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Outdoor clothing shops

Finding ethical and eco friendly outdoor clothing and sports shops. We rank the ethical and environmental record of 11 brands of outdoor clothing and equipment shops.

We look at their policies on synthetic materials and toxic chemicals, animal rights and workers' rights. We also look at own-brand labels, and shine a spotlight on Sports Direct.

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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying from outdoor clothing shops:

  • Is it a local retailer? By buying from a local retailer, you support your local economy and avoid large, often unethical conglomerates. 

  • Is it a second-hand retailer? Buying second-hand gear and extending the life of existing clothing and equipment is the most ethical option.

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

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying from supermarkets:

  • Is it avoiding tax? Almost half of the companies in this guide were found to be high risk for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

  • Is it selling hunting and fishing equipment? Hunting and fishing come with a wide range of animal rights issues attached. You may want to steer clear of companies retailing products designed to catch animals.

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

Sports and outdoor retailers sell a range of different brands, sometimes alongside own-brand items. They are often ‘one-stop’ shops selling everything from sports clothing to tents to climbing nuts, and exist both on the high street and online. Only about a third of the brands in our Outdoor Clothing guide have their own physical shops. So if buying in person, most of us will visit a retailer to compare options and try items on.

Larger outdoor clothing shops

Unfortunately, ethical policies amongst the retailers are generally not impressive. The top scoring retailer, Mountain Warehouse, only gets 6.5 out of 20 whereas the top scoring outdoor gear brand, Paramo, scores 14. It may be better to decide on your preferred clothing brand and get it straight from them.

Sports Direct was the biggest player in the UK sports and outdoor shops market, but has been overtaken by JD Sports (which includes Blacks, Millets and Go Outdoors). Between them they accounted for over 60% of the market in 2019.

How eco friendly are outdoor retailers’ own brands?

As well as selling products made by other companies, many of the retailers in this guide also sell own-brand products. All of the money spent purchasing these products will go straight to the retailer. Because of the comparatively low scores achieved by retailers relative to brands in our Outdoor Clothes shopping guide, you may want to avoid the following brands:

Retailer Outdoor Brands
Decathlon Forclaz, Kalenji, Newfeel, Quechua, Simond, Wed’Ze
Sports Direct, Field & Trek Karrimor, Everlast, Gelert
Mountain Warehouse Mountain Warehouse
Nevisport, Trespass Trespass
Blacks, Millets Peter Storm, Eurohike, Blacks

Low scoring retailers

The retailers in this guide were universally low scorers and rated poorly for a number of elements in our score table.

  • All but JD Sports received our worst rating for Environmental Reporting.
  • They all scored worst for managing workers’ rights in their supply chains.
  • They also all scored worst for carbon reporting and management.

Local independent outdoor clothing retailers

Although we haven’t been able to rate them all in this guide, your best bet if buying new is likely to be visiting a local independent store. While they’re not guaranteed to have stronger policies, at least you’re supporting your local economy. 

As well as professional fittings, some independent retailers will provide you with guidance on care and repairs, and ‘stretching services’ for boots if they’re pinching in one or two places. One retailer, Foothills in Sheffield, even offers free guided walks most Wednesdays.

Buying second-hand outdoor clothing and equipment

When buying outdoor gear, our key recommendation is to look for ways to buy second-hand. We haven’t rated second-hand retailers in this guide, and unfortunately many (e.g. eBay) are not renowned for their ethics. However, buying second-hand is a great way to address some of the environmental and human rights impacts of the actual item you’re purchasing.

We give recommendations for buying second-hand in our Outdoor Clothing guide

Rucksacks hanging on shop wall

What are outdoor clothing shops doing about pollution and toxics?

All the retailers scored worst for Pollution and Toxics.

Specifically, we rated them on their policy of using the highly toxic and persistent ‘forever chemicals’, PFAs, which are used as waterproof membranes and coatings, like Gore-Tex. 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.

Many companies are still using these chemicals even though PFA-free alternatives, that perform just as well, exist (such as Paramo’s use of Nikwax).

Seven of the eleven retailers (Trespass, Sports Direct, Field & Trek, Blacks, Go Outdoors, Millets, and Nevisport) got our worst rating for not even talking about PFAs.

Cotswold and Snow & Rock at least mentioned them as an issue but were still using them with no phase-out date.

Best scoring of the retailers were Decathlon and Mountain Warehouse who were still using them but at least had a phase-out dates for stopping.

We cover PFAs in more detail in our outdoor clothing guide, including comparing the performance of the least ethical material options with more ethical materials.

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.

Animal down used in outdoor clothing

All the companies in this guide sell animal down in jackets and sleeping bags, and none of them have a policy to prevent live plucking of ducks and geese.

None of them said they were only using RDS Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified goose and duck down. These standards guarantee that down is not from live-plucked or force-fed animals, only from animals raised for their meat, and that each stage of the supply chain is audited by a third-party certification body.

Mountain Warehouse and Decathlon said they were introducing RDS certified down, Cotswold had an unclear policy, and the rest said nothing about down at all.

Our feature on animal down explains the animal cruelty prevalent in the outdoor industry and looks at what the alternatives are.

Elderly couple camping outdoors

Retailers selling hunting and fishing equipment

Outdoor clothing retailers also sell a wide range of outdoor activity equipment, some of which is designed to hunt animals.

Four companies lost half a mark under Animal Rights for selling hunting and fishing equipment such as ammunition and fishing hooks. These were Sports Direct, Field & Trek, Decathlon and Go Outdoors.

Decathlon sold the widest range of hunting equipment, including ammunition marketed for “big game drives”. 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."

Tax avoidance and retailers

All but one of the companies in this guide got marked down under Tax Conduct for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. Mountain Warehouse was the only company not marked down.

Almost half were considered to be high risk for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and lost a full mark. These were Pentland Group and JD Sports (owners of Blacks, Go Outdoors and Millets), and Frasers Group (Field and Trek and Sports Direct).

Additional research for the guide by Mackenzie Denyer

Company behind the brand

How ethical is Sports Direct?

Frasers Group, previously known as Sports Direct International, owns the Karrimor, Sports Direct, Gelert, and Field & Trek brands. Other brands it also owns include Lonsdale, Slazenger, House of Fraser, USA Pro and Agent Provocateur.

Sports Direct was formed in 1982 as Mike Ashley Sports, and the company continues to be owned by Mike Ashley.

Sports Direct was previously denounced in 2016 after accusations that workers were “not treated as human”. After a public outcry, Sports Direct committed to ending the zero-hour contracts through which an estimated 80% of staff members were employed. However, in 2017, Unite the Union accused the company of breaking its pledge.

In the last few years, the company has also been accused of underpaying couriers, ignoring COVID safety measures, and paying less than the minimum wage to warehouse staff.

Frasers Group is one of the lowest scoring companies in this guide, scoring worst across our ratings. Despite this, it is the second largest sporting goods retailer in the UK (after JD Sports).

Want to know more?

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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