From holes and burn marks to busted zippers and drawstrings, NOLS gear endures a lot more wear and tear than your average outdoor gear. Especially at NOLS Rocky Mountain, where about 1,760 students cycle through per year, it’s likely that certain pieces of gear have seen more days in the backcountry than some people have.
Since folks at NOLS would rather not send students out into the field with torn pants that could easily slide past their ankles, we repair gear whenever possible. Repairing gear for courses to come not only saves money (and accrues style points), it also helps to keep materials from being unnecessarily added to the landfill. That is where I come in.
This January, when I became the NOLS Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability intern, my supervisor, NOLS Sustainability Coordinator Karly Copeland, suggested that my workload may include time spent with a sewing machine. In a sustainability effort to deter gear from the landfill, I began meandering down to the Rocky Mountain building two afternoons a week to sew.
While I certainly am no Thelma Young, the pioneer of NOLS gear sewing, I did my best to sew patches and seams. Camo, purple, and green patches went on the notorious NOLS windpants as I mastered my sewing techniques over the course of eight weeks. Before I knew it, I was learning how to repair zippers and replace drawstrings from the very best!
Backed by the vision to prevent items from ending up as trash, I was able to salvage a large number of wind pants while also restoring jackets, windshirts, snowpants, and duffle bags. It felt fulfilling to contribute to this sustainability initiative, and the hours I spent at the Rocky Mountain sewing machine were happily accompanied by good music and great company.
Reusing gear is essential for an organization like NOLS. With the goal of being more sustainable and efficient, we are looking for more ways to recycle materials and reuse what we have. It was an honor to be a part of the green gear initiative during my internship and to help save some of the legendary green windpants from the landfill. I am grateful for the value of the mission, for the people that I was able to work with, and for the expert training that I received on the sewing machine.