Sourcing revolutionary 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 Massive Agnes, had been looking for a extra sustainable different to make use of within the closed-cell foam in sleeping pads because the conventional squishy ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) is damaging to the atmosphere. Then, a sneaker firm referred to as Allbirds launched a sugarcane-based foam in its footwear. Roina needed to know extra about how Massive Agnes may use one thing related in its sleeping pads. His sleuthing took him from the Massive Agnes headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to a sugarcane farm in Brazil.  

The outcome: a candy resolution for cushioned consolation. The important thing ingredient: a bio-based foam derived from sugarcane resin, referred to as TwisterCane™ BioFoam. Massive Agnes is the primary to deliver 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 atmosphere,” says Roina. Massive Agnes began utilizing solution-dyed cloth in its tents in 2021, a coloring course of that reduces water and power 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 outside world. First popularized within the Seventies by health large Nike, EVA is usually used within the midsole of operating and mountain climbing footwear. Some think about it a ‘Goldilocks’ materials: It nonetheless retains its form however squishes juuust sufficient to be snug. Because of this, it’s also a staple materials in sleeping pads, including each cushion and heat for these sleeping on the bottom. Different applied sciences proceed to evolve, however EVA continues 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 important polymers that creates EVA comes from petrochemicals, or chemical substances instantly derived from petroleum and fossil fuels, which account for a big chunk of planet-warming greenhouse fuel emissions. (Along with EVA, a lot of outside attire and gear, 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 issues. When EVA foam is thrown into landfills, it will possibly 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 atmosphere, which leach into groundwater and rivers and contribute to the tropospheric ozone, a serious part of smog that triggers well being issues and is dangerous to vegetation and wildlife.  

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

In 2019, Massive Agnes discovered an answer in Brazil, the world’s largest sugarcane producer. Sugarcane is a stalky grass that’s grown and harvested to supply, you already know, sugar, however one byproduct of that refining course of is sugarcane resin. Massive Agnes labored with a Brazilian firm that had realized methods to 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% continues to be constructed with a vinyl acetate to behave because the crosslinking agent that holds the whole lot collectively. There are different environmental advantages to utilizing sugarcane resin. Like several plant, sugarcane absorbs carbon dioxide, and harvesting sugarcane is a carbon impartial course of.

Massive Agnes TwisterCane BioFoam Sleeping Pad (49.95).

Finish outcomes: the TwisterCane™ BioFoam sleeping pad, created from greater than 60% sugarcane resin rather than 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 Massive 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 greatest suited to hotter temperatures. “This mat is nice,” says one REI Co-op member. “I swear, I gained’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 gained’t disclose any specifics, Roina says that Massive Agnes is engaged on extra functions 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 hearth starters just like the UCO Stormproof Sweetfire Starter Factors.  

It’s an advanced recipe to combine collectively a wide range of suppliers, industries and applied sciences, however Roina enjoys the problem of bringing revolutionary and sustainable supplies to hikers and backpackers. “Any time we will get petrochemicals out of our merchandise, that’s a great factor,” he says. “At any time when we discover a materials with much less of a carbon affect, we’re going to give it a attempt.” 



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