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Zero Impact Challenge

Is it possible to build a backpack that doesn't contribute to global warming? Not yet, but five pioneering companies gave it one helluva try. (Cue standing ovation.)

L.L. Bean Straight Jacket
Bean hucked convention way out the window and created an innovative zipperless pack that’s 100% recyclable and reduces fabric use by 30%.

As the only contender that achieved a cradle-to-cradle design (green-speak for waste-free), Bean deserves special kudos. Designers employed Eco Intelligent Polyester, a fabric made at a "clean" hydro-powered Canadian plant that can be perpetually recycled (unlike PET, which can only be recycled two or three times). They also took rule #2 (reduce unnecessary components) to its logical extreme by eliminating zippers. In their place is a system that uses overlapping fabric wings, carabiners, drawcords, and a roll-top buckle closure to compress and contain the load. Testers liked the multiple access points, but not the multiple steps required to get inside. A top-loading design would solve that without adding zippers–while bringing the pack’s weight more in line with the other entries. $199 (projected price); 6 lbs. 10 oz.; llbean.com

Mountainsmith Phoenix
Here’s ample evidence that you don’t need to sacrifice backcountry comfort or performance to build a big load-hauler that’s easy on the planet.

Forget for a moment that each Phoenix diverts 107 plastic bottles from the landfill, and that its simple fabric patterns minimize waste. Ignore the fact that Mountainsmith has performed exhaustive greenhouse gas calculations to evaluate its design and production choices. Instead, consider this: The Phoenix is one of the most comfortable weeklong packs we’ve carried, green or not. Our editors were literally fighting over it on a recent test trip. It’s much bigger (5,675 cubic inches when extended) than the other entries, but the suspension is built to handle it. We carried 60 pounds in comfort, thanks to the jumbo padded hipbelt, which circled our hips like a giant ACE bandage. Did we mention the 100% recycled fabric? It shows no sign of weakness. $289; 5 lbs. 3 oz.; mountainsmith.com

Osprey Atmos 50
One of our favorite midsize packs gets a makeover that has editors asking: If green can feel this good with 30 pounds, why would you carry anything else?

Last year, testers raved about the stability and ventilation of the pre-green version of the 3,000-cubic-inch, top-loading Atmos. This model keeps all of that–and is mostly recycled. After one five-day outing on the Grand Canyon’s rugged Escalante Route, testers praised its comfort and load control, and they saw no tradeoffs for the choices Osprey made to increase sustainability. Like Mountainsmith, Osprey opted to deck out its pack with features (a stretchy shove-it pocket, hipbelt pockets, and zippered packbag access), and to do it with the greenest materials available. According to the company, 88.5% of the pack is either recyclable or biodegradable. Osprey is optimistic about the durability of these new materials, but won’t release the pack to consumers until it completes further testing. $199 (projected price); 3 lbs. 11 oz.; ospreypacks.com

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