Wait … That’s Plastic? (Great Outdoors Edition)

5 things you might not know are made with plastics.

Ah, the great outdoors! Chances are when you head outside for fun and adventure, you’re relying on modern innovations made possible by plastics. Let’s explore…

I think we’re gonna need a better boat…

Friends enjoying sailboat ride

Captain Quint’s boat in the movie “Jaws” may have been made of wood, but the bulk of today’s modern pleasure craft—from popular Hobie Cat catamarans to workhorse Boston Whalers to sleek go-fast boats—are made with strong, lightweight plastics and polymer composites. The most common composite is glass fiber-reinforced plastics, better known as fiberglass. These materials enable creative and unique designs; plus they’re inherently waterproof, durable, and easy to care for. So you can spend more time on the water and less in dry dock on repairs and maintenance. (And, of course, lightweight kayaks and paddleboards also are made with plastics… but you knew that.)

Hiking boots are leather, right? Maybe.

Hiking boots

Animal leathers once totally ruled the hiking boot world. But they can be heavy, kind of pricey, and they can take a long time to break in… and to dry when they get soaked. The plastic fabrics used in modern hiking boots can be ventilated to help your toes breath while also keeping out trail dirt and dust. They also can provide insulation and help keep your feet dry to make those long hikes more comfortable. That’s why most of today’s boots are made of tough, durable nylon and other plastics. Add the cushy foam insole, the tough tread, the long lasting laces… today’s boots are basically a composite of durable plastics. Plus—they’re lighter than ever, so they help remedy the enduring hiker’s lament: a pound on the foot is like five pounds on the back.

Sheep are getting shut out of cold weather clothes

Backside of backpacker looking at winter rocky landscape view

A few decades ago, wool was the go-to fabric for keeping you warm outdoors, from the ski slopes to the football bleachers. Hey, it works for sheep, right? But take a look at your bleacher buddies today: sleek and rugged jackets, puffy fiber-filled coats, hi-tech wind and rain repellent fabrics, thermal insulated hoodies—mostly all plastics such as nylon and polyester, some of which are both water-resistant and breathable. Which certainly beats getting your wool coat wet in cold weather… And get this: many companies are making outdoor clothes out of recycled plastics, including one that’s been doing it since 1993!

Climbing ropes: cotton? hemp? sisal? silk? Nah…

Female rock climber rappelling.

Whether you’re climbing up, rappelling down, or hanging over the side of a cliff, you’re going to want to make sure that rope will hold you, your pack, your buddy, your life. That’s why natural fibers lost out a long time ago to tough, durable plastics (typically nylon), the go-to materials for climbing ropes. Typical “dynamic” climbing ropes are made with a nylon core covered by a softer nylon sheath—this allows the rope to stretch to better absorb the impact of a falling climber. Thank you, plastics…

Now, hold that downward dog pose (while looking great in plastics).

Young sporty fit woman doing yoga outdoors in mountains

There’s nothing like striking yoga poses outdoors while overlooking the ocean or high on a mountaintop… or just stretching on your back deck. Next time you’re in a yoga or sporting goods store, check out the labels on the leggings, tops, shorts, and other clothing. Mostly nylon, polyester, acrylic, spandex… all plastic fibers that make up today’s modern stretchy, comfy, sweat-wicking fabrics. And those yoga mats? They’re typically made with cushioning plastic foams or composites, making them durable and cushy. Namaste…

Boats, hiking boots, cold weather clothes, climbing ropes, yoga clothes… Surprised?

See the original list: 6 things you might not know are made with plastics … and the sequel … the Safety Edition … plus the Sports Edition.