Tents

In this Ethical Consumer product guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 18 tent brands.

We also look at tent recycling, cotton policies, the pros and cons of synthetics 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 tent:

    • Is it an eco-company? Buying from a company that cares about the environmental impacts of its products is surprisingly rare in this sector. 

    • Is it built to last? Buying a tent that is robust and built to last will reduce the impact that your enjoyment of the great outdoors has on the great outdoors.

    Best Buys

    All the following are our Best Buys for tents:

    What not to buy

    What to avoid when buying a tent:

    • Is it nylon? In terms of energy used in production, nylon is the most energy intensive, using almost 5 times as much as cotton.

    • Is it certified? Cotton is the least energy intensive material to produce, but without certification or a clear company policy on cotton sourcing, it is highly likely that GM cotton and cotton sourced from Uzbekistan is used.

    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.

    • Jack Wolfskin
    • Marmot
    • Coleman

    Score table

    Updated live from our research database

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

    Mountain Equipment Tents

    Company Profile: Mountain Equipment
    10

    Sprayway Tents

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

    Force Ten mountaineering tents

    Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
    9

    Lichfield tents

    Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
    9

    Vango

    Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
    9

    Mountain Warehouse

    Company Profile: Mountain Warehouse Limited
    8.5

    Rab tents

    Company Profile: Rab Carrington Ltd
    8.5

    Regatta tents

    Company Profile: Regatta Ltd
    8.5

    Berghaus tents

    Company Profile: Berghaus Ltd
    8

    Blacks Tents

    Company Profile: Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd
    7.5

    Eurohike tents

    Company Profile: Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd
    7.5

    Mountain Hardwear Tents

    Company Profile: Mountain Hardwear
    7.5

    Gelert tents

    Company Profile: Gelert Limited
    6

    Karrimor tents

    Company Profile: Karrimor
    6

    North Face tents

    Company Profile: North Face Inc (The)
    6

    Coleman tents

    Company Profile: The Coleman Company Inc.
    4.5

    Marmot Tents

    Company Profile: Marmot Mountain, LLC
    4.5

    Jack Wolfskin tents

    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

    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.[1]

    • 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.[1]

    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.

    Image: Glastonbury Festival Photo

    Recycling Tents

    At Glastonbury 11.2 tonnes of clothing, tents and sleeping bags are left behind after the festival every year. 75% of left-over camping items are in a fit state for reuse, yet most have been sent to landfill, at great environmental and financial expense. Some of the tents are now collected by charities and sent abroad to help refugees and internally displaced peoples.

    Company profile: Sports Direct

    Gelert and Karrimor are all part of the Sports Direct empire owned by controversial Geordie entrepreneur Mike Ashley. It does not have an environmental report or supply chain policy and the group has come in for criticism that the pile it high sell it cheap policy has damaged once reputable UK brand Karrimor.

    In September 2016 Sports Direct announced that it would offer retail staff 12 hours guaranteed a week after a wave of protests over its treatment of staff and it use of zero hour contracts. It has also dropped its controversial ‘six strikes system’.

    This comes after nationwide protests took place on Saturday 3rd September outside Sports Direct stores over the retailer’s appalling treatment of its workers and use of insecure zero hour contracts.
     
    The demonstrations took place in 15 locations, including Grimsby, Manchester, Liverpool, Eastbourne and Streatham in South London. Shoppers at the Sports Direct stores were urged to support Sports Direct workers and call on their MPs to end precarious contracts, and with it appalling workplace exploitation.

    A select committee report published in July 2016 by MPs, highlighted the appalling working practices at the Shirebrook warehouse. Despite this, Sports Direct seem to have excluded Shirebrook workers from this new 12 hour contract.

    At the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook (Derbyshire) workers suffered:

    Being named and shamed over a loudspeaker system, Body searches after every shift, and a '6 strikes and you’re out' policy. Strikes were said to be given for:

    • Chatting too much
    • Spending too much time in the toilet
    • Being sick and unable to attend work
    • Being sick and needing to leave work early

    MP Iain Wright described the working conditions as "akin to that of a Victorian workhouse".

    Sports Direct was formed in 1982 as Mike Ashley Sports, and the company continues to be controlled by Mike Ashley, who is the deputy chairman.

    One thing that has received less coverage is the money that senior staff are making at the company. In 2015 the chief executive Dave Forsey was paid £6.8 million and 2,000 managers and other permanent staff were given share bonuses worth almost £155m, averaging £77,000 each, while the mass of the workforce- those on zero hours contracts, received nothing additional. Mike Ashley himself is on the Sunday Times rich list, with a net worth of £2.43 billion.

    The wider picture

    Besides its appalling record on workers rights', Sports Direct also scores badly across Ethical Consumer’s other policy ratings. It received our worst rating for Environmental Reporting, Cotton Sourcing, Pollution and Toxics, Likely Use of Tax Avoidance Strategies, and Supply Chain Management.

    Clicking on each individual company on the scorecard table will provide a deeper analysis of the companies compared.

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    References

    1. The Deadly Pesticides in Cotton, Environmental Justice Foundation in association with the Pesticide Action Network, 2007