Gear: September 2009 Archives


September 9, 2009

Eu-Jin Goh pointed out to me that Patagonia is cancelling their relationship with Sigg:
Patagonia formally announced on September 4th that it would terminate all co-branding and co-marketing efforts with SIGG, Inc. It has come to Patagonia's attention from recent news reports that a Bisphenol A (BPA) epoxy coating was used in most aluminum SIGG bottles manufactured prior to August 2008, despite earlier assurances from SIGG that the liners of their bottles did not contain BPA. Bisphenol A is a chemical that Patagonia does not support the use of in consumer products, hence the company has terminated its co-branding relationship with SIGG. In addition, Patagonia is ceasing the sale of SIGG bottles in its stores, as well as through its catalog and on-line distribution.


"We did our homework on the topic of BPA, going all the way back to 2005 when this subject first emerged in discussions in scientific journals" Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's VP of environmental initiatives states. "We even arranged for one of the leading scientists on BPA research to come to our company to educate us on the issue. Once we concluded there was basis for concern, we immediately pulled all drinking bottles that contained BPA from our shelves and then searched for a BPA-free bottle. We very clearly asked SIGG if there was BPA in their bottles and their liners, and they clearly said there was not. After conducting such thorough due diligence, we are more than chagrined to see the ad that is appearing in Backpacker, but we also feel that with this explanation our customers will appreciate and understand our position."

The last paragraph is the most interesting for me. In Sigg's public statements, it seems like they were mostly evasive, but it would be interesting to know if they flat-out lied to Patagonia. I'm starting to think Sigg may take a pretty big hit here: people bought their product cause they were trying to get away from BPA and seem more upset with Sigg than with Nalge, who never denied their product had BPA in it, just kept saying it was OK until they finally caved and brought out a non-BPA bottle. So, even though it seems like there was more BPA risk from Nalgene (if you believe the studies) people seem more angry at Sigg because they feel like Sigg wasn't honest.

Also, check out this interview (also via Eu-Jin) with Adam Bradley, who just set a new record for thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (from Mexico to Canada).


September 6, 2009

You may recall that a year ago when people started to have serious concerns about Bisphenol-A, Sigg was supporting research on BPA leaching and generally marketing themselves as a safer alternative to BPA-based polycarbonate bottles such as Nalgene [Note: Nalgene stopped selling polycarbonate bottles.] During this time period, Sigg was fairly evasive about the exact construction of their bottles. As I wrote last August:
Sigg bottles (yes, the ones that look like fuel bottles) are a backpacking standard and have had a resurgence since people went off Nalgene. They're aluminum, not stainless, with a plastic cap. Because of concerns over aluminum leaching into your drink, they're coated with some unspecified (but they swear it's safe!) proprietary enamel-type coating. I like the Sigg a lot better than the Klean Kanteen, but it's not perfect.

It's recently become clear why they were evasive: the coating on the bottles contained BPA. They've replaced the coating with a new co-polyester based "EcoCare" coating. (I'm curious if this is the same material used in the new Nalgene bottles). Sigg's defense is that they never said anything untrue: They claim (and this is supported by a Sigg-sponsored study) that the old bottles contained BPA but didn't leach BPA. I'm not sure how seriously one needs to take this: if you believe Sigg's study, then the bottles really don't leach BPA, but on the other hand, I have one Sigg bottle and the liner seems to the cap, which isn't encouraging in terms of feeling like you're not ingesting anything. Anyway, if you decide you want to replace your bottles Sigg is currently running an exchange program; you ship them your bottles and they somehow replace them. On the other hand, I bought my Sigg at REI, so it's easier for me to return it there.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Eu-Jin Goh for pointing out this story to me.


September 5, 2009

Probably the two pieces of backpacking gear where fit is most important are your pack and whatever you wear on your feet. In both cases, the gear is an interface between your body and a heavy load, so it's important to have something that works for you or you're likely to end up in serious discomfort. Back in the old days, everyone used to wear hiking boots but as lightweight backpacking has started to take off, it's become a lot more popular (and more practical) to wear something lighter, generally some sort of trail runner. I've always worn hiking boots but this time I decided to transition to trail runners. Since I already had experience with them, I decided to go with Inov-8 Roclite 295s. I've worn these for plenty of trail miles and I know they fit well and are comfortable, though they wear fast, so I bought a new pair and just lightly broke them in before my trip.

I had two major concerns about transitioning to a trail shoe: ankle protection and water resistance. One of the claimed benefits of a hiking boot is that the high top protects your ankles, but after my most recent trip to Emigrant Wilderness, my ankles were still pretty beat up in my boots so I figured trail shoes weren't likely to be much worse. A few short hikes with them seemed to confirm that. My second concern was water resistance. Like many hiking boots, mine are Gore-Tex lined and so waterproof at least until you step into water above the top of the boot. The Inov-8s are largely mesh and so not water resistant at all. I considered getting a Gore-Tex trail shoe, but the problem with those is that they don't drain and since a low shoe increases the chance you'll step into water above the top of the shoe, I figured better to have mesh shoe that drains fast. I also brought a pair of VFFs for stream crossings and use as a camp shoe.

As far as socks go, standard procedure is to wear two pairs: a liner sock and a thick hiking sock, but with a shoe this light I decided to skip that and just wear Injinji Tetrasoks. I've worn these for plenty of runs and races and know they're comfortable and wanted to give my feet some space to breathe. I initially brought two pairs of Injinjis and one of hiking socks as a backup, but I never wore the hiking socks and traded them in for Injinjis at Muir Trail Ranch.

Overall, this system worked out moderately well. While I was initially worried about the water issue, it turned out not to be a problem. On day 4 or so I stepped ankle deep in a stream and it just turned out not to be that bad. My feet dried quickly and I was comfortable enough that I didn't feel like I needed a water shoe. Unlike other trips I've done, my feet didn't feel horribly beaten up at the end of the day and I found myself just wearing the Inov-8s without socks and unlaced to walk around camp. I never wore the VFFs and when I got to Muir Trail Ranch I shipped them home: no point in carrying an extra 300g of useless shoe. The Injinjis got dirty fast but I was able to wash them in streams and keep them from getting too filthy.

I said I was reasonably comfortable, but I did experience two problems. First, by day 7 or so, due to some combination of rocky terrain forcing constant pronation and supination, fatigue, and maybe just being poked by the occasional rock was starting to wear on me and the outside of both feet started to hurt in mid-metatarsal. I was worried this would be trip-ending but keeping a high load of naproxen and wrapping a couple of strips of tape around each foot seemed to relieve the pain enough that I only got occasional twinges if I really stepped wrong. This was uncomfortable but not fatal and after the 9th day I was no longer seriously worried about this killing the trip—two weeks later my right foot still hurts though, so I'll have to see how long it takes to recover. It's hard to know if this would be a problem in hiking boots, since it only happened after a week or so and I've never been out that long before.

The second problem is that the Injinjis wear fast and by days 9 and 10 the pair I was wearing had gotten so threadbare that I got a blister on the ball of my right foot. This was my only blister the entire trip and I just drained it and kept going, so overall this was very minor. Still, it serves as a reminder that you need to pay attention to your sock wear and in the future I might bring one more extra pair of socks.

All things considered, I don't think I'd go back to boots. They're less comfortable for short trips at least and the weight penalty is just too extreme. However, I might try out other trail shoes or experiment to see why I started to develop foot problems towards the end. I should also mention that I beat up the Inov-8s pretty badly—200-300 miles is about normal for a trail shoe and the soles on these had worn pretty far down and the synthetic leather part of the uppers was starting to peel off the mesh. I suspect another week and they might have started to fall apart on me. Even as things were, I had to replace the Engo patches that stopped me from getting heel blisters. I'm not complaining here: it's just something you would need to keep an eye on if you were doing a lot of backpacking in lightweight shoes.