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So you want to do your bit to buy outdoor gear and clothing from ethical and sustainable brands. But what should you be aware of? And who should you be supporting?

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Jacob A

As adventurers, we tend to acquire a decent/astronomical amount of kit. There are a few key things to keep in mind when buying gear: making sure you’re getting the right fit, that it’s good value, and that it’ll get the job done. It’s your hard-earned money you’re spending, after all. 

But a new bit of kit is more than that: it’s also a vote. When you buy something from a company, you’re supporting them, and by extension their ethos too. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re only buying from the most responsible brands. This article explains what to look out for, and what to avoid. So let's dig into the most sustainable brands.

What makes a brand environmentally good or bad?

woman sewing clothes

This isn’t an easy question to answer. Every point in a supply chain brings with it the potential to do environmental harm, and it can be pretty difficult to avoid all the pitfalls. But some brands make it their mission to do the least harm possible - and these are the things they’ll be watching out for:

  • Production. Synthetic materials tend to be made using non-renewable resources, plus huge amounts of energy and water. However, biological products - cotton, for instance - can also have an environmental toll, when the energy, land, chemicals and water needed to grow them are accounted for. Brands have to make sensitive and careful sourcing choices to be truly sustainable.
  • Location. Where are these products made? For instance, a manufacturing country’s environmental laws, approach to human welfare and geographical distance (in terms of shipping costs) may weaken a brand’s environmental claim.
  • Durability. Is a product made to last? Although built-in obsolescence is less prevalent in outdoor gear than other retail industries, it is still present, especially in cheaper brands. The longer a product lasts, the better its environmental efficiency.
  • Waste. When a product does reach the end of its lifespan, how can you get rid of it? Can it biodegrade or be recycled? Or will it end up in landfill?

Greenwashing, and how to avoid it

There is a wealth of information available online these days, and consumers are more informed than ever. Yet, there is also a certain amount of ‘greenwashing’ which can muddy the waters. Greenwashing is when a company basically makes itself out to be more environmentally responsible than it actually is.

So how can you recognise greenwashing? It can be difficult: brands pay big bucks for advertising, and this often involves a certain amount of spin-doctoring. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Transparency. If the brand only talks vaguely about their environmental credentials, chances are there isn’t much substance behind them. An ethical brand will be shouting about the good work it does from the rooftops. We proudly sport our 1% for the Planet and Carbon Footprint logos on our site because encouraging more sustainable adventure is at the core of what we do - not an afterthought.
  • Facts and figures. Do their stats add up? For instance, if a company says that all the cotton it uses is sustainably grown, but most of their products are synthetic, their claim doesn’t amount to a whole deal.
  • Track record. See what has been said about the company in the past. Have they popped up in the news for shady dealings or cover-ups? If so, probably best to give them a miss.
  • Ask outright. Especially for smaller brands, the info you need may simply not be online. Drop them an email or pick up the phone - not only does this help you get answers, but it also sends a message to the brand that its customers care about its environmental standing.

The win-win of buying second-hand

Every product has some kind of environmental footprint. Even when brands do everything they can to minimise this, it’s still there. This is why buying second-hand is not only good value, but also often an environmentally responsible choice. The product has already been made and used, after all.

There is a certain trend amongst some wannabe adventurers of buying high-quality gear, using it once, and then deciding the great outdoors is not for them. This means there are often a wealth of goods ripe for the picking online or in charity shops. Facebook marketplace is also a great option.

This doesn’t apply to everything of course. Second-hand hiking socks or merino undies are probably a no-go, for starters. For more specialised outdoor gear, such as climbing ropes, there are also safety concerns to think about. However, there are still plenty of items where the pre-owned option is definitely worth considering and could save you a pretty penny too. 

Why these decisions matter

We live in the golden age of connectivity and information. We have a huge luxury of choice when it comes to the things we buy - that’s a real privilege. It also means we have power as a consumer. By choosing to buy only the most sustainable products, we are sending a clear message to the industry about our priorities.

In time, this can lead to profound changes. Already, brands are far more focused on appearing environmentally solid than they were just a decade ago, and the trend is only going up. We have the power to boost this trend - use your power wisely adventurers!

25 sustainable outdoor brands

Patagonia

Pataongia logo

Outdoor clothing and gear

Patagonia is an environmental heavyweight. Not only do they specialise in sustainable and durable gear, they also sell their products second-hand (Worn Wear) and offer repairs on their gear too. They also proactively work with activists and environmental groups.

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi logo

Outdoor clothing, bags and sleeping bags

Cotopaxi is a Certified B Corporation, which means they officially do more good than harm. Their products are often made of recycled or eco-friendly materials, and a sizeable chunk of their profits helps fund sustainable poverty relief. 

Toad&Co

Toad and co logo

Outdoor clothing

Toad&Co have their roots in creating an ethical business, such as by using recycled materials, reusable packaging, and upcycling old garments.

Tentree

10 tree logo

Outdoor clothing and accessories

Tentree’s unique selling point is that for every item bought, they will plant ten trees in one of over 30 countries. Over 40,000 have been planted to date.

Vaude

Vaude logoo

Outdoor clothing and gear

Based in Germany, Vaude is an environmental pioneer, with products designed with long-term use and upcycling in mind. They meet a number of well-regarded environmental standards, including Fair Wear and Bluesign.

Picture Organic

Picture logo

Outdoor clothing

By setting out with the intention to build a wholly sustainable business, Picture Organic focuses on minimum impact, recyclability and durability for its products.

REI

REI co op logo

Outdoor clothing and equipment

A big US-based brand, REI runs as a co-operative, so tends to put people before profits. They invest in rewilding, promote second-hand gear and their products follow strong sustainability standards.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu logo

Outdoor clothing and equipment

Kathmandu is one of the largest outdoor brands to become a Certified B Corporation, meaning they uphold high environmental standards throughout their supply chain and product development.

La Sportiva

La Sportiva

Outdoor clothing and shoes

La Sportiva is committed to using low-impact technology and production methods where it can. Their ISO certification means they uphold strong environmental standards.

Prana

Prana logo

Outdoor and yoga clothing

Prana has always been committed to sustainability, such as through using organic cotton and recycled materials, and ensuring the health of its workers.

Fjallraven

Fjallraven logo

Outdoor clothing and accessories

Fjallraven’s sustainability commitments include a focus on durability, using low impact materials, and recylability of products.

Dakine

Dakine

Outdoor clothing and equipment

Dakine is making strong steps towards sustainability, focusing on durability, environmentally friendlier materials, and healthy working conditions.

Finisterre

Finisterre

Outdoor clothing and equipment

Finisterre have long-held environmental values and are another Certified B Corporation. Instantly biodegradable packaging is one of their more innovative practices.

Eider

Eider

Mountaineering and ice climbing clothing and equipment

This French-based company mitigates the impact of their products through sustainable design, low-impact manufacture, and guaranteed durability.

Columbia

Columbia logo

Outdoor clothing and accessories

Columbia’s environmental efforts include protecting natural resources, such as water, and ensuring accountability and collaboration throughout the supply chain.

Save the Duck

Save the Duck logo

Outdoor clothing

This Italian-based brand focuses on animal welfare, with 100% animal-free products, as well as sustainable development. They are also a newly-qualified Certified B Corporation.

Adidas Outdoor

Adidas Outdoor

Outdoor sportswear

Despite their reputation as a mega-corp, Adidas is doing more and more to develop a sustainable business model, especially focusing on ocean plastic.

Paramo

Paramo logo

Outdoor clothing

Paramo champions ethical manufacturing and durability, and also runs its own recycling scheme. They also help fund a number of conservation projects.

Helly Hansen

Helly hansen logo

Outdoor clothing and gear

This Norwegian staple focuses on preserving and conserving water as its principal sustainability effort.

Norrona

Norrona logo

Outdoor clothing and gear

Norrona donates 1% of its revenue to sustainability-focused organisations, as well as supporting environmental efforts along its supply chain.

Wild Rye

Wild Rye logo

Women’s outdoor clothing

Wild Rye use Bluesign certified fabrics or recycled materials wherever they can and are committed to high environmental and animal welfare standards.

Aku

Aku logo

Outdoor footwear

This Italian brand champions traceability and short supply chains, with 85% of its production in Italy and Romania, as well as recyclable packaging.

Teko

Teko logo

Outdoor socks

Teko produces ‘eco-performance socks’, using low-impact materials, chlorine-free processing and non-toxic dyes.

Zeal Optics

Zeal Optics logo

Outdoor sunglasses and goggles

Zeal are members of a number of environmentally-focused schemes, including 1% For The Planet, Protect Our Winters and the National Forest Foundation.

Econscious

Econscious logo

Outdoor clothing

This US brand has sustainability hard-wired into its business model, working with a number of environmental organisations and giving 1% of its revenue to environmental causes.


Want to do more? Check out our guide to changing the world - how adventurers can help fight climate challenge


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