The Natural Gym Bag
by Heather Prouty

Keep yourself and the environment in tip-top shape

You've been purchasing organic produce for years and toting it home in reusable canvas bags. You buy in bulk and recycle faithfully, right down to the tiniest Post-It note. Fortunately, living a natural lifestyle doesn't have to end in the produce aisle or your neighborhood recycling center. It's easy to incorporate eco-friendly actions into nearly every aspect of your daily routine — right down to your workout.

Most of us have never considered how a daily trip to the gym may impact the Earth. But the choices we make about what to tote to the health club can be just as important as opting for organic soybeans over genetically engineered ones. Consider, for example, your gym bag. "Most people don't have any idea how backpacks and gym bags are made," says James Cox, president of Terrapax, a Chico, Calif.-based company that manufactures all-natural hemp handbags and backpacks.

"Many outdoor and exercise-oriented products are made of synthetic materials with polyurethane coatings," Cox says. "These materials don't necessarily have a negative impact on the user, but if you consider the factory where the product is manufactured and the workers who are exposed to these chemicals, that's where the impact is felt." There's a whole lot about the process of getting a product to market that most consumers are unaware of.

As conscious consumers, however, we can opt for alternatives. "There are so many areas where we can make choices that support a natural lifestyle," says Cox.

For savvy solutions to packing your gym bag, here's an eco-friendly guide for the active. Next time you head to the gym, you'll be keeping your environment — and yourself — in top-notch shape.

Supernatural sweats: Although synthetics such as Lycra may be de rigueur at many health clubs, a more planet-friendly option is to suit yourself in organic cotton, which is grown without use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Start with an all-organic cotton T-shirt by Patagonia, available in rich hues such as raspberry, seaweed and lemongrass, emblazoned with whimsical designs. Yoga devotees will relish Patagonia's stretchy Mobility Pant, also fashioned from organic cotton. With a drawcord elastic waist and straight-leg fit, these pants are as flattering as they are comfortable. Your feet, too, can enjoy the organic touch with Maggie's Clean Clothes cotton crew socks.

Water, water, everywhere: As any exercise buff knows, proper hydration is one of the keys to a good workout. But if city water is all that's on tap at your club, you may not be much inclined to drink up. The Orinoco personal water purification system by Exstream provides a simple solution: This 26-ounce, fill-and-sip water bottle contains a potent purification system that eliminates odor and filters out unwanted chemicals, bacteria and viruses. The result: Great-tasting water that you can sip to your heart's content. The Orinoco is so effective in removing unwanted microbes, in fact, that you can use it to purify water while you're hiking, backpacking or traveling in areas where water quality is dubious.

A step in the right direction: It might be tempting to lounge around the locker room barefoot, but if you do, you're putting yourself at risk for contracting athlete's foot, that itchy fungal infection your high-school gym teacher warned you about. Your best line of defense is a pair of flip flops. San Diego-based Splaff Flopps fashions comfortable, durable sandals from recycled race-car tires, used bicycle inner tubes and other eco-materials. These hydrophilic flip flops wear as well in the locker room as they do in the shower.

Beauty in action: Most health clubs don't provide much in the way of personal care products, so be sure to stock your gym bag with your favorite natural shampoo, shower gel, moisturizer and deodorant.

Anyone who spends time working out in pools will appreciate Aubrey Organics' Swimmer's Shampoo and Swimmer's Conditioner, which gently remove chlorine from hair and restore moisture. If you're in a hurry, Kiss My Face's Kiss-and-Go-Shampoo-and-Conditioner-in-One can save you precious seconds. Wash off with Derma E's Face & Body Wash, which contains tea tree oil and herbal extracts to soothe your skin. Once you've dried off, treat your skin to a moisturizer such as Desert Essence's Body Lotion with Tea Tree & Lavender, or Alba Botanica's Very Emollient Body Lotion, Day Shade Formula SPF 16. Finally, don't forget deodorant. Avalon Organic Botanicals' Therapeutic Rosemary roll-on deodorant blends rosemary with other odor-fighting essential oils. For tougher workouts, Jason's Natural Deodorant, made with tea tree oil, gives longer-lasting protection.

If you simply can't decide what to pack, Burt's Bees Head-to-Toe Starter Kit is conveniently filled with sample sizes of sumptuous oils, creams, soaps and salves. Or try Dr. Hauschka's new holistic skin care line for health and fitness, which includes Horse Chestnut Leg Toner, Rosemary Leg and Arm Toner, St. John's Wort Foot Cream, Rosemary Foot Balm and Birch-Arnica Body Oil. Other products to try include Earth Science's Almond-Aloe Facial Moisturizer, CamoCare's Soothing Cream and Boiron's Arnica Gel — a pain-relieving gel for muscle aches, stiffness and bruises.

An organic wrap: Nothing beats the feeling of stepping out of the shower and swaddling yourself in a clean, fluffy cotton towel. Problem is, conventionally grown cotton relies heavily on the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Luckily, there are more ecologically sound alternatives to choose from, such as Colorgrown organic cotton towels. Available in deep Earth tones like sage green and mocha, Colorgrown towels get their hues from the natural color of the cotton, eliminating the need for synthetic dyes.

Carry on: Our gym bag of choice is Terrapax's Sunday Times Bag, which is so natural it can literally be composted once it has worn out. Don't expect to rototill this bag into your garden anytime soon, however. Fashioned from untreated, undyed hemp fiber and linen, the Sunday Times Bag is durable enough for years of use. In place of plastic and metal buckles, Terrapax has substituted American elk and European stag horn closures from naturally shed horns, plus solid brass fittings — avoiding the use of electroplating, a finishing process that generates hazardous byproducts. These design details, along with vegetable-tanned leather accents, add up to a bag that's sophisticated, eco-savvy and versatile enough to tote just about anywhere.

Heather Prouty is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo.

Photography by: Joe Hancock