It’s among the most satisfying of all outdoor experiences: Standing in a deluge, you watch the rain bead off your waterproof jacket like droplets off a freshly waxed Porsche. Not only do you feel dry, you feel smug: Technology has triumphed over nature. Would you feel even better knowing that the repellent function stems from sustainable materials?
For decades, manufacturers have coated waterproof fabrics with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish made of long-chain perfluorocarbons (PFCs) that contained a troublesome eight-carbon molecule called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). It makes your jacket act like Teflon, preventing water from soaking into the jacket’s outer layers, which would limit breathability and make you feel clammy.
But PFOA is like the pesky party guest that doesn’t realize when it’s time to leave. PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment—it’ll outlast the very mountains that hikers love to climb—and studies have found that just about everyone, in countries across the globe, has traces of it in his or her blood. The problem? The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies PFOA as a suspected carcinogen.