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September 2007

How to Lighten Your (Planetary) Load

We found 17 pioneering products that will cut your carbon cost without sacrificing performance.

No exaggeration: The outdoor industry is on the brink of a revolution. Gear makers have embraced the climate-change warnings and are rushing to develop renewable fabrics. They’re taking the first steps toward measuring carbon emissions in manufacturing. And corporate culture is getting green almost overnight, with initiatives that go well beyond simple recycling. We tested several dozen products that have emerged from this burst of innovation. Some missed our final cut because their sustainability claims didn’t wash; others didn’t meet our exacting performance standards. And in several categories–tents, most notably–we simply didn’t find any viable entries. After testing ended, we sent each company our new Green Points Survey, which helped us quantify the impact of the company and its products. The items that survived represent the best of what’s new in green gear.

[Shirt] Marmot Moso/Borinda Short Sleeve Crew
Why is bamboo cropping up all over the place in green design? Because bamboo happens to be very good at cropping up. Whereas typical reforestation is a 60-year process, bamboo regenerates in 1 to 6 years. It also wicks moisture and resists odor naturally, so no chemical treatments are needed. This simple crewneck tee is 55 percent bamboo rayon and 45 percent polyester. Our testing showed that it performs on a par with chemically treated polyester tops. During more than 100 miles of trail testing in temps between 30° and 70°F, the (men’s) Moso and (women’s) Borinda quickly wicked sweat from our skin and dried in a snap. The silky fabric feels "luscious," said one tester, and slides easily under layers. Our samples have shown some pilling on high abrasion areas (such as underneath pack straps), so we’ll continue to monitor its long-term durability. $45; men’s S–XXL, women’s XS–XL (888) 357-3262;

[Pad] Pacific Outdoor Eco Thermo Pad
This 2007 Editors’ Choice Green Award winner is made with carbonized bamboo (a plant that naturally replenishes itself faster than any other woody flora on the planet), no dyes, and a recycled-plastic air valve. After 100-plus nights in the field, our test pads have proven as cushy and rugged as any competitor’s, and we sleep a lot easier knowing that what’s between us and the ground is carbon-neutral (Pacific Outdoor offsets its CO2 from manufacturing and distribution). $150 (men’s 72×20"), $145 (women’s 66×20"); 1 lb. 9 oz. (men’s) (406) 586-5258;

[Midweight boot] Patagonia Nomad GTX
If you’re concerned that an eco-friendly boot won’t perform like a traditional one, relax. "The Nomad looks, fits, and functions just like a classic midweight should," reported our tester after a dozen on- and off-trail hikes throughout New England. The recycled plastic midsole is rigid enough for moderate loads (up to 40 pounds), yet flexible at the forefoot for comfortable striding.

The Nomad’s smooth, full-grain leather comes from a tannery that meets strict environmental standards (an international rating called ISO 14001), and the grippy Vibram sole is 30 percent recycled rubber. With minimal seams, a Gore-Tex membrane, and full bellows tongue, this boot kept our feet dry through puddles and creek crossings, while the high shaft cradled our ankles on tippy terrain. $160; men’s 5–12, 13, 14, 15, women’s 5–11, 12; 2 lbs. 2 oz. (per pair women’s 8) (800) 638-6464;

[Pants] NAU Acoustic Pants
Stylewise, these trousers would roll in SoHo or San Fran. But don’t let the ultrahip facade fool you: These pants can cut the wind, bead up water, and resist abrasion like the rugged hiking pants they’re designed to be. The stretchy fabric (made of 82 percent recycled polyester) has a smooth exterior and a soft brushed interior that feels soft, but not hot, against the skin. "What I love most," one female tester enthused, "is their Zenlike simplicity. No belt loops (on the women’s), no puffy cargo pockets, no useless ankle zippers. Just perfect-fitting pants that look as good as they work." And we never realized how lame most pants pockets are until we slid our hands into these. They’re low enough not to be blocked by a hipbelt, and roomy enough to accommodate your whole hand and tchotchkes, plus the seams are welded (read: no stitching) so there’s no chafing. $118–128; men’s 28–38, women’s 6–14 (877) 545-5628;

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