipment on Facebook or their website.

Thanks, Paul and UGQ Outdoor Equipment!