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Made in Winona: Enlightened Equipment specializes in lightweight gear

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They’re not sleeping bags.

They’re sleeping quilts, and at Enlightened Equipment, they’re made ultralight and custom-fit, so wilderness adventurers don’t carry a single ounce they won’t use.

“It’s drastically lighter, because we use the highest-quality fabrics and the highest fill-power down,” company owner Tim Marshall said.

Marshall, an avid wilderness canoeist and backpacker, was always looking for ways to make his pack lighter. Based on an idea from another backpacker, he made a sleeping quilt for his personal use — and a bunch of extras so he could take his youth group hiking.

When he sold all those extras in 15 minutes, Enlightened Equipment was born, and Marshall began sewing furiously in his basement, employing a few friends as business grew.

Five years later, Marshall employs 20 people in his east-end sewing facility, which they moved into in January. They churn out about 300 sleeping quilts per month.

Each quilt is made to-order, with specifications for height, width, warmth, and fabric color.

The fabric is cut to size, marked with pencil, and placed in a bag for sewing. Baffles are sewn the length of the quilt to keep the down in place, and then the back of the quilt is attached. Once that’s done, the foot of the quilt is left open to be stuffed. A leaf blower attached to a plastic hose supplies the suction for filling the quilt with down — a contraption Marshall designed himself.

It takes about five hours to make a quilt, labor time, but it’s about three weeks from start-to-finish of an order.

Marshall said he’s hit every sales goal he had and then some. He recently started making down booties and hoods for very cold conditions, and he has plans to acquire a clothing line and backpack line, specializing in making ultralight wilderness packs sized for kids.

Marshall ships his quilts around the world. He said besides hardcore backpacking types, Enlightened Equipment quilts appeal to regular folks who enjoy sleeping in something that doesn’t resemble a body bag.

“We’re starting to see a trend of people who want them because they’re more comfortable,” Marshall said. “That’s kind of our niche.”

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