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Greening Gear: Q & A with Eco-Friendly Outdoor Gear Leaders

Imagine eco-friendly equipment that offers superior performance to today's gear. The future is bright, but how do we get there? A BACKPACKER roundtable discussion.

7. We’ve recently seen Merino wool’s resurgence as a high-performance, environmentally sustainable, biodegradable material. Are you experimenting with any other “miracle” fibers?

Kevin: Merino wool performs great. It is, however, not without its potential environmental drawbacks as is any other material. Besides a cost premium associated with wool, it is important to understand the way the fiber was processed (with or without chlorine) in addition to how sustainable the farming practices were where the sheep were raised. And further, Merino wool can have animal husbandry challenges in certain climates of the world where a pesky fly requires invasive procedures on the sheep.

The point? No material—yet—is completely devoid of issues which potentially diminish it’s environmental (and sometimes social) footprint. Wool remains a very important material for us and we are constantly trying to mitigate these concerns.

Clearly one of the most promising areas is the ability to make new fibers from previous scrap waste… waste that would have gone directly into a landfill and lost as a potential resource forever. These options hold promise as we continually keep performance high, but divert valuable materials (and the energy/resources to extract them anew) from going to waste.

Dawson: The short answer is yes. DuPont introduced nylon – a ‘miracle’ fiber – at the 1939 Worlds Fair. At the time, it was a totally new fiber, unlike anything on the market. Nylon was the brand name but due to its overwhelming adoption, it quickly became a generic term for fiber. Throughout DuPont history, innovation has led to totally new materials and new classes of products that had not previously existed.

Jill: Oh if only there as a ‘miracle’ out there! The most innovative research I have seen in the last year is really taking place in universities where they are taking all sorts of waste products and turning them into usable raw materials. From sewage waste to chicken feathers to agricultural waste products. I also saw a cool thing using mushrooms to grow foam! But none of this is ready for prime time yet.

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