Suddenly environmental issues seem to have reached a tipping point in public acceptance. Lay it at Al Gore’s door if you like. Blame the price of oil maybe. But suddenly every industry is scrambling to show off its green credentials and the roduct designers at outdoor gear manufacturers are no exception.
Take a look in your nearest outfitter these days and you’ll likely discover clothing and equipment with some unusual and even uncomfortable-sounding base materials. Two fibres in particular have made great strides: hemp and bamboo. Both have been used in textiles before but modern techniques are expanding their range and our new-found passion for things green is likely to see them crop up again and again in the future.
Mention this fibre and there’s usually an outbreak of nudging and winking thanks to the sub-species that is used to produce cannabis. The variety grown for its use in textiles has a very low level of active ingredients though and until the industrial revolution, this was the fibre of choice in many applications.
The sensitivity of drug enforcement agencies in the US has meant that growing hemp has been all but outlawed there but that may change that as hemp makes a comeback in clothing and other uses. Currently China produces 40% of the world’s hemp fibre and the US has to import what it needs – a situation no self-respecting American farmer is going to endure for long! The fibre used to be harsh against the skin but as with wool, recent advances in treatment have widened its use and it is now turning up in T-shirts, running tops and more. Its main advantage is its durability, obviously useful in an outdoor garment. Some apparel manufacturers even recommend washing it less as it gets more comfortable with wear, though clearer that’s easier to do in the US or Europe than in the sweatier parts of Asia.
If hemp is a long-lost friend, bamboo as a fibre is almost a complete stranger – to the West. Once again China is already ahead of the game but apparel manufacturers in many countries are now trying to catch up.
Softer than cotton with a cooler ’hand’ and a slight silky sheen, it has good wicking properties. This makes sense in outdoor wear, especially in warmer climes, and of course helpfully for the manufacturers, it grows like wildfire. What’s not to like? Shown here are just a few products available now, but most big outdoor brands have already added to their products for this or next season.