Q I'm looking for camping gear that's not made with chemicals. Does this exist?
A Camping without chemicals? How absurd! Don't you realize that humans have developed a full-blown addiction to space-age fabrics and can't spend a day in nature without them? No matter how earthy an outdoor gear store seems (you can almost hear the campfire and roaring rapids when you walk in), pretty much everything in those places is made with high-tech petroleum-based fabrics. Yes, they keep you dry and they're light as a feather in all sorts of weather. But you've got a steep hike ahead of you if you're looking for gear made of natural fibres. Sure, you can find organic long underwear at MEC, but it's next to impossible to find tents or sleeping bags locally that aren't made with synthetic materials of one kind and or another. Take tents, for instance even the canvas army types are often treated with fungicides, flame retardant or waterproofing chemicals, and many have vinyl bottoms that may off-gas harmful hormone-disrupting phthalates.
But fear not, you can track down a few online that are 100 per cent natural untreated cotton if you look really, really hard. Of course, you have to get past the salespeople who'll try to talk you out of it because these tents are so high-maintenance. Idaho-based Paddle Saddle Shop sells untreated canvas tents but warns that the naturally water-resistant material will shrink up to 10 per cent, making it a bitch to set up your poles. You'll have to cut them down as you go. Plus you're bound to end up with a mildew problem. Still, if it sounds like a good idea to you, check out www.packsaddleshop.com/hunterwalltent.html.
All-natural sleeping bags are no less rare, but they are far less problematic since they're not exposed to the elements. You can get 100 per cent unbleached cotton sleeping bags from Allergy Buyers Club (www.allergybuyersclubshopping.com/cf-be-dreambag-sleepsack.html). These don't offer much warmth, though.
As for your cookware, you'll want to stick with the basics and get stainless steel or titanium no non-stick surfaces, made with ultra-persistent perfluorated chemicals that accumulate in wildlife, for you. Don't want local wolves to hold a grudge while you're out in the woods.
You can buy organic hemp daypacks, duffle bags, water bottle slings, waist pouches, hiking satchels, passport holders, etc, at www.rawganique. com/ecolutionbags.htm.
Q Where can I take old camping gear to be reused instead of tossing it out?
A Moving on to a bigger, badder backpack for that trek around the world? Or maybe you never put those ice picks and crampons to much use. Whether it's a monsoon coat you only wore once or a two-person tent that just won't meet your family's needs, lots of you have old camping gear to unload and nowhere to put it. Why let your old sleeping bags sit in dank basements collecting mildew for a decade when you can sell it for a bucks to someone who could really use it (before you let it get mouldy, of course)? This is where Mountain Equipment Co-op's Outdoor Gear Swap website comes into play (www.outdoorgearswap.com). Several stores, including MEC and Europe Bound, have some used goods, but this website has more variety than you could dream of. Why buy new when you can reduce and reuse? Plus going the used route will save you cash. Get a North Face jacket for half off or great deals on canoes, camping stoves, snowboard and fleece shirts they're all here. If you're feeling generous and just want to give your old gear away, check out www.freecycle.com or post it on Craigslist (www.craigslist.org). All that good karma might just mean the blackflies will leave you alone.
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