Recently, I’ve found myself being drawn back into the world of natural materials. I’d moved away steadily from that realm ever since taking a cotton tracksuit and woollen Aran sweater to Iceland way back in the early 70s. It rained every day for six weeks. I should have known better. The former was never dry and the latter felt like it weighed a ton and stretched down over my thighs.
Anyway, having become a fan of Icebreaker’s Merino wool baselayers and rediscovering my 20+-year old Country Innovations Ventile jacket, natural materials are back on the agenda. From brands large and niche, here are some that caught my eye this year.
Iconic brand Royal Robbins leapt into a new product category with its Hemp Sock collection – naturally soft and odour resistant but blended with recycled polyester and nylon for lasting durability. Michael Millenacker, President and CEO, said, “As we looked to approach the sock category with something truly unique that matched the heritage of our brand DNA, we found there’s no better material for a sock than hemp because of its natural performance qualities and lighter footprint on the environment.”
Hemp yarns are inherently odour resistant, temperature regulating, moisture managing, hard wearing and comfortable across a variety of climates. Hemp is a highly sustainable textile crop and grown primarily with rain water, and using no pesticides, whilst its deep root systems promote soil health and prevent erosion.
The Appalachian Gear Company, an outdoor brand specialising in all-natural performance-based clothing and gear, has won its second consecutive Editors’ Choice award from Backpacker Magazine. In 2019, editors recognised the All-Paca™ Fleece Hoodie for its outstanding performance and versatility.
This year, the All-Paca sleeping bag liner has earned the recognition. Editors made their decision for its unique, high-performing fabric that is unlike anything else on the market. Backpacker Gear Editor Eli Bernstein said, “The All-Paca Sleeping Bag Liner delivers an impressive dose of warmth in a supersoft, superstretchy package.” Featuring a proprietary All-Paca micro fleece, it’s made in the USA from 100% alpaca fibre.
The lightweight liner is claimed to add approximately 15-18° of warmth to cold weather sleep systems, or functions as a standalone sleeping bag in warmer weather. Like all All-Paca products, the bag liner insulates when wet, offers a superior warmth to weight ratio, and has zero added synthetics. Additionally, All-Paca micro fleece is extremely odour-resistant, durable, run-resistant, is highly breathable, can be machine washed and dried, and won’t cling.
The bag liner features a square shape for maximum movement and works with a variety of bags, including mummy-style bags. Company co-founder John Gage said, “We’ve been working for years to develop an all-natural, 100% alpaca performance fabric so that outdoor users have more sustainable and eco-friendly options for apparel and gear.”
Available shortly, and winner of an ISPO Gold Award this year in the Urban Lifestyle Footwear segment in the Outdoor category, Minima by Aku shoes are ‘designed to reduce’ – environmental impact, that is. The upper and lining are made of Zero-Impact leather from the Dani tannery.
The project behind this aims to reduce the environmental impact of leather to zero over the entire production cycle. For instance, the leather is tanned in a new process that no longer uses chrome and heavy metals. In addition, the CO2 emissions during the manufacture of the entire shoe are compensated for by a reforestation program.
Giulio Piccin, Aku’s product manager, told The Pill, “Minima was the arrival point of a study that lasted over two years. We are the first and only outdoor industry company to have calculated and certified the degree of environmental impact of a shoe, our Bellamont Plus model, according to the EPD Environmental Product Declaration protocol, a way to understand what are the real impacts, from the production of raw materials to the end of life of a product. Thanks to this analysis we have identified that one of the areas of greatest impact is the leather and this has led us to focus on the type of leather that minimizes our footprint.”
According to Klättermusen, the Farbaute Jacket is ‘the first completely organically insulated outdoor jacket’. Not yet available in stores, it’s described as ‘Not only is it robust and functional; it also reduces the impact on nature on a large scale.’ The fabric used as the outer is Katla Cotton from Klättermusen – a windproof fabric made of 100% organic cotton and impermeable to the down behind it.
The fabric consists of thousands of thin cotton fibres and is produced using a special weaving technique. Fine white goose down, Swiss wool and organic polyester deliver the jacket’s insulation properties. For design, sustainability and functionality, the ISPO Award jury made the Klättermusen Farbaute down jacket the Gold Winner in the Outdoor segment in the Down Jackets category.
In the Jury Statement, Mark Nylander, from Sweden’s North Retail/NK Sport, noted, “The Farbaute Jacket not only shows Klättermusen’s obsession with detailing, but also their unique take on cotton outer fabrics. Quiet, warm, durable and beautiful. Belay perfection.”