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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.
[Insulation] Patagonia Micro Puff Hooded Jacket
Instant gratification–that’s what you get with this fat cocoon. It’s filled with Climashield Green, a continuous-filament insulation with 40 percent recycled content, and covered with a 90 percent recycled polyester shell. On blustery snowshoe treks this winter, testers raved about the roomy cut, well-sculpted and adjustable hood, and effective DWR treatment, which repelled light sleet and snow so that the insulation stayed dry. $215; men’s XS–XXL, women’s XS–L. 1 lb. 2 oz. (women’s M) (800) 638-6464;

2 green packs spark a challenge to other manufacturers.

Our search for trailworthy packs with strong eco-credentials yielded only two real contenders: Lafuma’s Eco 40 and Osprey’s Circuit. So we decided to launch a contest–BACKPACKER’s Zero Impact Challenge–to encourage more activity. The call went out to packmakers this spring: Design a midsize pack whose materials and manufacturing come as close to carbon-neutral as possible. Make it durable, user-friendly, and (ideally) recyclable, then send us a finished sample for testing. As this issue goes to press, at least seven manufacturers are toiling away with designs and production techniques that we hope will spur a greener type of pack fabrication. Here are two cutting-edge entries already in stores. Watch for the results of our contest this winter.

Lafuma Eco 40
When we first heard about this hemp pack, we pictured a woven, scratchy satchel from a ’70s Dead concert. But the only groovy note here is how high Lafuma raises the bar in enviro pack design. While the 2,440-cubic-inch Eco 40 isn’t quite as tricked-out and comfortable as other packs in its size and price range, it’s 65 percent hemp and 35 percent recycled polyester with a waterproof coating of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), which is less toxic to produce than typical polyurethanes. The streamlined packbag requires minimal fabric and assembly, and the only extra is an integrated raincover that tucks into a hidden pocket. The Eco’s padded shoulder straps are best for broad chests (they rubbed into the neck and shoulders of our female tester), and the thin hipbelt provides adequate wrap and support for an overnight load. Whereas most suspensions adjust via plastic Fastex buckles, this one uses metal D-rings, which Lafuma claims are greener to produce. One tester humped 25-plus pounds on multiple hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and reports: "The simple design carries just fine and proves that extra design touches are often frills, not necessities." His main beef: The shoulder straps, which tighten via those metal D-rings, constantly slipped, causing the straps to loosen and the pack to sag. $100; one size (16–20" torso); 3 lbs. 2 oz. (303) 527-1460;

Osprey Circuit  Digging deep into the fabric world, Osprey succeeded in building this 70-percent-recycled, 1,900-cubic-inch daypack–without sacrificing one iota of performance. The Circuit (also pictured on the cover) uses a variety of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) fabrics, which are made from ground-up plastic bottles. The 450-denier body, stretchy shove-it pocket, interior mesh pockets, webbing, and binding tape are all made of PET, and the plastic buckles aand zipper pulls are also recycled. Our testers wore this pack on many extended dayhikes–carrying up to 15 pounds–and found it comfortable and easy to access. The back is well padded against sharp objects like cameras, and the shoulder straps worked well on a variety of body types. We liked the zippered side water-bottle pockets, which shut flat when empty. The long main zipper gives you panellike access to the inside, and there’s a padded laptop sleeve that doubles as protection and insulation for a hydration bladder. $99; 2 lbs. 2 oz. (970) 564-5900;

[Bag] Big Agnes Skinny Fish 20
This three-season, semirectangular bag is filled with recycled Climashield Green, and the shell, lining, stuff sack, and storage bag are also recycled polyester. In testing, we felt no performance differences between the Skinny Fish and similarly featured Big Agnes bags. Our broad-chested tester had plenty of roll-around room during an unseasonably warm weekend in Maine, and was able to vent his feet using the smooth-running two-way zipper. The Fish is on the heavy side, but with a compression sack we were able to squash it down to a respectable loaf size. Slip the Pacific Outdoor Eco Thermo into the pad sleeve, and stuff the Patagonia Micro Puff into the pillow pocket, and win on two counts: supreme comfort and the most ecologically-inclined backcountry bed short of a pile of duff. $179 ($189 for long); 3 lbs. 6 oz. (877) 554-8975;

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