Over the past few years, the desire to buy eco-friendly outdoor clothing and gear has increased. We are more aware of environmental issues and the threats posed by manmade fibres commonly used in clothing and outdoor kit that can cause damage to the natural environment.
Fortunately, many outdoor brands also understand the important roll they play in the environmental sector, and as a result more and more eco-friendly outdoor products are appearing on the market, with particular focus on using recycled and plastic-free materials, meeting important ethical standards, reducing water use in manufacturing and making kit that stands the test of time.
If you are considering upgrading your hiking kit, take a look at our review guides of the best walking trousers and 10 of the best walking and hiking shoes to buy in 2021.
We’ve picked out some of the best eco-friendly clothing and kit currently on the market, ranging from socks and suncream to shoes, jackets, rucksacks and sleeping bags.
What is ethical clothing and gear?
Ethical outdoor clothes and gear are products that have been manufactured, transported and sold with environmental, animal and human welfare in mind.
Most eco-friendly outdoor brands
A huge number of outdoor brands are starting to incorporate eco-friendly processes and materials into their clothing and gear. Some of the leading eco-friendly outdoor brands are Patagonia, Vaude, Cotopaxi and Tentree – but there are of course many more that boast ever-improving environmental credentials.
Best eco-friendly outdoor gear
Selkirk Juniper Sock
These thick, soft socks are made from 70% Repreve recycled polyester – equivalent to three plastic bottles. Not only that, but Tentree promise to plant ten trees for every product they sell. To date they say they’ve planted more than 53m, in eight countries in Asia, Africa and North America. JP
Mineral sun cream and insect repellent
Many sun creams contain microplastics – but not this one. It’s also Soil Association-approved, containing no harmful chemicals. The lemon eucalyptus oil (PMD) insect repellent is free of DEET, and Incognito say it works for four hours, deterring mosquitoes, ticks, horseflies and other biting critters. Citrusy fragrance includes geranium, aloe and edelweiss. JP
Scent-free sun lotion
Made of 84% organic ingredients, this SPF 30 sunscreen omits chemicals that harm coral reefs. The packaging is recyclable. JP
Earthrise Sleeping Bags
Earthrise sleeping bags are one of the newest and greenest sleeping bag options when it comes to using recycled materials. The recycled down (Down Cycle) comes wholly from waste clothing and bedding collected by recycling companies across Europe. It is sorted and separated from feather products by solar power, and washed in an efficient water recycling system.
The environmental qualifications of this sleeping bag are strong, but it’s also soft, warm (up to -9) and pretty light – the heaviest model weighs 1,070g.
Both men’s and women’s models are available in regular and long lengths, and can be bought with the zip on the left or right side. And if you discover that your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough, Earthrise can upgrade it to a warmer model.
Biopod DownWool Nature sleeping bag
If going plastic-free is your priority, this is perfect for you. It’s made of all-natural materials – the bag is cotton, wooden buttons replace zips, and even the packaging is made of natural textiles or paper.
Unusually, it’s insulated with a 70:30 mixture of down and wool, a clever innovation because wool absorbs moisture – helping to keep the down dry and warm. (This smart thinking helped the bag win Product of the Year in the Outdoor Industry Awards 2019.)
It’s on the heavy side for backpackers at 1.65kg, but campers will love it – it’s deliciously warm and comfortable to sleep in. JP
Women’s Miskanti Fleece Jacket
As discussed in the main feature, synthetic fabrics shed microplastics. This low-profile fleece cuts plastic pollution thanks to its soft Tencel lining fabric, whose fibres safely biodegrade in the environment; of which more below.
It’s a versatile, good-looking top that can be worn out on adventures or in day-to-day life. Although slender, it is wonderfully warm and works well when layering up. It captures heat while providing breathability and without trapping moisture, and it also dries rapidly after washing.
The cut is slim and flattering, and it has a nice length. I opted for a larger size to avoid clinginess and was impressed by the space it offered without being baggy or shapeless.
Two long zip pockets come in handy for carrying key items or protecting chilly fingers from the cold.
Its ethical credentials are the cherry on top; the soft, stretchy fabric lining is produced from wood cellulose is beyond me – another miracle of modern manufacturing. MH
Trail 22 backpack
This low-volume pack (22 litres) is designed for vigorous days out in the hills but is a good option for less energetic pursuits, too. Ventilated material on the hip belt, shoulder straps and back make the pack breathable, and its close-fitting nature allows loads to be distributed evenly through your body, improving comfort.
The main compartment can be accessed via a draw-string opening at the top of the pack, or more conveniently from a two-way zip on the front. There is extra storage in the hood and room for a map in the zipped side pocket. Another elasticated pocket on the outside of the pack offers an ideal spot for a small water bottle. Additional features – including a detachable rain cover, an SOS label and loops for attaching carabiners, a helmet and hiking poles – increase the adventure value of the Trail 22. The pack is also free of harmful PFC chemicals, part of Deuter’s ambition to become entirely PFC-free by summer 2020.
The women’s version – Trail 20 SL – is two litres smaller than the men’s Trail 22 but includes all of the same features. Both packs weigh just over 1kg. DG
Bellamont III Plus shoes
These stylish Italian walking shoes boast leather uppers made with a chrome-free tanning process; and are lined with Zero Impact leather, tanned without the use of heavy metals, and for which a tree-planting programme is designed to offset the carbon released in production. They are super-comfortable and the Vibram Predator II outsoles are grippy – but cannot be replaced once worn, unless you take them to a specialist shoe repairer. JP
Tare It Up Food Canisters
When your plastic food boxes wear out, consider replacing with these stainless-steel containers. They are more expensive to buy, but they should last a lifetime, are easy to wash, and the leak-proof top means you can carrying wet food safely in your bag. JP
Eco-friendly rain jackets
Braemar Organic SV Smock
This classic walker’s jacket is handmade in workshops a few miles east of the Cairngorms National Park, from Ventile fabric, made with organic cotton. (In a single layer like this fabric is windproof, pleasantly breathable, and showerproof. For a fully waterproof jacket, upgrade to double-layer Ventile, from £300.)
Everything about the Braemar is robust and functional, from the Velcro fastenings to the adjustable hood. The basic smock costs £190, but there are loads of optional extras to customise to your needs… including side-zips for ventilation, size adjustments, and additional pockets such as the chest and side pockets on the jacket pictured (an extra £50). And if anything gets damaged, Hilltrek run a repair service.
Like conventional jackets, the Braemar should be reproofed from time to time with a PCF-free wash-in water repellent, which is easy to find in outdoor gear shops or online; Hilltrek recommend Nikwax. JP
Keb Eco-Shell Jacket
The best walking jacket I’ve tried in five years of reviewing for the magazine, the Keb Eco-Shell was ahead of the game on release in 2015, the year that Fjӓllrӓven went PFC-free.
The recycled-polyester fabric is soft but substantial; the large pockets – both on the chest – are brilliantly functional. Like almost all rain jackets, it needs care, but with regular tech-washing and reproofing, should repay your investment with a long life-span. Mine is five years old now, has taken a lot of wear and washing, and is still going strong – though it does have to be reproofed quite frequently. JP
Unlike many outdoor gear companies, Paramo does not use harmful PFCs in its waterproof clothing. And its Nikwax Directional fabric is probably the most reliable waterproof fabric out there. Two massive advantages for a serious hiker with a conscience.
This slim-fitting jacket is soft but durable, and the close-fitting hood is extremely effective. Paramo will make repairs, which should extend the life of the jacket, and a recycling scheme is available once repair is impossible. JP
JWP Shell jacket for women
Proof that PFC-free rain jackets needn’t cost a fortune. This lightweight jacket is perfect for stowing in a pocket of your pack in case of wet weather (although you may need something more substantial if you plan to spend the day in teeming rain). The Texapore Ecosphere fabric is made of recycled polyester. JP
Very light, soft and slightly stretchy, this PFC-free waterproof jacket is made from Ecocircle 100% recycled polyester. It’s a pleasingly simple design, although the hood could be improved with a more effective peak to keep rain out of your eyes. At the relatively low price of just over £110, there are a lot of wins here for eco-conscious walkers; though I wouldn’t expect it to keep you dry for hours, and the soft fabric may need regular reproofing. JP
Daniel Graham (DG), Maria Hodson (MH), Joe Pontin (JP)