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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.

[Headlamp] Black Diamond Icon
Cranking through alkalines–which cost both money and carbon–may soon be a headlamp headache of the past. This bright, versatile three-LED light can run on an optional 3.6-volt rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery that plugs into an AC outlet like a typical cell-phone charger. In recent years, manufacturers have eliminated mercury from alkaline batteries, making disposal less of a concern. It’s the production, packaging, and shipping of billions of single-use alkalines each year that make rechargeable batteries the way of the future. And Black Diamond knows it. The Icon’s bluish beam has three modes–spot, proximity, and strobe–and a built-in battery meter shows how much juice remains. In our tests (03/07), the Icon gave off more than 5 hours of usable light in spot mode, and more than 12 in proximity mode. $60 (headlamp), $30 (charger); 7.5 oz. (801) 278-5533;

[Bottle] Guyot Designs 100-Pound Backpacker  OK, so Guyot’s latest stainless-steel bottle isn’t made from recycled battleships, but the company gets props for building carbon offsets into the price. When you buy this 32-ounce widemouth, you’re simultaneously buying 100 pounds of credits, which exceeds the amount of carbon emitted in the bottle’s production. Verification and tracking of these offsets is provided by Environmental Resources Trust, which lets you choose where your money goes: toward building a specific methane-capture plant, planting trees in a favorite forest, or generating clean energy near your hometown. Each bottle is leakproof, but a bit heavier than a standard Lexan one. $22; 14 oz.

[Baselayer] Ibex Norgie Crew
Like the other apparel makers in this article, Ibex works only with farms that humanely treat and sustainably raise their sheep. It also manufactures 70 percent of its clothing in the United States, and has been warehousing fabric scraps for 2 years while it develops recycled materials for launch by 2008. And its Vermont warehouse and offices are 100 percent "cow-powered"– that is, Ibex buys its energy from a local methane-capturing facility (experts say methane is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas).

The Norgie Crew–a simple midweight layer–also feels incredibly soft and performs beautifully in a wide range of conditions. One tester wore it next-to-skin on a cool climb up Mt. Washington, where it quickly pulled sweat away from his skin and regulated his body temperature. Another credited it for keeping her warm while skiing on one of the coldest days this winter. Seams are flat-knit and positioned off the shoulder to prevent chafing under a pack. The fit is trim but not tight, and our test shirts still look new despite months of wear and washing. $85; men’s S–XXL, women’s XS–XL (800) 773-9647;

[Camp shoes] Miön Pen Shell Clog
Choices abound when it comes to lightweight foam clogs, but we couldn’t find any as green–or as functional–as these. Miön uses wind and sun to power its distribution center, and each shoe comes with a label that specifies the amount of energy used in its creation. Testers found the Pen Shell Clogs supremely comfortable for après-hike lounging, and the grippy soles won’t fail when you scramble down to the creek to get water. $90; men’s 7–13, women’s 6–11; 14 oz. (women’s 8, without insoles) (866) 784-6466;

[Snack] Clif Nectar
If there were a poster child for corporate sustainability, Clif would be it. At every level, the company is steeped in leading-edge green efforts, like employing a full-time, four-person Sustainability Team that includes a staff ecologist. Seventy percent of the 30 million pounds of ingredients it buys each year is organic. It’s achieved a drastic packaging reduction and uses recycled materials in everything from caddies (display boxes) to shipping pallets. It measures and has significantly reduced the carbon emissions created in every part of its supply chain. And it’s planted 13,000 trees since 2003. That this company makes healthy, delicious bars like the new all-organic Nectar ($1.50) is just gravy. (800) 254-3227;

3 ways to take a lighter step on your next hike

Teko Eco Merino Wool
Boulder-based Teko buys the yarn used in these supremely comfortable, durable socks from a single, sustainably-run family farm in Tasmania that has been raising sheep organically for more than 150 years. It also uses recycled polyester and makes its socks in the United States, thus averting a sidetrip to Asia for knitting–and tons of carbon expended in transportation. The company purchases wind credits to offset its emissions, and it uses only recycled chipboard packaging. With hundreds of miles from the Berkshires to the Cascades under their collective bootsoles, our testers rave about the Eco Merino’s warmth (even when wet), fit, and durability. "The trim fit and low-profile toe seams make them feel custom-fit to my feet," said one. "They’re perfect for scrambling shoes and other boots where a snug fit boosts performance." $21 (800) 450-5784;

SmartWool Hiking Crew
It’s fair to credit SmartWool with bringing wool back into vogue. Since 1994, when the company launched with some of the sweetest socks our feet had ever felt, it’s been guided by an environmental ethic that has spread throughout the industry. All of its superfine merino comes from New Zealand, where the sheep are free to roam and graze on naturally fertilized grass. Socks are shrink-treated with an enclosed (to prevent leaking) chlorine process that uses a natural neutralizer to eliminate residue. This attention to detail works for the environment, and it works for our feet, too. We gave this sock an Editors’ Choice Award back in 1996, and it remains one of our favorites. It has flat toe seams, just enough stretch, and the perfect amount of cushioning for three-season backpacking. $17 (866) 298-9703;

Fox River Country Crew
It starts with a tall green stalk of corn in rural Nebraska. Thousands of them, actually. The corn is harvested, then sugars are extracted and fermented into a polylactide (PLA), which is a fancy name for a long chain of corn molecules that get extruded into polyester-like fibers. Makers say this part of the process uses about 50 percent less fossil fuel than petroleum-based synthetics. The fibers are then woven into socks just a few states away. Pretty darn good ones, too. Our test crew logged hundreds of miles all over the world in these corn socks, and while we’ll still choose wool for long, hard trips where sustained cushioning and moisture management are key, Fox River’s Ingeo line offers great comfort and fit for light hikes and everyday use. Our test pairs show pilling and thin spots in high-abrasion areas, so their usable lifespan does not rival wool’s, but these socks won’t clog up landfills when they’re ready for retirement. Fox River claims the corn socks will biodegrade in 47 days, a theory we’re testing for a future issue. Is the corn genetically modified? Yes, though as soon as non-GMO corn fibers are available (experts say the demand isn’t there yet), Fox River is on board. $13

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