I know a guy who made snowshoes out of the sides of an old red plastic milk crate that once held his album collection. They made him walk like he had a bucket between his legs, but they worked.
Another guy swears by what he calls "old man" rayon shirts he finds at thrift shops. He feels good because he's recycling, and the shirts are cheap and lightweight and don't get heavy when they're wet. They give him a cool retro look on the trail (he believes).
And an enterprising neighbor takes every opportunity to rant against those ubiquitous, indestructible plastic wide-mouth bottles, and instead hydrates during hikes by drinking from soda bottles she scores from curbside recycling bins. ("I wash them first, of course," she says.)
All three work to maintain low-impact lifestyles and live by the mantra "reduce, reuse and recycle." They are great role models.
But even if you aren't up to the inventive standards of these greenies, you can still choose environmentally friendly products when you head to your favorite outdoor store.
What makes a green product? The web site evo.com rates hundreds of products for "greenness." Their rating depends on how the product is made, what it's made of, the distance it traveled to get to you, and the type of energy used to power it.
Green fabrics include organic cotton, soy fiber, hemp and bamboo fiber, all made from plants that are grown without using pesticides and chemicals. Recycled plastic is a popular base ingredient for fleece and other clothing. And recycled rubber shows up on the soles of boots and shoes. Organic wool comes from humanely raised sheep that weren't sprayed or injected.
Here's a sampling of green products. Each company has its own labeling system; for example, REI calls its green products "eco-sensitive."
Ex Officio's Tofutech T-Shirt. Soy is called the "vegetable cashmere," with soft fibers that wash well and wick away moisture. This T-shirt is made of 100 percent soy fibers. $20, exofficio.com
North Face Everest jacket. Soft fabric is made of polyester, elastine and bamboo, with charcoal bamboo fiber acting as a natural odor absorbent. This jacket also keeps you safe from the sun, with an SPF rating of 30. $90, thenorthface.com
Patagonia men's Capilene 1 graphic crew. Patagonia makes this light base-layer shirt from 100 percent post-consumer recycled (and 100 percent recyclable) Capilene 1 polyester. $44, patagonia.com
Adidas smooth knit pants. These soft knit workout pants are made with 33 percent bamboo, along with cotton and polyester. $36, shopadidas.com
REI Slickrock pants. Soft organic cotton is used on the outside of these pants; quick-drying recycled polyester (from old soda bottles) lines the inside. $50, rei.com
Injinji Eco NuBamboo Crew Socks. These "toe socks" are like gloves for your feet, with each toe getting its own compartment. They are made of a bamboo blend that offers moisture-wicking and antibacterial qualities. $14, rei.com
Timberland Earthkeepers' waterproof leather and organic canvas boot (pictured above). A recycled rubber outsole, organic canvas uppers and recycled lining make this one of Timberland's most environmentally friendly outdoor boots. $160, timberland.com
Smartwool Spring gloves. Featuring leather palms and fingers and jersey lining made from the wool of sheep in New Zealand. $70, smartwool.com
Astral Buoyancy Norge personal flotation device. This PFD's buoyancy comes from kapok, a silky vegetable fiber from the Bombocaceae tree, prized for its resistance to moisture. When the vest's life as a PFD is over, its fibers can be recycled into your compost pile. $125, astralbuoyancy.com
Eclipse Reactor solar backpack. This pack features an integrated solar charging unit for cell phones, GPS units and other battery-powered devices. $129.99, eclipsesolargear.com
Mountainsmith Phoenix backpack. This alpine pack features eco-friendly hardware and recycled zippers and reinforcements, and is made of 100 percent recycled fabric made from 107 plastic soda bottles. $289, mountainsmith.com
Bamboo: One of the world's most sustainable natural fibers, with qualities that make it desirable for clothing: it's 100-percent biodegradable, grown without pesticides, breathable, naturally anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic.
Hemp: A fiber from the cannabis plant. It's illegal in most parts of the world, but it's grown in China. Requires no irrigation and uses no pesticides or fertilizers.
Organic cotton: Cotton that is clean and free of pesticides and chemicals; grown using methods that have a low impact on the environment.
Organic wool: The wool sheared from sheep that graze on pesticide-free land and eat organic feed. Overgrazing isn't allowed and the use of antibiotics is regulated in sheep that yield organic wool.
Recycled polyester: Fabric made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic bottles, and unusable fabrics and worn-out garments; often used in fleece garments.
Soy: A fiber made from soybeans; fabric with soy fiber is soft, odor-resistant and quick-drying.
Dress for success
Myth: When choosing clothing for your outdoor adventure, always go natural.
Truth: Some natural fabrics such as wool and silk are good, but cotton can be downright uncomfortable and, in the most extreme cases, contribute to hypothermia. Wicking synthetic fabrics are much more comfortable and effective in keeping you warm or cool.
Myth: Hiking boots have to be broken in before you lace them on for a real hike.
Truth: The toughest modern footwear is built for comfort. Maybe a decade ago, those new boots would kill your feet if you took them out of the box and hit the trail. But not now.