Words by Greg Hardy
In 1998 a lawsuit started that would eventually lead to the 2016 ban of long chain perfluorochemicals (PFCs) used in US manufacturing. This ban affects a broad range of products including carpets, non-stick cookware, and your outdoor gear. PFCs shed water and stains exceptionally well, and for outdoor gear they are most commonly used for the durable water repellent (DWR) coating on fabric. The long chain variation of PFCs that have at least eight carbon chains (known as C8) are the targets of the 2016 ban as these chemicals have been determined to be carcinogens and toxic to our environment. Despite this ban, it’s estimated that 98% of Americans have PFCs in our blood and that they continue to damage our health and environment.
After the ban, responsible outdoor gear companies transitioned to a different PFC that has a shorter carbon chain, a 6 carbon molecule termed C6. Today, almost all of your X-Pac fabrics use this C6 DWR. While it is still a PFC, this C6 alternative breaks down faster and is not as persistent in our environment. While C6 is probably safer compared to its banned alternative, it doesn’t mean it’s safe in general. The switch to a shorter-chain PFC is a step in the right direction, but it’s not our safest option.
So which DWR is best? The final solution for outdoor gear seems to be nothing short of PFC-free DWRs. Last Monday (April 13th, 2020), Advanced Textile Source published a press release declaring the imminent ban of C6 in Europe. The PFC-free advocacy in Europe combined with the influence of a few progressive, US apparel companies has created an opportunity for Rockgeist and our customers.
We are happy to announce that since January 2020 we have been using black X-Pac that is made with a natural-based, PFC-free DWR. This innovative and safe DWR is created by Switzerland-based chemical company Archroma, and is named Smartrepel®. Unfortunately, as a small cottage gear company, Smartrepel X-Pac is difficult to source for us. Availability is dependent on the purchasing power of large European companies and for the moment we can only offer Smartrepel in VX-21 Black X-Pac.
After 5 months of testing we have seen no discernible DWR differences between Smartrepel and C6. In fact, our Smartrepel is coated on a base fabric that is more abrasion resistant than its C6 equivalent. The VX21 Black Smartrepel we are using has a nylon base that gets an additional step of applied heat and pressure. As a result, the nylon fabric slightly melts and mats down the fiber ends creating a “wet” or shiny look. This process increases the abrasion resistance, which is arguably the most important material property for bikepacking gear.
To take a deeper dive into this DWR story visit Rockgeist’s Smartrepel page where they talk more about the DWR ban, Smartrepel, and why they think DWRs are one of the least important material properties for bikepacking gear.
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