Skip to main content

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 PFAS, 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 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 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 outdoor shops:

  • 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 100) Ratings Categories

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, Decathlon only gets 24 out of 100 whereas the top scoring outdoor gear brand, Paramo, scores 81. 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:

Outdoor clothing retailer and what brands they sell
Retailer Outdoor Brands
Decathlon Forclaz, Quechua, Simond
Sports Direct, Field & Trek Karrimor, Everlast, Gelert
Mountain Warehouse Mountain Warehouse
Nevisport, Trespass Trespass
Blacks, Millets Peter Storm, Eurohike, Blacks, Brasher, Hi Gear, Freedom Trail, North Ridge

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 Decathlon scored0/100 for use of animal products and Decathlon only scored 10/100.
  • They all scored very poorly for Company Ethos with only Mountain Warehouse, Cotswold, Snow and Rock, Nevisport and trespass scoring 10/100, the rest scoring 0.
  • Use of PFAS scored very poorly too with only Decathlon having a target date to phase them out, the rest had no target date and/or virtually no discussion about them.

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 secondhand in our Outdoor Clothing guide

Plus we have rated some secondhand shops in our Ethical Clothing Guide. See also our article on charity shops.

Rucksacks hanging on shop wall

What are outdoor clothing shops doing about forever chemicals (PFAS)?

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).

Five of the eleven retailers (Mountain Warehouse, Trespass, Sports Direct, Field & Trek,  and Nevisport) got our worst rating for not even talking about PFAs.

Blacks, Go Outdoors, Millets, 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  who were still using them but at least had a phase-out dates for stopping.

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

PFCs and outdoor clothing (video)

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.

Only Decathlon said they were only using Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified goose and duck down, though some others had ranges that used RDS 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.

Most 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.

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 sold hunting and fishing equipment such as ammunition and fishing hooks. 

  • Sports Direct, Field & Trek, Decathlon and Go Outdoors sold fishing equipment
  • Decathlon sold the widest range of hunting equipment, including equipment for small game, big game and migratory bird hunting, mainly via its Solognac subsidiary.

    The company came under fire in 2020 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 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." Decathlon no longer sell these products on its UK website.

Elderly couple camping outdoors

Tax avoidance and retailers

All but four of the companies in this guide got marked down under Tax Conduct for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. Mountain Warehouse scored top marks with 100/100.

Most companies were considered to be high risk for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and scored 0/100. These were Pentland Group and JD Sports (owners of Blacks, Go Outdoors and Millets), PAI Partners (Cotswold and Snow & Rock) and Frasers Group (Field and Trek and Sports Direct).

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. Plus the clothing shops I Saw It First and Jack Wills.

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 the lowest scoring company in this guide, scoring 0/100 for all the ratings apart from Climate. Despite this, it is the second largest sporting goods retailer in the UK (after JD Sports).

Find out more about Páramo

Read a Q+A with British-based Páramo.

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. 

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