Home / Editorials / te-wa Underquilts – An Interview with Mike Stivers

te-wa Underquilts – An Interview with Mike Stivers

te-wa on the Arizona Trail
te-wa on the Arizona Trail

When did you start your company and how did you get into the business of making ultralight quilts for hammocks?

I was trying overnight hammocking (or “hanging” as it is commonly called) for the first time, and made a rookie mistake of using just a sleeping bag, thinking the bottom would provide insulation. Needless to say, I didn’t want to make that mistake again! I went back to tents for about a year, until there was a nagging, a tugging at me that made me want to try hanging again. With the combination of closed cell foam and bag, I had my first real hammock rig. I used this method for a few months, until cooler weather demanded re-evaluating my kit, since the foam required for colder weather gets bulky and the weight becomes a diminishing return. I searched for directions to make top quilts and made my first TQ which came out really well. Using the same construction techniques, I started playing around with patterns for an underquilt.

The first several designs were ok, but I couldn’t get a perfect fit. The full-length prototypes seemed to suffer gaps at the lower legs, so I re-designed the pattern to eliminate this area altogether. Out of this, the ¾ length UQ was born.. (note: I did not invent this design, that credit goes to Brandon Waddy of Warbonnet Hammock fame). Combining a foam pack frame that I already used with a partial length quilt allowed me to have items that were dual-duty, shaving weight and bulk So long story short, some friends liked what I was using and wanted one for themselves. I made a good dozen or so before they evolved into the dual differential series of quilts I offer today. I guess this officially became te-wa underquilts in about the spring of 2008.

What does the te-wa in your company name stand for?

The name is a Cherokee word for “flying squirrel” that I thought had a good ring to it, and since I have a fast-paced hiking style it kinda stuck as my name on the backpacking forums. The word “te-wa” has since become my unofficial trail name, and the company just reflects as such. As well, I prefer to keep the name in lower case form.

My first underquilt prototype. I switched to vertical baffles soon after.
My first underquilt prototype. I switched to vertical baffles soon after.

You’re located in Arizona – are there trees there to hang a hammock on?

Arizona is such a diverse landscape, and has 5 out of the 6 possible climate zones found in North America. We also have the largest continual stand of Ponderosa Pine in the world, beginning in Williams and heading East along the Mogollon Rim into the state of New Mexico. Many of the “sky islands” – which are usually small mountain ranges rushing up from the desert floors below them, reach into the 7 to 8 thousand feet range. We have deserts, yes. Vast deserts. This presents a challenge in some areas but I find that most the camping in desert environs require some form of water and sites are chosen for this reason. When camping in the lower Sonoran desert, for instance, we seek riparian areas that usually have some decent trees. A little preparation and planning goes a long, long way out here. One of the craziest hangs I have done was from an old cowboy fence and a trailhead sign. By morning, the fence had sagged and my butt was draggin’ on the ground. Good times…

What are the benefits of using an underquilt for a hammock?

Off the top of my head, I can give my 4 main reasons:

  1. The warmth to weight ratio of a down UQ cannot be beat. Foam or self-inflating pads tend to be heavier and bulkier by comparison.
  2. The use of an UQ allows you to take advantage of full comfort. That is to say, no stiff pad to interfere in a nice, unrestricted lay. Pads also have a tendency to slide around and out from under the sleeper (a double-layer hammock addresses this issue, to a point).
  3. Pads usually come in widths too narrow to fully cover the sleeper’s shoulder area, and unless modifications or additions to the pad are done, the user can be restricted to lying flat. My underquilts are wide enough to allow most users a semi-fetal or side sleeping position without suffering cold spots.
  4. You can fashion your underquilt as a super-hero cape to the delight of your children! Want one in red? I can make one in red. I’ve also make a few with a blaze orange underside to be used as a signal blanket, should the need ever arise.

Do you use down or synthetic insulation in your quilts?

All three underquilts in the series use 850+ fill power down. The water repellent shell, combined with using a solid tarp system keeps everything dry, safe, and comfortable.

Vertical Baffles on te-wa Underquilts
Vertical Baffles on te-wa Underquilts

What sets your quilts apart from under quilts made by other manufacturers? 

I have a different suspension system than others are using. At the head is a fixed bungee that attaches with a clip, and at the foot end the bungee is longer and can be adjusted with a cordlock, for personal fit to individual hammocks and user taste. What truly sets mine apart is a simple tie-out that mates with asymmetrical hammock brands, to keep the UQ in place where it tends to slip off the sleeper’s shoulder. My clip design prevents such slipping and as a result prevents an air gap, keeping you warmer.

How much do each of your quilts weigh and how are they rated temperature-wise?

Temp ratings are subjective, so I try to be honest as possible taking into account the physics of goose down’s insulation abilities. The ratings are simply taking into account the expected loft each user will achieve and maintain throughout the night.

  • The 10 oz. “Breeze” is a summer quilt with a sewn through baffle design that is expected to keep the average user warm down to 40F.
  • The 14 oz. three season model dubbed the “Anti-Freeze” is baffled with 2” of loft, and users can expect to stay warm down to 20F.
  • My winter design comes in at 19 oz. and has a 4-4.5” loft average which can be pushed down to 0 degrees, but I have had reports of each quilt performing better than advertised. Again, subjective ratings have much to do with hydration, diet, clothing worn to bed, wind and humidity, etc..

Do your customers use additional insulation like a pad, as well? If so, where does it go?

Some users, whether my customers or otherwise, find a combination of quilt/pad can work well together in a double layer hammock. This dual usage allows you to push your UQ to lower temps. It is my wish however that they would purchase all three of my quilts to complete a 4 season set.. lol. Like mentioned earlier, the shorty quilt usually requires something to keep your lower calves and feet warm, so a backpack, small ccf pad, extra clothing or other items are common for this reason.

te-wa Underquilts are even available in Pink!
te-wa Underquilts are even available in Pink!

Do you ever make custom quilts for customers? What the most extreme customization you’ve ever produced?

On occasion I will get a request to make one slightly wider, or slightly longer. I just ask for a minor reimbursement for added labor and materials. Keep in mind that I only make shorty quilts, that is my specialty and that is what I prefer to do. I have seen some pretty extreme designs that others have dreamed up, but I am limited by the templates I have and my smaller workspace prevents getting too crazy with size or shape.

Can customers use your quilts with any type of hammock?

The two major designs are gathered-end, the more common – and the lesser used Bridge style hammock. My UQ’s fit both designs very well. One of the bonuses to my suspension system allows the use on spreader bar, Bridge style hammocks. Of course, many types vary in width and/or length but I have not had any negative feedback for any of the popular brands on the market today. Some rigs come with suspension cords out of the box, other hangers like to modify/add Whoopie Slings; the clip on my suspension mates to this type of cordage very well.

Have you ever considered expanding your business into making regular backpacking quilts for ground huggers?

I used to, but the ratio of Top quilts I made compared to the volume of UQ orders was so great that I eventually stopped production of the Top quilts. There exists such a large number of Top quilts out there on the market by hammock and ground sleeping companies that anyone looking for such a quilt has some really good options. It’s a great time to be a backpacker.

Hanging in Arizona
Hanging in Arizona

Can you describe your big three – backpack, shelter, and sleep insulation system. I’m always curious what gear ultralight manufacturers use.

I have a few packs, depending on the demands of the season I can carry a base weight as little as 5 pounds or go full winter/luxury for about 15. This time of year I’m likely to grab my Gossamer Gorilla pack, a cuben tarp for good coverage (think, wind and/or rain) and my Anti-Freeze UQ. I’m still using the DIY Top quilt I made years ago, and will continue as long as it holds up. I’ll probably break down and make a 15 or 20 degree Top quilt one of these days, but I’ve been saying that for years.. I might just purchase one from one of my cottage brothers or sisters.

What was the last place you went backpacking?

I joined a group of friends into a unexpectedly crowded area a few weeks ago in the Superstition Mountains called Reavis Ranch, named after a homesteader who farmed and sold his crops to local miners in nearby towns back in the latter part of the 1800’s.

That trip turned out to be really some kind of adventure with the weather bringing unusual wind-driven rainfall and some snow the next day. It was nice to put my gear to the test since we usually have 300 days of sunshine. Horrifying, I know!

I have been toying with an idea of being the first hanger to complete the AZT without going to ground. If so, it could happen April of next year.

Until then, Happy Hanging!
te-wa

3 comments

  1. Love my te-wa underquilt! Mike built it with custom dimensions (and soon after a replica for a buddy of mine) for a very reasonable price. Both are going strong and still look like new after a few years of regular usage. Incredible quality, attention to detail, and performs exactly like I’d hoped. There are some great underquilts being made right now, but you can’t go wrong with a te-wa!

  2. I love my custom made Te-wa Underquilt!! I didn’t even really know what I wanted in size, I just knew I was too short for most of the normal 3/4 or 2/3 uq’s on the market and having grown up in Az I liked the idea of supporting someone local despite living in Ga at the time of my order. I emailed mike the size I kinda had in mind and my sleeping style and he added his expertise to it and out came one of my favorite hammock pieces own! Definitely going to Te-wa for all my down underquilt needs! My review can be seen at ulborbust.wordpress.com

  3. I bought a top quilt from Mike last spring. I just love it. I tend to sleep on my pad with an open sleeping bag so I thought a quilt made more sense. His quality and service was fantastic. The quilt is nice and warm. I am sorry to hear he is not making top quilts any more since I think it they are a great choice for a light weight gear strategy.

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