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Ethical outdoor clothing

Rating 41 brands of outdoor clothing and gear for their ethics and sustainability. 

We look at the environmental impact of synthetic materials and toxic chemicals, animal rights and workers' rights. We also look at repair options for a more sustainable approach, vegan outdoor clothing, and put Berghaus against North Face in an ethical head to head.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Learn more about us  →

What to buy

What to look for when buying outdoor clothing:

  • Is it secondhand? Buying secondhand is nearly always the more sustainable option. Many of the brands in our guide sell secondhand items and offer repair services.

  • People before profit? Does the brand ensure that the workers in its supply chain are respected and paid a living wage? Opt for a brand that scores well in our workers category.

  • Is it made from sustainable materials? Outdoor brands are heavily reliant on synthetic fibres, which are generally not sustainable. Natural fibres are preferable, though may not be as effective as synthetics for more testing outdoor settings.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying outdoor clothing:

  • Do you really need it? The most ethical outdoor gear is that which you already own. Repair the gear you have and only buy more if you really need to.

  • Does it contain PFAS? Many brands are still using these harmful industrial chemicals for waterproofing outdoor gear such as jackets and boots. Opt for a brand that doesn’t use them at all.

  • Is it the product of animal exploitation? Most outdoor gear companies rely on wool, down and leather. If you do choose products containing these materials, ensure that the brand has adequate animal welfare policies in place, such as certified down or wool, or uses recycled animal materials.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

Finding ethical and sustainable outdoor clothing 

The beauty of the great outdoors is central to the marketing of outdoor brands: 'buy products and you will experience the natural world in all its glory.' Of course, there is some truth in this – it isn’t advisable to go hiking in a pair of heels and a mini-skirt (believe me). But when you consider the environmental damage that results from the production of much outdoor gear, this marketing shtick can seem hypocritical.

But not all brands are biting the hand that feeds them. In this guide we look at a range of outdoor brands, from well-known high street names to lesser-known ethical labels, to highlight the best and the worst ethical practice.

We chose brands which make a wide range of outdoor clothing e.g. waterproofs, and fleeces, but they may also make walking boots, tents, sleeping bags and rucksacks. We have not covered brands that are specialists in only one area e.g just walking boots. As well as our core ethical categories (animals, climate, company ethos, tax, and workers), we have also examined each brand’s use of sustainable materials and toxic PFAS.

Outdoor clothing brands in this guide

We have selected companies that offer a range of widely used outdoor clothing and equipment. This includes big high street brand names like Berghaus and North Face as well as 'in store' brands like Peter Storm and Eurohike, along with smaller independent companies like Alpkit and Paramo

What makes outdoor clothing ethical?

The most ethical outdoor clothing and gear is that which you already own. You may consider your decades-old gilet unstylish, but retro is always in fashion! And if it is broken then see if it can be repaired – either by yourself, by a local tailor, or send it to one of the brands that offers repair services. We provide more information about repairs further on in this guide.

The next best option is buying secondhand and, to make life easier (and cheaper), most of our Best Buy brands have secondhand online shops. 

If you do need to buy new, then opt for one of our Best Buys or Recommended brands. The flow chart infographic walks you through these questions of if you need it, if it can be repaired, and if it's available secondhand.

Infographic flowchart about when and whether to buy new outdoor clothing

What outdoor clothing and gear do outdoor brands make?

The table below shows what outdoor clothing and equipment each brand makes. 

Brands of outdoor clothing and equipment and who makes what, listed by A to Z of brand
Brand Waterproofs Insulated jackets Fleeces Walking boots Rucksacks Tents Sleeping bags
Adidas y y y y y n n
Alpkit y y y n y y y
Arc’Teryx y y y y y n n
Ayacucho y y y n n n y
Berghaus y y y y y n n
Brasher y   y y n n n
Bridgedale n n n Socks only n n n
Columbia y y y y y n n
Craghoppers y y y y y y y
Dare 2b y y y n y n n
Eurohike n n n n y y y
Finisterre y y y y y n n
Fjällräven y y y n y y y
Forclaz n n n y y y y
Freedom Trail y n n n n n n
Gelert y y y n y y y
Hi-Gear n n n n n y y
Jack Wolfskin y y y y y y y
Karrimor y y y y y n y
Lowe Alpine n n n n y n n
Mammut y y y y y n y
Merrell y n y y n n n
Montane y y y n y n n
Mountain Equipment y y y n y n y
Mountain Hardwear y y y n y y y
Mountain Warehouse y y y y y y y
North Ridge y y y y n n n
Páramo y y y n n n n
Patagonia y y y n y n y
Peter Storm y y y y n n n
prAna n y y n n n n
Quechua y y y y y y y
Rab y y y n y y y
Regatta y y y y y y y
Rohan y y y n y n n
Salomon y y y y y n n
Simond y y n y n n y
Sprayway y y y y y n y
The North Face y y y y y y y
Trespass y y y y y y y
Vaude y y y y y y y

Which fabrics should I buy?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this because there are competing ethical factors and some differences in performance. Plant-based natural fibres, especially when organically produced, are generally the most sustainable materials, so go for these where possible. But they may not be adequate for more testing outdoor activities and the joys of British weather.

Animal-derived fibres, such as wool and down, can perform very well (especially for warmth) but come with animal rights and welfare issues. And synthetic fibres, which are ubiquitous in this market, have great performance credentials, but are mostly derived from fossil fuels, are not biodegradable, and contribute to microplastic pollution.

An important consideration is what you need it for: are you going to be climbing Everest, or is your expedition only taking you are far as the local park? For the latter you may not need a whole outfit of high-tech synthetic gear, so natural fibres will likely suffice.

Buying secondhand products allows you to bypass most of these ethical dilemmas because it means you aren’t contributing to demand for new products – though secondhand synthetic clothing will still contribute to microplastic pollution.

What materials are found in outdoor clothing?

Outdoor clothing can be made of many types of materials. They all have their advantages and disadvantages which we summarise in the table below.

Common materials found in outdoor clothing
Material Most ethical options Generally used for Pros Cons
Natural plant-based fibres: cotton, linen, hemp, etc.



Base layers, t-shirts, shirts, some jackets, and coats.


Does not contribute to microplastic pollution.

Generally a lower climate impact than wool, especially if organic.

Generally not waterproof.

Not as light as synthetics.

Wool & Merino wool



Certified by Responsible Wool Standard

Sourced from non-mulesing farms (mulesing is prohibited in the UK).

Base layers.


Does not contribute to microplastic pollution.

Warm, breathable, does not need washing often.

Animal rights/welfare issues, especially if sourced from farms that practice mulesing, which is prohibited in the UK but common in Australia – one of the largest wool exporters.

Higher climate impact than most plant-based or synthetic fibres when full life cycle of the sheep is accounted for.



Certified: Responsible Down Standard; Fjällräven’s Down Promise; Mountain Equipment’s Down Codex.

Insulation in jackets, sleeping bags.


Warm and lightweight.

Does not contribute to microplastic pollution, though the outer layer of down jackets and sleeping bags are generally synthetic.

Animal rights/welfare issues, especially if the down is not certified, which means it might be plucked from live animals.

Not waterproof, can clump together if wet and can take a long time to dry.



Leather sourced from a supplier certified ‘gold’ by the Leather Working Group ensures best environmental and social practice, though is not a marker of animal welfare.

Walking boots, some gloves.

Durable and strong.

Water resistant, though not waterproof.


Animal rights/welfare issues. While many claim that leather is merely a by-product of the meat industry, it still supports it.

The tanning processes is usually very polluting and toxic. Opt for leather from gold-standard tanneries.

Synthetic materials including polyester, nylon, elastane, and faux leather. Recycled, though this still sheds microplastics. Clothing of all varieties, shoes, sleeping bags, tents. Lightweight, dries easily, wicks well.

Not biodegradable.

Contributes to microplastic pollution.

Generally derived from fossil fuels.

* We found little when it came to policies that guaranteed the welfare of animals made into leather. Most brands just said it was a by-product of the meat industry, so argued that welfare considerations were not applicable. Buying secondhand is best.

Find out more about these materials in our additional articles:

Is there a problem with the use of synthetic fibres?

Nearly all outdoor gear brands rely heavily on synthetic fibres, primarily because they are lightweight, durable, and can be waterproofed. However, most synthetic fibres, such as polyester, are made from fossil fuels and contribute to microplastic pollution. A report by Changing Markets Foundation recommended that the sector needed to “reduce reliance on synthetic materials, through a viable trajectory and targets for the uptake of more sustainable alternatives.”

How do outdoor clothing brands score for sustainable material use?

Brands were awarded marks on several criteria:

  • The proportion of their materials that Ethical Consumer considered to be ‘most’ sustainable (e.g. organic or recycled natural fibres, recycled wool/down) or ‘more’ sustainable (e.g. recycled synthetics, non-organic plant fibres, responsibly sourced wool).
  • Whether the company had taken steps to reduce water usage and pollution from fabric production.
  • Whether the company was signed up to the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals, a multi-stakeholder initiative working to phase out hazardous chemicals from the fashion industry.

There were only three brands in this category which scored the highest (50/100): Fjallraven, Jack Wolfskin, and Vaude.

Most other brands scored 30 or 40/100.

Nine brands received no points at all for their use of sustainable materials. These were:

There was no or little evidence that these brands were using any significant amount of more sustainable materials or that they were taking steps to reduce water use and pollution or that they had singed up to ZDHC.

Use of recycled materials

Many of the brands are increasing their use of recycled synthetic fibres, which in some respect is good news. For example, all of Patagonia's waterproof jackets have an outer made of recycled polyester. We considered recycled synthetic fibre to be a ‘more’ sustainable material because of the lower carbon impact associated with it. However, it still ends up in landfill eventually and contributes to microplastic pollution, so ultimately the sector needs to find more sustainable solutions in future.

Alpkit was the only company we found that was selling a fully waterproof 'Ranger' jacket made from organic cotton with zips, poppers and labels made from recycled materials. It was on sale for the 'special offer' price of £240 when we checked its website in April 2024.

Rear view of group of people in forest

Animal products in outdoor clothing

Most of the brands in this guide used wool, down, leather, and, to a lesser extent, silk in their products. To get full marks, a brand and its wider group needed to be free of animal-derived materials and have a policy committing to not using animal products in future.

None of the brands in this guide achieved this, but the closest was Páramo, which currently doesn’t use any animal-derived materials, but didn’t have an explicit policy saying this. We award more marks for brands that have policies on this issue because it shows that they have committed to not using animal-derived materials at all.

Brands that sold animal products but were considered to have adequate animal welfare policies (such as certified down, or prohibiting wool from farms that practice mulesing) could score up to 40 points. Brands scoring 40 were: Alpkit, Finisterre, Lowe Alpine, Patagonia, Rab and Vaude. So opt for these brands if you are buying clothing made from animal products. 

Brands that used animal products but did not have adequate welfare policies scored zero and included Adidas, Berghaus, Decathlon (and its Quechua brand), Gelert, Karrimor, Merrell, Mountain Warehouse, Trespass, plus the Blacks Outdoor brands like Eurohike, Peter Storm and Millets (which are owned by JD Sports which is partly owned by the Pentland Group).

Some brands used silk – for example, in gloves. Equip Outdoor Technologies, which owns brands Rab and Lowe Alpine, stopped using silk as a result of Ethical Consumer. They told us: “After Ethical Consumer emphasised the negative impacts of silk production in 2021, we dropped our small range of products containing silk.” It’s great to see companies making positive changes as a result of our research.  

Finding vegan outdoor clothing

If you wish to avoid clothing derived from animal exploitation, look for labels that don't include

  • leather or suede
  • wool
  • silk
  • cashmere
  • animal down 

In this guide, Páramo is the only brand which currently doesn’t use any animal-derived materials.

We have a separate feature on animal products in clothing which looks into how these animal materials are obtained and processed, and what certification schemes or welfare standards exist, if any.

Specifically for outdoor clothing, we have looked at what all the brands say about their use of animal down, including brands that will only use synthetic down.

Use of 'forever chemicals' (PFAS, PFCs) in outdoor clothing and equipment

PFAS are persistent toxic chemicals used as waterproofing in a wide range of outdoor clothing products. 

These chemicals are harmful to the environment and human health and are dubbed 'forever chemicals' as they are likely to be around for, well, forever. 

Our extended feature on PFAS forever chemicals and the approach taken to them by companies in this guide has more detail about which brands have removed them completely, what governments should be doing and what consumers can do to avoid buying products with PFAS.

Here are the top scorers for use of PFAS:

Scored 100/100: all products PFC-free now

Scored 90/100: vast majority of products PFC free with target date for rest

  • Alpkit (all PFC-free now except tents by end of 2024)
  • Jack Wolfskin (all PFC-free now except footwear only 75% of which is PFC-free)
  • Mammut (most products will be PFC-free by autumn 2025 but only 90% of footwear)
  • Patagonia (92% PFC-free now, the rest by 2025)
  • Rab (80% PFC-free now, rest by winter 2024)
  • Vaude (all PFC-free now except 12% of tents, rest by 2025)

Are microplastics a problem in outdoor clothing?

Microplastics have been found in some of the remotest areas of the planet, as well as within the human body – including in the blood, and the placenta of an unborn child. A significant proportion of microplastic pollution stems from the production, use, and disposal of synthetic clothing.

The effects of microplastic pollution on human health and the environment are still being studied, though the European Chemicals agency has warned: “Exposure to microplastics in laboratory studies has been linked to a range of negative (eco)toxic and physical effects on living organisms.”

Even though microplastics are widely considered a major emerging threat to ecosystems, the clothing sector has been slow to react. 

A report by Changing Markets Foundation which looked at 46 high-street brands, including some outdoor clothing brands, concluded: “Most companies stick to business as usual until ‘more research’ is done.”

Many of the brands in our guide are members of the Microfibre Consortium, an organisation that aims to tackle the issue of microplastics from the textile industry. While it isn’t clear what concrete progress has been made as yet as a result of this consortium, signatories have pledged to “work towards zero impact from fibre fragmentation from textiles to the natural environment by 2030.”

PFCs and outdoor clothing video

Buying secondhand, repairing and recycling outdoor clothing and equipment

The most ethical and sustainable gear is that which you already own, so it is best to make it last as long as possible.

If it does need repairing and your skills aren’t up to the job, then a number of the brands in our guide offer repairs (or will recycle your gear if it is beyond repair).

Several brands will also accept your old clothes once you are done with them and recycle them, ensuring they don’t go to landfill.

If what you have can’t be fixed, then buying secondhand is a great option because it doesn’t increase demand for new goods – all of which have some impact on people and planet. Plus, it is usually cheaper!

Some of the brands in this guide also sell secondhand products, including most of our Best Buy brands.

Repair and secondhand services offered by a selection of ethical outdoor clothing and equipment brands
Brand Repair service? Recycles old gear? Secondhand shop?
Alpkit Yes – any brand. Yes: Continuum Project, any brand. Yes: Alpkit Outlet official eBay shop.
Craghoppers Limited repairs, in partnership with Timpson. No No
Dare 2b No No No
Finisterre Yes Yes: discount given on new gear in exchange. Yes: Reskinned shop.
Fjällräven No – but offers detailed instruction on its website of how to repair clothes. No No
Mammut Yes No No
Montane Yes No Yes – Montane Factory Shop which sells end of line and repaired items (Northumberland and online).
Páramo Yes Yes: discount given on new gear in exchange. Yes: Páramo Re-store Adventure eBay shop.
Patagonia Yes Yes Yes: Worn Wear – though only delivers within the US. In-person shop in Berlin.
Rab/Lowe Alpine Yes Yes: including any old down items, such as pillows. Kind of: ‘Mountain Outfitters’ shop sells end of line, factory seconds, and samples (Derbyshire store only).
Regatta No No No
Vaude Yes – take to your nearest Vaude dealer. Repairs other brands too. No Maybe – Vaude Second Use Shop launched several years ago with eBay, though could not be found.

NB Table only includes brands with an overall ethiscore of 40 and above (out of 100).

There are also a few independent repair services in the UK that specialise in outdoor gear, including Lancashire Sports Repairs and Scottish Mountain Gear.

Secondhand marketplaces

There are several secondhand marketplaces that you could use, besides the well-known ones like eBay, charity shops, and Gumtree.

We have rated some of these secondhand clothing marketplaces in our ethical clothing brands guide, including Depop, Preloved, Thrifted and Vinted.

Increasing the lifespan of your outdoor clothing and equipment

According to waste charity WRAP, an extra nine months of active use can reduce a garment’s carbon, water and waste footprints by as much as 30%. While we usually replace our day-to-day clothes because they no longer fit or we don’t like them, a recent study found that for outdoor clothing, we’re most likely to chuck out items due to damage or poor functionality. Care is thus important.

The REI’s ‘Care and Repair’ website has some of the most comprehensive articles on the web on gear care. The iFixit website is also a good source.

Here are our top tips for increasing the life span of clothes:

  1. Buy gear built to last. Cheap tents from bargain retailers which are then abandoned after festivals says a lot about throw away culture in this industry.
  2. Wash it as per the manufacturer's instructions – it will perform better and last longer.
  3. Re-waterproof jackets, coats and tents: all waterproofing fades over time. This is especially true in the case of PFC-free gear. We recommend using Nikwax’s products to re-proof your kit. Nikwax is the sister company of Páramo, and their cleaning and waterproofing products do not contain any toxic PFCs, parabens, phthalates or triclosan.
  4. Dry your gear after use and store in a cool place (no one likes a mouldy tent!)
  5. If you own leather boots they need to be regularly treated to stop the material from cracking and eventually splitting. Nikwax offers a range of products, but you can also use beeswax (unless you're vegan).
  6. Don’t compress your down/insulated gear for long periods of time – it will reduce its insulating properties. 

Several companies in this guide offer professional outdoor gear cleaning and care services including Alpkit, Rab/Lowe Alpine (only for own-branded products) and Páramo.

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

Person sewing patch onto an insulated jacket

Repairing your gear

The Wear and Care survey found that almost 80% of us try to repair or reproof outdoor gear before replacing it. Professional repairs later down the line will be more expensive (e.g. £35+ for patching a down sleeping bag), though still much cheaper than buying new.

Below are a few tips on some of the most common repairs:

1. Patchwork – If you have nicked your jacket on some brambles or pitched your tent a bit enthusiastically you can patch your gear with easy to apply tape or patches.

2. Shoe glue – If your boots are splitting, or the sole is coming loose, you can use waterproof glue to slow down the deterioration. The sooner you act though the more likely your efforts will be meaningful.

3. Needle work – Stitching torn synthetic rucksacks or insulated jackets is trickier than normal fabric. You will need to use a thin, sharp needle and it is best to use polyester thread too. (Or take it to a local tailor if you don't feel confident to do this.)

4. Replacement poles and pegs – Most outdoor gear retailers now stock replacement parts for your camping gear, or spares can be purchased directly from most brands.

Recycling outdoor clothing and equipment

For gear that is beyond use or repair, recycling may be an option.

Unfortunately, the Wear and Care survey found that in the UK we are much more likely to throw our outdoor clothing out than recycle it. However, there are lots of options for recycling many of these items. We list some ideas below.

Options for recycling outdoor gear

Clothes and shoes – The Recycle Now website allows you to check local options for donating or recycling shoes and clothing by entering your postcode. Unfortunately, blended fabrics (e.g. 50% cotton, 50% polyester), so often used in outdoor clothing, are harder to recycle.

Camping pots and pans – Recycle Now lists local Household Waste Recycling Centres, as well as charity shops, accepting pots and pans.

Gas canisters – Some manufacturers accept empty canisters for recycling. If not, check your local council website, as some Household Waste Recycling Centres take them. Make sure to burn off any remaining gas and mark them as empty before recycling them.

Other gear – It’s worth checking whether your gear manufacturer can recycle your item for you. There are also a couple of great independent initiatives in the UK.

Green Peak Gear accepts old climbing gear for reuse and recycling via a number of climbing centres in the north of England. Upcycled products from dog collars to hanging planters are sold by sister company Scavenger, based in Sheffield. Profits are donated to BMC Access and Conservation Trusts.

Dirtbags accept items such as tents, rucksacks, jackets and harnesses via post. It makes them into new products such as laptop cases, bum bags and frame bags for bikes.

You can also make things like water-resistant sacks from old tent panels.

Group of people holding sign which reads 'we repair your clothes'
Image: Jack Wolfskin workers (reproduced with permission)

Workers' rights in outdoor clothing brands

All the brands in this guide outsourced the production of all or most of their products, as is the norm in the clothing sector. To get full marks brands were required to have policies in place to uphold workers’ rights throughout their supply chains. We paid particular attention to whether a brand had good purchasing practices (poor purchasing practices can cause suppliers to cut wages or demand excessive overtime), and what they were doing to ensure living wages were paid by their suppliers. Marks were deducted for any third-party evidence of workers’ rights abuses.

Five brands scored full marks: Alpkit, Lowe Alpine, Páramo, Rab, and Vaude, while Mammut received 90/100.

Of particular note is Páramo, which partnered with the Miquelina Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia in 1992, which gives “valuable opportunities to vulnerable women at risk of prostitution and drugs by providing them with training and employment.” All the garments manufactured at this site (80% of its annual production) carry the World Fair Trade Organisation Fair Trade label.

Alpkit is also worth mentioning because 30% of what they sell is manufactured by them in the UK, which is relatively rare in this sector. According to its website, the items that are manufactured in the UK are its wetsuits and Sonder bikes.

How do outdoor clothing companies score for their company ethos?

Most companies scored poorly for company ethos, but a few scored notably well:

Páramo (90/100) – As of 2022 the company, including sister company Nikwax and the Miquelina factory in Bogotá, Colombia, became an employee owned business. It also was considered to be offering an environmental and social alternative because it didn’t use PFAS and most of its products were produced in a Fair Trade-certified factory in Colombia which gave opportunities to vulnerable women. It is also a B-Corp.

Finisterre (80/100) – Finisterre was considered to be offering an environmental alternative because it was PFAS free, had a clear focus on the durability of its products and used a significant proportion of sustainable materials. It was also a B-Corp and a certified living wage company.

Patagonia (60/100) – In 2022, the company restructured so that it is now owned by the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective. The company states: “every dollar that is not reinvested back into Patagonia will be distributed as dividends to protect the planet.” The company expects the annual dividend to be roughly $100m, which will be distributed to the Holdfast Collective, "to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities, as quickly as possible”. Corporate restructures should be treated with suspicion, in part because they can be for self-serving reasons such as tax avoidance, but it appears that Patagonia’s restructure is genuinely a good thing. The company also remains a B-Corp.

Alpkit (40/100) – Alpkit was a certified living wage supplier and a B-Corp.

Regatta's political donations

While sifting through the annual accounts of Risol Imports Ltd (which owns the Regatta and Dare 2b brands), we found that it had made thousands of pounds of political donations in recent years. Between 1 February 2019 and 31 January 2023, the Risol Imports Group donated £100,000 to the UK Conservative Party and £30,000 to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), among other organisations.

The Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential lobby group. According to its website: “CFI works to promote its twin aims of supporting Israel and promoting Conservatism. With close to 2,000 activists as members – alongside 80% of Tory MPs – CFI is active at every level of the Party.”

An investigation by openDemocracy found that the organisation has taken British MPs on 155 free trips in the last ten years, “in an unprecedented charm offensive to promote the country in Westminster.”

The CFI has taken a strong stance against the BDS movement and has lobbied against it in parliament, including through its support of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill – also known as the Anti-boycott Bill – which prevents public bodies from making procurement and investment decisions based on considerations of ethical and human rights. The bill even gives special status to Israel, which Amnesty International asserts will “shield Israeli authorities from accountability for human rights violations and breaching international law.”

Craghoppers, another brand in this guide, is not directly owned by Risol Imports Ltd, but is part of the wider Regatta group, and the two companies share a director. We contacted Regatta, as well as Craghoppers, to ask about these donations, but we received no reply. 

For those of you that don’t want your money to go to the Conservative Party or the CFI, you may wish to boycott Regatta and Dare 2b and spend your money with another brand – ideally one of our Best Buys.

We have more information about the BDS movement in a separate feature. 

Ethical head to head to head: Berghaus vs North Face

Which is more ethical and sustainable, Berghaus or North Face?

We pitched popular outdoor clothing brands Berghaus and North Face against each other in a head to head. The results are below, and it's fair to say, neither did very well...

  Berghaus North Face
Ethiscore Overall Ethiscore rating of 21/100 Overall Ethiscore rating of 28/100
Toxic chemical use and policy Use of forever chemicals (PFAS) rating 10/100 – said hardly anything about them and had no targets for their phase out Use of forever chemicals (PFAS) rating 10/100 – said hardly anything about them and had no targets for their phase out
Ownership Owned by Pentland Group, a British privately owned, family business registered in Jersey, a tax haven – hence its score of 0/100 for Tax Conduct.  Owned by US clothing corp VF Corp with subsidiary companies in tax havens – hence its score of 0/100 for Tax Conduct
Carbon reporting and reduction Pentland only reported its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions and had no target for their reduction – 0/100 for Climate. VF Corp reported its Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions and had dated and quantified targets for their reduction – 100/100 for Climate.
Use of animal products Uses goose and duck down but no recycled down products found Uses goose and duck down but sells some 100% recycled down products.

Who owns what brands?

Have you ever weighed up buying an outdoor jacket from Blacks versus Peter Storm? Did you know they are owned by the same brand? We untangle ownership of some of the big brands. 

The North Face is owned by US clothing and footwear company VF Corporation which also owns Timberland and Vans. VF Corp has still not signed the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile Garment Industry, which is continuing the life-saving work of the Bangladesh Accord to make factories safe after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, which killed 1,134 people. 179 other major clothing companies have signed the Accord, including other outdoor gear companies.

Berghaus, is owned by the Pentland Group, which also owns the Ellesse sports brand, Kickers shoes, and Speedo swimwear. Pentland Group is a British privately owned, family business registered in Jersey, a tax haven – hence its score of 0/100 for Tax Conduct. 

Pentland also owns 51% of JD Sports, a sports retailer which owns lots of outdoor gear brands – Brasher, Eurohike, Freedom Trail, Hi-Gear, North Ridge, and Peter Storm – plus brands which are exclusively sold in JD’s outdoor gear shops: Blacks, Go Outdoors and Millets. In June 2021, JD Sports faced an investor backlash after handing its boss a £4.3m bonus despite taking tens of millions of pounds in government support during the pandemic.

Labelling and certification schemes

Labelling and certification schemes can help reassure customers about the quality, origin or production of materials and the product itself. Unfortunately, though, much outdoor clothing isn’t covered by the best-recognised certifications. For example, outdoor clothing uses very little cotton, making organic and Fairtrade labels much less widely applicable. There is no label for more sustainable polyester.

In addition, most eco claims made in this industry are uncertified, meaning that they often need to be taken with a pinch of salt. 

If in doubt about a company's environmental labelling, look for details. It should be explaining exactly what its claims mean and how it is reducing impacts.

Here are some of the key labels you might find for outdoor gear and companies:

  • Organic only applies to natural fabrics, such as cotton, so it is not widely seen in the outdoors sector. 
  • Fair Trade doesn’t cover polyester, so no companies in our guide are entirely Fairtrade. However, Paramo and Patagonia both offer Fair Trade-sewn products, meaning that those manufacturing the final items (as opposed to the fabrics) are working in Fair Trade conditions.
  • Bluesign logo is a voluntary scheme for clothing companies. It is a certification and labelling scheme designed to provide environmental and health & safety standards and solutions for textile manufacturers. It aims to tackle environmental problems at their root, setting criteria along the way for components and processes rather than assessing a finished end product. The hope is that this will eliminate potentially harmful substances from the process before production begins. Brands generally sign up to the Bluesign logo as a whole, rather than getting specific products certified. 
  • B Corp-certified companies have legally committed to considering all stakeholders rather than just shareholders. While B Corp status doesn’t guarantee any particular action, it allows companies to innovate when it comes to ethics and moves their structure away from pure profit motives. Alpkit, Finisterre and Patagonia are certified B Corps.
  • Responsible Down Standard is the most common certification ensuring animal welfare for those in the down supply chain. The Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS), the Down Codex and the Down Promise all also guarantee animal welfare. See our separate article for more on use of animal down and which companies are certified.
  • Leather Working Group looks at chemical use in the leather industry. At the highest ‘gold’ rating, this represents progress on the issue of tannery chemical use. Patagonia use 100% gold-rated Leather Working Group tanneries.
  • 1 % for the Planet indicates that companies are donating 1% of gross sales to environmental nonprofits (whether or not they are profitable). Nonprofit partners include both local and national projects such as Soil Association, Sierra Club Foundation and Protect Our Winters. Patagonia co-founded the initiative.

Is there a trade-off between outdoor clothing performance and its ethics?

There is a long-held belief in the outdoor world that brands have to make a trade-off between performance and ethics.

In the table below, we’ve tried to make a performance comparison for some common purchasing decisions, looking at a more and less ethical option. (For many outdoors items, a truly ethical option doesn’t yet exist, so you may not agree with our call on what is more ethical.)

Performance and ethics by material type
Less ethical option More ethical option Is there performance trade off for the ethical option?
PFC waterproof PFC-free waterproof No. High-performance PFC-free waterproofs are available
Virgin polyester fleece Recycled polyester fleece No. No significant difference in durability.
Down jacket/sleeping bag Recycled synthetic insulated jacket/ sleeping bag Maybe. Down usually outperforms synthetic on heat-to-weight ratio (although it’s closer than it used to be. Synthetic is better when damp and is more breathable.)
Merino wool base layer Recycled synthetic base layer Maybe. Synthetic is more durable and quicker-drying, but less comfortable when damp and less odour-resistant
Leather hiking boots Vegan leather hiking boots Yes. Vegan leather tends to be less durable, expected to last 2-5 years.

The drive for performance may, in fact, be one reason why outdoors companies have been slow to prioritise ethics. If a company knows that its customers are likely to opt for the best-recognised performance option, they are unlikely to stray far from existing technologies. The best companies then, are those which have committed to investing in the development of new, more ethical options despite potential cost or inconvenience.

Waterproofs are a good example. For years, the outdoor industry has continued to use PFCs for their coating. Many companies say that they have not yet been able to adequately replace PFCs for high-performance gear.

Yet, Best Buy company Paramo has not used PFCs since 2016. The company has been praised by Greenpeace for showing that it’s “absolutely possible” to make high-performance gear without toxic chemicals. In fact, Páramo came top of Which?’s survey of waterproof jackets, based on ratings from 2770 members, in December 2023. 

The price of our Best Buy outdoor clothing brands

We looked up the average price of a waterproof jacket for all our Best Buy companies and created the table below. The two best-selling outdoor clothing brands, Berghaus and North Face, are presented for comparison.

Average price of waterproof jacket from our Best Buy brands and two of the best selling big name brands, presented by A to Z of brand
Brand Average price (£)
Alpkit £209
Berghaus £135
Finisterre £187
North Face £126
Paramo £211
Patagonia £268
Rab £153

Remember that with our Best Buys you are paying the real cost for a company that respects the environment, animal and human rights, hence their higher ethiscores on our score tables. Plus, they either don’t use any PFAS or are well on the way to being PFAS free.

PFAS are a global contamination issue which is affecting the health of humans and wildlife.

Look out for secondhand versions of our Best Buys - see our suggestions above of where to find secondhand outdoor clothing.

This guide was published in the digital and print versions of Ethical Consumer Magazine 208.

Company behind the brand

Rab and Lowe Alpine are both brands of Equip Outdoor Technologies. The company is headquartered in Derbyshire, though now has offices and showrooms across Europe, North America, and Asia. It offers product repairs and has a factory outlet shop in Derbyshire where you can find end-of-line and factory seconds for a discounted price. It also has a rental service, so you don’t have to break the bank and purchase all new gear for your once-in-a-lifetime mid-life crisis expedition up Kilimanjaro!

Want more information?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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