green traveler's dilemma

Traveler’s Dilemma Choosing Convenience Over Sustainable Products


This weekend I stopped by REI to look for some hiking boots or trail running shoes. Ideally, I want a shoe that is durable, supportive, breathable, extremely comfortable, and waterproof. Definitely waterproof. I have put off hiking on damp and rainy days because I have not yet purchased what I feel is an essential item. But choosing Gore-Tex means I will not be.

Choose convenience or Sustainable Products?

green traveler's dilemma
green traveler’s dilemma

In my search for waterproof travel shoes I discovered that the seemingly only available option is Gore-Tex.

I admit that I didn’t know much about Gore-Tex until recently and even what I did know was limited to “it’s bad for the environment.”

After doing a little more research I’ve learned that Gore-Tex is essentially the same material as Teflon®, a perfluorochemical, PFC. (If you don’t know much about Teflon you should know this:

Cooking with Teflon pans can kill birds and it’s chemical compounds have been found even in polar bears in the Arctic.)

The never-ending green traveler’s dilemma

If you want to know more about Gore-Tex I’ve listed some additional resources below. But the key thing is this: the chemicals in Gore-Tex are bad for my personal health and they are bad for the environment. But, wouldn’t it be nice to have breathable, waterproof shoes?

Concerns with your green values

I want to buy “made in America” products. I really do. The problem is, I often can’t find them. Sometimes when I do find them, I can’t really justify affording them. It is an ongoing situation… especially when my children were younger and were growing out of their clothes quickly. If I buy second-hand, not-made-in-America, is that better than buying local products new?

We are all doing the best we can, and even by being mindful of our choices we are already ahead of most. So, I’m stuck with this green traveler’s dilemma: Will choosing Gore-Tex hiking boots/shoes that will be convenient and practical for me (short term) or do I find something else that will, in the end, be better for my health and the environment (long term)?

Green Travel Gear Products on the Market

With so many new Green Travel Gear products on the market, it’s hard to know what to trust. Here’s a collection of our favorite, tried and true, environmentally-friendly travel gear. To buy it for yourself, or read more on Amazon, click the image or the title.

Green Travel Gear

Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Klean Kanteen 40oz Kanteen Wide (w/Stainless Loop Cap) Brushed Stainless

Binding Sports
Brand Klean Kanteen
Color Brushed Stainless
Department unisex-adult
EAN 0763332027595
Is Adult Product 0
Is Autographed 0
Is Memorabilia 0
Label Klean Kanteen
List Price $28.95
Manufacturer Klean Kanteen
Model K40WSSL-BS
Number Of Items 1
Package Quantity 1
Part Number K40WSSL-BS
Product Group Sports
Publisher Klean Kanteen
Release Date 2012-11-01
Size 40oz
Studio Klean Kanteen
Title Klean Kanteen 40oz Kanteen Wide (w/Stainless Loop Cap) Brushed Stainless
UPC 763332038942
Warranty Klean Kanteens and accessories produced by Klean Kanteen such as caps, slings, and bike cages, come with a one-year warranty against manufacturer defects. Normal wear and tear, including scratches and dents, are not covered under the Klean Kanteen warranty. Accessories by other manufacturers, such as BuiltNY, are covered by the warranty of the original manufacturer.

How it’s green: Klean Kanteens are BPA (bisphenol A)-free and made of stainless steel, so they last longer than plastic bottles. Plus, they eliminate the need for wasteful bottled water. See our Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle Review here.

Mountainsmith Recycled Eco-Friendly Backpacks (for Men and Women)

How it’s green: Mountainsmith’s recycled backpacks are made from recycled plastic bottles. There are many styles to choose from for women, men, and youth, so every traveler should be able to find one suited to her needs. Still on the fence? Read our review of the Mountainsmith Lily recycled backpack and our review of the Ivy by Mountainsmith recycled backpack

Travel Gear Wrap-N-Mat

How it’s green: The Wrap-N-Mat is a great alternative to disposable plastic baggies, plus it’s small and light, so you can take it anywhere. Read our Wrap-N-Mat review.

Microfiber Quick-Dry Towel
Microfiber Towel
Microfiber Towel

How it’s green: Microfiber towels take up far less space than normal towels, so you can pack light – and the lighter you pack, the less of an environmental impact your luggage will have.

Ex Officio Quick-Dry Underwear
Women's Ex Officio
Women’s Ex Officio

How it’s green: With quick-dry underwear, you only need to pack a few pairs, even for long trips. You can wash them in the sink or at your campsite, let them dry overnight, and wear them the next day.

Diva Cup
Diva Cup
Diva Cup

How it’s green: Say goodbye to tampons and pads. The Diva Cup is the perfect solution for every (female) green traveler. It’s made of silicone and it’s easy to clean and store.

Note: We only recommend products we’ve tried out and liked. We do link through affiliate links when they are available. We are not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites, or other topics.

We will only recommend products or services that we believe, based on our experience, are worthy of endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Read our full policies page.

Resources about Gore-Tex:

What is Gore-Tex? Gore-Tex is a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
Minnesota Department of Health on PFCs
Gore-Tex’s Attempt to Make Gore-Tex Seem Environmentally Friendly

8 thoughts on “Traveler’s Dilemma Choosing Convenience Over Sustainable Products”

  1. i feel this could be a situation where you offset the bad environmental stuff with some other good environmental stuff. (to talk slangily) Already you are being such a conscientious shopper and traveler that you’ve probably done the work of 20 people. If it would not sit well with your conscious, then you’ll have to make the healthier decision over the more…comfortable option.

    i didn’t read over the links yet, but does research show how much of these harmful chemicals effect the planet via creation, before creation, and after creation of a PFC object? how bad are these goretex boots really for your health? come to think of it, i have gore tex boots I’ve had for about 4 years now.

    i’ll go read the links…

  2. I think you should consider how important having waterproof shoes really is to you. I have a pair of gore-tex boots that I have only ever used in snow. Gore-tex may be more breathable than a plastic bag, but it still makes for a sweaty foot if you’re using it as an everyday shoe.

    As a backpacker, hiker and climber, I’ve always opted for a shoe with a lot of airy mesh in it that will dry quickly if it gets wet. It’s no big deal if your feet are wet for a day, after all. Plus, a well-ventilated shoe allows sweat to evaporate more easily, leaving you (paradoxically) with a drier foot most of the time than a stuffy gore-tex lining would allow.

    Also, even if you do go with gore-tex, what about all the other nasty stuff that goes into producing a shoe. Maybe the gore-tex is just a drop in the bucket.

  3. I fundamentally disagree with your assertion that Gore-Tex is bad for the environment. While they do make a product out of a material (ptfe) that has been proven to be a persistant organic pollutant (POP), and fluorinated compounds are especially persistant in the environment, so are all of the other materails currently availabe that are waterproof and breathable. Furthermore, most of the waterproof materails available are not good for the environment. Therefore, if you want a waterproof material you must look for a company that tries to limit their environmental harm which W.M. Gore does, and does pretty well if you actually read their statement. (side note Gore-Tex is not related to Dupont, that is fundamentally incorrect) They are attempting to be a enviro-freindly company, so to say they are not just because they produce something that is inherrently not enviromentally friendly is not really fair, especially if you don’t include all waterproof materials in that claim. Finally, there is not a single study backing your claim that by wearing Gore-Tex, it is bad for you health. Unless you are chewing on your shoes, it is again not really fair to describe Gore-Tex as bad for your health. This is the kind of uneducated non-sense that actually hurts the enviromental movement. If you really want to help the environment, educate yourself, and then spend your money with companies that are trying to limit their ecological footprint, even if it isn’t perfect, it will encourage other companies to take the environment seriously because they will see it is worth money. Sad, but true!

  4. A clarification to my first comment, as I realized it was a bit harsh. This website provides some great info about traveling green, and I feel this is a great service to people looking for that info, and to the steps they might take to be environmentally friendly. I just think you got it wrong here by focusing on Gore-Tex. Of all the environmental concerns to consider when buying some shoes, I don’t W.M. Gore, and their product Gore-Tex should be your biggest concern. W.M Gore does try to limit their impact, and that is more than many companies do.

  5. @Chris- I appreciate your comments and correction about DuPont. Ultimately, this comes down to choices and values. I agree with you that companies that try to lower their negative environmental impact should get more business; but I still see chemicals such as the ones used in Gore-tex as worse for the environment and worse for my health.

  6. I am chemically sensitive (asthma). I have a Goretex rain jacket which is 7 or 8 years old. I use it VERY infrequently and for short periods of time, but I always have breathing problems when I wear it. Alternative rain wear doesn’t offer much since perfluorochemicals are used for waterproofing as well. Fortunately I live where the annual rainfall is about 14 inches so I can live with it. My husband says I am the canary in the mine shaft. Chemicals are bad news. S. Smith

  7. Personally I go with either basic breathable shoes, or if I want waterproof, good ol’ leather does the job just fine if you maintain them right. For a rain jacket I find that pretty much any nylon shell works fine. If it’s REALLY bad a cheap plastic poncho helps. Goretex is a premium fabric that just isn’t justified in my book.

    In either case, WOOL socks do a great job at keeping my feet warm and drier. I agree with mickey above about just wearing breathable shoes. Unless you’re literally in a mud pit area, in which case leather boots are a better option in my book. I live in the Seattle area, so I know alllllll about rain and mud when you’re out and about. 🙂

  8. While PTFE has a bad ecological footprint in terms of production and disposal, the membrane shouldn’t be harmful itself. It is also used in medical products like implants.
    If you are looking for more eco-friendly shoes or jackets with a waterproof and breathable membrane, you might check out the Sympatex membrane, which is PTFE-free, bluesign certified and 100% recyclable.

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