Plastic Clothing and Gear at the Outdoor Retailer Exhibition

Sea Kayak

What do you get when you pack outdoors fanatics into a massive exhibit hall with a plethora of outfitters touting their latest merchandise? A whole lot of excitement. And maybe a little claustrophobia …

Plastics Make it Possible® traveled to Salt Lake City to attend the 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, the annual exhibition that gathers thousands of outdoorsy companies to show off their innovative gear and clothing, from boats to boots to board shorts.

So what stood out? The widespread use of plastics to improve performance and sustainability. Here are some of the cool things we saw …

Smith Optics makes really tough but lightweight plastic goggles and helmets for winter and motor sports. The frames of the goggles are made with flexible polyurethane plastic, so they conform securely to the face and maintain flexibility even in extreme cold. But here’s the kicker: the polyurethane is recycled from manufacturing waste collected from other companies, so the plastics contribute to performance and sustainability. The company also uses polyurethanes made with plant-based feedstocks. Smith Optics helmets combine super-strong ABS plastic and shock-absorbing expanded polystyrene for protection and comfort—plus recycled polyester-based fabrics for the lining.

Rethink uses recycled plastic soda and water bottles to make versatile fabrics for clothing. (This type of plastic commonly is called PET when used for packaging and polyester when used for clothing.) Plastic bottles are melted and spun into yarn that is woven into soft, durable fabrics that dry quickly and help wick away sweat, according to Rethink. Many of the company’s garments include a small tag with a bottle count; for example, one of their basic men’s T-shirts diverts 14 plastic bottles from landfills. Recycled plastics in clothing are becoming rather chic: well-known brands and celebrities are partnering with Rethink to spread the word about the environmental benefits of recycling plastics.

Sea Eagle sells a range of inflatable kayaks, fishing boats, and small sailboats made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, an extremely durable, water-resistant plastic that can stand up to rough rapids, sea salt, pet claws, and more. Because the plastic is lightweight—the company’s most popular kayak weighs only 26 pounds—you can transport these vessels in the trunk of your car and inflate them onsite. Some of the company’s electric boat engines are recharged by the sun, thanks to a solar panel mounted on a flexible plastic sheet that can be rolled up and stored when not in use.

Sazzi makes sustainable sport sandals with foam plastics sourced from post-consumer and post-manufacturing waste. The soft but durable foam plastics are water-resistant and provide cushioning and support, so the sandals are often used for outdoor activities, even on rugged terrain, says Sazzi. While the sandals are built to last for years, the company accepts them for recycling when they’ve outlived your needs.

The Spooner Board was created in a San Diego surf shop and has morphed into a series of durable, lightweight HDPE plastic boards that allow you to “surf” on just about any surface. You can mimic surfing, skateboarding, or snowboarding on these spoon-shaped boards, indoors and out. The boards have become popular in elementary school physical education departments to help develop coordination, motor skills, balance, and core strength, according to the company.  Thanks to lightweight but tough plastics, even young children can carry and use them—and the company guarantees them for life.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. It was rather astounding to see how plastics—these relatively new materials—have become such an integral part of outdoor gear, contributing to performance, safety, sustainability … and sheer adventure.

Now get out there and have some fun!