Dream. Plan. Live.
by Mackenzie Griesser
As an environmentalist in a capitalist society, I can’t help but think about how the gear and apparel I purchase are manufactured. It would be super disappointing if the companies making products that are meant to be used in the great outdoors were actively contributing to unsustainable practices that harm the planet! I was curious to see just how sustainable the brands we carry are so I did some research and was happy to find some great information. When we talk about how sustainable a company or product is, we have to consider the “triple bottom line”: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. If the company or product does not meet all three of these qualifications, we can’t call them truly sustainable. In my research, I found that there is way too much information to discuss all three of these components in one blog, so this is the first of a 3-part series covering each factor that makes up the “triple bottom line”. The following is a brief summary of the environmental sustainability initiatives of some of the brands we carry, specifically outerwear and apparel companies.
When we think about the sustainability of apparel, there are a few questions we must ask ourselves: Where did the raw materials come from? How were they obtained? What processes do they go through as they are made into a garment? How long can they be used before being thrown out and added to the ever-growing landfill? Luckily for us, most of the brands we carry answer all of these questions directly on their websites and are great at providing consumers with transparency concerning all of their processes, from cradle to grave. Mountain Hardwear even goes as far as to publish lists of the manufacturers that produce their materials every year for the public to see! Most other brands, including Arc’Teryx, Ibex, Patagonia, and Prana, perform Life Cycle Assessments regularly, following products from manufacture to disposal to ensure that they are doing everything as efficiently and sustainably as possible.
When it comes to raw materials, the brands we carry are pros at finding the most sustainably procured materials at a reasonable price. Both Patagonia and Prana use several recycled and re-purposed materials, including down from old bedding that is washed and sterilized, wool from old sweaters and scraps from production, cotton also from production leftovers, nylon, and polyester made from pre- and post-consumer recycled plastic. They both also utilize hemp, which leaves the soil it is grown in healthy enough to grow food crops directly after harvest, as well as organic cotton, which is not genetically modified and does not require fertilizers or pesticides. Patagonia takes it a step further and also utilizes Tencel, a branded lyocell fiber that comes from the pulp of trees grown on farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, yulex and guayule rubber, which together make a more sustainable version of neoprene, and undyed cashmere.
Chemical management is also very important to consider. The big “bad guy” often used in outdoor apparel is perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, which are used in waterproofing materials. However, several brands now use more sustainable alternatives including single polymer polypropylene and short-chain PFCs, which biodegrade much easier than other chemicals and take less energy and resources to obtain. Arc’Teryx also adheres to a strict Restricted Substances List to ensure the materials they are using are safe for both the consumer and the environment.
The last thing to consider when determining the sustainability of a garment is what will happen to it once it wears out. Several brands, including Patagonia, Ibex, Chaco, and Arc’Teryx, encourage customers to send back worn-out or damaged products to be recycled or repaired in order to prevent adding waste to landfills. In general, however, all of the brands we carry make super hardy and durable products, so they will last a long time.
Another thing to consider is ensuring that the animals that materials are sourced from are treated well. Every brand we carry that utilizes down in their products (Sea to Summit, Rab, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Arc’Teryx, and Prana) are certified under the Responsible Down Standard. To be accredited under these standards, the farmer and company must adhere to some standard principles. First, birds are never live-plucked or force fed. Also, the welfare of the birds is respected from birth to death. This means injuries and illnesses are prevented as much as possible and treated in a timely manner they cannot be prevented. Companies that are accredited under these standards are randomly audited multiple times a year by third-party companies, usually with unannounced visits, and only products with 100% certified sustainable down can carry the RDS label.
While down is utilized in many products we sell, we can’t forget about good old merino wool (AKA Miracle Fabric.) Ibex definitely leads the way when it comes to wool that is harvested sustainably. They only use ZQ merino, which has a pretty intensive certification process. Any farmer can be accredited if they meet the 5 freedoms granted to animals by the Animal Welfare Act. First, the sheep must be properly fed with wholesome foods that meet all nutritional requirements, as well as be provided with limitless water. Next, they must be given appropriate shelter. Another freedom granted is the freedom from unnecessary pain and distress, which means the farmer must know how to handle them to avoid distress and maintain their property so that there is little risk of injury. Also, mulesing is prohibited under this category. Mulesing is a surgical procedure where sections wool-bearing skin that are susceptible to retaining bacteria that attracts flies are removed. While this procedure does decrease the chances of flystrikes, there are more sustainable ways to deal with this issue, including regular inspections and cleaning and shearing of the vulnerable areas. The next requirement is that the sheep must be allowed to exhibit natural patterns of behavior, which essentially means they must be given adequate space to roam and interact with one another. Finally, the farmer must be able to provide prevention, rapid diagnosis, and treatment of injury, disease, and parasite infestation if any of these were to occur. If a farmer meets all of these conditions, they can be accredited under the ZQ merino standard. Every 3-5 years unannounced audits are conducted, usually by a veterinarian.
Environmental sustainability is such a. important thing to consider when investing money in a company by purchasing their products, especially when it’s a company that specializes in outdoor gear! While some brands offer more sustainability initiatives than others, every apparel brand we carry does a great job of being environmentally conscious when sourcing materials for their products and when manufacturing them. I always feel much better about supporting companies that consider these sorts of things, even if it costs them a little more money, than companies that are only out to make a profit regardless of what effects their processes have on the environment. However, environmental sustainability is only one third of the triple bottom line! Stay tuned for more info on the social and economic sustainability initiatives offered by the brands we sell here at Roads Rivers and Trails.
Autumn hiking: the trees blazing from inside out, the air purified by chilled winds, the campfire smelling like it should. Autumn seems a beautiful time to spend your time wandering around the woods. And then the rains come. Unlike a nice, refreshing summer shower, the rains of fall don’t play nice. They bite and they seep into your bones and set teeth to clacking around. Getting caught in the wrong storm this time of year can be dangerous. Enter the rain shell, an autumn hiker’s best friend. Not to disparage the storms of other seasons, of course.
Much like the shell of our turtle friends from whom we take much advice, a rain shell means protection from harm. Whether it be rain, snow, wind, or cold, modern shells are designed to keep you alive, dry, and moving. There are times when staying in the tent, playing cards, and drinking hot cocoa sounds marvelous. The reality of the situation is that hikers don’t often have that sort of luxury. Hikers gonna hike and, more often than not, moving through a storm means moving to safety. So we throw on a rain shell and move, down the ridge, away from the menacing black clouds and the lightning on the balds.
When you hike (or bike or kayak or whatever you’re doing out in the wild) you sweat. So what’s the use of keeping the rain off if you’re just going to swim in your own slop? So, waterproof, yes, but breathability is also a major issue when choosing a rain shell. The purpose of this blog post is to help you find the right shell for the right purpose. This process can be confusing for a few reasons:
1: “Waterproof” does not mean waterproof. Confused? Good. A little confusion is good for the brain. Makes for good learning. A truly waterproof shell would be a terrible choice for the trail. To be truly waterproof, the material would have to be impermeable, meaning that no water can get in, but no water escapes either. That’s no good. That’s a sweaty plastic sack. So what we’re looking for is more accurately called “highly water resistant” but “waterproof” sounds shorter and sweeter so that’s what they call it. And there are levels to this, of course. To be called waterproof, a material must meet certain criteria. The measure of waterproofing is called Hydrostatic Head, which is fancy talk for how much water they can stack on top of a material before it starts to leak. 1,000 mm = “waterproof”. Will a 1,000 mm rain shell keep me dry if Zeus decides to unleash his fury on poor Goatman for looking crossways at a thunderhead? No. Serious weather rain shells rate more along the lines of 10,000 to 20,000 mm (that impermeable sack we spoke of earlier would be 40,000+). That’s about as technical as this article is going to get. I’ll throw some links down at the bottom for those who want to delve deeper into the science behind it all. What I’m getting at here is that a tag that says “waterproof” on a jacket can mean a variety of different things. Gore-tex vs eVent vs Pertex Shield+ vs H2NO? Here at RRT, we can tell you the difference in waterproofing between our styles of rain shells. Come in and ask. I dare you.
2: But can we tell you about breathability? If you liked the slightly complicated nature of waterproofing, you’re going to love the absurdly complicated nature of breathability! At least in this case, breathable means just that: allowing the passage of air and moisture. You hike, you sweat. Best case scenario, your sweat evaporates and, water vapor being smaller than raindrops, escapes from your rain shell through the tiny holes in the “waterproof” fabric. So there must be some way to test how much water vapor escapes from the material. Of course there is. There are a few ways actually and not one standardized test across the industry. Different companies, different materials, different tests. Do different tests test the same thing? Sort of. They all tell you how much water vapor passes through material. Do any of them simulate wilderness conditions in which you are bouncing off of trees and rubbing bellies with granite and sweating at different rates, in different humidity, on a different mountain, in a different country? No. Nature isn’t a controlled laboratory (thank goodness). So we leave the lab and go out in it and let our skin do the testing. And the companies would agree. They all have their labs but they also have their athletes out in the bush, getting it done.
As I mentioned before, we carry a variety of rain shells at RRT. Below, I will break down the differences, similarities, and various uses of each shell. Remember: these are words on the Internet. If you really want to experience the thing itself, come in and talk to one of us, try on a couple of styles, and see what is going to work for what you want to do.
Company: Rab Style: Latok Alpine
Waterproofing: eVent Layers: 3 Weight: 18 oz.
We’ll start with the big boy: Rab’s Latok Alpine, store favorite for keeping you dry in the worst conditions. Designed, as the name suggests, for protecting you on exposed alpine climbs, the Latok Alpine is serious protection. It boasts the highest breathability and is rugged to boot. Going on a mountain-climbing trek where you’re guaranteed to get dumped on for days and want a shell that won’t give out on you, no matter how much punishment you put it through? This is it. At 18 oz., this is also the heaviest shell we carry. Perhaps overkill for an afternoon hike with 50% chance of rain.
Waterproofing: Pertex Shield + Layers: 3 Weight: 15 oz.
We go lighter from there with Rab’s Xiom. Great jacket to throw in your pack on a long backpacking trip. It’s still Rab and still 3 layers, so the durability is there, but at less than a pound the Xiom won’t weigh down your pack when the sun comes out. Added pit zips make this a highly waterproof and breathable design. Pertex Shield + is Pertex’s highest end fabric for weight and performance.
Waterproofing: eVent Layers: 3 Weight: 19.6 oz.
Think of the Bergen as the Latok Alpine’s big brother. It weighs more because it’s bigger and more roomy for more fully fleshed out individuals. If you find the athletic cut of modern rain shells restrictive, fear not! The Bergen is here. All of the advantages of breathability and waterproofing of the eVent liner are still apparent in this jacket. For a couple of ounces more, you simply have more room to be comfortable.
Waterproofing: Gore-tex Layers: 3 Weight: 11.8 oz.
Arc’teryx doesn’t mess around. A three layer shell at less than 12 ounces, cut to fit the body in motion, with heavy duty Gore-tex lining. Arc-teryx construction is unmatched in the business and, despite its low weight, this shell can take a beating. Though not as breathable as eVent or Pertex Shield, this shell is still a contender for lightweight backpacking in any condition you can throw at it. If you’ve never tried on an Arc’teryx piece, do yourself a favor. These guys know exactly what they’re doing and they do it very well.
Waterproofing: Gore-tex Layers: 2.5 Weight: 16.3 oz.
OR makes some great gear and the Foray is no exception. Gore-tex is big papa when it comes to waterproofing. They were there first and they still do it like they mean it. Sheds water as well as the Latok Alpine and, while losing a bit of breathability, also loses a few ounces. Any advantages to that? Sure. A bit warmer of a jacket can be a good thing in the cold. This is another shell meant to handle whatever you throw at it. They add two way pit zips to compensate for the loss in fabric breathability.
Waterproofing: Gore-tex Layers: 2.5 Weight: 13.7
The Aspire is the women’s specific OR shell that is much like the Foray for men, but fit specifically to a women’s curves. Gore-tex knows not gender, so you’re still getting a heavy-duty severe weather jacket with the Aspire.
Company: Outdoor Research Style: Helium HD
Waterproofing: Pertex Shield + Layers: 2.5 Weight: 9.1 oz.
We are dropping ounces here. The Helium series from OR, much like the noble gas for which it is named, floats compared to the beefy shells we’ve been learning about. This is a long-distance backpackers’ jacket, truly: extremely breathable, lightweight, and immensely packable. Able to shrug off all but the most extreme rains, this is the sort of jacket you throw on when you’re in for the long-haul, need to keep moving rain or shine, but can then forget about on the nice days. While not the jacket I would choose for alpine excursions or deep winter treks.
Waterproofing: Pertex Shield + Layers: 2.5 Weight: 6.4 oz.
I have eaten candy bars that weigh more than the Helium II. A stripped down little brother in the Helium series, this is a minimalists dream. Ultra-light, ultra-breathable, ultra-packable. If you’re the type of backpacker that cuts your toothbrush in half, removes your zipper pulls, and doesn’t bother cooking food on the trail, here you go. Also a great shell for trail-running, mountain biking, or any other high-intensity outdoor activity where you might run into unwelcome rain.
Waterproofing: H2NO Layers: 2.5 Weight: 12.2 oz.
The stylish choice, Patagonia’s Torrentshell is not as waterproof as eVent or Gore-tex and not as breathable as Pertex Shield +, this one lands right in the middle on every scale. Great for everyday wear, in town or on the trail, the Torrentshell will keep you dry as you go about your business. Not an alpinists shell and a bit heavier than our lightweight options, this one is a good all-around jacket with Patagonia backing it up, so you know it is greener than grass (in the environmental sense).
Waterproofing: Dry Q Core Layers: 2 Weight: 14.3 oz.
The most affordable jacket in our line up, Mountain Hardwear’s Finder Jacket is a great starter shell. Though a bit heavier than our lightweight options, this jacket will breathe better than some of the sturdier Gore-tex options, though will not take quite the soaking. Great jacket for layering or to shrug off quick storm, not as useful in serious weather when staying dry is crucial. For the price, however, the Finder is a good all-around jacket.
Helpful, technical links for your perusal:
Links to the companies mentioned above: