I'm bad at gear reviews
Here & There - 02.03.23
I’m not a great gear reviewer. Part of this is a stubborn belief that most gear is basically the same, and some of it has been an increasing desire to stay minimal over the last few years as my living situation has been up in the air. To me, gear is so specific to each person, and more about enablement of our activities than it really is about “details”. We remember powder laps with friends, shared suffering in the alpine, and stories told around a campfire or wood stove after a long day. As long as you’re not freezing cold or soaked to the bone, nobody is going to remember exactly what they were wearing that day.
On the other hand, you have gear writing like this 1,000 word article about the new Yeti Yonder water bottle that must be parody. I mean, props to the Yeti PR team for landing the dozen articles I’ve seen so far but it is a PLASTIC WATER BOTTLE.
All that aside, I still occasionally have the opportunity to have interesting conversations about new gear and initiatives. It’s been a while since I’ve done a true “work” trip, but I jumped on the opportunity a few weeks ago to spend time at Colorado Mountain School’s new yurt on Cameron Pass. What followed was 3 days of great conversations, great skiing, and using some of Rab’s gear in the kind of environment it’s designed for.
So was the gear any good? I’m pretty sold on the Vapour Rise Summit Jacket, which I did not take off once while touring or skiing. It breathed incredibly well, certainly one of the most versatile lightweight jackets I’ve ever used. With a light base-layer underneath, I was comfortable on both the up and the down, and added a shell (Rab Khroma Kinetic) when the wind started cutting though. I’d compare it to the Arcteryx Atom LT — while it’s perhaps a *smidge* less warm, it breathes better and feels more useful at a range of effort levels (particularly higher effort). Conveniently, I left my Atom on a plane last month, so there’s currently room in my wardrobe for a new entrant 😭. I fully expect to wear the Vapour on every ski tour for the foreseeable future.
The pants (Khroma Latok GTX) didn’t agree with me quite as much. While well constructed, durable, and comfortable, the more freeride style fit didn’t sit great with my physique. I couldn’t really find the sweet spot between a medium and a large.
That’s all you get, ~200 words 😄
The most interesting aspect for me wasn’t the gear itself, it was digging into Rab’s approach to sustainability. They’re very open about where they’re pushing forward, where they’re lacking, and how limitations around technology and material partners currently affect their usage of more sustainable materials. They’ve increased their recycled material usage from 49% in 2020 to 63% in 2021. A new initiative called Material Facts seeks to provide a way to to see more detailed information about *all* their products (and not just the most sustainable ones). With these labels, designed in the style of nutrition facts, Rab hopes to bring more transparency to their gear — at a greater level of detail than you typical see, hopefully encouraging other manufacturers to move in this direction as well.
A few challenges:
As with most sustainability initiatives, things are complicated and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.
Visibility. While this info will be available on their website, it’ll still be behind a QR code on tags. I think that extra step adds enough friction that it might be a significant barrier to consumer understanding around this initiative. Does this significantly impact the goals of Material Facts? Probably. Hopefully Rab will continue to think of ways to put this info forward and make sure it’s in front of consumers.
The “completeness” of data. While Material Facts is currently focused on % recycled materials and PFCs, there is a range of other data that ties into sustainability. The fact table doesn’t include the actual materials the product is made out of — which could be an interesting data point for consumers. Is the lining more plastic, or ethically sourced merino wool? Even if you’re well meaning, calculations like carbon footprint can be difficult at best and completely wrong/misleading at worst. Third party verification is another component — even if you think your products are PFA/PFC free, there can be cases where a component of your supply chain is less than honest.
Technology limitations. Particularly in more “technically advanced” products, there are limitations imposed by the relationship between fabric, coatings, and technology usage. When companies use technologies developed by partners (different types of waterproof coatings, etc), they have less influence over the methods in which it is produced and it may have a less sustainable manufacturing process.
What I like:
Detail. Most manufacturers do not show breakdowns at this level of detail when it comes to sustainability info — they often hide things like zips/trims/etc behind and asterisk when it comes to recycled materials and PFCs. Think “PFC Free*” where the * is “zippers and linings may contain some amount of PFCs”
Showing the good and things to be improved. Committing to roll out Material Facts across their entire range (eventually) serves as a forcing function both internally to motivate Rab to increase the sustainability across their entire line as well as highlighting areas where technology partners might represent a limitation in sustainability efforts. Some jackets will be shows as 89% recycled materials and some will be 5%.
Pushing forward. Another positive of this approach is that Rab is actively pushing other brands to use similar design paradigms to illustrate the makeup of their own products. It’s yet to be seen if anyone will take up the challenge, but perhaps it’s a push the industry needs — more transparent, more standardized methods of displaying often opaque data about sustainability is certainly needed.
At the end of the day, it’s interesting to have these kinds of complex conversations with brands about their goals and how they want to present themselves to consumers. Material Facts seems like a interesting step in the right direction, even if there is a lot of room from improvement. Rab also does a ton of other sustainability work as well, but it’s not quite as easily synthesized into “consumer friendly” and marketing-worthy bite size chunks.
Many thanks to Meteorite PR for the invite and open conversations, and my partner Sarah for helping me dig into the minutiae of various pros and cons around how sustainability efforts are communicated.
And a few more pics from Cameron Pass 🤘