Across the globe, outdoor gear manufacturers are coming up with creative ways to help frontline workers deal with the coronavirus pandemic. From converting snorkels into ventilator parts to sewing masks and gowns, Sarah Stirling investigates.
Ventilator parts, scrubs and face masks: made in the UK
DMM: tooling up to make ventilator parts and more
Llanberis-based climbing gear manufacturer, DMM, stand out as a rare UK outdoor brand as they manufacture the majority of their products in Britain. They are currently tooling up to produce components for critical care ventilators on their CNC machines and are liaising with NHS procurement to determine if their sewing department could make vital PPE supplies such as face masks, face shields and scrubs.
DMM's CNC room
DMM laser cut and sewn face shield on its way to local hospital Ysbyty Gwynedd ASAP!
Osprey: fabric masks made in Poole
Osprey Europe, meanwhile, is currently investigating whether it is possible for them to meet the necessary specifications to begin production of fabric masks for healthcare workers and frontline responders at their UK head office in Poole.
Ventilator Challenge UK
UK manufacturing companies ranging from Formula One to aerospace have joined forces as Ventilator Challenge UK. Their aim is to upscale a tried-and-tested ventilator design from Smiths Medical, called the ParaPAC Plus 300, and make 10,000 of them in the next few weeks. Component manufacturing and assembly will take place across the UK. The consortium includes the McLaren Group, Red Bull Racing, Rolls-Royce and Unilever.
ParaPAC Plus 300. Photo: Smiths Medical
Decathlon snorkels converted into ventilator masks
Using prototype parts 3D-printed in Telford
Yes, you read that right. When supplies ran low, doctors and nurses began using Decathlon's weird-looking, full-face, 'Easybreath' snorkels as face shields. It was an Italian Doctor, Renato Favero, who came up with the idea of going one step further and turning the snorkelling kit into a full-blown emergency ventilator mask, which could be plugged into a machine.
A nurse wearing Decathon's Easybreath full-face snorkel. Photo: Reuters
Italian design firm, Isinnova, picked up Renato's idea and, as a not-for-profit initative, worked with Decathlon to design a 3D-printable component, which could connect the snorkels to ventilators. Protolabs in Telford, the world’s fastest digital manufacturer of prototypes and low-volume production parts, 3D printed the sample valves, which were shipped to Isinnova.
The design worked. However, as neither the snorkel nor the connectors are yet certified, they are currently only for emergency use. Decathlon are now donating masks, as well as regular goggles, to healthcare facilties, while Isinnova have freely shared the file for 3D-printing the connector.
3T Bikes: making snorkel-ventilator parts instead of bikes
When the Italian government announced that all companies had three days to shut down operations, except those producing parts for medical use, this Bergamo-based bike manufacturing company quickly figured out that their carbon factory could manufacture the essential part to turn Decathlon's Easybreath snorkels into ventilator masks. On their blog, 3T commented: "Ventilators are right now in extremely short supply in Italy, and they save lives, so it’s nice we can still make ourselves useful".
Anti-virus solutions from British manufacturers
Aquapak: virus-control washing bags
You know those clear plastic packaging bags that mail-order clothing, including outdoor gear, often arrives in? Well, Birmingham-based company, Aquapak, create an eco-friendly version. Used by brands like Finisterre, it looks identical but is biodegradable and marine-safe.
To help the fight against coronavirus, Aquapak are giving away 'infection control bags' to frontline healthcare staff. Put your clothes in one of these bags at the end of a shift, then put the whole thing in the washing machine when you get home. The bags dissolve completely on a hot wash so clothes do not have to be touched again until they are clean, thereby reducing the chances of cross-contamination.
Requests for bags can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buffs made by Anglesey firm actually disable viruses
Virustatic, a biotech firm based in Menai Science Park on the Isle of Anglesey, have been making plenty of headlines recently for their anti-virus buffs. The result of ten years of research, the team are working round the clock to upscale production to help with COVID-19. The thin fibre traps 96% of airborne viruses, can be worn comfortably for hours at a time; it's also reusable, washable and harmless to touch after being exposed to germs.
The buff's revolutionary protein coating, developed in conjunction with Manchester biochemists, mimics your body’s natural immune system to trap and disable viruses. Tests show it is effective against a range of pathogens including coronavirus, flu, SARS and MERS. And the super-fine material is 100% breathable. This means it is safe to be worn by those suffering from extreme respiratory problems. The company aims to make as many as a million a week, reserving a portion for the NHS.
Welsh survival gear brand making PPE kits for the police
The kits are made by BCB International to police specifications. They contain an 80% alcohol hand sanitiser, protective gloves and a face mask. The handy-sized kits attach to a belt so they are always on hand.
Goggles For Docs: eye-cover solutions
Ski goggles: urgently required...
On 27 March, an American ER doctor asked his relatives in Colorado if they had any spare ski goggles that he and his coworkers could use, as they were running short of face shields. The idea grew legs with a Googledoc so that other hospitals could request goggles. By the end of the first day, 11 hospitals in seven states had asked for a total of 4,000 goggles.
The Goggles for Docs project rapidly-snowballed and there are now volunteer regional coordinators in each American state, who manage local distribution to hospitals. Goggle brands such as Smiths have got on board with the project, too.
Nike face shields
Meanwhile, after talking to healthcare leaders from their local Oregon Health & Science University to determine how best they could help, Nike Air's innovation, manufacturing and product teams have come together to create full-face shields and lenses for powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) masks. These battery-powered blowers provide positive airflow through a filter, cartridge, or canister to a hood or face piece.
Nike face shields
Superfeet: making full-blown Powered Air-purifying Respirator masks
Impressively, it took less than a week for Superfeet to pivot from insole production to 3D-printing parts for PAPR masks, for their home region, the Pacific Northwest. “We started conversations with local healthcare workers and discovered a massive need for PPE,” commented John Rauvola, CEO.
Superfeet sent a call-to-action asking their local community to get involved. Another Washington-based company, Pioneer Aerofab, which makes airplane interiors, got on board with supplying the mask’s hood portion.
Worldwide, outdoor companies convert machines to make gear for hospital staff
Ireland's largest sportswear company making scrubs
The 750 employees at O'Neills, Ireland's largest athletic sportswear manufacturer, had been furloughed. Several days later, however, the factory was back up and running with a new purpose. The company had been approached by The Western Health Trust to meet a shortage of scrubs. O’Neill’s managing director, Kieran Kennedy, said he has also been asked to make other items such as aprons and surgical hats.
La Sportiva convert machines to make to lab coats
To help their local community in the Trentino region of Italy cope with a lack of healthcare equipment, La Sportiva have converted machinery designed for cutting and stitching leather and rubber for a new purpose: producing surgical masks and lab coats. Once full production capacity has been reached, the goal is to manufacture 3000 pieces per day.
Lorenzo Delladio, CEO of La Sportiva, commented: "We have been producing footwear in Trentino since 1928, always feeling a strong social responsibility towards an entire community that makes solidarity and mutual aid a fundamental characteristic. United albeit divided, we will climb this mountain too, this is the message I want to give to all those who are at the front lines to fight this battle."
Mustang Survival, Canada, make waterproof hospital gowns
Outdoor brands tackling the US face mask shortage
As healthcare facilities across the US put out desperate calls for more face masks and other protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor brands have stepped up to support their local communities.
A note about face masks:
Soft face masks prevent bacteria shed in liquid droplets from reaching your mouth and nose
Respirator masks are made from filter material and seal against the face. They offer protection against airborne particles
Cascade Designs, which owns brands like MSR, Therm-a-Rest, and Platypus, is transforming its Seattle factory into a face mask production facility. They are currently cranking out 1,000 per day, with the aim of reaching 20,000 per day at full production.
Mask-making at Cascade Designs
New Balance's Maine and Massachusetts factories are teaming up with local medical facilities to ensure FDA compliance, and aiming to make up to 100,000 face masks weekly. Their R&D team will also be working on gowns, foot covers and other essentials.
Seattle-based Outdoor Research, meanwhile, is busy converting its factories, adding additional manufacturing capabilities and training staff so they can quickly work towards becoming an FDA-approved Class II medical mask maker. They aim to make 200,000 masks a day across face masks and respirator masks.
Organic Climbing, which makes bouldering kit in Pennsylvania, is making face masks in their ‘solar-sewn’ sewing facility.
Organic Climbing: now making face masks
Osprey's warranties-and-repair team have a new job: making masks for Colorado's healthcare workers. These are made out of durable fabrics to sustain multiple wash cycles.
Osprey are offering their mask sewing pattern here.
Osprey's masks. Photo: Andrew Baxley
Freebies for frontline workers
Berghaus are offering 50% off for key workers during the crisis, while Keen and Merrel are donating footwear to frontline workers.
Funding to fight the COVID-19 crisis
Alpkit put 1% of their profits into their Foundation for good causes. Right now the Derbyshire-based brand are welcoming applications for funding from individuals or organisations striving to fight the COVID-19 crisis. Alpkit are also offering everyone 20% off their products to cheer us all up.
Meanwhile VF Corp, which owns brands such as Smartwool and The North Face, have pledged $1.5M to the Global Giving Coronavirus Relief Fund. They will also match any donations made via their websites 2-to-1; so if you donate £1 they will donate £2. These donations will directly support communities impacted by the pandemic and you can donate here.
Check back for more inspiring stories
Thanks very much to all these hard-working, innovative companies, who are working hard to save lives and get us back outside as soon as possible. We're sure there will be more developments and ideas from outdoor gear manufacturers, so we'll be adding to this list as we hear.
More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19
🌳 Can I climbing / hillwalking? Here's what you can and can't do in the 2nd English Lockdown (November 2020)
🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full November update here
😷 When and how will the walls reopen? In England they're now closed for the November Lockdown. Read our November Walls article
✈️ Can I now travel abroad again? Get the latest answers to going abroad with travel restrictions now easing
🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Yes - we officially reopened at the start of July!
🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? The latest club huts update and all you need to know
📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO
🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on
As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.
From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.
If you liked what we did, then tell your friends about us: www.thebmc.co.uk/join