Skip to main content

Ethical outdoor clothing

Ranking the ethical and environmental record of 38 brands of outdoor clothing and gear.

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.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product 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:

  • People before profits? Policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market have a long way to go. Buy from companies that commit to fair conditions for the person making your outdoor clothing and equipment.

  • Do they use organic cotton? There are many problems associated with cotton production, from the use of forced labour to the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Look for 100% organic cotton.

  • Is it recycled? The clothes industry is the second largest polluter in the UK. Fleeces can at least be made with recycled plastic and insulated items with recycled down. Help the environment by opting for recycled outdoor clothing and equipment or buying second-hand.

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

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying outdoor clothing:

  • Does it contain PFCs? Lots of companies still use PFCs to make waterproof jackets, boots and outdoor clothing. These chemicals are very damaging for the environment, and so should be avoided.

  • Is it down-filled? Down filling for insulated jackets can be produced from the live-plucking of ducks and geese, so is a major issue in terms of animal welfare. Avoid clothing that contains down, or only buy recycled down or down certified as free from this cruelty.

  • Do you need to buy a new piece of kit? Opt for second-hand or make sure you care for and repair your existing gear to extend its life.

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 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

Finding ethical and sustainable outdoor clothing 

The most ethical outdoor clothing and equipment is the kit that you already own. Although companies can (and many now do) work to reduce the environmental, social and animal impacts of their goods, nothing comes close to the benefits reaped from taking proper care of your current gear and making it last as long as possible.

Ethical consumers must resist the temptation to buy more in order to save the very environment we want to keep on rambling, cycling, swimming and camping in. This guide gives tips for care and repair, as well as buying second-hand.

For the occasions when we do need to buy something new, this guide outlines the key ethical considerations – from toxic PFCs to animal rights – and what companies are doing to address them. With few truly ethical options in this industry, companies need to do more.

There has been a sea change in consumer awareness in this sector over the last decade or so. Back in 2010, we reported a distinct lack of concern for environmental issues among outdoor gear consumers. But the recent Wear and Care Survey by Women in Adventure and the outdoor gear aftercare company Grangers found that seven out of ten people said the environment was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important when purchasing outdoor clothing and footwear.

Outdoor clothing brands in this guide

We have selected companies that offer a range of widely used outdoor clothing and equipment and have avoided including companies that only offer a single product.

So in the case of walking boots for example, you may find other specialised ethical options out there too (look for ones not using PFCs and Gore-Tex, like Keen walking boots).

The table below shows what outdoor clothing and equipment each brand makes. (For detailed ethical ratings and an overall score for each brand see the main score table above). 

Brand Waterproof coats Insulated jackets Fleeces Walking boots Camping gear Rucksacks
Paramo Yes Yes Yes      
Rab Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Lowe Alpine           Yes
Vaude Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Alpkit Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Patagonia Yes Yes Yes   Some Yes
Sprayway Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mountain Equipment Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Mammut Yes Yes Yes Yes Some Yes
Montane Yes Yes Yes     Yes
Haglöfs Yes Yes Yes Yes Some Yes
Fjällräven Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Craghoppers Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Dare2B Yes Yes Yes Yes    
Regatta Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Jack Wolfskin Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mountain Warehouse Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ayacucho (Cotswold only) Yes Yes Yes   Some Yes
Trespass Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rohan Yes Yes Yes     Yes
Berghaus Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
The North Face Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Brasher Yes   Yes Yes    
Eurohike         Yes Yes
Hi-Gear       Yes Yes  
Peter Storm Yes Yes Yes Yes    
Columbia Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Sorel       Yes    
Mountain Hardware Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
prAna   Yes Yes      
Quechua (Decathlon only) Yes   Yes Yes Yes Yes
Simond (Decathlon only) Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Forclaz (Decathlon only) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Coleman, Campingaz         Yes  
Gelert Yes   Yes Yes Yes  
Karrimor Yes Yes Yes Yes
Marmot Yes Yes Yes   Yes Yes

Environmental issues of outdoor clothing

One of the most critical ethical issues in this sector is the use of perfluorochemicals (PFCs). For the first time we have rated all outdoor gear companies on their approach to PFCs, a compound used widely in this sector for its water-repellent properties.

Microfibres are also a major issue for the outdoor industry. The sector relies heavily on synthetic materials (such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex), which shed tiny pieces of plastic. Microfibres from non-synthetic clothing may also transport unpalatable chemicals into the environment.

Just under half of the companies in this guide are taking action through The Microfibre Consortium.

Patagonia has been at the forefront, funding much of the research that has taken place so far. In 2016, it partnered with the University of California to assess microfibre shedding during washing. The research found that over its lifespan, Patagonia’s “high-quality” fleeces shed significantly less than a “lower-quality, generic brand fleece” during washing. A 2021 report by the Changing Markets Foundation supports Patagonia’s findings, stating “Cheap clothes made from plastic fibres are much less robust, and garments from some fashion brands have been found to start disintegrating after only a few washes.”

Three empty clear plastic bottles, each bent in half, laid out to create a triangle like the recycling logo

Spotlight on polyester

Virgin polyester is a man-made fibre that is synthesised from crude oil and natural gas. It is most commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same type of plastic that is used to make plastic bottles. In all, the textile industry accounts for 15% of total plastic use globally and 1.4% of global crude oil use.

Polyester is lightweight, strong and flexible and, combine these qualities with the fact that it is very cheap, you understand why it accounts for over half of the world’s textile fibre production.

Is turning plastic bottles into fabric really a good idea?

It was a surprise to see that most companies in the sportswear and outdoor wear sectors are now using at least some polyester recycled from plastic (PET) bottles. In the US and UK, usage of recycled synthetics in activewear and swimwear more than doubled in the year to June 2021. Latest estimates state that recycled polyester accounts for 15% of all textile polyester.

Recycled polyester should produce less greenhouse gas emissions than virgin polyester – Textile Exchange says 70% less, though Nike says 30% and WRAP say 20%.

But this is complicated by the fact that PET is also in demand for recycling back into bottles, which could be recycled many more times, or even made refillable. When mechanically recycled for clothing however, PET fibre loses strength and durability, and will probably end up in landfill or incineration. So rather than upcycling, its more accurate to call it downcycling.

Some say the longer-term solution for recycled polyester is textile-to-textile recycling, where clothing itself is recycled, rather than bottles. If it is broken down to chemicals or oils as a raw material it could be repurposed multiple times. But this is said to be years away from operating on a commercial scale and may have a worse carbon footprint. Fibre-to-fibre recycling currently represents between 0.1% and 1% of all recycled fabrics.

Is using recycled plastic bottles in clothing better than using virgin polyester?

Campaign group Changing Markets has called today’s recycled polyester ‘a false solution – and a far cry from a truly circular business model’. It concludes that basing our sustainability strategies on the recycling of disposable goods doesn’t address over-consumption in the first place. It considers the making of clothes from plastic bottles to be another greenwashing tactic by brands to encourage people to buy more. Ultimately, overproduction needs to be curtailed.

However, we think that, overall, it is currently better to use polyester recycled from plastic bottles than virgin polyester.

Bag with clothes inside Guppybag

Microfibres from outdoor clothing

Microfibres are another issue with polyester – they have also been raising alarm among marine researchers and consumers for some time now, although it is still unclear how serious their effects are.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) reported that, despite their tiny size, microplastic fibres contribute around 9% of the plastic pollution entering the sea. It also found microfibres in 100% of tested UK waterways, including in some of the UK’s most popular outdoor places, such as the Lake District, the Trossachs and North Wales.

Friends of the Earth encourages consumers to take the following actions:

  • Embrace slow fashion by buying less and keeping your clothes for longer.
  • Fill your washing machine up full, wash on a low temperature and reduce spin speed.
  • Use a Guppy Bag or Cora Ball (designed to capture microfibres).
  • Air dry rather than tumble dry

You can also try to avoid any apparel made from synthetic materials. Given their current dominance in the outdoor and sportswear sectors, this may not be easy if you need specialised clothing, but as we note in our Sportswear guide, for many activities, a simple organic cotton t-shirt could serve just as well.

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

Is cotton good in outdoor clothing?

Cotton is comparatively heavy, less breathable and less waterproof than other materials and therefore is not widely used in outdoor gear products, unlike in the clothing sector in general. When it is used, it is mostly blended with other materials such as polyester to enhance performance.

We have rated all companies on their cotton sourcing policies and found that a number of brands have chosen more sustainable cotton sources.

  1. Organic: Patagonia, Haglöfs, Jack Wolfskin, Rab, Lowe Alpine, Mountain Equipment, Vaude, Fjallraven, Montane, prAna,

  2. Organic or Better Cotton Initiative: Alpkit.

However, most brands did not receive our best rating for cotton sourcing because they lacked clear policy statements on the issue of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan grown cotton. Workers’ rights abuses, including the use of forced labour and child labour, have been widely reported in the cotton industry in these countries.

Previously, a commitment to source 100% organic cotton effectively excluded Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan because no certified organic cotton was being grown there. However, we have now discovered that several organic certified cotton farms have been established in the region, meaning we can no longer make this assumption.

Rab, Lowe Alpine and Montane were the only brands to achieve a best rating.

Cartoon of aliens on earth in the far future. One alien says 'no evidence of life here except for this jaket'
Cartoon (c) Mike Bryson for Ethical Consumer

The indelible footprint of PFCs in outdoor gear

The 2019 film Dark Waters dramatised the pollution in the USA around toxic PFA dumps and revealed that their manufacturers – 3M and DuPont – knew about their toxicity from the start but kept it quiet, like the tobacco industry knew of the health effects of smoking. The use of these persistent and highly toxic chemicals in outdoor clothing has gone under the radar for a long time. Greenpeace started campaigning against them in outdoor clothing and equipment in 2015. But largely, consumers are unaware of the role they are playing in the perpetuation of ‘forever chemicals’.

PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are a group of harmful industrial chemicals linked to a wide range of health and environmental impacts. The outdoor gear industry call them PFCs – perfluorinated compounds or chemicals but we are talking about the same thing. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to PFAS as PFCs in the following article.

For outdoor clothing and equipment, the manufacturing process is where these chemicals mainly get into the environment and then build up in the food chain, but they can also be released during the use and disposal of the products.

What are PFCs used for in outdoor clothing and equipment?

PFCs are used for waterproofing jackets, walking boots, and tents, etc in two ways:

1. The fabric is given a membrane that functions like a thin skin incorporated between fabric layers such as the ubiquitous Gore-Tex and eVent. They are mainly made from PTFE (which is also used as Teflon non-stick coatings) which require more toxic PFCs in their production and may degrade in the environment to these more toxic forms.

2. The other potential use of PFCs is DWR (Durable Water Repellency). Textiles are given a coating or finish which ensures that water and dirt bead up on the product’s exterior. The sprays and washes you can buy to re-waterproof your clothing or equipment yourself may also contain PFCs.

PFAS: The everyday chemicals leaving a toxic legacy on our environment

Dr Kerry Dinsmore of environmental charity Fidra explains why persistent chemicals, PFAS, used
in everything from food packing to cosmetics and waterproof clothing, are leaving a lasting impact on our environment.

The classic images of chemical pollution are of barrels emblazoned with toxic imagery, or a factory pipe spewing its acrid colours into a nearby stream. But chemical pollution comes out of more places than factories – it also comes from your coat, your cream carpet that miraculously repels a red wine stain, your Teflon frying pan.

What are 'forever chemicals'?

PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, including PFCs) are a group of harmful industrial chemicals linked to a wide range of health and environmental impacts. In humans, the list includes high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, cancers, reproductive problems and a reduced immune response to tetanus vaccinations. In wildlife, impacts range from changes in the immune system of otters to the brain function of polar bears.

Since PFAS were first produced in the 1950s, they have found their way into our homes, cars, offices and onto our supermarket shelves. They give stain resistant properties to carpets, furniture and clothing, and add water repellency to outdoor clothing. They’re added to paints and varnishes, cleaning sprays and personal care products. They’re even in our kitchens, as non-stick coatings on popular brands of cookware, and the paper, board and compostable food packaging that’s quickly replacing plastic.

Because of this widespread use, PFAS now contaminate water, air, wildlife and human blood all across the world. In England, the Environment Agency’s own report states that PFAS are “ubiquitous in the environment”. More than 99% of people tested have PFAS in their blood, and studies now show babies are born with PFAS already in their bodies because of prenatal exposure. These chemicals are often referred to as ‘Forever Chemicals’ because they are extremely persistent. Once in the environment, they can take thousands of years to breakdown.

How can we avoid buying things with PFAS and PFCs?

The good news is, there are PFAS-free cosmetics, PFAS-free frying pans and many different options for PFAS-free outdoor clothing and equipment.

At Fidra, we’ve developed a website dedicated to helping people navigate this complex issue. You’ll find information to help you identify products that contain PFAS, test your own food packaging, and make PFAS-free purchasing decisions.

What are outdoor clothing and equipment companies doing about PFCs?

We scrutinised what all the companies in this guide were saying about their use of PFCs. Much of the time we had to read between the lines.

Some of them are saying that they now use PFC-free DWR, but companies don’t always include PTFE (e.g. Gore-Tex) in their definition of PFCs so they may claim to be PFC-free when they are not.

They may also say that all their clothing is PFC-free without mentioning their walking boots, the lion’s share of which are still using Gore-Tex.

Either way, very few of the companies were completely clear about their use of PFCs apart from our four best-rated companies.

Companies that got a middle or worst rating were marked down in the Pollution & Toxics column on the score table. All companies that got a best rating got a positive Company Ethos mark for making environmental alternatives.

  • Of the 29 companies listed here only four (14%) did not use any PFCs.
  • Over half of the 29 had no phase-out date for their use of PFCs.
  • 86% of companies were still using PFCs.
  • Four companies were not even acknowledging the issue

Which outdoor clothing brands do best for PFCs?

We rated the brands in the following categories

The myth of why PFCs are still needed

Many companies still using PFCs for waterproofing said they were using them for products which demand the highest standards in performance and durability, and where alternative options evaluated have yet to meet the performance criteria. But this is not true. Greenpeace scientists wore Páramo clothing when collecting remote area samples and were very satisfied with the protection it gave at altitude and in extreme environments. Other scientists regularly choose Páramo, including the British Antarctic Survey team (BAS), working for long periods in one of the most challenging places on Earth.

Páramo does however state that for its PFC-free DWR waterproof coatings (Nikwax), they may need reproofing more often than their toxic PFC equivalents. Oil and stain resistance is a thing that PFCs are good at and are hard to replicate with non-PFC coatings. But it’s a desirable rather than essential quality.

According to Vaude: “We have thoroughly examined the issue of whether outdoor products really need this feature and decided that for VAUDE, they do not – for the sake of the planet and the people who live on it.”

Fjallraven said: “We asked ourselves, ‘Does a jacket really need to be oil repellent if it is better for the environment [for us to give up on that]?’ We felt it was a low price to pay. It’s easy to add functionality because it’s nice to have, but every function has a side-effect. Often an environmental one in the form of chemical release or production issues. We need to evaluate every function to determine if it is worth the environmental impact”.

What can consumers do about PFCs?

  • Only buy your outdoor gear from the four companies that get our best rating for being totally PFC free as a matter of principle– Páramo, Vaude, Alpkit, FjallRaven.
  • Avoid anything that says Gore-Tex or eVent.
  • Look for Nikwax DWR fabrics and coatings which are used on e.g. Páramo’s gear.
  • Look for Sympatex membranes (polyether-ester – PE) or membranes made of polyurethane. These alternatives are biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Also look out for alternative finishes and coatings such as waxes, paraffins (such as ecorepel®), and dendrimers (such as Bionic Finish Eco®).

Carbon impacts of different materials used in outdoor clothing

In our clothing special magazine (issue 192), we explained that 92% of the carbon emissions associated with making clothes come from producing, preparing and dying fabrics. It is therefore vital that companies choose more sustainable materials and encourage suppliers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

In the table below we list different materials, the estimated CO2 equivalent produced per kilogram of the fabric, and the miles of car journey to produce the equivalent CO2 emissions.

Fabric Estimated kg CO2 equivalent produced per kg fabric

Miles of car journey to produce equivalent CO2 emissions

Wool

46 158
Cotton 28 96
Silk 25 86
Nylon (polyamide) 24 82
Polyester 21 73

(Figures from the latest reliable full life-cycle estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions, from a 2012 analysis by WRAP; car journey figures from Climate Care.)

We didn’t have like-for-like figures for recycled polyester, but WRAP suggests that it produces up to 20% lower emissions than the virgin equivalent, and the Higg index says even more – 70% lower. Growing organic cotton is generally thought to produce about half the emissions of conventional cotton.

In terms of carbon emissions recycled polyester, recycled nylon (recycled polyamide) and organic cotton are probably the best options currently available.

Also look out for products that have been accredited by Bluesign to avoid contributing to toxic chemical use.

Recycled polyester and carbon savings

Being lightweight, strong and flexible, polyester is perfect for outdoor products, such as tents, rucksacks and sleeping bags and is thus the dominant material in this sector.

The trade-offs with recycled polyester are discussed earlier. Patagonia acknowledges the issues, stating, “We’re looking beyond plastic bottles from commodity recyclers to the next generation of potential recycled materials. One option could be recycled ocean plastics. Long-term, we’re also looking into chemical-recycling technologies that might allow us to reuse recycled garments and get us closer to a ‘circular’ manufacturing process.”

We think it is still worth using recycled polyester in greenhouse gas terms. However, it is important to look at how much is actually used. Many outdoor clothing products that are advertised as recycled actually use a blend of recycled and virgin fabrics.

The table below shows why the percentage of recycled polyester used is important in terms of carbon savings:

Percentage of recycled
polyester used

Carbon savings

5% 0.7%
20% 3.1%
50% 8.7%
100% 20.7%

(Carbon savings figures from WRAP.)

Patagonia and prAna used the highest percentage of recycled polyester overall, although other brands also had ambitious targets for increasing the use of recycled materials in the near future.

Live plucked goose duck with feathers lying on floor
Live-plucked goose (C) Four Paws International

Animal rights and outdoor clothing

Animals have developed ingenious ways to withstand the elements. Recognising their superior resilience, humans have long been maiming and/or killing animals to make our experience of the outdoors more comfortable.

Outdoor clothing uses three animal materials in great quantities: down (feathers), leather and merino wool. All companies that used animal materials in their products were marked down under Animal Rights. Companies lost half marks if they had adequate policies on animal welfare.

Of all the companies reviewed, only Páramo did not use any animal products.

In a separate article, we look at the ethics of using down from geese and ducks for clothing. We look at the issue of live plucking, certified down, and what the alternatives are for outdoor clothing.

Leather used in outdoor clothing and equipment

Many of the companies in this guide manufacture walking boots or use leather in some way. When attempting to justify the use of leather, brands often boast about only using food industry by-products, but the money made by the meat industry from selling leather hides contributes to the wider slaughterhouse economy.

The production of leather also has environmental impacts:

  • To stop leather from decomposing, a toxic mix of chemicals is used including infamous poisons such as cyanide and arsenic. Effluent from tanneries also pollutes surrounding land, water and air. Only Haglofs and Craghoppers were considered to be adequately addressing toxic chemicals in their leather supply chains.
  • Animal leather also has a significant greenhouse gas impact. Synthetic leather has, on average, less than half the emissions impact per kg but this may be complicated by the fact that it may not last as long (see performance trade off section below). However, none of the companies we looked at for this guide were using it, or recycled leather. If you’re looking for vegan footwear, check out our shoes and trainers shopping guides.

Merino wool

Merino wool is used in outdoor clothing because of its impressive breathability, odour resistance and weight to warmth ratio, qualities that make it ideal for thermal base layers and performance socks. Merino wool is mainly sourced from Australia, where sheep farmers often perform 'mulesing' which involves carving strips of skin and flesh off the backs of unanaesthetised lambs’ legs and around their tails. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that won’t harbour fly eggs.

Ethical Consumer expects all companies that use merino wool to commit to avoiding mulesing.

The following brands had not made this commitment and consumers may wish to think twice before buying their merino products: Regatta, Craghoppers, Dare2B, Sprayway, Mountain Equipment, Sports Direct (Gelert and Karrimor), Columbia Sportswear, and Mountain Hardwear.

Hunting equipment and fishing

During our research we noted nine outdoor gear companies selling hunting and fishing products. Several sell specialised hunting clothing – Columbia Sportswear (who also own prAna and Mountain Hardware), for example, sells a range of hunting clothes alongside the tagline “Our hunting gear includes everything you need for bird hunting and bigger game hunting to keep you warm and comfortable. When you're waiting patiently in the woods, our PHG 100% graphic tees keep you comfortable no matter what.”

Other brands sold equipment such as fishing equipment and ammunition. These companies lost half a mark under our Animal Rights category. The most extreme example we found was Decathlon, which sold ammunition marketed for “big game drives”, as well as a wide array of fishing and hunting equipment.

The company has come under fire after its UK arm advertised hunting products, including an ammunition cartridge, as “ideal” for “hunting thrush, songbirds, redwing, fieldfare and mistle thrush." Birders were quick to point out that small birds like thrushes are legally protected in the UK and over 61,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the company to: “publicly condemn the slaughter of songbirds and small migratory birds, revise their product range and marketing accordingly, and make a meaningful contribution to wildlife protection."

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
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 Páramo has not used PFCs for over five years. 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 3,997 members, in December 2021. Its jackets are expensive, from £245-330. But, arguably, you are paying for the fact it has committed to creating ethical technology. And you may find some second-hand - see our suggestions below.

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

Map and compass

Workers’ rights

Due to the amount of workers’ rights abuse in the sector, we hold all clothing companies (including brands who make outdoor equipment) to higher standards.

We previously reported that the outdoor sector lagged behind on this issue. Many brands still have a long way to go – well over half still receive our worst rating for Supply Chain Management. But for some we have seen significant improvements at least in policies and reporting over the last ten years. A total of 11 brands in this guide received our best rating in this area.

The shining light in the outdoor gear sector in terms of workers’ rights is Páramo, which manufactures 85% of its products at the Miquelina Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia, “where the garments are manufactured, all carrying the Fair Trade Label, by a skilled team of women, whom we have helped transition from exploitative situations and prostitution to find a better life for themselves.”

Patagonia should also be highlighted as many of its products are sewn in Fair Trade-certified factories.

Oppressive regimes

Like the mainstream apparel industry, outdoor gear brands produce a lot of their goods in countries on our list of oppressive regimes. Countries like China, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Turkey, and Bangladesh are commonly used.

We marked companies down under Human Rights for manufacturing products in these countries unless they have published the names and addresses of their suppliers and scored ‘best’ under our Supply Chain Management rating.

Fair trade outdoor clothing

Whilst assessing companies’ supply chain management systems, we found that a significant minority of brands are now members of the Fair Wear Foundation.

Fair Wear Foundation

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is an independent non-profit organisation that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers. FWF members agree to work towards implementation of the FWF Code of Labour Practices and to having all their suppliers independently monitored. The FWF code comprises eight labour standards based on ILO Conventions and the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights.

Rab, Lowe Alpine, Vaude, Mountain Equipment, Sprayway, Haglöfs, Jack Wolfskin, and Montane are all listed as members.

The FWF label doesn’t guarantee a certified product but signifies that a company is making efforts to improve working conditions in its supply chain and has at least 90% of its factories under monitoring. Members are reviewed by FWF and given a rating which is published as part of a ‘brand performance check’.

Vaude, Jack Wolfskin, Mountain Equipment and Sprayway had been awarded ‘leader’ status whilst the other brands achieved a ‘good’ rating.

For more information go to the Fair Wear Foundation website.

Buying second-hand, caring, repairing and recycling outdoor clothing and equipment

The most ethical outdoor gear is the kit that you already own. Or someone else does. Taking some steps to look after your clothing and equipment will also prolong its life. We outline a number of options for buying second-hand, repairing and recycling for more sustainable outdoor clothing.

Buying second-hand outdoor clothing and equipment

Below we have highlighted several second-hand marketplaces that you could use, besides the well-known ones like eBay, charity shops, and Gumtree.

We also found that a number of brands were selling used and repaired items themselves. Some companies have dedicated resale websites in the US, but these were not available in the UK. Páramo and Vaude both sell used and seconds items through eBay shops.

Platform/source How it works
Facebook Marketplace You can negotiate a price directly with the seller and ask for information about sizing and any defects.
Outdoor Gear Exchange UK

This Facebook group has over 118,000 members and is well managed.

Depop & Vinted Popular mostly among younger consumers, Depop and Vinted are ‘peer-to-peer’ platforms like eBay.
ASOS Marketplace ASOS operates a vintage marketplace where 800 “boutiques” sell used clothes and shoes. Outdoor brands such as The North Face, Fjällräven and Patagonia can be bought here.
Preloved

Another direct buying platform that lists many outdoor gear products.

Freecycle and Freegle Free sites – when looking into this option I found five sleeping bags 20 minutes from where I live

Sharing is caring

There are also numerous equipment hire websites, great if you want highly technical equipment for a one-off adventurous expedition. Decathlon has just launched a rental service through platform Hirestreet, offering ski and outerwear.

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-today 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. The fact that a two-person tent can be bought for as little as £15.50 from Sports Direct says a lot about throw away culture in this industry.
  2. Wash it regularly 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.
  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: Alpkit, Rab/Lowe Alpine (only for own-branded products), Páramo and Cotswold (kit not stocked by Cotswold is charged a higher fee).
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.

Woman repairing waterproof jacket with sewing machine
The Alpkit repair station in Hathersage. Alpkit have been repairing outdoor kit from any brand, since 2004.

Repair services for outdoor clothing and equipment

It’s important for outdoors companies to design products with repair in mind and our highest scoring companies now all offer repair services, for which they received half a positive Product Sustainability mark, as long as they reported on the number of repairs they carried out.

These are: Páramo, Lowe Alpine, Rab, Vaude, Alpkit and Patagonia.

Alpkit will repair any brand; Patagonia offers its service for free.

Other brands will repair whilst under warranty, so it’s worth checking their policy. There are also a few independent repair services in the UK that specialise in outdoor gear, including Lancashire Sports Repairs and Scottish Mountain Gear.

Repairs offered include things like patching rips or wear-throughs, repairing broken tent poles, refilling sleeping bags, re-waterproofing jackets, and replacing zips and waterproof taping.

Brand What’s offered in the UK? Where’s it offered?
Páramo, Lowe Alpine, RAB, Montane Lifetime manufacturing faults repair, free of charge.
Wear and tear repaired for a fee.
Postal
Berghaus Wear and tear repaired for free if item is still available on website. Postal
Craghoppers Wear and tear repaired for free under ‘Guarantee for Life’, unless ‘abnormal’. Will provide voucher for Timpson repair
VAUDE Wear and tear repaired for a fee. Via VAUDE dealer
Alpkit Wear and tear of any brand repaired for a fee. Via any Alpkit store or postal
Patagonia Faults and wear and tear repaired for free. Postal
Decathlon Specialised items (e.g. skateboards and skis) of any brand for a fee. Workshops in store
Rohan Replacement materials supplied free of charge for DIY repairs. Professional wear and tear repairs also offered for a fee. Any Rohan store or postal

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.

Which companies offer recycling services?

Alpkit - will take any brand.

Patagonia - take-back service for end-of-life items; will rehome, repurpose or recycle. But has to be returned in store and there are a limited number of stores in the UK.

Páramo - take-back service for end-of-life items; will rehome, repurpose or recycle. Páramo will give you £50 off your next item in return (although we remain sceptical of take-back schemes that incentivise more buying).

Rab and Lowe Alpine collect used down products for reuse but only at their headquarters in Derbyshire.

Rohan's 'Gift your Gear' initiative donates old outdoor gear to charity groups.

Vaude no longer accepts items for recycling. The company says on its website: “it makes little sense to build up your own recycling system as a single brand – it will always remain a niche without saving significant amounts of resources. There is already an effective industry that specialises in the collection, sorting and recycling of textiles. Building networks and working together is our goal here.”

Other 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 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.

Two people walking outdoors, one wearing lots of outdoor clothing. The other person says 'Honestly, John, I know it's a bit chilly but you could have just worn a scarf'.
Cartoon (c) Mike Bryson for Ethical Consumer

How the outdoor clothing companies rate for ethical and environmental issues

Carbon management and reporting

For companies to receive a best or middle rating for carbon management and reporting in this guide, we expected them to be discussing how they were reducing impacts from the manufacture of their products. Despite manufacturing accounting, for the majority of these companies' impacts, many were focusing on areas such as lighting in offices or company cars. Only a quarter of companies in this guide received our best rating.

  • Best: Eoth (Lowe Alpine and Rab), Alpkit, Telemos (Mammut), ASICS (Haglofs), VF Corporation (The North Face) and Decathlon brands (Forclaz, Quechua, Simond).
  • Middle: Vaude, Patagonia, Fenix (Fjällräven) and Columbia.
  • The remaining companies all received our worst rating.

Toxic chemical policies

We rate all clothing companies for their policies on toxic chemicals. Companies taking some steps in the right direction – e.g. sourcing a significant proportion of sustainable fabrics or publishing restricted substances lists – received a middle.

Middle rating: Páramo, Mountain Warehouse, Decathlon (Quechua, Simond, Forclaz), Pentland Group (Berghaus), Jack Wolfskin, Bollin Group (Sprayway, Mountain Equipment), VF Corp (The North Face), Eoth (Lowe Alpine, Rab), Columbia (Mountain Hardwear, prAna, Sorel), Fenix (Fjällräven), Alpkit, Vaude, Rohan and Patagonia.

However, many of these companies lost marks under Pollutions & Toxics for other reasons, such as selling leather or using PFCs.

We gave all the companies a separate rating on their policy on the use of PFCs as waterproofing because this is such a major concern in the outdoor gear industry.

Labelling and certification schemes

Four out of five consumers do not trust brands’ claims about environmentally friendly products. Labelling and certifications have therefore become increasingly important. 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. For example, Sports Direct has a page of products for its Green Edit “collection of mindful sportswear and accessories that won't cost the earth.” However, the company provides almost no information about how they won’t cost the earth.

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. However, Patagonia, Haglöfs, Jack Wolfskin, Rab, Lowe Alpine, Mountain Equipment, Vaude, Fjallraven, Montane, and prAna all use organic cotton.

  • Fair Trade doesn’t cover polyester, so no companies in our guide are entirely Fairtrade. However, Páramo 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. Most outdoor gear brands were found to be working with Bluesign in some capacity.

  • 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 and Patagonia are both 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. Haglöfs and 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.

Additional research by Clare Carlile, Ruth Strange and Jane Turner.

Company behind the brand

Páramo is a small British outdoor clothing company, based in East Sussex, started by Nick Brown in the early 1990s. In the mid-80s, Nick began experimenting with a new fabric technology, inspired by mammal fur, to make high-performance, long-lasting, maintainable outdoor clothing without the need for PFC laminates, membranes and taped seams. He tested it in the cold, wet Páramo region of the Andes.

The fabrics are made of polyester which makes them easy to recycle and is renowned for being soft and quiet. The clothes are repairable, and it has a repairs and alterations workshop on site in East Sussex.

In 1992, Páramo contacted a nun running a sewing workshop with two sewing machines in Bogotá, providing training for Colombian women affected by Colombia’s civil conflict. The workshop now employs 200 women, and trains 400 women a year. Profits are reinvested in a housing co-op, community centre, kindergarten and a canteen for local school children. All products made at Miquelina carry the World Fair Trade Organization Fair Trade label. The 15% of products not made in Columbia are made in Vietnam but are covered by Páramo’s supply chain policy.

Páramo is the only company to not receive any marks in any of our animals columns because it does not sell anything with animal content such as leather, wool, silk, or goose and duck down.

It did however score a worst rating for Climate Change because it did not discuss the carbon impact of the materials its used – mainly polyester – and was using carbon offsetting schemes to meet its targets.

In February 2022, after 45 years of being owner and founder, Nick Brown sold his businesses, Nikwax and Páramo, to their employees via a newly formed Employee Ownership Trust.

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. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.