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!

The Week in Review

In no way meant as a competitor to Dave's excellent "Fresh Outtakes" (subscribe if you haven't yet!), I'll start and post links to some articles and posts which were especially worthy in the past week. Updated each Sunday, looking back on the last week, starting today.

Phil Turner started the "The Local Adventure Project" and went for a wildcamp on an island.

Joe Newton from "Thunder In The Night" followed suit and climbed a local mountain, with a view across Bergen.

Eugene Smith from The Pain Cave went to walk the beautiful canyons and forded rivers with his mates in the lonely mesas of Gila.

Dave, the Armchair Adventurer, concluded his story of his skiing trip across Oyer Fjell in Norway, and also finally ;) sent the Scandinavian Mystery Box onward - looking forward to it!

Jörgen Johansson from Fjäderlätt posted his pack list of his one week trip across Sarek National Park in Sweden, well worth a look if you're into winter camping and still look to optimize your system.

Robin from blogpackinglight wrote his Carneddau trip up, Part One and Part Two.

Roger from Nielsen Brown Outdoors went on a 24 bivy trip to one his favourite areas in Denmark.

Finally, Dondo sums up his 24 trip to Beaver Creek Wilderness Study area, home of mountain lions, yucca and cacti.

In the Gear Review department, Thomas from Going Lighter shared with us his Initial Review of the MBD Bongo HNC.

Petesy had a lot of stuff in for testing, though the Guyoutdesign bowls stood out as lightweight and compact.

Perkunas gave an old Billnäs 1133 axe a new life, very impressive.

Robin from Step by Step gives us a first look at the new Evernew alcohol stove, so if you like the Trangia stove head over and see what he says about this Titanium version.

Phil from Lightweight Outdoors also wrote an initial review on the GoLite Tumalo Pertex 2.5 Storm Jacket, so if you're in the market for something breathable for the summer, check out what he has to say about it.

I myself reviewed the Panasonic Lumix GF1 and reported how it performs in the field, and had a look at the 2010 MSR Hubba HP.

And in other news, James from Backpackingbongos, George aka Londonbackpacker and also Martin from Summit and Valley recently added a new look to their blogs, so go check them out if you only read them in your RSS feed!

For those on Twitter and who are always on the lookout for bargains, the Outdoor News Network keeps you up-to-date about bargains to be made at UK outdoor shops.

MSR Hubba HP 2010 Review

If you have been reading my past trip reports with a keen eye and have had a close look at the photos, you surely have seen that I had the MSR Hubba HP 2010 model for quite a while already. Time for a first look at this solo tent, and what it offers to the lightweight backpacker.

MSR Hubba HP 2010 on a trip last autumn, experiencing the first minus degrees of the season.

Lets start with the important bits, a break down of the weight:

MSR Hubba HP complete: 1385 g
Stakes x 6: 59 g
Stakes stuff sack: 10 g
Repair: 18 g
Poles: 347 g
Poles stuff sack: 18 g
Outer: 429 g
Inner: 463 g
Stuff sack: 41 g

"That's a lot of stuff sacks" is what I thought, and then I ditched the one for the poles and used a lighter one for the whole set. The MSR Needle stakes which come with the tent are fantastic, I have been using them also with my other tents and tarps, good visibility and easy to get into the ground.

As you might know, the internet is a medium where you can use video to the fullest, so before I show different photos and ramble on, have a look at the HD video I made of setting it up:

It is a lightweight tent, with using a lighter stuff sack and lighter stakes (even if they're good, Titanium stakes are half the weight!) you can get a trail weight of about 1300 g. But of course the seperate set up of fly and inner also allows you to variate - only inner for summer days with mosquitos and without rain, fly for spring and autumn days with a friend or dog, and both for a winter trip. So you could get away with a trail weight of 860 g for the pole, fly and stakes, if you want.

The fly can be set up alone, and in case you take both on a rainy and mosquito infested summer night, you can set up the outer first and then clip in the inner. Personally I find the inner can take those three drops which might hit it in the time I get the fly thown over it. Those who are more afraid of the rain will think different.

The inner with a view on the closed door. It is huge.

Completely closed and pitched low.

Condensation was never an issue with this tent. Where my Scarp 1 had a wet inner on some mornings, I yet have to make that experience with the Hubba HP. Great ventilation, but not so that you think it is breezy. The extras like the top net pockets and the side pockets - for some unnecessary, for me nice to keep a tidy tent - are great, zippers are easy running and it is easy to roll up the fly and put it to the side.

And on those days where you want to enjoy the view, pull the fly back and relax.

Space for your backpack and shoes under the fly, and also cooking there is no problem.

And a look inside. Note on top again the storage net, I really love that!

While it has some nice extras, I find it a rather minimalistic tent - in a very positive way. The small footprint and the possibility to set it up with only two stakes mean it is a tent made for the mountains, where a good pitching space is hard to come by. That doesn't mean it won't perform in the forest or on our Fjells in Lapland, though.

If you are on the look out for a new solo tent which is 4-season worthy, quick and easy to set up, and of course light, then the MSR Hubba HP might just be what you're looking for. The green fly allows you to go stealth camping and it is a friendly colour to wake up to, the features are well-thought out and the inner and fly set up allows you to be variable - take only the inner when its warm and sunny and you need rest from the bugs, take only the fly when you're with a friend, and take both in winter. You will feel comfortable and safe, in rain, wind and sunshine, with this tent.

If this closes the deal for you and you want this tent for your lightweight adventures, check out Ultralight Outdoor Gear who currently offers the 2010 MSR Hubba HP for £269.