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Q&A: How to Buy Green Gear

Occasionally we receive outdoor gear questions from readers. Since we figured others would find them useful too, we’ll share some of those Q&A’s here. If you think we missed the mark, let us know by leaving a comment.

Q:

I want to buy some professional outdoor wear and gear. I’m preparing for my mountain guide certification, so I do need serious pieces of equipment. I not only want to work in nature, but also for it. So for me it’s basic that for a big investment I want to buy green, environmentally-friendly gear, and support those companies that make it. Is it possible to get a very complete list of companies that produce “green” gear and wear?

Paul S.

A:

Paul, it’s great that you’re considering your environmental impact on the outdoors. For many people it’s inconvenient to consider that our outdoor activities and gear have negative impacts on the very places we love. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to create a definitive list of green gear and clothing.

While green outdoor offerings continue to expand, especially with clothing, green equipment is much harder to find. As concerned consumers like you demand and choose more environmentally-friendly options I hope those offerings will grow. Just as important, I hope verifiable or certifiable standards will be established so consumers won't have the full burden of making environmentally-friendly choices. The outdoor industry is leading the way in developing these types of standards, but they're still in early discussions.

In the meantime, here are a few things you and all hikers, backpackers, and climbers can consider to make your outdoor activities and gear choices greener:

Travel Wisely

The biggest environmental impact from most people’s outdoor activities is getting to the trailhead. Airplanes are the worst offenders, so consider sticking closer to home for your adventures to reduce your fuel consumption. Drive or rent a hybrid. Don’t forget to carpool. Whenever possible (and we know this one is difficult to impossible depending on where you live) use public transportation for all or part of your travel.

While somewhat controversial, you also can reduce your carbon footprint by buying carbon offsets, which offset other greenhouse gas emissions through tree plantings and purchases of renewable energy. Carbon offsets should not be used as a guilt-free way to indulge a jet-set lifestyle though. You still need to find ways to reduce your own emissions.

Buy Wisely

The easiest and most effective way to be a greener consumer is to buy less stuff. Yes, many of us are gear junkies who love to try out the newest equipment and clothing, but before making any gear choice (green or not) you should consider whether you really need an item or if you already have something that does the job safely and effectively.

When you do need a piece of clothing or gear, look for items that contain environmentally-friendly materials, like recycled polyester and plastic and natural fibers such as bamboo, modal, hemp, coconut (Cocona), and organic cotton and wool. Some environmentally-friendly outdoor clothing brands to consider include Patagonia, which has pledged to close its recycling loop by 2010, Ibex, Prana, Nau, and Teko. GoLite, Marmot, and Sierra Designs also use natural and recycled materials in some of their clothing and outerwear.

Finding environmentally-friendly technical gear is still very difficult, but inroads are being made (read Green Hiking and Backpacking Gear). As with clothing, look for products that use recycled materials and fewer chemicals. The outdoor industry is just starting to talk collectively about eco issues and I hope they will soon develop product standards and ratings for the benefit of concerned consumers like you.

If you can’t find a green version of the clothing or gear you need, remember that buying a high quality, dependable item that will fit you and your needs for years to come is preferable to buying a low quality piece that you’d need to repair or replace sooner. So consult gear reviews and consider your specific needs and preferences, along with your budget.

Lastly, consider how you buy gear. If buying at a local shop, try to do your shopping errands in one fell swoop, rather than making lots of little runs in the car (or better yet park the car and use public transportation or foot or pedal power). Consider pieces with less packaging. If buying online, try to bundle multiple items together from one retailer and choose ground shipping instead of expedited air delivery.

Reuse and Recycle

Whenever safely possible, have gear professionally repaired rather than buying a brand new version. Tents, backpacks, clothing, and footwear can often be repaired, altered, or resoled by experienced specialists.

Still usable gear, clothing, and footwear also can be bought and sold secondhand (Trailspace's Classifieds, GearTrade, eBay), donated to a charity or thrift store, or passed on to a friend or family member.

Some companies will take back old garments. Patagonia’s Common Threads Garment Recycling program recycles worn out Capilene, Patagonia fleece, Polartec fleece, and Patagonia organic cotton T-shirts. Nau’s Product Afterlife Program accepts worn out clothing for recycling or composting. And parents can return outgrown children's clothing to Molehill to be donated to homeless shelters and safe houses and get a coupon for 10% off their next purchase.

Practice LNT

Lastly, once on the trail, rock, or water, understand and practice Leave No Trace principles. Even the best-intentioned hikers, backpackers, and climbers can cause significant impact on land, water, vegetation, and wildlife through ignorance or neglect.

In short, reduce your fuel and resource consumption, repair and reuse clothing and gear whenever safely possible, and recycle old gear and clothing.


Filed under: Gear News, Outdoor Skills

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