Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Interview: Aaron Martray From Katabatic Gear

A few weeks ago Katabatic Gear popped up on my radar, thanks to a tweet by Chris Wallace. I had a look at their website and got in touch with Aaron, and asked if he'd like to share his story with me and my readers, and he agreed. I am thus very happy to present you the interview with the relative young cottage manufacturer Katabatic Gear, and hope that you enjoy it!

Aaron Martray, founder of Katabatic Gear

Aaron, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you out backpacking nowadays?

I grew up in Colorado, and there is a lot of great hiking out here. From a young age I was spending time in the mountains and dreaming of outdoor adventures. By the time I was in my teens, I was backpacking with family and friends; my passion for the outdoors has continued to grow from there.

By the end of 2007 I felt that I was not spending enough time outdoors, so I decided to take some time off of work and travel. In the spring of 2008 I rode a bicycle from Denver, CO to Anchorage, AK, then spent the summer hiking and canoeing in Alaska and the Yukon. In the fall of 2008 I thru-hiked the Hayduke Trail in Utah and Arizona. All told in 2008 I was able to spend over 200 nights outdoors. During this period I decided to start Katabatic Gear, and I started refining my quilt designs.

Since finishing the Hayduke Trail, my primary focus has been getting Katabatic Gear up and running. Therefore, I have not had any big trips lately, but a lot of one or two night trips to maintain sanity and test changes in our gear designs.

Are you a UL backpacker? If so, what is your typical baseweight?

I do consider myself an UL backpacker. My base weight for 3-season travel is generally 9-14 lbs. For shorter trips I don't usually get too crazy about the weight, but I try to keep it fairly low. For longer trips, or if I'm carrying something heavy like a packraft, I get out my scale and gear weight spreadsheet to help keep my baseweight to a minimum.

Please tell us where the name "Katabatic" (Gear) comes from, and what it means.

Katabatic winds form when cold air flows downhill off a mountain or glacier. For me the name reflects travelling fast, light and unencumbered through the mountains. That is really what our company is all about.

Katabatic Gear makes a very innovative quilt which eliminates drafts and attaches on top of a pad, as well as bivys and sleeping accessories. Can you tell us a bit how you decided to start the company, how you developed the Palisade and Sawatch quilts and their attachment system, and where you are headed?

Years ago I started experimenting with my quilt designs in an effort to save weight. The basic idea of leaving the insulation off the bottom of a sleeping bag makes a lot of sense. But I did not like the idea of attaching a quilt under my sleeping pad, so I set out to make a quilt that would attach to the top of my sleeping pad.

I laid out a series of design goals and experimented with various ideas. What I ended up with was our Cord Clip attachment system that is simple, versatile and easy to use. Because I found this system so effective, I decided to start a company to share my designs with other hikers like me.

Aaron sewing.

Aaron, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! Can you let us know what kind of new products you're working on the moment?

We will have left side zipper bivys available in the next week or two. By next winter, we plan to have a 5° F quilt. Also, we are prototyping some bivys with cuben fiber floors as well as frameless backpacks.

How works the R&D at Katabatic Gear, did you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products or ask you for solutions to their problems?

Initially, I get interested in developing a product if I am not satisfied with what is available for purchase, or if I have an innovative idea. However, now that I have started my own company, input and feedback from my customers is highly valued.

What is the bestseller from Katabatic Gear, and where do your customer come from?

Both our bivys and hoods are selling well. Our quilts will not be on the market until early June, but we already have a lot of interest in these products. We expect them to be popular as well.

Currently, the majority of our customers are in the United States, but our products are available world wide through our website.

The sewing facilities.

Are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers in Europe, the USA, Canada or other places?

I am not in touch with other cottage manufacturers, but other small manufacturers like Mountain Laurel Designs, ULA-Equipment etc. were all an inspiration for me to follow my dreams and start my own cottage manufacturer. I think there is a great tradition of small manufacturers making innovative products and I'm excited to be a part of that.

What is your own favorite backpack, sleep system and shelter? Any other favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?

I'm a big fan of tarp camping. My favorite shelter/ sleep system is my silnylon tarp with a Katabatic bivy and quilt. I really like my old GoLite Jam2 pack. It's too bad GoLite had to "improve" it recently. One piece of gear that is always with me is my Brunton ADC Weather Instrument. It's great for testing the temperature ratings on my bags.

When and where was your last longer backpacking trip, and what was your baseweight? Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the winter/ spring season?

My last long trip was the thru-hike of the Hayduke Trail in the fall of 2008. The trail goes through the canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. For this trip my baseweight was about 11 lbs., which increased to about 13 lbs. by the end of the hike as I added warmer clothing.

Since then there have been many short trips, and a lot of time spent at work getting all our products ready to go.

My next trip will be a ten-day hiking / packrafting trip on the Escalante River in southern Utah this May. The trip is one that I have wanted to do for years, so I am pretty excited to be heading out there. The area is spectacular, and packrafts are ideal for this river.

Do you think ultralight backpacking will become more popular and break into the mass market, or will it continue to be something for a small group of people?

It's hard to say, but my feeling is that ultralight backpacking will not become mainstream. I do think that some gear and techniques from ultralight backpackers will continue to trickle into the mainstream. But I do not think there will come a day when 90% of backpackers are carrying a base weight of 15 lbs. or less.

Aaron out hiking.

Aaron, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions =) Is there something you would like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity to share!