Imagine turning the plastic bottles that you find discarded along a trail into the gear that you bring on your next expedition.
Recycling 35 of those bottles provides manufacturers with enough polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to make one sleeping bag. The production of that bag creates 3.5 pounds less carbon dioxide than one made from 100 percent virgin materials.
One of the biggest innovations in the outdoor industry in the past 2 years is the use of recycled materials. Textile makers rework used PET to create fabrics for packs, tents and bags, as well as zippers and cord toggles.
Just wait. Early peeks at 2010 product designs show that “green” goods will be far more common. These green products will cost you 10 percent to 15 percent more than similar current products. But our experience with current offerings indicates that there are no durability issues—products made from recycled materials perform as well as those made from virgin materials.
RAISE THE ROOF. Generally, thanks to new designs and materials, tents on the market today are roomier, lighter and more compact than their predecessors.
Manufacturers have trimmed weight by using thinner aluminum and lighter fabrics. Rather than coating the nylon rain fly with urethane—still a common practice on lower price, heavier models—today’s premium tents are treated with lighter silicon. This can trim a pound or two, which is an important savings when you’re toting that weight on a 10-mile trek.
There also have been advances in fabric bonding. A few high-price tents weld (bond) the seams of the rain fly and the floor seams of the tent, as opposed to the traditional method of stitching and taping. Welding cuts a half-pound of weight and is more waterproof than traditional stitching and taping. You can expect to see this process trickle down from premium tents into lower price tents over the next 3 years.
To strengthen these lighter tents, manufacturers have shifted from grommet (a metal ring pressed into a webbing strap) and spike-tip pole ends to a new “cap and ball” design. This innovation is spreading from premium to economy tents and costs the same as the standard spike-and-grommet method. A small ball at the end of the poles clicks into a cap on the tabs, which lock the pole to the tent while creating a flexible junction.
Although prices for tents have fallen by as much as 10 percent in some cases, you should know that tents that are made of recycled materials typically will cost you 10 percent to 12 percent more than models made of conventional materials. But we expect that that will change as more manufacturers reuse materials. In 2009, two tents—Big Agnes’ Salt Creek 2 and Nemo Equipment’s Oz—are 90 percent recycled.
SLEEP TIGHT. No matter the stability of your tent, you’ll need a warm cocoon. In sleeping bags, there has been a step forward in green insulations—high-loft synthetics that are made from recycled plastics, including soda bottles and scraps from previous production cycles.
Expect to pay up to 15 percent more for these recycled bags. Recycled bags tend to be heavier (4 ounces to 6 ounces more for a 30-degree-F-rated sleeping bag) than those that are made from conventional synthetic, because the recycled fibers are slightly more dense. But we think that their quality and performance are almost identical to that of similar nonrecycled models. Manufacturers tell us that as production processes improve, they expect that recycled bags will be as light as other synthetic options within 12 to 18 months.
Goose down remains the premier insulation, because it is so light. But bag-makers now are separating down more finely to create lighter 800-fill down and heavier 500-fill down. These ratings refer to the weight of different grades of feathers that are needed to achieve the desired insulation level.