Climbing Away from PFAS

Climbing Away from PFAS

Author Kristian Whittaker

Innovation is key to mountaineering, both in the routes we climb and the gear that gets us there. In the spirit of tackling challenges head-on, the outdoor community is now facing a crucial transition: moving away from gear reliant on PFAS to embrace more sustainable alternatives. This journey, much like mountaineering itself, requires preparation, resilience, and a commitment to respecting the environments we explore.

What Are PFAS, and Why Are They in Our Gear?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been integral to outdoor apparel, especially hardshell jackets, for their exceptional water and stain-resistant properties. These chemicals, developed for their durability against the elements, have been the standard in ensuring that our gear keeps us dry and comfortable in harsh conditions.

However, the resilience of PFAS comes with a significant environmental footprint. These "forever chemicals" are named for their persistence in the environment, refusing to degrade and accumulating in wildlife and humans. The widespread use of PFAS has been a double-edged sword, offering unparalleled functionality while posing serious ecological and health risks.

The Downside of Durability: Understanding the Environmental Toll

The durability of PFAS, while beneficial for gear longevity, casts a long shadow over environmental and human health. Studies have shown that PFAS accumulation can lead to serious health issues, including cancer, thyroid disease, and developmental delays in children. The environmental impact is equally dire, with PFAS contaminating water sources and ecosystems, affecting wildlife and communities globally.

These findings have sparked a crucial conversation within the mountaineering and broader outdoor community about the true cost of our gear's functionality.

Changing Tides: How Regulations and the Industry Are Responding

In response to the growing concerns over PFAS, several U.S. states and countries worldwide have begun to implement regulations aimed at reducing the use of these chemicals in consumer products, including outdoor apparel. This regulatory landscape is encouraging, if not forcing, the outdoor industry to innovate and find alternatives that maintain the high performance standards of gear without the environmental and health risks associated with PFAS.

Brands that have long been trusted by mountaineers are leading the charge, investing in research and development to create PFAS-free solutions. These efforts are not just about compliance; they represent a broader shift in the industry towards sustainability and responsible manufacturing.

The Impact on Mountaineering Gear: What to Expect

The transition to PFAS-free mountaineering gear is already underway, with many brands unveiling lines of hardshell jackets, pants, and other essentials that forego forever chemicals without compromising on protection and durability. This shift means that mountaineers can continue to rely on their gear to perform in extreme conditions, now with the added benefit of minimizing their environmental impact.

However, this change also comes with new considerations for care and maintenance. PFAS-free gear may require more frequent re-waterproofing and care to maintain its performance, a small adjustment in the grand scheme of preserving our planet's health.

Adapting to the Transition: Tips for the Mountaineering Community

1. Stay Informed: Educate yourself about the brands and products leading the way in PFAS-free outdoor gear. Fjallraven and Deuter are already completely PFAS free, Marmot's EvoDry rain wear is as well, and Patagonia plans on being completely PFAS free by 2025.
2. Prioritize Sustainability: When purchasing new gear, consider the environmental impact of the products you choose. The technical jargon can be hard to decipher, but you can learn a lot by looking at a product's tech specs. 
3. Care for Your Gear: Follow care instructions meticulously to extend the life of your PFAS-free gear and ensure its functionality. For waterproof outerwear, this means washing and re-waterproofing more frequently. We recommend using Tech Wash to wash your outerwear every 3-5 uses, and re-waterproofing with Nikwax TX Direct every 5 or so washes.  

Conclusion

The move towards PFAS-free mountaineering gear marks a significant step forward in the outdoor community's commitment to sustainability. While this transition presents challenges, it also offers an opportunity to reevaluate our impact on the natural world and take proactive steps to mitigate it. By embracing PFAS-free gear, we continue our tradition of pioneering, not just in the mountains we climb but in our approach to protecting them.

How do you feel about the transition away from PFAS in outdoor apparel? Do you have any PFAS free products you're already loving? Let us know in the comments!

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