Good Gear: The Sweet Secret Behind Big Agnes’ Cushy Hiking Pads 


Sourcing progressive supplies to develop new merchandise is commonly like cooking a recipe: Combine in a bulk of expertise with a splash of luck and a pinch of detective work. When all of it comes collectively, a brand new product is born. 5 years in the past, Tony Roina, the sourcing director for Huge Agnes, had been trying to find a sustainable different to make use of within the closed-cell foam in sleeping pads for the reason that conventional squishy ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) is damaging to the setting. Then, a sneaker firm referred to as AllBirds launched a sugarcane-based foam in its footwear. Roina needed to know extra about how Huge Agnes might use one thing related in its sleeping pads. His sleuthing took him from the Huge Agnes headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to a sugarcane farm in Brazil.  

The end result: a candy answer for cushioned consolation. The important thing ingredient: a bio-based foam derived from sugarcane resin, referred to as TwisterCane™ BioFoam. Huge Agnes is the primary to convey this specific EVA alternative into the tenting world with its new sleeping pad and seat, which slash ounces whereas additionally lessening the model’s carbon footprint in comparison with petroleum-based merchandise. 

“We’re attempting to take small steps to alter supplies and make our merchandise extra sustainable to foster a greater relationship with the setting,” says Roina. Huge Agnes began utilizing solution-dyed cloth in its tents in 2021, a coloring course of that reduces water and vitality consumption throughout manufacturing. All of its down is Accountable Down Normal Licensed, and the model launched a Re-Routt™ assortment in 2008 that highlights merchandise constructed with recycled supplies.  

Two backpackers on a trail
Backpackers use the TwisterCane™ BioFoam sleeping pad, which was designed to be ultralight and fewer depending on petroleum.

Subsequent up: one of many extra ubiquitous supplies within the out of doors world. First popularized within the Seventies by health big Nike, EVA is usually used within the midsole of working and mountain climbing footwear. Some contemplate it a ‘Goldilocks’ materials: It nonetheless retains its form however squishes juuust sufficient to be snug. Because of this, additionally it is a staple materials in sleeping pads, including each cushion and heat for these sleeping on the bottom. Various applied sciences proceed to evolve, however EVA remains to be extensively used all through the tenting and footwear industries. 

However there’s a catch: EVA isn’t the greenest stuff on the market. First, one of many fundamental polymers that creates EVA comes from petrochemicals, or chemical substances straight derived from petroleum and fossil fuels, which account for a big chunk of planet-warming greenhouse gasoline emissions. (Along with EVA, a lot of out of doors attire and tools, from fleece jackets to nylon tent partitions and artificial base layers, have some kind of origin story in petrochemicals.) However it will get worse with EVA’s end-of-life problems. When EVA foam is thrown into landfills, it could take tons of of years to naturally degrade (most imagine bio-based foams will break down a lot faster). And because the foam does breakdown, it releases dangerous risky natural compounds (VOCs) into the setting, which leach into groundwater and rivers and contribute to the tropospheric ozone, a significant element of smog that triggers well being issues and is dangerous to crops and wildlife.  

That’s plenty of science, however the takeaway is obvious: much less petroleum-based EVA on this planet is one option to cut back a few of the dangerous impacts from fossil fuels.  

In 2019, Huge Agnes discovered an answer in Brazil, the world’s largest sugarcane producer. Sugarcane is a stalky grass that’s grown and harvested to provide, , sugar, however one byproduct of that refining course of is sugarcane resin. Huge Agnes labored with a Brazilian firm that had discovered how you can substitute in sugarcane resin for petrochemical resin. They reworked that sugarcane resin into pellets to make bio-based ethylene, which they used to create an EVA foam that makes use of 60%-70% bio-based supplies. The remaining 30%-40% remains to be constructed with a vinyl acetate to behave because the crosslinking agent that holds every little thing collectively. 

There are different environmental advantages to utilizing sugarcane resin. Like all plant, sugarcane absorbs carbon dioxide, and harvesting sugarcane is a carbon impartial course of. Huge Agnes additionally says that it sources its sugarcane resin from an organization whose harvesting system abides by Proforest requirements, pointers that help accountable sourcing and manufacturing of forestry assets.  

Woman at campsite sits on pad
A camper makes use of the TwisterCane™ BioFoam seat, which replaces a few of the conventional EVA foam with a fabric that makes use of sugarcane resin.

Finish outcomes: the TwisterCane™ BioFoam sleeping pad, constituted of greater than 60% sugarcane resin instead of the stuff that comes from petroleum. At a half-inch thick and weighing 14 ounces, the mats are constructed for ultralight backpacking adventures to remain aligned with Huge Agnes’ core viewers and ethos. It has a comparatively low R-value (1.7), which corresponds to its skill to withstand warmth loss from the bottom, so it’s finest suited to hotter temperatures. “This mat is nice,” says one REI Co-op member. “I swear, I received’t sleep with out it.”  

However right here’s the million-dollar query: Is that this “sugar foam” the way in which of the long run? Whereas he received’t disclose any specifics, Roina says that Huge Agnes is engaged on extra purposes for the bio-based foam. Loads of manufacturers are utilizing it within the midsoles of footwear, and sugarcane itself is making appearances in merchandise like technical ski gear by Image Natural Clothes and emergency fireplace starters just like the UCO Stormproof Sweetfire Starter Factors.  

It’s a sophisticated recipe to combine collectively quite a lot of suppliers, industries and applied sciences, however Roina enjoys the problem of bringing progressive and sustainable supplies to hikers and backpackers. “Any time we will get petrochemicals out of our merchandise, that’s a superb factor,” he says. “Each time we discover a materials with much less of a carbon impression, we’re going to give it a attempt.” 

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