May 27, 2020 at 11:25 pm #3649654
One of the things I dislike about modern, lightweight hiking is the waste. Raingear for example, just doesn’t last very long before being useless. What do you do with old rain jackets that wet out? They’re just garbage. I have a nice trench raincoat that I use for going to work, walking in the rain near home, etc. but it’s super heavy for any real exercise or for warmer weather. It has lasted well for more than 10 years and is still totally waterproof. But all the jackets I get for hiking/backpacking last 2-3 years max. Synthetic t-shirts and socks wear out in less than one season. Mattress pads only last a few years, although the very old, heavy thermarests are still kicking, if you want to carry a 2+ pound pad. Some stuff, like a good down bag, still lasts a long time. But there are so many things that just have to be thrown away because they’re useless. I hate that. There probably isn’t a good solution, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway in case one of you brilliant folks can think of something.May 27, 2020 at 11:39 pm #3649660Rex SandersBPL Member
@rexLocale: Central California Coast
I think you’ve already touched on the root of the problem: light carrying weight at the expense of other factors, including longevity. You want the lightest rainwear? Then it will last only a season or two. Down seems to be the rare exception to this rule, though synthetic bags and clothing are getting closer – at the expense of longevity and other factors.
What happens to discarded backpacking gear is at least as important as how is is produced. Down, despite lasting decades, seems to have a mixed record if you are concerned about animal treatment, too.
Life is full of tradeoffs. Maybe we can encourage reviewers to comment more on longevity, and less on “first impressions.” That’s hard, when the market rewards early reviews more than long-term reviews. Who wants to read about last year’s hot product when there’s something new and “better” available?
No easy answers.
— RexMay 28, 2020 at 12:39 am #3649667
On the most simplistic level, if a 1-pound parka made of petro-chemicals lasts 5 years and a 2-pound parka lasts 10 years, the same materials went into each year’s use.
OTOH, if one cost you $300, then somebody spent that $300 on production costs, energy to run the factory, worker wages, profits, transportation, distribution, etc. Which in turn allowed owners, workers and stock holders to spend that money on food, housing, airline travel, consumer goods and junk food; all of which have their own energy foot print. A foot print much larger than the $0.16 of crude oil that went into the materials. And if the other option cost you $79, then you can be assured that no one spent more than $79 on energy (directly nor through the lives of their employees, distributors, retailers, transportation, and stockholders).
Short story: if you are living cheaply, you are inherently living lightly on the land. If you are spending lots of money, ultimately, much of that is financing someone else’s high-energy-use lifestyle.
People don’t like to hear that – many of them can’t hear it, because that $29 stainless steel water bottle was going to eliminate oh so many disposable plastic bottles. But those plastic water bottles were VERY light, produced VERY efficiently, and didn’t require nearly the energy consumption nor as much toxic pollution in second- and third-world country as mining and smelting the chromium did. Besides, they lost the cap for it on the 13th outing, and it never saved the use of many plastic bottles after all.
Buy a fuel-efficient (>40 mpg), long-lasting vehicle instead of an anatomy-compensating F-350 with duals on the rear axle. And carpool whenever you can. That will have a much larger, positive impact than any bit of UL kit.May 28, 2020 at 5:04 am #3649671JCHBPL Member
Absolutely everything that David said!May 28, 2020 at 7:58 am #3649684JacobBPL Member
if you are living cheaply, you are inherently living lightly on the land. If you are spending lots of money, ultimately, much of that is financing someone else’s high-energy-use lifestyle.
This is such an extremely keynesian idea; it just isn’t realistic.
Externalized Costs are real. They are the economic magic behind things like outsourcing and transoceanic shipping costing less not more.
Someone who consumes less while paying for their goods to be produced responsibly, maybe even locally, will have the lowest footprint.May 28, 2020 at 12:42 pm #3649747
There certainly are costs (to workers, the environment) which aren’t captured but they often occur for any of our choices (Parka A versus Parka B).
I see so many people who feel good about buying a head of lettuce at a local farmer’s market instead of the one that was growing the California Central Valley and shipped 2,300 miles to the store. And fine – do what you want, and it’s probably fresher, and local food security has value, and at least in my town, you probably know the local farmer.
But when they argue that the $5 locally-grown head of lettuce is better for the planet than the $1.79 one at Safeway, just because it’s local? The local one was picked by a (relatively) high-wage worker who in turn lives a more energy-intensive lifestyle. It was transported to market on a 40-mile round trip in a 14-mpg pickup carrying only 50 pounds of produce. That factory-farmed lettuce was picked by a cheap farm worker (who never takes an airline flight, never heats a backyard swimming pool, and never goes on a cruise) in the time it takes me to blink and then driven 200 miles to a port on a semi getting 3.5 mpg but hauling 35,000 pounds of produce (that’s 35 times less fuel per head) and once it got on a ship, the fuel per ton-mile got really low.
They are aware of the 2300-mile journey versus the 40-mile journey, but can’t grasp the tremendous efficiencies and economies of scale. Not just in transportation / fuel, but in the application of seed, fertilizer, farm equipment and farm labor compared to boutique operations. The hobby farmer buys his/her tiller and uses it a few days a year. The large-scale farmer has a tractor that is used much more often and does much more, so the manufacturing inputs (mined materials, energy, labor) are spread over much more production.
There certainly are false economies and government subsidies, often around fossil fuels; but the more common big mistakes I see individuals make are because they won’t or can’t take a long view. My house is very tight and well-insulated and uses a fraction of the energy other houses do. But I had the privilege, knowledge, skills, and money to achieve that – there was an extra 10% in the building costs that has reduced my energy consumption by 2/3 ever since. In the long term, it’s saved me a lot. But if you’re living month-to-month, you can’t afford a new Prius – you’ve got a 1996 Buick Roadmaster because it was cheap but it requires lots of fuel and maintenance.May 28, 2020 at 12:56 pm #3649749
I think you make good points Dave.
I often wonder if the future of sustainability lies not just in reduced consumption, but increased efficiency and economy of scale. We tend to ignore the fact that small and local doesn’t scale to 7.5 billion and growing very well.
Seems to me that at the rate we’re going, the far, far future (if there is to be one) will have to center around efficiency and economy of scale; centralized housing, concentrated production and distribution, mass transit systems, and everyone’s favorite, a staple diet of factory produced, organic worm protein cakes. ; )May 28, 2020 at 1:18 pm #3649751Chris RBPL Member
It does seem that Dave is saying that the best way to reduce the impact of consumption is to pay workers slave wages.
It’s also ignoring the vast amount of infrastructure that had to be put in place to enable that production, everything from water diversion and hydro dams on the Colorado River and mega highways and docks.
Not to mention the social impact of coercing foreign workers to leave their families to work, often in poor conditions, with no rights and little PPE.May 28, 2020 at 1:27 pm #3649757
I can’t speak for him, but I think I know Dave well enough to know he’s simply speaking from a standpoint of practicality and brutal honesty, not what’s “right”.
I think what’s “right”, to a large extent, went out the window when humans built civilizations that necessitate labor that nobody wants to do and require material inputs so vast they cannot be had without the wholesale destruction of somebody’s land, somewhere.May 28, 2020 at 1:32 pm #3649759
Okay now we’re on heads of lettuce and worm cakes. But what do I do with the three old raincoats that now wet out in light mist?May 28, 2020 at 1:33 pm #3649760
Cut them up and sew stuffsacks when the time comes instead of buying new ones. Cut out the zippers for future projects, and remove any toggles and cord that can be repurposed.May 28, 2020 at 6:07 pm #3649820Edward John MBPL Member
Or simply repurpose the old stuff and keep using it until it wears out and falls apart.
I have a couple of Polartec long john tops I use as winter pajamas that are just over 30 YO now.
Also I buy second hand clothes or surplus and I’ll never truly be an Ultra lighter because I bought good gear a long time ago, I won’t replace it until it actually wears out and I’ll most probably be dead before that happens, it might be anathema to the UUL mantra but carrying that extra few kilos might actually be much better for the planet
Also while we have the technology to return synthetic fibres back into the base oil we haven’t embraced the technology because it is deemed to be not cost effective, ditto for recycling most synthetic productsMay 28, 2020 at 8:35 pm #3649850May 29, 2020 at 8:39 am #3649891JacobBPL Member
But when they argue that the $5 locally-grown head of lettuce is better for the planet than the $1.79 one at Safeway, just because it’s local?
No, because our current centralized mass food production system is eliminating the soil. We only have about 60 harvests left if we continue our current practices. That is one big externalized cost with quite the sinister 0% down payment.
I realize you probably just picked a bad example, but most cheap things are cheap due to externalized costs. Products like the lil’ vicky that seem to be cheap due to economies of scale are hard to find.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is still the best strategy I have found.
Old rain jackets: reuse the fabric. Maybe keep one as a standard to compare other jackets too.
Old nylon fabric: if its not in good enough condition for reuse maybe shred it for use as insulation filler?
If myog isn’t a reasonable option, paying for a service like Terracycle seems responsible to me, even if their employees live in the first world and take vacations.May 29, 2020 at 8:59 am #3649894Greg PehrsonBPL Member
@gregpehrsonLocale: playa del caballo blanco
Patagonia accepts their own brand back for recycling/ upcycling via bins in their stores–or via mail:
(per the WornWear site)
“We accept all Patagonia products for recycling, and the process is easy. While we encourage you to find a new home for any garments or items that are still useable, any Patagonia product that has reached the end of its useful life may be sent back to us to be recycled or repurposed. Simply wash the items first and use one of the following collection methods:
1. Mail them to the Patagonia Service Center at
Patagonia Service Center
8550 White Fir St.
Reno, NV 89523-8939
2. Drop them off at the Patagonia Retail Store nearest you or at a participating Patagonia dealer—ideally while you’re running other errands, to reduce environmental impact.”
May 29, 2020 at 3:54 pm #3649961Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
-> I STILL have a 30 year old REI 3 layer GTX rain parka I carry in my daypack “just in case”. And I’ve had to use it for sudden showers or show or wind. But it is on its last legs.
-> Next is my 12 year old Cabela’s GTX PacLite parka that I have had to replace with new parka hood and waist cord locks. It too goes into another daypack.
-> Finally I have an 8 year old REI eVent rain parka that I use for absolutely everything except say hiking, i.e. backcountry skiing, backpacking, alpine skiing and just around town.
ALL of these WPB rain parkas regularly get washed in special WPB laminate soap, sprayed with Reviex or Grangers’ DWR spray. They last because I take care of them.May 30, 2020 at 2:32 pm #3650136Diane “Piper” SoiniBPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara
Yeah, what Wisner said. My zpacks rain jacket finally gave up but it’s got perfectly usable hardware so I’m harvesting that and I have been wondering if there’s a way to repurpose the hood as part of a polycryo rain poncho/ground sheet. My full-moon rain chaps lasted a whole PCT hike and then some and I don’t think they’re waterproof anymore but the nylon could still be used for something. I haven’t figure out what to use it for yet. There are also 3 toggles and shock cord on it that are still good. I think my Lightheart gear rain jacket will last many many years. My sleeping bags are decades old. Some of my hiking shirts have hundreds of miles on them. I saw a lady at Trader Joe’s the other day who had a skirt made of shirt sleeves. Maybe I will save up worn out shirts and do that someday. Some of my hiking shirts are men’s dress shirts that I found in a free box anyway.
I’ve been able to sell some of my used gear really super cheaply to hungry thru-hikers. I sold my Gossamer Gear G-4 that went 1800 PCT miles and had a couple tears and field repairs in it. I sold it really cheap to a PCT hiker who didn’t have much money. Done similar with a few other things. I have a lot of things I could probably sell but I hang on to a lot of it. I never know if I’ll want to use it again. Someday maybe I’ll hear about a PCT hiker who loses or gets all his gear stolen and I’ll be able to help out that way, too.May 31, 2020 at 12:04 am #3650193
Eric, you say you take care of them – I’m pretty good with my gear. Everything gets cleaned, stored properly etc. The raincoats just start to disintegrate, not through any abuse I put them through. They just start leaking everywhere and the inner layer starts peeling. Is there something i should be doing to prevent this?May 31, 2020 at 1:22 pm #3650232
ChrisR: I’m not in favor of low wages, although I can see how it came across like that. I was trying to “follow the money” and illustrate how the more you spend on an item, the more, ultimately, energy is consumed, resources mining and logged, and human labor may have been (and probably was) used. The less you spend on an item or activity, not as many resources could have been used.
Taking boutique farms (and, yeah, I eat artisan goat’s-milk cheese from a womyn’s cooperative when I’m in west Marin County like everyone else) to an extreme and we’re back to colonial times when 90% of (European-descent) Americans were farmers, children didn’t go to school, and there was little domestic manufacturing beyond home-crafted items. All food was local, “organic”, and non-mechanized. Adults were 5 feet tall and could die of scurvy. Karen and I likely have more friends and neighbors attempting that lifestyle (since we live in Alaska) and I think it’s nice that they can, but it’s only viable because they can drive on public roads, use the library’s wifi, my laundry, and local medical care when they need to.
I’d like to see a $15/hour minimum wage in the USA. It would go a ways towards minimizing income and class inequalities. Bezos and the Waltons don’t need even more profit and as a country, we’re perfectly capable of greatly expanding the middle class to include everyone as we did the 50s and 60s for whites. Dinky little Scandinavian countries do so without all of our resource, acreage and climatic advantages.May 31, 2020 at 1:44 pm #3650242
Back to Karen’s leaky parkas: Until we return to wearing (brain-tanned) bearskin coats and caribou mukluks (which are really warm!), yeah, our clothing has some energy and resource inputs. And it wears out at some point. And ultimately ends up in the waste stream (I have serious doubts that air-freighting a parka back to Mr. Chouinard actually benefits the planet, on balance).
I wish Consumer Reports gave reliability records for cars over a decade or more instead of just the last 5 years. I don’t buy a car (or clothes dryer or power tool) to last for 5 years. I buy a fuel-efficient Corolla and then use it for 1.5 to 2 light-seconds. It’s hard to find sometimes, but collectively, we know a lot about what gear lasts well and what doesn’t. It’s well documented that a Zpacks Duplex tent will last one PCT or so, 150-ish nights of use. It would be lovely to have similar data on a wider variety of gear.
Here’s one: I’m still using my Patagonia Baggie shorts and long pants from 1984-1986. 35 years of use. I’ve had to replace the elastic in the shorts liners, but otherwise, they’ve been amazingly tough and durable. I’ve shaved my leg hairs through them (with a sharp ski edge) and the pants themselves weren’t cut.
Here’s another: I’ve never had a 100% nylon long-sleeve fishing shirt wear out, even though it’s what I wear for the nastiest bush-whacking trips. My Duluth Trading one is still great after 5 years and my Sportiff one has 20-ish years on it now. It’s got some stains on it and I’ve probably reattached a button or two, but I appreciate 1) its minimal life-cycle cost, 2) it’s minimal environmental impact averaged over all that use, and 3) that I can trust it to not fail in tough use. And it’s reasonably light!
“nastiest bush-whacking trips” somehow got spell-checked into “husband-whacking trips” which is NOT anything I endorse.May 31, 2020 at 8:12 pm #3650326
I just discovered this, did not know about it. REI takes back used gear. Whether or not they actually do something worthy with it, or whether shipping it is better than burying it, environmentally speaking, I have no idea.Jun 1, 2020 at 4:53 am #3650358Greg PehrsonBPL Member
@gregpehrsonLocale: playa del caballo blanco
The Give Back Box program at REI is not an REI-specific program–it’s a third party they partner with, as does Ann Taylor, Lego, Nordstrom, etc. And it’s not for gear that is no longer usable–it’s basically a program that donates lightly-used clothing to homeless shelters and other charities for reuse. More info here.Jun 3, 2020 at 3:31 pm #3650748Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Yeah, as I said my ancient REI GTX parka has peeling seam tape and worn cuffs. It could be given to the local homeless organization as I’ve done with a few old synthetic sleeping bags and parkas so that’s likely where it will end up.
But if an item is totally beyond use then, sadly, it goes to my garbage, not even my recycle bin B/C I know it won’t be recycled – at least here in the Las Vegas valley’s Republic Services system.Jun 3, 2020 at 4:57 pm #3650780Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Lightweight WPB fabric degrades after a while
I’ve thrown a couple WPB jackets away
I have a couple I use around the yard when it’s not raining a lot or I’m not out for long, they still work good enough for that
I have a couple heavy REI WPB jackets that are 30 years old, still work, I use when I want to wear more normal looking jacket.
I had a lightweight WPB jack that delaminated on shoulders and hood so I cut off the good fabric and sewed to some other fabric that wasn’t as good and made a new jacket. That has since died.
I like to be socially conscious, but don’t fret when it’s not possible. I like to keep my car for at least 10 years, the last two were 16 years and 20 years – the old models kept working so why get rid of? I bought a smaller more efficient house, best thing is less yard work.
Sometimes it’s difficult – plastic bags are both very cheap and produce little lifetime CO2. Better than paper or cloth reusable bags. It’s complicated though to do a good comparison. Maybe it would better to use plastic bags to take home groceries. If you could re-use a time or two it would be even better.Jun 4, 2020 at 9:50 pm #3651036SIMULACRABPL Member
Uhh..what WISNER said :)
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