When Aaron Martray of Katabatic Gear set out to thru-hike the Hayduke Trail back in 2008, ultralight sleeping quilts weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today. Not satisfied with what was available on the market, but sold on the idea of minimizing pack weight, Aaron decided to just make his own quilt.
“I couldn’t find a single one that kept the cold drafts out and my body heat in,” he said. “I mean, there’s a big gaping hole in the back, so that’s not easy to do!”
Tapping into his natural ability for and love of design, Aaron built the warm, versatile, and lightweight quilt that he had wished he could buy.
For nearly 200 nights, he put that early prototype to the test — thru-hikes on the Hayduke and then the Colorado Trail, paddling trips on Alaska’s Yukon River, and overnights on Washington’s Wonderland Trail and in Utah’s high desert. By the end, he was no longer a quilt skeptic.
And he was convinced his craft would convert others, too.
“Surely other people had the same sticking points that I had,” Aaron said of his initial doubts. “I wanted something that would work better than anything else that was out there.”
Numerous iterations and built-in design features later, Aaron launched Katabatic Gear. The highly refined Elite series came first in 2009, with the highly versatile Flex to follow in 2015.
No matter the model, all Katabatic Gear quilts are designed to keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. This is a result of their industry-leading, patented attachment system for your sleeping pad; differential cut, which keeps the quilt lofty and warm; a down-filled collar to keep you cozy; and the highest-quality sustainable fabrics and ethically sourced down they can get their hands on.
Photo by Lucas Yunga Korn
Like many, Aaron was first attracted to quilts merely to save on space and pack weight. But more and more, he believes his quilts offer a bigger benefit: better sleep.
“Fundamentally, I think it’s more like sleeping in your own bed at home,” he explained. “Our quilts drape around your body a lot better and will always stay in the same orientation on top of you, unlike a sleeping bag where you get all twisted, making for a drafty and uncomfortable night’s sleep.”
Photo by Steven Shattuck
Launching the brand was not without its growing pains. Just finding sewers proved challenging for Aaron. “You can’t really hire someone who has sewn sleeping bags before, right?” he joked.
“From the beginning, a major point of emphasis was high-quality stitching, and it was a long learning curve to get them up to speed and to get the quality we wanted. Quality is the priority, whether it’s our design, the raw materials, or our team.”
Before long, notable gear forums and publications began to take notice of the brand’s promise for top notch products. Outdoor Gear Lab, for one, has awarded the brand's Palisade Elite Quilt the Editor's Choice Award many years running. “We definitely had to hire more people after that!” Aaron laughed.
Escaping the hustle and bustle of Denver, Aaron and his team of seven, including his partner Kris, call the mountain town of Salida, Colorado home. Besides offering an abundance of outdoor fun and prototyping opportunities, Salida is a popular resupply town for thru-hikers on the Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail.
“Being off the CDT and CT keeps us connected with our customers,” Aaron said.
It’s not uncommon for thru-hikers to stop by Katabatic’s shop just to say thanks. “There’s something really gratifying about making a product, feeling really good about how it turned out, and getting the same feedback from your customer. That’s our number one goal; for people to be happy.”
Like the cold, glacial winds the brand is named for, Katabatic Gear hopes to help their customers move fast, light, and unencumbered through the mountains, wherever the adventure may lead.