Looking at Páramo’s toxic-free outdoor clothing

28 February 2016

Páramo jackets are PFC free - and that's just the start

As I recently wrote elsewhere, I have a plan to get outside more in the coming year. Some serious walking and trekking. And we don’t intend to be feeble fair-weather walkers, do we? Oh, no. But the outdoors gear could do with a bit of a refresh, since I have nothing that doesn’t pre-date my original adventures over ten years ago.

But what are the best options, from the point of view of environmental impact on the one hand and performance on the other?

Last year, Greenpeace highlighted the problem of certain chemicals that come with high-performance water-resistant clothing. People with a fondness for the great outdoors are often pretty eco-conscious, so this is a big deal, and it affects even some of those with otherwise impeccable credentials, such as Patagonia.

However, one smaller company comes out with top marks.

Páramo provides high performance clothing without the problem chemicals – what it describes as “directional clothing”.

The problem with PFCs

Polyfluorinated chemicals are one of those substances that has been found to be highly persistent in the environment, whilst being toxic. PFCs are now found in the remotest regions of the world.

You know that a company has confidence in its stuff when it gives a lifetime guarantee

Studies have suggested that PFCs can impact the reproductive and immune systems, and is a potential carcinogen.

It comes about because of the need to make outdoor gear seriously water resistant. Leading companies such as North Face, Columbia and Patagonia all use it, although they are seeking alternatives that preserve the level of performance needed. They argue that you can’t compromise performance in the short term if your customers depend on your clothes to protect them when they’re half-way up a mountain.

The existing alternative

Whilst the companies all say “we’re working on alternatives” and “we’re making progress, but not quite there yet” Páramo has PFC-free clothing already on the market.

The company produces water repellency using something called the Nikwax Analogy Pump Liner. This is said to mimic the action of animal fur, pushing liquid water outwards to repel rain and remove condensation and perspiration. It’s combined with a directional microfiber outer layer to further protect from rain and wind.

The two-layer construction helps provide insulation to keep the wearer warm. It works effectively equally in high humidity and very cold conditions.

Páramo says its clothing has been used by Greenpeace when it goes on expeditions into the wilderness to analyse for the presence of PFCs, and is also the choice of the British Antarctic Survey team who, you would expect to be rather particular about choosing high performing clothing.

Trying it out for size

So after a reasonably long and vigorous tennis match, I popped into the Go Outdoors store in Norwich to try on some of the Páramo staples. The jacket that suited the sort of use I have in mind is the company’s Cascada jacket, which you can see me trying out here. The Helki jacket is good for mountain use, apparently. One step at a time, eh?

Trying on the Cascada jacket

The first thing to note is how much softer and non-noisy the jackets are compared to the other heavy duty outdoors clothes. The two-layered Nikwax Analogy system makes is light, and extremely comfortable to wear. The fit was good, and there were three good sized pockets. The hood has a wired front which is to help keep good visibility when in use.

You know that a company has confidence in its stuff when it gives a lifetime guarantee, which was prominently attached to the jacket along with care instructions. To re-proof the jacket you first wash it using Nikwax Clean, and then do it again with the Nikwax Wash-In.

Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to test it out in the rain yet. Third party reviews of the product tend towards the glowing when talking about the water resistance and the comfort of the jacket when used in bad weather. So it seems that the Nikwax Analogy system gets the thumbs up for being effective.

The one comment I have seen is that the warmth of this jacket makes it a winter jacket rather than a summer one. Something to bear in mind if you only want to be that fair-weather walker!

You can see Páramo’s website here, and some more details about PFCs being present in a range of other company’s products here.


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