Outdoor Gear Made From Unconventional Materials

“Bison down,” eucalyptus trees, old billboards, and more. Gear made from unexpected stuff can be unexpectedly versatile.

Ripstop nylon and goose down are so 1982. Today's designers are incorporating unconventional materials to jazz up the latest outdoor-adventure products. As it turns out, gear made from the unexpected can be unexpectedly versatile.

By Avital Andrews

April 14, 2015

SmartWool eucalyptus t-shirt

We predict that you'll soon see Tencel everywhere, but for now this fabric, made from eucalyptus trees, is showing up in products from brands that think ahead. SMARTWOOL, for example, uses it (along with merino wool) in its Routt County top, whose stylish look belies its function as an outdoor performance shirt. Besides being soft, it wicks moisture and doesn't wrinkle. Tencel's antimicrobial fibers start out as farmed eucalyptus trees from South Africa, which are turned into wood pulp, then cellulose, then thread, in a production process that uses up to 20 times less water than cotton does. $75

This story has been corrected

United By Blue's Ultimate American Sock includes bison down and merino wool.

A bison's inner coat regulates the animal's body temperature by insulating and keeping wetness away from its skin. It's the reason the majestic creatures can thrive in climates as varied as those of Wyoming and Texas. In North Dakota, ranchers collect the precious "bison down" from naturally shed coats and sell the fiber to UNITED BY BLUE, which weaves it in with merino wool to craft the Ultimate American Sock. Put it on, and you've got a foot covering as warm and soft as cashmere. $38

Green Guru's Dutchy22L Pannier is made from recycled billboards and banners.

To advertise your love of cycling, strap on GREEN GURU's best-selling Dutchy 22L Pannier, made from cast-off billboards and banners that the company gets from city departments and printers. Its mount system adjusts to fit most racks. With a 22-liter capacity, the pannier is 13 inches high and wide and 8 inches deep, though it doesn't add much more than two pounds to your bike. When you get to the store or the office, take it off and carry it by its strap. This made-in-the-USA piece is weather-resistant (even the seams) and has a reflective loop for when you're out after dark. $70

Keen's Uneek shoe is actually a polyester cord sandal.

KEEN makes some of the most supportive, formfitting footwear out there, and its new Uneek shoe, aside from being an on-the-trail conversation piece ("What is that you're wearing?"), takes that comfort to a new level. Constructed from two pieces of polyester cord and a rubber sole, this is a multipurpose sandal: Wear it hiking, rafting, or by the fire. Keen's Rory Fuerst Jr. spent three years designing the shoe to simplify the manufacturing process as much as possible. He chose to use polyester cords in part because they're water-repellent, soft, durable, and flexible, and mold to your foot for an adjustable fit. $100