The Best Sustainable Outdoor Gear for Epic Adventure

Using sustainable outdoor gear is an important part of spending time outdoors

During this time of the year, many outdoor enthusiasts head to the hills – or, the mountains – for some sporting fun. Most of us are fully knowledgeable about the environmental impacts of camping and hiking, or other outdoor sporting activities, and we take care to minimize any damage we do. It usually comes with the territory – if you’re a fan of the outdoors, you tend to be nicer to the outdoors. But how many of us are aware of the environmental impact of the gear that we use? Our outfits, equipment, tents, sleeping bags, and all of that? That requires a bit more thought and research, and this post covers a lot of the information you would need when it comes to understanding and choosing sustainable outdoor gear.

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By the way, it’s impossible for me to write this without mentioning the situation with National Parks right now. It’s heartbreaking to watch the state of the National Parks because of the partial federal shutdown. Whatever else is going on with American politics, I think we can all agree that allowing the parks to suffer is not a good thing from any angle. This, is of course, apart from the extremely unfair burden put on the federal workers who have been furloughed during a rough time of the year, and are being forced to dip into their savings to make it through. Even travelers like me are affected. I was planning to visit Mount Rainier National Park, and I am so sad that I will probably be unable to. And as I type this, the end to this record shutdown is, after nearly four weeks, still nowhere in sight. 

Isn’t this entire attitude typical of all of us, as humans? We just continue to push through our own agendas with scant regard for the consequences. The people be damned. The environment be damned. The parks? Those glorious American treasures? I’m so disheartened to see where they figure in the grand scheme of things for us humans. I’m not going to say “for the government,” because this government was chosen by the people, and it therefore purportedly reflects, as in any democracy, the will of the people. 

So, this is on all of us. We’re doing this.

The federal government shutdown in the United States is affecting the national parks.

And boy is this an accurate visual representation of what we’re doing to the planet:

Government shutdown effects on the country

Image courtesy Daily KosWe need to do everything we can to protect the environment. It is more important than anything else right now. Without nature, we are nothing – and this is the selfish aspect of it all. The non-selfish aspect is that we should not be causing irreparable and lasting damage to anything, period. Wanton destruction of the environment, ecosystems, wildlife, populations – is ultimately the destruction of everything we hold dear, everything that not only makes life possible, but beautiful. And meaningful. 

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If you are an outdoor person, and love heading out into the wilderness, you probably have loads of outdoor gear. Are they made of sustainable materials? If they’re not, this post may be useful to you. 

Spending the winter outdoors adventuring is awesome. And so is the sustainable outdoor gear you can wear to make it even more epic.

 

Standard Sustainable Practices in the Outdoor Gear Industry

I found out recently that there are some industry standards for the supply chains used in the outdoor industry. Most serious outdoor brands make a solid effort to be more responsible and ethical in their production. They have introduced more transparent, traceable manufacturing processes, they have begun to use more eco-friendly materials (including organic, recycled materials), they route some of their profits toward environmental organizations, and more.

Some of the sustainable practices they use include the following:

Circular Business Model

Many brands, such as The North Face, have jumped into a circular business model. This model takes into account every stage of the product’s entire life, with a focus on using quality materials and giving the materials new roles in the end through recycling and upcycling. The aim is to make the best use of quality products and make them last as long as possible, as opposed to making cheap, low-quality products frequently (a la the fast fashion industry). VF is focusing on repair and rental options, as well as recycling and upcycling. The North Face offers a lifetime warranty for three products and also repairs decades-old products for customers.

Organic Clothing

Materials that are replacing animal products can still cause damage in other ways. Conventionally grown cotton, for example, has a significant environmental impact. Organically grown cotton has a far lighter environmental footprint, since industrial pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants are not used. Certified organic farms that grow organic cotton (or bamboo, hemp, etc) are required to maintain the health of their soil and water, and also follow best practices for water and energy conservation.

Products with organic materials usually contain labels which indicate that the material came from an organic farm, as certified by Organic USA or other such authorities.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade programs promote sustainable livelihoods and safe working conditions for the workers throughout the supply chain, as well as environmental protection and community empowerment. It works to prevent exploitation. For example, REI has the Fair Trade Certified™ mark stamped by Fair Trade USA. 

Fair trade credentials can apply to individual ingredients or materials, or to one or several parts of the process. If the entire process and all the materials comply with fair-trade principles, then the end product may be certified as fair-trade by Fair Trade USA.

Recycled Materials

A big sustainability move has been to recycle plastic bottles into polyester. Recycled polyester can be found in every type of outdoor gear, from clothing to backpacks. A common marketing tactic is to also state the details of the plastic bottles used in that product – the number, type, etc. Makes the buyer feel better:P

Why use recycled materials, though? Well, recycled materials use up less energy and water than virgin materials, and help route plastics back to the market (in a circular model) instead of to the landfill. 

Is it enough to be using recycled gear? Nope. But it is part of the solution, and it’s better, from an energy-use and environment standpoint, to opt for recycled material in place of virgin material.

bluesign®

A Swiss group called bluesign® technologies monitors the lifecycle of materials from factory to final product. The bluesign® team works to optimize the supply chain in terms of resource use, health and safety, water and air emissions, and consumer safety. They have a set of standards for each of these, and certify after the strictest (they say) of checks. So, essentially, a bluesign® certified material or end-product meets their criteria, so you can rest assured when you buy it.

 

The Question of Animal Welfare in Your Outdoor GearMost outdoors enthusiasts also love animals, and it’s a logical next step to take good care of animals while trying to protect the environment. #animalwelfare #environment #outdoor

It’s not like animals have not been taken into consideration by the outdoor gear brands. Most outdoors enthusiasts also love animals, and it’s a logical next step to take good care of animals while trying to protect the environment. There’s the Responsible Down Standard, the Responsible Wool Standard, and the Leather Working Group (which doesn’t really look out for the animals, and is more concerned with the impact of industrial leather production on the environment). 

But none of these “standards” are, obviously, cruelty-free and/or vegan. While it’s encouraging that the environment is getting some prominence in the business practices of these companies, I wish they’d delve deeper and realize how animal welfare is an essential part of environmental protection. And, by animal welfare, I don’t mean just use animal products after trying to keep the exploited animals “happy” for their short lives; I mean stop using animal products altogether. 

Just as a reminder, animals are routinely reared and slaughtered in the millions for “products” that we use – such as fur coats, down insulation and more. Despite the “humanely treated” and “responsible” standards that have been introduced into manufacturing processes – mostly as a marketing gimmick to assuage guilt – these animals are not living lives anywhere close to what they naturally would if left to themselves. 

Because of our consumer demand for softer fur and high-quality down, the burden falls on the animals, being voiceless an helpless as they are, and manufacturers will do whatever it takes to give consumers what they want, at a terrible, final cost to the animals. At the end of the day, it’s a money-making business, not an animal welfare committee. 

Even if you do nothing else about this, please just think about these two facts:

  1. Animals are tortured and killed for your warm clothing. There is no other way to get the leather jacket or the fur coat made.
  2. There are numerous viable alternatives to animal products that can keep you just as warm, that are sustainably produced and involve no torture and murder.

 

How do I Choose Sustainable Outdoor Gear?

With so many labels and various standards, it becomes a bit complicated to narrow down the products that satisfy your criteria. There are very few brands that are completely vegan, but most brands do offer some vegan products – which you should make note of (the list is below). Other criteria are still evolving. For example, if something is manufactured in a far-away country and flown all the way across the world to where you are, is that sustainable? It isn’t really, but outdoor gear is not something you can make by yourself (unless you’re very handy), and for now we have to put ourselves at the mercy of these companies that for the most part seem to be doing the right thing. 

What about thrifted and secondhand items? I recently visited some thrift stores, and found fantastic collections of outdoor gear. These items, depending on when and where they were made, are likely to contain animal products and non-organic fleece, and may even have been made by exploited workers well before the manufacturing company adopted fair-trade standards. Are these items still worth buying? 

For me, the decision was financial. I cannot afford all brand new sustainable gear, and have made the uncomfortable compromise of buying some pre-owned vegan items of unknown origin. I don’t know if they’re fair-trade or organic; it’s impossible to know with a thrifted item. But ultimately, your decision boils down to whether you need the item, and whether you can afford a brand new item with its half dozen reassuring certifications. If you can’t afford the new item, then opt for the best thrifted alternative, if that is an option. As always, just do your best with what you know and can manage. Don’t buy something unless you absolutely need it, and when you do buy, make sure you make the most responsible choice for the environment and the animals.

Seriously, though, it’s way past time for outdoor gear companies to all have uniform manufacturing standards that put the environment (and animal welfare) first. But until that glorious day comes, this is what we little people have to do. Apart from giving our strongly worded feedback to the companies so they know what their customers are eagerly looking for.

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THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE DETAILS.

A List of Vegan, Sustainable Outdoor Gear

This is not a comprehensive list by any means. In fact, what I’ve attempted is to list out some of the possibilities there are in the sustainable outdoor gear industry, and hopefully motivate others to do more research into it. There are many options for those of us interested in cutting down out impact on the environment, so take your time to check them all out. This list is just a sampler.

Also, this is not a call to encourage you to throw out your existing gear and buy sustainable gear. Keep what you have, and use it till it falls completely apart. Save this page for when you have no option but to buy something new. I know these products are super sexy, and you’re probably tempted to get some of them. But buy only if you need it! Let’s not waste any more resources than we absolutely have to.

Epic Vegan, Sustainable Products for the Outdoors

These specific products are vegan and sustainable – but the brand that produces them does not claim to be vegan (though they do claim to make sustainable products). This list is just a sample of the awesome cruelty-free outdoor gear that’s available nowadays!

 

Patagonia Switchback Sports Bra | Shop Patagonia on Amazon

Patagonia's sustainably made sports bra

 

Columbia Midnight Stretch Baselayer | Shop Columbia on Amazon

Columbia midnight stretch baselayer

 

Buffwear Thermonet Hat | Shop Buff on Amazon

Buffwear thermonet hat

 

Phunkshun mask/balaclava | Shop Phunkshun on Amazon

Phunkshun balaclava

 

Mountain Equipment Women’s Glove | Shop ME on Amazon

Mountain Equipment women's glove

 

Dakine socks | Shop Dakine on Amazon

Dakine socks are sustainably made

 

Arc’teryx Hiking Boots | Shop Arc’teryx on Amazon

Arc’teryx Hiking Boots

 

The North Face Ventrix™ jackets | Shop Amazon

The North Face Ventrix™ jacket is sustainably made and sourced

 

Napapijri Sleeveless Hoodie | Shop Napapijri on Amazon

Napapijri Sleeveless Hoodie

 

Helly Hanson Outdoor & Hiking Pants | Shop HH on Amazon

Helly Hanson Hiking Pants

 

Picture Luna Snow Pants | Special shout-out to Picture for clearly stating which products are vegan | Shop  Picture on Amazon

Picture Luna Snow Pants are sustainably made

 

Big Agnes Sleeping Bag | Shop Amazon

Big Agnes Sleeping Bag

 

Dakine backpack | Shop Dakine on Amazon

Dakine backpack

 

Cotopaxi Capa Vacuum Bottle | Shop Cotopaxi on Amazon

cotopaxi vacuum bottle

 

BioLite Campstove | Shop Amazon

 

Fjällräven tent | Shop Fjallraven on Amazon

Fjällräven tent for camping

 

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE DETAILS.

 

 

Rad Vegan, Sustainable Brands for the Outdoors

These brands are completely vegan and sustainable, as far as I can tell. Any product from them should be adhering to those requirements:

>> Bleed

>> Ethical Wares

>> Altitude Sports & Quartz Co.’s Milkweed Collection | Products made from milkweed plants

>> Hoodlamb | All products made of hemp and organic cotton

>> Marmot Featherless | bluesign-approved materials make up the synthetic insulation

 

If you know of other brands, do let us know in the comments!

Sustainable outdoor gear
Image Courtesy Arc’teryx

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Disclaimer: I have tried to make a list of sustainable outdoor gear for women. If I find that any of these use animal-derived material or are not sustainably made, I will remove them from the list. 

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Learn More

Vegan Puffer Jackets for Winter

Understanding Recycled Materials in Outdoor Clothing & Gear

Rank a Brand: Sustainable Outdoor Gear

 

I hope this post was useful! Please share it in your networks, so more people can find out about sustainable outdoor gear.

If you are an outdoor person, and love heading out into the wilderness, you probably have loads of outdoor gear. Are they made of sustainable materials? If they’re not, this post may be useful to you. #outdoorgear #sustainable #adventure #environment

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE DETAILS.

What do you think?