Zero Impact Challenge Rides Again

Backpacker Magazine asks outdoor companies to make a carbon-neutral shoe

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It’s happening again. Backpacker Magazine has put the challenge out to the industry to build a better mousetrap–this time in the form of a carbon neutral hiking boot.

What we asked for: a mid cut hiker that can carry a 30-lb. pack and give other backpacking boots a run for their money on the trail, with the lowest possible carbon footprint. Five companies have risen to the challenge: Hi Tec, Oboz, Patagonia, La Sportiva, and Wolverine. And they’re off and running: We’ve already gotten boots from one company (they’re not due until September 1) and we’re anxiously awaiting the rest. Once again we’re partnering with Climate Cooler, the company that helped Backpacker become the first carbon neutral magazine, to analyze the data and figure out where each company can reduce their own carbon footprint. We’ll share the most effective and the most creative strategies in our spring Gear Guide.

Backpacker has run two Zero Impact Challenges so far, one for packs and one for sleeping bags. We’ve published the results in past Gear Guides and here at One of the coolest things about those challenges, however, happened after we’d put out the challenges, done the field tests and published the articles. At least one company that we know of, GoLite, which participated in both challenges, took what they learned and not only came to market with one or two greener products, but incorporated changes across their entire product line. Feathered Friends made changes across all their 20 degree down bags. And we’re waiting to hear back from others how these challenges have effected their products long term.

The footwear challenge will be our toughest one yet, as hiking boots have far more components than sleeping bags or packs. That’s why the lead time for footwear is so much longer than with other products–in fact right now most boot makers are working on shoes that won’t hit market until 2011! Though we’re only calculating carbon, we know that all the participants are looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their shoes across the board.

So the five participants are hustling to get their shoes done in time for our field test. Oboz is blogging about the challenge, as well as Patagonia. And other blogs are reporting on what we’re doing as well. Check out the story at, which is following Patagonia. And keep your eye on Greener World Media, which will also be posting a story soon.

And in the coming months, keep your eye on this blog, where we’ll talk to the participants and learn about what worked, what didn’t, and where they’re headed next.

–Berne Broudy

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