The Hidden Dangers of Toxic Camping Tents

But have you ever thought that your camping gear, particularly your tent, might be hiding a dirty little secret? In this article, we explore the Hidden Dangers of Toxic Camping Tents.
Toxic Camping Tents at Sunset
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Camping in the great outdoors is a fantastic way to reconnect with nature and find some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But have you ever thought that your camping gear, particularly your tent, might be hiding a dirty little secret? Many popular tents on the market today are treated with chemicals that can be harmful to both the environment and your health.

In this article, we’ll explore the hidden dangers of toxic camping tents, particularly those containing PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), often referred to as “forever chemicals.” We’ll also discuss the role of outdoor apparel and gear, focusing on companies like Patagonia, in addressing this issue. Lastly, we’ll consider the alternatives for more sustainable and healthy camping trips, including non toxic tents.

The Problem with PFAS in Outdoor Gear

PFAS chemicals are used in many products, including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and outdoor gear like rain gear and outerwear. One of the primary reasons PFAS is used in outdoor apparel and gear is for its water-resistance properties. These chemicals can make materials waterproof or water-repellent, which is a desirable feature in items like camping tents, jackets, and backpacks.

They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily and persist in the environment for a very long time.

The health consequences of PFAS exposure are alarming, ranging from liver disease and fertility issues to cancer. Disturbingly, studies have shown that 98% of Americans already have detectable levels of PFAS in their bloodstreams, emphasizing the urgent need for action to curb the continuous flow and accumulation of these harmful substances.

David Andrews, a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group, highlights the concerns surrounding PFAS in outdoor gear in a quote from a 2016 article in The Guardian:

“Outdoor gear manufacturers have unfortunately widely embraced PFAS chemicals because of their ability to repel water and oil, but these chemicals have been linked to serious health problems, and they are incredibly persistent in the environment.”

Environmental group Greenpeace has been at the forefront of the fight against toxic chemicals in the outdoor apparel and gear industry. Through their Detox campaign, they’ve been pushing for brands to eliminate PFAS and other harmful substances from their products and supply chains.

Colorful orange red tent against a sunset

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The Responsibility of the Outdoor Industry

As people who love outdoor activities, we hope that outdoor brands will promote healthy living and take care of the environment. It’s sad to know that many outdoor brands still haven’t made it a priority to get rid of PFAS from their supplies and products. This is a missed chance to protect customers and the natural environment.

Dangers of PFAS Chemicals in Consumer Products
Liver damage
Immune system suppression
Low birth weight and birth defects
Delayed development
Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity
Possible human carcinogen
Found in blood of people and animals all over the world
Present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment

A consumer advocacy group, Toxic-Free Future, recently released a report called “Toxic Convenience: The Hidden Costs of Forever Chemicals in Stain- and Water-Resistant Products.” This report revealed that popular outdoor retailers sell stain- and water-resistant clothing and gear that contain concerning levels of PFAS. This emphasizes the need for quick action.

But there’s still hope. Patagonia and The North Face are leading the way by making promises to remove PFAS from their products soon. Fjällräven and Keen have already taken big steps to phase out PFAS, which sets a great example for other outdoor brands.

Patagonia and the Fight for Cleaner Camping Gear

Patagonia, a leading outdoor clothing retailer, has taken this issue seriously and has been working to phase out PFAS from their products. They’ve been transparent about the challenges they face, including the complexity of their supply chains and the need for coordination among suppliers.

However, the use of PFAS and other toxic chemicals in the industry remains widespread. This is due, in part, to a lack of strict regulations and phase-out targets for these substances.

As consumers, it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers of toxic camping tents and other gear containing PFAS. By choosing more sustainable materials and supporting brands that prioritize the environment and health, we can help drive change in the industry.

Alternatives to PFAS-treated Camping Gear

There are alternatives to PFAS-treated camping gear, like non-toxic tents. Outdoor apparel brands, including Patagonia, are investing in research and development to find more sustainable technologies and materials for their products. This includes experimenting with water-resistant coatings that don’t rely on harmful fluorochemicals.

Some innovative alternatives to traditional waterproof materials include:

Natural Materials and Coatings

  1. Natural wax-based coatings: Some companies are using natural waxes to create water-resistant fabrics that are more environmentally friendly and less toxic than PFAS-based treatments.
  2. Cotton canvas: Historically, cotton canvas has been a popular material for tents due to its durability and natural breathability. While cotton canvas is not inherently waterproof, it can be treated with natural waxes or oils to improve its water resistance. One example is waxed canvas, which is created by impregnating cotton fabric with a blend of natural waxes, such as beeswax or paraffin wax. This treatment creates a water-repellent barrier that can withstand light to moderate rain without the need for toxic chemicals.
  3. Organic and recycled materials: Some brands are using organic or recycled materials for their camping gear, including tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks. These materials are produced without the use of harmful chemicals and have a lower environmental impact than their conventional counterparts. Examples include organic cotton, recycled polyester, and fabrics made from reclaimed fishing nets or plastic bottles.
  4. Natural rubber: Natural rubber can be used as an alternative to synthetic, petroleum-based materials for waterproof coatings and seals in camping gear. Harvested from the sap of rubber trees, natural rubber is biodegradable, renewable, and free from harmful chemicals.
  5. Silicone-treated fabrics: Silicone-based treatments can provide water-repellency without the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals. These fabrics are increasingly being used in outdoor gear, including camping tents.

Innovative Technologies and Treatments

  1. GreenShield™: GreenShield is a patented, environmentally friendly treatment that can be applied to fabrics to make them water and stain-resistant. Developed by GreenShield Technologies, this treatment uses nano-scale structures to create a protective barrier on the fabric surface, reducing the need for chemical additives. The result is a fabric with water-resistant properties that is also free from harmful substances.
  2. PFC-Free Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatments: In recent years, there has been a surge in the development of PFC-free DWR treatments that offer water resistance without the use of perfluorinated chemicals. These treatments use alternative chemistries, such as hydrocarbon-based or silicone-based compounds, to create a protective barrier on fabric surfaces. While these PFC-free DWR treatments may not provide the same level of water resistance as PFAS-based treatments, they offer a safer and more environmentally friendly option.
  3. Biomimicry-based technologies: Some companies are looking to nature for inspiration, developing water-resistant treatments based on the properties of plants and animals. For example, the lotus leaf is known for its remarkable ability to repel water, thanks to the microscopic structures on its surface. By mimicking these structures, researchers are developing new materials and coatings that can repel water without the use of harmful chemicals.

When shopping for camping gear, it’s essential to look for brands that prioritize sustainability and avoid harmful chemicals like PFAS. While it may take a bit of research to find these products, the effort is worth it for both your health and the environment.

Tips for Choosing Safer Camping Gear

To help you make more informed decisions when purchasing camping gear, consider the following tips:

  1. Research the brand: Look for outdoor apparel brands that are transparent about their materials and manufacturing processes. Support companies that are committed to phasing out toxic chemicals and using sustainable technologies.
  2. Look for certifications: Some certifications can help you identify safer, more environmentally friendly products. For instance, the bluesign® certification indicates that a product meets strict standards for sustainable textile production, while the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certification ensures that the product is free from harmful substances.
  3. Read product descriptions carefully: When shopping for camping gear, read product descriptions and look for information on the materials used and any special treatments or coatings. Avoid products that contain PFAS or other harmful chemicals.
  4. Consider second-hand gear: Buying used camping gear can be a more sustainable choice, as it helps reduce the demand for new products and the associated environmental impacts. Just make sure to inspect the gear for any signs of wear or damage, and ensure that it meets your needs in terms of functionality and safety.
  5. Ask for recommendations: Reach out to friends, family, or online forums for recommendations on brands and products that prioritize sustainability and health. This can help you find camping gear that aligns with your values and provides a safer outdoor experience.

Final Thoughts

The hidden dangers of toxic camping tents and other outdoor gear containing PFAS chemicals are a real concern for both our health and the environment. As consumers, we have the power to drive change in the industry by choosing safer, more sustainable products and supporting brands that prioritize our wellbeing and the planet.

By doing our research, asking for recommendations, and making informed choices, we can enjoy the great outdoors without compromising our health or contributing to environmental contamination. So, the next time you’re planning a camping trip, consider investing in gear free from harmful chemicals and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with making a safer, more sustainable choice.

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Kristina M.

Kristina M.

Kristina Meyers is a dedicated blogger based in Southern California. With a background in architecture and urban planning from the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning at Cornell University, and multi-media from the London College of Communication (formerly the London College of Printing), Kristina's passion for promoting fair trade, sustainability, and eco-friendly practices led her to create Fair Trade Finder. Kristina's passion for sustainability extends to her love for travel. She is an avid explorer who has embarked on camping and hiking journeys across stunning landscapes in Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. With an understanding of the importance of ethical choices in all aspects of life, Kristina brings her travel experiences to Fair Trade Finder. She curates a purposefully chosen assortment of fair trade products, with a particular emphasis on outdoor gear. Her ultimate goal is to empower fellow conscious consumers to make ethical and sustainable choices for their outdoor adventures.

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