Sleeping Bags

In this product guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 19 sleeping bag brands.

We also look at the pros and cons of synthetics, ethics vs performance, nano-technology and give our recommended buys.

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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying a sleeping bag:

  • Is it made to last? Consider whether a sleeping bag is going to last years of exploring and festival use. One of the most effective ways to reduce your impact on the world is to buy a new sleeping bag less often.

  • Is it Bluesign approved? The Bluesign logo is a voluntary scheme for clothing companies. It is designed to provide environmental and health & safety standards and solutions for textile manufacturers.

Best Buys

The follow brands are our Best Buys for sleeping bags

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a sleeping bag:

  • Is it stuffed with goose down? Many sleeping bags are stuffed with down, some of which is 'harvested' from geese and ducks whilst they are still alive, a process that is repeated year on year. Of the companies who sell animal down, the only ones which have decent policies to prevent live-plucking are Patagonia, Fjällräven and Sprayway.

  • Profits before people? Many outdoor companies rely on overworked and underpaid workers to continue to churn out cheap products. Avoid companies that scored a worst in our Supply Chain Management category.

Companies to avoid

We'd like to highlight Jack Wolfskin and the Jarden Corporation brands, Marmot and Coleman. Jack Wolfskin's owners, the Blackstone Group, also own the infamously abusive SeaWorld Parks. Jarden have shown no interest in addressing any of our ethical concerns.

  • Coleman
  • Jack Wolfskin
  • Marmot

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Mountain Equipment Sleeping Bags

Company Profile: Mountain Equipment
10

Sprayway Sleeping bags

Company Profile: Outdoor & Sports Company (OSC) Limited
10

Force Ten sleeping bags

Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
9

Lichfield sleeping bags

Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
9

Vango sleeping bags

Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
9

Mountain Warehouse

Company Profile: Mountain Warehouse Limited
8.5

Rab sleeping bags

Company Profile: Rab Carrington Ltd
8.5

Regatta sleeping bags

Company Profile: Regatta Ltd
8.5

Berghaus sleeping bags

Company Profile: Berghaus Ltd
8

Blacks Sleeping Bags

Company Profile: Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd
7.5

Eurohike sleeping Bags

Company Profile: Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd
7.5

Mountain Hardwear Sleeping Bags

Company Profile: Mountain Hardwear
7.5

Quechua sleeping bags

Company Profile: Oxylane Group (Decathlon)
7.5

Gelert sleeping bag

Company Profile: Gelert Limited
6

Karrimor sleeping bags

Company Profile: Karrimor
6

North Face sleeping bags

Company Profile: North Face Inc (The)
6

Coleman sleeping bags

Company Profile: The Coleman Company Inc.
4.5

Marmot Sleeping Bags

Company Profile: Marmot Mountain, LLC
4.5

Jack Wolfskin Sleeping bag

Company Profile: Jack Wolfskin Ausrüstung für Draussen GmbH & Co.KGaA
4

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

As a self-confessed outdoor obsessive, over the past 30 odd years I’ve been lucky enough to have climbed, mountain biked and trekked over large swathes of the wilder bits of the UK, Europe and beyond.

Since I spend as much time as possible getting muddy and sweaty outdoors, it’s always seemed perfectly logical to me to try and help protect the very thing that I feel so passionate about: namely the environment.

So it’s been with a growing sense of surprise and disappointment that in the course of the compiling of this buyers’ guide I’ve discovered that very few of my fellow outdoor obsessives share my environmental concerns. A recent reader survey by Trail magazine – one of the UK’s leading outdoor magazines - revealed that the environment barely registers on the radar when people buy new outdoor gear.

It’s a sad fact that few if any of the vast numbers of walkers who regularly head to the hills every weekend and who clearly love the outdoors make the connection between their walking jackets, boots and other clobber and the whacking big environmental impact that results from their production.

In trying to explain this lack of environmental awareness, some suggest that since the outdoor industry regularly uses the sweeping backdrop of dramatic mountains to help market and advertise their gear, the public assumes that the industry is by default environmentally responsible.

Sadly as this buyers’ guide shows, this is far from the truth. Plus let’s not forget that it’s outdoor companies who are now increasingly acting like the fashion industry in being hell bent on flogging us ever increasing amounts of outdoor gear.

Whilst some in the outdoor industry are at long last starting to talk about sustainability, few understand the basic contradiction between aiming to produce more sustainable gear and a profit-driven business model that relies on selling more and more.

So what’s to be done? Some believe that it’s up to customers to wise-up and start piling the pressure on the outdoor industry to clean up its act. Well I don’t buy this as I’m getting increasingly fed up with the current trend of dumping the responsibility for raising the environmental bar onto consumers.

From where I’m standing it’s the outdoor industry that needs to start taking its environmental responsibilities more seriously. If a company is happy enough to use a mountain in its latest catalogue to help boost its profits, then it’s about time that the same company started to help protect it – and the rest of the environment too.

How fair are working conditions in the outdoor industry?

Stories about the exploitation of workers in Bangladesh, China and even Manchester have been regularly popping up in the press over the past few years. But these nearly always relate to familiar high street fashion brands. As a result, there has been a surge in recognition in the West that clothing companies must adopt, implement and monitor a policy which protects the basic rights of all workers throughout their supply chain.

The Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign (PFOC), a coalition of Clean Clothes Campaign, Global Union and Oxfam has been ongoing since 2004 and piggybacks on Olympic events to draw attention to companies’ poor practice regarding workers’ rights issues. Other sporting events have been targeted by campaigners too, football being one. Labour behind the Label and the TUC teamed up in 2006 to publish ‘Sweet FA?’. This report revealed that while Football Associations and sponsors were earning millions from World Cup licensing deals and sponsorships, the workers producing the goods that make this money were paid poverty wages and being persecuted for attempting to form trade unions. Some were even found to have lost their jobs over this.

But somewhere along the line, outdoor gear companies have been overlooked, at least in the UK. The companies and the people who buy from them are undoubtedly aware of (if not always acting up on) their symbiotic relationship with the environment but nothing or very little is even said about the rights of people making the stuff. It is surprising that these companies are able to divorce environmental issues from social ones.

The Swiss are one step ahead here. Clean Clothes Campaign Switzerland have carried out testing on 15 internationally operating outdoor companies which are engaged in the European Outdoor Group. After researching this buyers’ guide, Ethical Consumer has to concur with their findings - not only do most outdoor companies have no supply chain policy in place, but the majority of them don’t appear to have even thought about setting the wheels in motion.

Who’s best?

There are clear leaders in the field. Páramo, for instance, has 80% of its products manufactured in Bogotá, Colombia, by the charitable Miquelina foundation. The foundation takes ‘at risk’ women from Bogotá’s streets and provides them with training and employment. 90% of Miquelina’s production is Páramo garments. Profits are re-invested in the factory as well as in a kindergarten, housing, a canteen for local children, and a virtual library. Ethical Consumer recognises that it’s impractical for smaller companies to implement the kind of complex supply chain monitoring the best multinationals have developed. So for smaller companies we look for a company to demonstrate an effective policy addressing workers’ rights in its supply chain. Based on these criteria, Páramo gets our best rating for its supply chain policy.

Lowe Alpine, Mammut and Pentland Group are the only companies we’ve rated in this sector to have formal supply chain policies which meet all of Ethical Consumer’s criteria, including minimum standards for workers and independent monitoring.

While these companies are an example to the others in this buyers’ guide, we are talking about very basic standards here. Companies doing nothing to safeguard them need to catch up, and quickly.

So campaigners, let’s turn our attentions to this division of the clothing sector next – it’s long overdue an overhaul.

Eco product labels

Bluesign

The 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 is built around five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, air emission, water emission and occupational health and safety.

It aims to tackle environmental problems at their root. Prior to production all inputs – from raw materials, to chemical components – are analyzed and receive a rating based on the toxic impacts on humans, animals and ecosystems. The hope is that this will eliminate potentially harmful substances from the process before production begins.

Many companies have signed up to the standard but few have the mark on specific products. It appears to be more of an aspiration than a reality. Christine Waeber from Bluesign said “Not all brands are interested in having a bluesign label on their clothes as their main focus is mostly to work in their supply chain and the environmental issues there in.”

The brands covered in this report that are working with Bluesign are:

  • Patagonia
  • The North Face
  • VAUDE Sport
  • Helly Hansen
  • Haglöfs Scandinavia
  • R.E.I. Recreational Equipment
  • Deuter Sport

None of these companies carry the Bluesign logo on any of their garments, but are working towards accreditation.

Oeko tex

This was the world’s first environmental product label for textiles and existed before uniform safety standards for companies within the textile industry (such as the European legislation on chemicals known as REACH) were introduced.

In this buyer’s guide we have taken the decision not to give products with the Oeko Tex label a positive mark for sustainability. This is due to the recent decision of the International Oeko-Tex Association to approve SmartSilver additives, a form of nanotechnology, for inclusion into their standards. Thus products carrying this label may contain nano particles.

Policy questions

There’s a great irony that those who love the outdoors can have such a negative environmental impact through the clothes and kit they buy to enjoy it. And with policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lagging behind other clothing sectors it’s people, as well as the planet, that pay the price. While scandals about conditions in clothing supply chains have hit the big fashion labels and retailers, prompting change, the outdoor brands have failed to keep up.

Few companies have environmental policies, with only two across all the products reviewed getting anything but a ‘Worst’ rating for our ‘Environmental Reporting’ category. And even fewer have policies on toxic chemicals or the controversial issue of nanotechnology.

As well as asking companies about their environmental and supply chain policies we asked companies questions about the following areas key to this market:

Cotton - We asked companies if they have a policy that covers 
• the use of genetically modified cotton,
• pesticides and herbicides, 
• and sourcing from Uzbekistan, a country with an appalling human rights record and massive use of forced child labour in its cotton industry.

Toxics - We asked companies if they have a policy that 
• quantifies the chemicals used in manufacture and sets targets for the phasing out of the most dangerous, 
• covers the use of nano technology, which is often used in the manufacture of waterproof and breathable fabrics.

Animal rights - We asked
• Do companies use goose down in sleeping bags, leather in boots or merino wool from Australia.

Unsustainable resources - We asked whether companies manufacture synthetic products derived from oil. Those companies that have a majority of products derived from oil receive a half mark in the Habitats & Resources column.

Clean Clothes Campaign

The Clean Clothes Campaign Switzerland conducted a survey in 2008 which evaluated company policies and strategies for taking responsibility and complying with social standards in the supply chain.

Five key aspects were marked from 1 (very good) to 3 (unsatisfactory) and an average taken. These were: 
• transparency
• code of conduct (written policy)
• implementation of the code
• monitoring and verification
• material of the products: organic, fair trade and recycling/disposal

Top score would have been 1 and bottom score 3.

The table below shows how brands in this report scored.

Results–from best to worst Score
Mammut 1.6
Patagonia 1.6
Helly Hansen 2
Haglöfs 2.2
Jack Wolfskin 2.4
Vaude 2.6
Marmot 2.8
North Face 2.8
Columbia 2.8

The small issue of nano-particles

Looking to buy gear with Superman-like strength and other tempting qualities such as resistance to stains, static, sweat, wrinkles and odor? Then get ready buy a product with nano-particles.

Nanotechnology makes it possible to manufacture particles with extremely small dimensions. One nanometer (nm) is roughly 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. At this scale, nano-particles can behave differently to bigger particles of the same material. Nanotechnology is found in everything from whitegoods to cosmetics, even food is a new frontier for the controversial technologies. Synthetic fabrics containing nano-particles can mimic the comfort of cotton, be stain or odour resistant, have anti-wrinkle properties, and most importantly in the outdoor market be waterproof whilst breathable.

The appeal of owning reliable gear that will keep you warm (or cool) and dry while out in the wilderness is clear. Yet companies rushing to hype the novel properties of their nano-enabled products have potentially ignored the novel dangers associated with them.

There is huge uncertainty over the adequacy of the provisions to regulate this quickly developing technology under the European Union’s REACH regulations, which governs the evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. And corporate lobbying around REACH by some of the multinational companies likely to most effected by its provisions could be cause for concern.

The European Commission plans to review a number of EU policies and regulations covering health and environmental safety issues related to nano-particles. The move comes in response to a call by the European Parliament to examine legislation in this area over the next two years, amid concerns that the pace of technological development has outpaced policymaking and regulation.

There is currently no labelling requirement for the use of nano-particles in clothing and outdoor equipment.

Nano-particles pose the greatest risks to health if they migrate inside the body. Concerns over harmful exposure are therefore focused less on fabrics than on food, cosmetics, work environments where the new materials are produced and build up in the environment generally.

There is concern over the toxicity of certain nano-particles. Nanoscale silver has been shown to be toxic to fish and other organisms in soil and water. This begs the question: What happens when nano-particles are released into the environment and how will they be recycled?

Consumers will be tempted with the promise of futuristic products constructed with nano-technology. “Nano-generators” embedded in clothing could someday power an iPod via body movement alone. Clothing could change colour with the flip of switch.

As wondrous as some of these products can seem, they need to be critically evaluated. The gaps in our understanding concerning the behaviour of nano-particles are huge. And toxic nightmares produced by past “wonder materials” like asbestos should give pause for thought.

Find out more about nanotechnology from the ETC Group’s pocket guide and from Friends of the Earth.

Synthetic v. Natural

We tend to think that natural products are better for the environment, but this isn’t always the case.

The table below shows the amount of energy needed to produce one kilogram of the fibre. As you can see nylon uses the most with cotton using the least amount of energy.

  MJ/kg of fibre
Nylon 250
Acrylic 175
Polyester 125
Polypropylene 115
Viscose 100
Wool 63
Cotton 55

Below we outline some of the issues in the cotton industry before looking at the problems associated with man made fibres.

Cotton – ethical pros and cons

Environment

Pros

• Bio-degradeable material
• Renewable resource
• Organic certified cotton does not use chemical pesticides
• Organic certified garments do not use toxic dyes or finishes

Cons

• In India, home to over one third of the world’s cotton farmers, cotton accounts for 54% of all pesticides used annually – despite occupying just 5% of land under crops. Hazardous pesticides associated with global cotton production represent a substantial threat to global freshwater resources and are now known to 
contaminate rivers in USA, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Australia, Greece and West Africa.
• Cotton monoculture is a threat to biodiversity
• In addition to the environmental concerns, genetically modified cotton puts the control of cotton seed supply in the hands of large multinationals
• Cotton fabrics have a shorter life – more prone to staining and stretching
• Requires more washing and takes longer to dry so uses more energy/water/detergent
• Cotton growing requires large amounts of water

People

Pros

• Provides employment for cotton farmers and pickers
• Fairtrade certification protects farmers from the volatile world market
• Organic certified cotton is less harmful to the health of cotton growers and pickers

Cons

Pesticides and dyes are harmful to the health of those who work with cotton at all stages of it’s life cycle, especially child workers. A 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Technical University of Lódz, in Poland, has shown that hazardous pesticides applied during cotton production can also be detected in cotton clothing.
• High prices demanded by pesticide companies leads many small-scale cotton farmers into debt, and drives many to commit suicide.
• In Uzbekistan children are forcibly taken
out of school to harvest cotton from state owned plantations.
• Cotton prices often fail to provide farmers with enough to live on.
Cotton seed is used as an animal feed and, in the form of cotton seed oil, as a common cooking product accounting for approximately 8% of the world’s vegetable oil consumption. World Health Organisation data shows the potential for pesticides to contaminate both refined cotton seed oil and cotton seed derivatives fed to animals.

Synthetic fibres

Did you know...?

• Most synthetic fabrics are made from oil based chemicals. 
Toxic sludge containing heavy metals and other poisons such as formaldehyde is a by-product of textile manufacture and is often sent to landfill.
• The production of nylon and polyester creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Polyester and nylon are also non- biodegradable.
• Polyester uses 63% more energy to manufacture than cotton, weight for weight. 
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), such as PFOA which is used to make fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable, do not break down in the natural world and enter the food chain, ending up in wildlife and humans. PFOA has been shown to be toxic and carcinogenic to animals, as well as being linked in studies to human health risks. The US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines on “Carcinogenic Risk Assessment” says that PFOA is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” in cases of high exposure.
• All synthetic garments can be recycled and some clothing companies are starting recycling programs.

Synthetic Dyes

• In the US each year the textile industry discharges 40,000 – 50,000 tons of dye and more than 200,000 tons of salt into rivers. Synthetic dyestuffs are highly toxic. They often contain heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, and poisons such as formaldehyde.
• The process of dyeing cloth uses a great quantity of water. It takes between 5 – 35 gallons of water for every pound of finished fabric, to dye enough fabric to cover a sofa (25 square yards) takes between 125 – 875 gallons of water.
• Azo dyes were commonly used on clothing in the EU until they were banned in 2003 due to their carcinogenic properties and adverse effect on aquatic life. They are however still widely used outside the EU.

Company Profile: MEC

A model sustainable outdoor company

Simon Birch finds inspiration in Canada.

With the notable exception of Páramo, virtually all the companies surveyed in this buyers’ guide are still struggling to even produce a sustainability strategy, let alone take any concrete action in reducing their environmental impact.

If the senior managers of the UK’s outdoor industry were looking for inspiration and guidance as to how to get started on the issue of sustainability, a top tip would be to look west at Canada, the home of the Mountain Equipment Co-operative, arguably the world’s most sophisticated outdoor company in all matters environmental.

Launched in the outdoors paradise of Vancouver in 1971 by a bunch of keen camping and climbing students, MEC has grown to become Canada’s biggest outdoor manufacturer and retailer with a staff of 1,500 and 13 stores right across the country. In the process it’s now widely acknowledged that MEC has firmly established itself as a key global player in driving environmental and sustainable innovation within the outdoor industry.

From product development using the latest sustainable fabrics and materials, to cutting-edge low-energy design for its stores and warehouses, MEC actively works to minimise the environmental impact of its business at every level of its operation.

For example only 100% organic cotton is now used in its own-brand garments and products whilst there are ambitious targets for the use of recycled nylon and polyester.

And in a move that would result in many a slack-jaw in other outdoor companies, MEC actively encourages its customers to swap and rent out their boots, bikes and other equipment as a way to recycle used outdoor gear.

So what makes MEC so different to other outdoor companies?

“A key factor is that the vast majority of our staff are themselves keen outdoor enthusiasts who bike, hike and ski and this connection with the outdoors translates into a big commitment to ensuring that the business is run in a truly sustainable manner,” explains MEC spokesperson Tim Southam.

The other main difference between MEC and other outdoor companies is the fact that MEC is run as a co-op.

“We’re not beholden to producing quarterly returns and maximising shareholder profits as our members own the business,” explains Southam.

“The co-op model provides us with the latitude to pursue goals such as product sustainability, green buildings and wilderness conservation, things that profit-driven businesses just aren’t set up to do.”

That only leaves just one question: when are MEC going to set up shop over here?

Visit www.mec.ca for more information.

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