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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.

8. Sleeping bag people: is recycled synthetic fill better than goose down (a byproduct?)

Kevin: [I am half punting on these next two questions for until a full LCA has been performed—which we have not done on these products—the answers are simply educated guesses]

I am assuming that both questions 8 & 9 are from a perspective of sustainability—and not one of many other dimensions which are critical when making materials choices. For if one makes choices on sustainability alone you end up with the recycled PET bottle fabric of the mid 90s, scratchy, ugly and overly expensive.

For sleeping bag fill, if performance is not considered you could have a bag that really does not meet your needs in many ways—especially when a lot of moisture is part of the sleeping conditions. Conversely, there are times that carrying a very light and compressible bag is paramount. Down offers near un-paralleled superiority in most cases when compared to a synthetic in most all conditions except wet.

That said, to truly determine what is best from a sustainability perspective alone requires a detailed Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) of both materials—going back and including feedstock and making sure that the boundaries are similar. We have not performed this task yet so any statements would be conjecture.

Bill: Tough to answer “better”. In general, the two fills are so different in performance, that in our opinion, both are still needed in the marketplace. Our position is to improve the eco impact of both fills. Down is our preference because it is a bi-product of food and therefore isn’t a new product produced with petroleum… also our reason to use as much recycled fill as possible.

Jill: See my answer to 9 (I didn’t answer in order) I think calling something a byproduct is a bit of an environmental copout. Even if a product is a secondary product because of the value assigned, it still contributes to the overall impact and should be counted with the allocation method described below.

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