Here is our interview with Western Mountaineering at the OutDoor Show 2017 in Friedrichshafen.
Konstantin: Hi, this is Konstantin from Hike Ventures, and I’ve got Gary from Western Mountaineering. Gary, could you tell us something about the company?
Gary: Yeah. The company is based in San Jose, California. That’s where our production facility is at.
Konstantin: The Silicon Valley.
Gary: The Silicon Valley. That’s right. And a strange place to manufacture sleeping bags, but that’s where we’ve been for … since 1970.
Konstantin: So, you were actually there before the Silicon Valley.
Gary: We actually started there before the boom of computers.
Konstantin: They came to join you.
Gary: They came afterwards, and we’re still there. Right in the middle of the Google, Apple situated in a little factory where we’re still making sleeping bags. So, it’s a very strange to produce, but we watch over the production ourselves and that’s where we’ve been since 1970.
Konstantin: What sets you apart?
Gary: So, I think what sets us apart is the attention to detail that we give to our sleeping bags. It’s not like we’re growing some super breed of seamstresses in San Jose, but we watch over the things that we do really carefully. That’s why we haven’t subcontracted out to another country. We want to watch over the production ourselves.
Only two seamstresses would make any given sleeping bag, and they’re specialists that are just doing sleeping bags only, down sleeping bags only all year long. So, it’s … That’s one. The second is that we hot cut all the parts. We just go to extreme lengths to make sure that the bag’s going to last a long time.
Konstantin: And what do you think is the long time for a bag.
Gary: I think … We expect our bags to last in the 30 to 40 year range if they’re cared for properly. Really, they could last longer. We’ve had guides tell us that our bags last eight to ten years, and that’s them using it 180 to 200 days a year, so if you extrapolate that over a normal person using it normally, it could conceivably last over 50 years.
So, the reason that we’ve put all these little details in, the way we hot cut the parts and things. That’s to make, hopefully the shell last as long as the down that’s in them. We think down can last 60 years plus, easily.
Konstantin: What would make it last so long?
Gary: Down is just a really resilient natural material. You can smash it. You can put it in the tumble dryer, blow it back up, and it just can go smashed, return the loft so many times with amazing results.
So, you can use it 100 nights on a trail. You come back, you wash it a couple times, and it puffs back up. It’s amazing, the resilience of it. You almost can’t down down. Aside from mold and a couple of other things, there’s really … very hard to permanently damage down.
Konstantin: You said a couple of times. Is it a good idea really to do it one after another or …
Gary: So, that depends on how long it’s been between launderings. But, most bags that people think are no good anymore, maybe oh my down bag has lost loft over the years. If you take it once and wash it a couple of times to catch up, then it’ll puff back up. I guarantee it. Most bags, though, people don’t wash soon enough.
So, they’ll wait until too much loft has been lost. If you wait til it’s really flat, you’re probably going to have to wash it a couple of times. It’s just like hair, so if you go on a month long trip, you don’t wash your hair, and the first time you get back, you don’t get any suds, you’ve gotta wash it again. Down is a lot the same way. So, most people wait too long to wash their bag.
Konstantin: What would be a better ways to wash it? I mean, what kind of detergents or hand wash it usually?
Gary: So, personally, I don’t hand wash my bags, but I do recommend to somebody who’s afraid of getting their down wet try hand washing it once. I mean, you almost have to pull it out of the stuffed sacks filled with water, so it fills with water instead of air. Because once it’s fully lofted, it’s really hard to get soaked.
So, I do recommend that at least once somebody try that with a down bag. That being said, I’d put it in a front loading machine. I’d put it through a normal cycle. If you’re using a commercial laundry mat, I recommend putting a buffer load of something insignificant, socks or towels, because if somebody used bleach in there before you, you don’t want to damage your product.
But, I’d put it through an extra rinse cycle or short cycle with no soap, and the soap I use is just the natural soap. You can use the down special soaps, too. But, there’s not really a soap that’s known to damage it. I’ve washed it with a … I’ve washed a number of products with a number of different types of soaps, and I haven’t really been able to damage it.
Konstantin: You said that your products are created by two seamstresses, usually.
Gary: Yeah. Yeah.
Konstantin: And just before the … you showed us, basically now you actually even ask people, seamstresses to sign this.
Gary: Yeah. And that’s just to … We take pride and each of the seamstresses takes pride in what they do. They’re only doing down sleeping bags all year long. They’re very highly trained, so one person is going to sew the netting onto the bag. They sew the shells together with the netting. Then, the other person puts all the parts on it.
So, they’re putting the feet, the collar parts, the dropper cases, the zipper. So, there’s only two seamstresses that are working on any given bag. That’s important because each seamstress is highly trained, and they’re only doing this all year long. So, they’re used to working with the fabrics that we use. They know the seam allowances, and …
Konstantin: Your company has been around since the ’70s. Are you still innovating? Are you still bringing new products?
Gary: I mean, we think so. We’re not the company that comes out with ten new products or changes things just to change things. We slowly develop our line, and we are a more stable line. We don’t change things from year to year, to colors changing every year. But, we carefully source our materials the first time so that we can stay with them for a while.
We do come out with new products as we … based on demand from customers and trends in the industry. We come out with some new lightweight top quilts here. But, we won’t change every season. We don’t come out with ten new things just to come out with new things. So, we think that we come out carefully with thought out stuff.
Konstantin: This is your new quilt.
Gary: This is a new top quilt. It’s a baffled quilt. The regular length weighs 310 grams. It’s got a fill weight of maybe 185, so far.
Konstantin: And it’s going to be available on the …
Gary: Spring of ‘18.
Konstantin: So, it’s a prototype, so to speak.
Gary: This is, so to speak, a prototype. There’s a warmer version of it that … 440 grams. This will be rated to plus three. The warmer version will be rated to minus three.
Konstantin: What do you mean by the warmer version? I mean are you talking about comfort or …
Gary: Yeah, so we think that our ratings are, on the whole, conservative. But, when we give a rating, usually it falls between the comfort and the lower limit of the BM ratings. So, most of our bags, we’ve had tested by EN standards, and they tend to fall between the comfort rating and the lower limit. That being said, we’re confident in our ratings. We stand behind our ratings that they’re accurate.
Konstantin: Besides the new products, what would be your top models that you’re …
Gary: So, this model here, the Ultralite, is our best selling model, consistently year after year after year. I think that this bag gets the most usage on like the PCT, for instance. This bag has been … We’ve been making this bag for many, many years. It’s just … The warmth to weight ratio is excellent, and it’s just super effective, super light bag.
We make a wider version of it called the Alpinlite. Most of our line might look like a big line. But, in most cases there’s two or three versions that are modeled after another version. We have a wide version of this bag. Yeah. This is the narrow bag. We make a wider version of it. Most of our line has duplicates like that.
We might have a Summerlite, which is not as warm as this. Then, we have a wider version of that called the Megalite, things like that. A lot of our bags are duplicates in a wider form.
Konstantin: All right. Well, thank you very much. It was very interesting.And if you have some time ...
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