What was the best piece of sustainable gear introduced into your life in 2020?
If there’s anything we can agree on, it’s that 2020 has been a challenging year—one filled with lows and highs so expansive and dramatic, trekking from month to month has felt like a hike worthy of the Himalayas.
But, as with the gnarliest of expeditions, it all comes with opportunities for growth—with the chance to practice tracking the silver linings—the bird chirps in a rainstorm, or the resonant echo of a thunderclap, the depth of emotion when falling short of a goal, the thrill of pushing through a scary climbing move.
In that spirit, the spirit of acknowledging hardship but also celebrating its fruits, we gathered a range of forward-thinking folks who love the environment—athletes, gear journalists, organizational leaders, and more—to reflect on a positive aspect of their year.
We asked them: What was the best piece of sustainable gear introduced into your life in 2020? What makes it so special? Here’s what they had to say.
“My favorite piece of sustainable gear would have to be the Resisting Bitch Face Kula Cloth. I love that Kula Cloth is a woman-owned brand whose products reduce waste and make being in the outdoors easier and more fun. Plus the Resisting Bitch Face graphic captures our current 2020 (and maybe forever) mood.”
A Kula Cloth is “an intentionally (and obsessively) designed reusable antimicrobial pee cloth,” which not only eliminates the need to bring toilet paper into the backcountry, but also helps women maintain optimal hygiene. Gurecki wasn’t the only one impressed with how the Kula Cloth revolutionized life for the better; Alli Fronzaglia, co-founder of the outdoor group, Boulder Hiker Chicks, vehemently agreed.
In June, Fronzaglia bought the limited edition “Solidarity” cloth, designed by Colorado-based black artist Latasha Dunston (@jitterbug_art). “The design is awesome,” she says. “I love supporting local BIPOC artists, and the cloth is super functional and saves me from wasting toilet paper or tissues. It’s great for day hikes and backpacking!”
Kyle Richardson, a professional mountain runner, points to Black Diamond’s Stonehauler Pro 30L Duffel as a piece of sustainable gear that’s changed his life for the better. As he’s been setting speed records around the mountain west, he says, “This has been my go-to travel bag this year. Made with 100% recycled 600d x 1500d SuperGrid Body Material with Blue Sign approved color dyeing process. Besides being made from fully recycled materials, I love that the bag has a dedicated ‘Dirty clothes, shoes, etc.’ pocket that helps keep the pack organized.”
He also notes La Sportiva’s Mythos Eco climbing shoe, a fresh take on one of the most iconic rock slippers of all time. Ninety-five percent of the shoe is constructed from recycled materials—soles, webbing, tongue padding—and the use of biodegradable leather, water-based adhesives, and metal-free tanning process further reduce the shoe’s environmental impact. “La Sportiva Eco-Rubber outsoles are made by recycling the rubber used during the production process at the La Sportiva factory, with no sacrifice in performance,” according to Richardson. “I really like the classic look of the Mythos. A great all day climbing shoe with added eco benefits!”
Award-winning gear journalist Amelia Arvesen says this year she’s been wearing the Appalachian Gear Co. All-Paca Crew “all the time for everything.” Made from 100% Alpaca fiber, the crew is lightweight-but-warm and extremely durable—one of Appalachian Gear Co.’s signature pieces.
“It works for running, climbing, hiking, biking, and for whenever I’m cold, which is often,” Arvesen notes. “In that way, it’s sustainable. I only need one garment for all of those activities. And it’s also made of alpaca wool, so it’s also a natural fiber. No microplastics shedding off this one.”
Before the COVID-induced Shelter In Place orders, ultra-runner superstar Cat Bradley had never owned a pair of sweatpants. “But lounging around the house all spring, I came to my senses,” she says, and searched for a pair as eco-friendly as they were comfy. That’s when she discovered Outerknown’s sweatpant line, a collection of cozy lounging pants from the sustainability-forward company started by surfing legend Kelly Slater.
Bradley says she likes the super-soft feel of the USA-milled organic cotton. “Organic cotton cuts out all the harmful synthetic chemicals used to grow conventional cotton, making for safer working conditions for farmers and a healthier planet. Some may not call it gear, but when you are living full-time out of a van, I have found sweats to be crucial in comfort. It’s important to have something comfy to throw on after a cold run, when the luxuries of vanlife are limited!”
Amanda Hankison is a professional snowboarder, and this year she devoted herself to an educated, intentional plant-based diet. “I took a class and found out that even though I was vegetarian I was far from being healthy. Once I started doing some meal prepping I found that my groceries were more affordable, created a lot less packaging waste, and nourished me far beyond the processed diet I was using,” she says. “Cooking with more plants helps me stay in touch with nature even when I’m too busy with work and training to make it outside. Stronger and healthier than ever going into 2021!”
Aside from that, Hankison is proud of The North Face (her sponsor) for partnering with The Renewal Workshop and expanding its new resale site, The North Face Renewed. “I love being able to get pieces that have life left in them instead of a brand new piece of gear. It makes the affordable and retro finds at ski town consignment shops accessible to anyone with an internet connection,” she says. “I’m really happy to see a big corporation like The North Face working with domestic partners to give apparel a second life, saving it from a landfill.”
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.