What a sincere pleasure it was to spend the day at UGQ Outdoor (aka Underground Quilts) as a guest of the owners, Paul and Missy McWalters.
I just want to say, sooner rather than later in this post, that UGQ is an outstanding example of a successful, Michigan-based company. I am absolutely thrilled to be working with them.
I reached out to them through the Michigan Hiking and Backpacking Facebook page (The MHB was started in 2013 by myself and Jeff Kindy and now boasts more than six thousand members). I wanted UGQ to build a special piece of gear for my upcoming hike of the Baja Divide Trail. They said they could help.
I wanted to try a lightweight quilt on this hike instead of my trusted Marmot Helium sleeping bag (weighs in at 2 lbs, 4 oz and reeks like feet and butt). I needed this quilt to be sturdy enough to handle four months straight of Mexican desert, beach and mountain. We talked about sizes, materials and fill, constantly comparing weight vs durability. I could tell straight away: These guys knew what they were doing.
Paul and Missy graciously invited my trusted friend Sandy Lowe and me to visit their facility in beautiful Jackson, Michigan. The plan was not only to see how my top quilt was being made but to actually participate in making it!
After a short drive, Sandy and I were welcomed by the owners and their small yet amazingly efficient crew (Aaron, Chad and Alyssa). A tour of the facility revealed a well-considered business plan incorporating a smooth manufacturing process with room for reception, customer service and shipping/receiving. And a little space for the dogs!
Paul and I reviewed the specs and the process began: Carefully assembling a quilt with painstaking attention to detail. From measuring, cutting, sewing, filling, more sewing and finishing, I tried to ‘get in where I could fit in’. They were very patient with a novice as I was nervous about screwing up!
What we came up with was a thing of beauty. Easily comfortable in temps down to 50 degs, tough as nails and weighing in at a mere 17.8 ozs. We (I helped!) built a Bandit model top quilt with a Membrane 10 inner, a 1 oz HyperD ripstop nylon outer and 850 fill down. Trust me, these guys can make anything: Any fabric, any color (even prints and pics!), any fill, and even any modification (draft collar, foot box, drawstrings and snaps, storage sacks, etc...).
After lunch, Paul and I had some interesting conversations about hammock hiking. He’s a firm believer and an amazing hiker in his own right. He’s been out (and comfortable) in temps way colder than anything I’ve ever experienced. But once he explained the difference between convection and conduction, it all became crystal clear...
I’m thinking about attempting the Bruce Trail up in Canada next winter. Plenty of trees. Maybe use a hammock? I’d have to consult my bro Mudsocks...
Thank you so much to Paul and Missy McWalters for inviting me to UGQ and helping me with this hike. Meeting them and getting to see my quilt being made and getting to help (even a little bit) was a very positive experience.
Can I please get a shout out for a great Michigan company? Leave a comment below!