We all love outdoor gear but is it costing us the planet?

There’s an abundance of information out there about climate change and what we can all do to help stop it. So much so that, for those of us who want to make a difference, it’s relatively easy to select an aspect for change that won’t have too much impact on the way we live our lives.

Flushing the loo less often, growing some of our own food, and active travel are great but if significant change is to happen we ALL need to cut consumption in ALL  aspects of our lives.

For many of us however, our outdoor lifestyles and related habits have so far been sacrosanct. We don’t want to examine them, let alone change them because we know the changes impact might bring.

It’s easy to paint a happy environmentally-friendly wash over something that’s already green-coloured. Or blame the outdoor industry for their climate impact. But we are the consumers. It is our choices that ultimately matter.

So how can we make a difference? There’s plenty to consider. The choices we make when it comes to travel, food, destination behaviour, and equipment all matter. In this article we take a look at the environmental impact of our outdoor clothing consumption, and how making a few key changes could make a big difference.

The chemical impact of outdoor gear

We love it don’t we! Jackets, boots, the latest strange toe-shoe-thingies. All of it makes us smile, and most of it makes us feel more competent when we’re outside. But perhaps we should be considering the possibility that our outdoor clothing just another damaging example of fast fashion. That our ‘necessary’ outdoor gear purchases might be more about looking the part than staying safe.

Perhaps that old favourite, ‘All the gear but no idea… (of it’s environmental impact)’ has gained new relevance.

In 2016 Greenpeace found hazardous chemicals (PFCs) in most outdoor gear (clothing and equipment) they tested. Some brands including Alpkit (more recently) and Paramo (historically) use alternative PFC-free waterproofing treatments (including silicon, wax and plant-based). Others have adjusted the treatments they use to reduce the impact of chemical breakdown, or eliminated PFCs from product components that didn’t need to be waterproof (for example KEEN footwear).

Should I buy new outdoor gear?

Most outdoor brands are making progress when it comes to manufacture and packaging (here’s what RAB have to say about packaging) but there’s an easier way to make sure our outdoor kit uses less energy, produces less waste, and does less damage.

We just need to stop buying it.

Before we all run off to the hills in horror, and wonder wIs hat on earth to put on our Christmas lists, allow me to qualify the above.

The best way to reduce the impact of our outdoor gear is to buy less of it. The best way to do that is to make sure we only buy items that we need, are fit for purpose, suitable for multiple situations, and designed to last a long time.

Looking after our existing outdoor gear

Not easy I know. But actually not that difficult either. The first thing we all need to do is look after our gear. Drying, cleaning and re-waterproofing according to manufacturer’s instructions will all add to longevity. Stuffing, stretching, and mould-generation will not.

There are some brands out there that are already well-known for their send-back-for-repair approach. The Berghaus Repairhaus is a good (and free) example. Berghaus are also really clear on expected product lifetimes, although they do point out that more wear and poor care will make a difference.

Once you start looking you’ll find plenty of outdoor gear repair and cleaning specialists. Scottish Mountain Gear are a great example of an experienced (and excellent) independent repair service. They are particularly great at repairing down-filled items. Cotswold Outdoor also offer a fee-charging repair service including zip replacements and tape-seal repairs.

How to choose the right outdoor gear

The other day I sat down with a group of fellow outdoor professionals and chatted about consumerism and outdoor gear. We were outside, and expecting rain at the time so it seemed like a good opportunity. There was no doubt we all loved new gear but were becoming more aware of the detrimental effect buying it was having.

Perhaps the most interesting topic was the one of when buying new gear became a necessity rather than a want. The next was how to decide which of the many options to choose. We all had our favourite brands but we all agreed that longevity wasn’t guaranteed with any of them. There were a few issues highlighted.

  1. Reviews only offer information on new gear
  2. Some brands change standards quickly and without warning
  3. Different types of use create different types of wear

This is a really tricky one. Google ‘long lasting outdoor gear’ and you’ll find plenty of articles telling you which is ‘the best’ gear but in a world of paid influencers it can be tricky to work out which reviews to trust. I have yet to find a retrospective review from someone who has really put outdoor kit through its paces.

A call to our outdoor gear manufacturers

So what would I say if I was face-to-face with the CEO of one of our top outdoor brands? I certainly wouldn’t want put them out of business but I would want to suggest they make a move away from ‘spend with us’ towards ‘stay with us’.

It should be clear to all of us by now that consumerism is a broken system. Buying more is not always a desirable goal, especially when the resources to create that ‘more’ are running out. It isn’t buying outdoor gear that makes us happy, it’s having access to outdoor gear that enables us to safely and comfortably enjoy the outdoors.

I would like to see the outdoor industry move away from fast fashion and back towards long term customer relationships.

By designing gear that lasts, providing expert repair and maintenance services, and working with influencers to promote longevity instead of trends, outdoor brands can make a huge difference.

Buy less, get outside more

But they can’t do it on their own. This is a two-way street. With ‘consumer season’ just around the corner, I suggest we all do something for the planet and nature we love so much. Let’s think carefully, make our influence count, work with the brands that are trying hard, and perhaps buy only the outdoor gear we actually need this Christmas.

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