EcoPak – Revolutionizing Thru-Hiking Packs for a Better Planet
Many of us hike because we love nature, so being able to reduce our impact on the planet is very welcomed by the community. Normally, being more eco-conscious means a tradeoff somewhere down the line. Synthetic jackets historically haven’t insulated as well as their down counterparts, vegan materials can wear faster, and plant-based meat replacements don’t tend to taste as good as their meatier originals (if you disagree you can enlighten me in the comments).
What if you could do your bit for the planet in the choices of gear you purchase, without having to make the same tradeoffs? That’s where the new EcoPak fabrics can help. These cutting edge materials have been rapidly adopted by the thru-hiking gear industry, boasting better specs than the fabrics they replace – with a much smaller environmental footprint.
What is EcoPak?
EcoPak is a new lineup of fabrics made by Connecticut-based Challenge Sailcloth, a supplier for boat sails and kiteboarding. For 2021, the company’s focus has been to develop sustainable materials. To do this, they’ve designed a line of fabrics using solvent-free glue, CFC-free water repellent coatings, and 100% recycled yarns. Hale Walcoff, the chief designer of the new fabrics, was previously the brains behind the X-Pac fabrics that are popular in many hiking packs today.
There are 17 different materials/thicknesses in the EcoPak lineup, all with different qualities, but in general, they absorb 80% less moisture, last longer, and have better UV resistance and color retention than traditional laminated nylon. There are two main fabrics that are currently being used by thru-hiking manufacturers: EPLUltra200 and EPX200. Both are ultralight, waterproof, durable, and made of recycled polyester.
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EcoPak is arguably the most environmentally friendly pack fabric in the world.
All EcoPak materials are either 100% recycled or use recycled components alongside low-energy methods of production. Each yard of Ecopak fabric uses at least 20 recycled plastic bottles in the process and emits 50% less CO2 than nylon, saving over a pound of CO2 per yard. In addition, the production uses no solvents, fluorocarbons, or ovens, and creates no wastewater.
What’s even more impressive is that by reducing energy consumption, cutting waste, and improving the manufacturing process, the material costs suppliers about 20% less per yard less than traditional fabrics like X-Pac: truly a win-win.
What is EPX200?
Made from 100% recycled polyester and being recyclable after use, this fabric truly goes out of its way to minimize its ecological footprint. It’s most similar to the hugely popular Xpac fabric VX21. EPX 200 is 100% waterproof, weighs about 10% less than its traditional nylon counterpart, and—thanks to a 70d ripstop backing—it benefits from holding stitches and having superior tear strength. It comes in a huge array of colors, meaning you can rock some pretty funky backpacks.
What is EPL ULTRA 200?
If you’re looking for the best tech specs in a material at the lightest benchmark, this is the one. At 3.5 ounces per square yard, this material is seriously light. For reference, that is the same weight as the Dyneema Composite material (DCH50) used by Hyperlite in their Pack lineup. Where the Ultra 200 outshines DCF is that it boasts much better longevity.
With three times the tear strength and seven times the abrasion resistance of DCH, EcoPak claims that “it far exceeds the technical properties of any similar weight fabric available on planet earth.” Available in black or white and fully waterproof, stitching can also be seam taped to achieve full waterproofness.
What do cottage manufacturers have to say about EcoPak?
I reached out to a couple of bag manufacturers as part of penning this story and all had glowing reviews.
Tom Gale, the founder of Atoms Packs, said:
There is major waste and environmental harm in the world of textiles and, whilst these Challenge materials are not completely without harm, they are a major step in the right direction. They have also improved on some of the problems with x-pac whilst creating a product that is lighter, cheaper and at least as durable.
In a nutshell: A better fabric at a better price that does less overall harm and cuts and sews as good as if not better than it’s nearest competitor whilst still looking utterly awesome… What’s not to like!?
August, the founder of Blind Banana Bags, said:
Testing has shown that the new Ultraweave fabrics do away with the drawbacks of other woven and non-woven UHMWPE fabrics. Namely abrasion, lamination, and seam holding properties. They actually fare better than practically any other waterproof fabric I’ve tested in these regards. While they perform well from a technical perspective there is still heavy real-world testing to be done. It is promising though and I don’t think I could name a more optimal fabric for ultralight packs.
Mark Benson, founder of Waymark Gear, said:
So far we have released the EPX200 in Red to our THRU, LITE and MILE packs but plan to expand this to different colors and models over time. The environmental aspect was a large part of the decision, and upon discovering that the fabric is essentially equal in performance to Xpac, slightly lighter, and at a lower cost it was an absolute no brainer.
Finally, Pa’Lante Packs have written a great post explaining why they’ve moved to the material on their V2 pack.
What is available on the market today?
Atom Packs seem to have embraced these new fabrics faster than others, as far as we can tell. True to their history of wanting to reduce their carbon footprint, all Atom Packs thru-hiking packs now come standard with EPX200. Ultra 200 is also available on their custom backpacks. If you do decide to go for a custom pack, every minor detail of the bag can be adjusted. Pack sizes range from 30L for the Atom (14.3oz), up to 60L (33oz) with the framed Mo pack.
MSRP: Packs start from $220 for the 30L Atom.
Blind Banana Bags
Denmark-based Blind Banana Bags is a relatively young company, having only established three years ago. The new Plantain Ultra pack utilizes the Ultra 200 and Ultra 400 fabric to create an impressively low frameless pack weight of 12oz pack. The pack sizes range from 30 – 40 liters.
MSRP: Starts at $300.
The popular Curve packs from LiteAF also benefit from Ultra 200 in their lineup. Packs range from 30 to 46L and can be fully customized to your liking. The only downside of using Ultra200 is that you’re no longer able to use the awesome colors that LiteAF is famous for – although that may change in the future. Weights start at 11oz (this assumes the smallest torso size at 30L with no customizations).
MSRP: Starts at $225 for the 30L pack
The Lite 50L and Thru 40L come with the option to swap the standard VX21 to EPX200. At the moment, this is only available in red, but I imagine that over time more colors will come if EPX proves popular. This should happen, considering it has superior properties to VX21.
MSRP: Starts at $240 for the 40L pack.
The V2 from Palante is a 31 or 37-liter pack available in Ultra 200. This pack starts at an impressive 16.8 oz but is restricted to two relatively small, frameless models.
MSRP: Packs start from $240.
While EcoPak has made serious inroads into the cottage pack industry, I was curious to see what the future held for more sustainable tents. So I reached out to Hale, the Chief Designer of EcoPak at Challenge Sailcloth to find out:
We have new lighter Ultra fabric styles in development, that should be ready late 2021: 1. Ultra 100: 100d Ultra weave pack fabric with target weight of 2.9oz/sqyd 2.UltraTarp: .95oz/sqyd laminate with Ultra yarn for stretch resistance and tear-strength.
The UltraTarp material looks like it will compare well against nylon materials like the one used in our TarpTent Double Rainbow albeit a bit heavier than the DCF fabrics being used in tents like the Duplex by Zpacks (.55oz/sqyd for the canopy fabric). That said, while the UltraTarp weight does seem a tad heavier, we’ll have to see if it comes with superior durability.
Having heard about EcoPak fabrics, I’m going to have a hard time being convinced to use anything else on the market. The fabrics have better durability than the beloved X-Pac and DCF counterparts at the same weight and have the best environmental qualities out of anything available today. I’m really excited to see EcoPak being adopted so quickly by the industry, something only possible because the material is simultaneously cheaper, more durable, and better for the planet. Hopefully, we see the same occur in the tent department once this material becomes available to gear companies.
Have you used EcoPak Fabrics? Are we missing a gear company using EcoPak? Think there is a superior material? Let us know in the comments.
Note: some quotes have been shortened for brevity.
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