How to Shop for Sustainable Outdoor Gear

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on April 17, 2024

Shopping for sustainable outdoor gear is more than just a personal choice.

It’s a collective step towards minimizing our ecological footprint.

After years of shopping for and researching the most sustainable gear brands, we’re here to share everything we’ve learned with you.

Beyond buying used gear and making your gear last longer, what can you do to shop for sustainable outdoor gear?

The #1 thing you can do is to shop brands that have REAL sustainability certifications.

To use the phrase “eco-friendly” is low-hanging fruit. But companies that truly prioritize the planet stand above the rest with certifications like Climate Neutral Certified, Responsible Down Standard, and many more.

In this article, we’ll explore the significance of various sustainability certifications and what they mean for us as shoppers.

By equipping ourselves with this knowledge, we can make decisions that support conservation efforts and ethical practices. All while enjoying the natural world in a way that ensures its beauty endures for generations to come.

Sustainability Certifications to Look For So You Can Adventure Responsibly

Sustainability certifications offer a window into the environmental and ethical implications of the products we choose.

These emblems of responsibility are not just badges of honor for brands.

They are guides that help consumers navigate toward more eco-friendly options.

In this section, we’ll break down the key certifications you should be looking for, each representing a commitment to various aspects of sustainability—from reducing carbon footprints to ensuring animal welfare and supporting fair labor practices.

Understanding these certifications can empower you to select ethical outdoor clothing and gear that aligns with your values and the planet’s well-being.

Climate Neutral Certified

The Climate Neutral Certified label (which is in the process of changing its name to The Change Climate Project) is a clear indicator that a company has measured, reduced, and offset its entire carbon footprint.

This certification is one of our favorites! In our opinion, it’s one of the easiest ways to know you’re supporting an awesome brand. If a company is Climate Neutral Certified, they’re SERIOUS about protecting the environment. They’re as serious as Gordon Ramsey in a chaotic kitchen.

This certification is granted by the non-profit organization Climate Neutral, which requires companies to achieve net-zero carbon emissions for the entirety of their operations. Every step from design to delivery has been scrutinized and adjusted for minimal environmental impact.

Purchasing Climate Neutral Certified gear is a way to support companies who are actively working against climate change. These brands are committed to BIG ideas like renewable energy sources and reforestation projects. So by supporting them, we can take part in a larger movement towards a more sustainable industry.

Popular brands that have achieved Climate Neutral Certification include:

  • REI Co-op – A renowned outdoor retailer offering a wide range of camping, hiking, and cycling gear, along with outdoor apparel and footwear. Shop REI.com.
  • BioLite – An innovative company that specializes in energy-efficient camping stoves, solar panels, and lighting solutions. Shop BioLite at REI.
  • Rumpl – Rumpl is known for creating high-quality, versatile outdoor blankets and towels that are made from sustainable materials. Their blankets are PERFECT for camping. Shop Rumpl at REI.
  • Nomadix – A brand focused on multi-purpose towels designed for travel, yoga, and beach activities. These are our favorite towels for backpacking! Shop Nomadix at REI.
  • LifeStraw – Provides portable water filtration solutions that make contaminated water safe to drink for hikers, campers, and travelers. Shop LifeStraw at REI.

Check out our article on Climate Neutral Outdoor Gear Brands for more information about Climate-Neutral certification and an entire list of outdoor gear brands that are certified.

climate neutral certified outdoor gear brands
Climate Neutral Certified Logo. Look for this when shopping for outdoor clothing and gear!

Responsible Down Standard (RDS) & Traceable Down Standard (TDS)

The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is an ethical and sustainable certification that ensures the down feathers used in products come from ducks and geese that have been treated humanely for their entire life.

This standard prohibits force-feeding and the live-plucking of birds. And it traces the supply chain from hatchling to the final product, ensuring that the welfare of the animals is respected throughout.

In the context of outdoor gear, RDS certification is particularly relevant for items like sleeping bags, jackets, and other insulated apparel, where down is prized for its exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio.

We try to only buy RDS or TDS down – that way we know we are supporting companies that are serious about animal welfare.

Popular outdoor gear brands that offer RDS-certified products include:

In addition to the Responsible Down Standard, the Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS) offers another layer of assurance for ethically sourced Down. This is a very difficult certification to achieve, so very few brands are on this list.

TDS sets rigorous criteria for traceability and animal welfare from the parent farm to the apparel factory, ensuring that birds are not subjected to any unnecessary harm.

While similar to RDS in its core values, TDS is unique in its requirement for third-party audits at every stage of the supply chain. The most popular brand that subscribes to TDS standards is Patagonia. Shop RDS Patagonia products at REI.

Read our article about the Responsible Down Standard for more information about RDS and TDS, as well as an entire list of outdoor gear brands that are certified.

responsible down standard outdoor gear brands
Look for this RDS logo when purchasing gear and clothing with Down feathers.

Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) & ZQ Wool

The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) is a standard that addresses the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on. RWS requires that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated humanely.

Outdoor gear frequently includes Merino wool in clothing and accessories. The RWS certification ensures that this wool is sourced from sheep that live with the Five Freedoms and from farms practicing sustainable land management.

Some popular outdoor gear brands that offer RWS-certified products include:

  • Arc’teryx – A premium outdoor apparel and equipment brand that is highly regarded for its innovative designs and exceptional quality (especially in climbing and alpine gear). Shop Arc’teryx at REI.
  • Ibex – Specializes in merino wool that offers high-performance, sustainable clothing for hiking, skiing, and everyday wear. Shop Ibex.com.

Note: not all products within a brand have to be RWS-certified. Different product lines may use materials from different farms. So check the individual product to see if it uses certified materials.

Alongside the Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ wool represents another benchmark for quality and sustainability in the textile industry. ZQ wool is sourced from farmers who practice holistic land management and ensure the highest standards of animal welfare.

The ZQ certification process includes comprehensive audits to verify that the wool is produced sustainably and ethically.

Basically, you know the wool is sustainably farmed if you see either the RWS or ZQ certification on it. If your Merino wool clothing doesn’t have this label, perhaps you should consider shopping from a more sustainable brand.

Read our article about the Responsible Wool Standard for more information about RWS vs. ZQ, what the Five Freedoms are, and a complete list of outdoor gear brands that use RWS-certified wool.

Responsible Wool Standard Logo.

Bluesign Approved

The Bluesign system is a standard for environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles. A Bluesign Approved label signifies that every component of the product meets stringent chemical safety requirements and has been produced using resources responsibly.

For outdoor gear, which often relies on a variety of textiles, the Bluesign approval means that products from jackets to backpacks are manufactured in a way that reduces their impact on people and the planet.

It ensures that harmful substances are eliminated from the beginning of the manufacturing process, water and air emissions are managed responsibly, and acceptable working conditions are upheld.

It can be difficult to make products from materials that are all 100% Bluesign-approved. So you are more likely to see “made with Bluesign-approved materials” – this indicates that some (but not all) of the materials in that product are certified.

Popular outdoor gear brands that have Bluesign-approved products include:

Read our article about Bluesign Approved for a complete list of brands and more information about this certification.

Background photo from Patagonia, logo courtesy of Bluesign Approved.

Fair Trade Certified

The Fair Trade Certified label represents a commitment to social responsibility in the manufacturing process. This certification ensures that the products are made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.

It focuses on safe working conditions, fair labor practices, and equitable trade terms for workers in the developing countries where much of the outdoor gear is produced.

This is one of our favorite certifications to look for because of its focus on workers in developing nations.

Fair Trade certification also means that additional money is provided back to the workers who made the product, which they can use for community and business development projects.

Most brands aren’t entirely Fair Trade Certified. Instead, they may offer certain products or product lines that are certified. Some examples include:

Check out our article about Fair Trade Certified outdoor gear brands for a complete list of brands and more information about this certification.

You’ll mostly see the Fair Trade Certified Logo on coffee, but it can apply to outdoor gear brands as well.

Certified B Corporations

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

In the outdoor industry, B Corp certification is a powerful indicator of a company’s commitment to not just being the best IN the world but being the best FOR the world.

These companies undergo rigorous assessment of their impact on their workers, customers, community, and environment. Plus, they are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders.

Notable outdoor gear brands that are Certified B Corporations include:

  • Patagonia – As a Certified B Corp, Patagonia sets the standard in ethical business practices, offering sustainable outdoor apparel and gear while committing to environmental and social responsibility. Shop Patagonia at REI.
  • Cotopaxi – Cotopaxi, a Certified B Corp, focuses on creating innovative and ethically made outdoor gear, with a strong emphasis on fighting poverty and supporting community initiatives. Shop Cotopaxi at REI.
  • Tentree – Tentree, a Certified B Corp, combines sustainable fashion with environmental activism, planting ten trees for every item sold and focusing on eco-friendly materials and responsible manufacturing. Shop Tentree.

This certification is one of the more complicated ones on this list. But we always appreciate it when we see the Certified B Corp logo because we know they’re doing their part.

We have an article about Certified B Corporations if you want to read more.

Look for this Certified B Corp logo to find brands that have this certification.

1% For the Planet

1% for the Planet represents a global movement where businesses commit to donating 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes. This certification is a pledge by companies to prioritize environmental stewardship and contribute to sustainability initiatives.

This commitment is particularly impactful for the outdoor industry. It directly supports the conservation of the natural environments that outdoor enthusiasts cherish.

Companies that are 1% for the Planet members are making a tangible contribution to environmental nonprofits, supporting a range of initiatives from wildlife conservation to climate action.

Some prominent outdoor gear brands that are part of the 1% for the Planet network include:

  • Patagonia – As a pioneering member of 1% for the Planet, Patagonia has long been committed to environmental causes, channeling a portion of its revenue from high-quality outdoor gear and apparel towards global sustainability efforts. Shop Patagonia at REI.
  • MiiR – MiiR, a 1% for the Planet member, specializes in designing stainless steel drinkware and has built its brand on a foundation of social and environmental responsibility, contributing a share of its sales to impactful projects. Shop Miir.
  • Rumpl – Rumpl, known for its innovative outdoor blankets, aligns with 1% for the Planet’s ethos, dedicating a portion of its proceeds to environmental initiatives, reflecting its commitment to sustainability and conservation. Shop Rumpl at REI.

Check out this article about 1% for the Planet for a more in-depth description and a list of outdoor gear brands that are certified.

Spoiler alert: this is one of our least favorite sustainability certifications on this list.

Look for this logo on brands who participate in 1% for the Planet.

Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization that sets standards for responsibly managed forests. It was created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), so we love looking for this logo on outdoor products.

FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

This certification is particularly relevant for products made of wood or paper, such as snowboards, camping furniture, and packaging materials. FSC certification guarantees that the wood used in these products is harvested sustainably, without damaging the ecosystems or harming wildlife habitats.

Popular outdoor brands that use FSC-certified materials include:

Read our article about the Forest Stewardship Council for more information and a complete list of outdoor brands that are certified.

Rainforest Alliance Certified

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is a symbol of a product’s compliance with rigorous environmental, social, and economic criteria designed to promote sustainability.

This certification focuses on conserving biodiversity, ensuring sustainable livelihoods, and fostering the rights and well-being of workers, their families, and communities.

The RAC certification is most relevant for products that include natural ingredients or materials sourced from rainforest areas, such as rubber, wood, and certain oils used in gear and apparel.

This is one of the least popular certifications on this list and not many brands are certified.

Other Green Initiatives To Consider

While certifications provide a clear and standardized way to identify environmentally friendly products, they are not the only measure of a brand’s commitment to sustainability.

Many outdoor gear companies are engaging in innovative green initiatives and eco-labels that may not fall under a specific certification but are equally impactful in promoting environmental stewardship.

Let’s explore other eco-conscious efforts that brands are undertaking, from using recycled materials and renewable energy in production to implementing take-back programs and supporting conservation projects.

Knowing what makes a “green product” can be difficult (even the EPA acknowledges this challenge), but understanding these initiatives can offer additional insights for shoppers who want to support brands that are actively contributing to a healthier planet, even beyond the realm of formal certifications.

Eco-Friendly Materials

Many outdoor gear companies are increasingly adopting “eco-friendly materials” for their products and packaging.

This includes using recycled fabrics, organic cotton, and biodegradable materials, significantly reducing environmental impact. As for packaging materials, there’s been an obvious shift towards recycled or reusable materials.

These choices not only minimize waste and resource use but also allow consumers to support sustainable practices in the industry.

Buying Used Gear

Buying used outdoor gear is an increasingly popular and impactful way to reduce environmental impact. More and more brands are revealing “used gear shops” and we couldn’t be more excited about it.

Opting for pre-owned items saves a SUBSTANTIAL amount of resources that would otherwise be used in the production of new gear. It also extends the life cycle of products, keeping them out of landfills and reducing waste.

Buying used is our FAVORITE WAY to shop sustainably. It’s still worth looking for those certifications listed above. But it’s hard to beat the economic impacts of buying used gear. ESPECIALLY used gear from a remarkably environmentally friendly company like Patagonia and REI (they host our favorite online used gear shops – see the links below).

Some companies that offer used gear include:

Have camping gear you want to sell? Send it into one of the used gear programs or read about how you can sell your used camping gear yourself.

Why Shop Sustainably?

Shopping sustainably, especially when it comes to outdoor gear, is a powerful way to contribute positively to the environment.

By choosing eco-friendly companies and products, consumers directly support practices that reduce environmental impact, such as minimizing carbon footprints, conserving natural resources, and reducing waste.

Sustainable shopping also often means supporting ethical labor practices and animal welfare. This conscious consumerism not only helps preserve the natural landscapes we cherish but also promotes a healthier planet for future generations.

Moreover, sustainable shopping can influence the broader market. As consumers increasingly demand eco-friendly products, more companies are motivated to adopt sustainable practices.

This shift can lead to widespread environmental benefits, including cleaner production processes, more innovative use of recycled materials, and an overall reduction in pollution and resource depletion.

By choosing to shop sustainably, consumers play a crucial role in driving the outdoor industry towards a more environmentally responsible future, ensuring that the great outdoors remains vibrant and accessible for years to come.

Ready to make some other parts of your life green? Check out 50 Simple Ways to Live More Sustainably by The Guardian.

FAQ’s

What makes outdoor gear ‘sustainable’?

Sustainable outdoor gear is designed and manufactured with consideration for environmental impact. This includes using eco-friendly materials, adhering to ethical labor practices, minimizing waste, and reducing carbon footprints.

How do I know if a product is truly sustainable?

Look for certifications like Climate Neutral Certified, Responsible Down Standard, Bluesign approved, and others. These certifications ensure that products meet specific environmental and ethical standards.

Are sustainable outdoor products more expensive?

While some sustainable products may have a higher upfront cost, they often offer better durability and quality. In the long run, they can be more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial.

Can individual consumer choices actually make a difference in sustainability?

Yes, individual choices can drive market trends and encourage more companies to adopt sustainable practices, leading to significant environmental impacts over time.

Final Thoughts

Shopping sustainably for outdoor gear is more than a trend; it’s a crucial step toward preserving the natural environments we love and rely on.

By being mindful of the certifications and sustainable practices of the brands we support, we not only ensure the longevity and health of our planet but also encourage the entire outdoor industry to move towards more responsible and eco-friendly operations.

Every choice we make as consumers has the power to contribute to a greener, more sustainable future, making our outdoor adventures not just enjoyable but also ethically and environmentally sound.

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Why Trust Know Nothing Nomads?

Since 2017, Know Nothing Nomads has cemented itself as the “approachable experts” in everything camping, hiking, climbing, and adventuring in the Great Outdoors.

With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

We USE the gear we talk about. We’ve hiked 1000’s of miles. We have camped 1000’s of nights in the wilderness. We have sent hundreds of boulders and projects.

We don’t just know a few things about the outdoors — WE EAT, SLEEP, AND BREATHE IT.

We are not journalists from a magazine telling someone else’s stories from behind a computer. We are the ACTUAL outdoorsmen that those people write about. 

We are not a “gear lab” that runs tests on gear in life-like conditions. We are the seasoned, “trial-by-fire” experts who have taken the gear into the wilderness and USED IT. Read about our gear testing process here

We started Know Nothing Nomads to share our passion and expertise with our readers to inspire, educate, and enable you to explore the outdoors in the way that we have. And you will be more equipped and capable than ever before with the knowledge you gain here guiding you along the way.

And the best part? We are real people that LOVE our readers and this community. If you need anything or have a question about any of the things we have to write about, just reach out. Normally, one of us can respond within 24 hours, sometimes within minutes. THAT is the approachable expert.

You should also know that advertising does not influence our gear reviews in any way, shape, or form, and it never will.

While we always focus our attention on gear that stands out to us—sometimes we discover that things aren’t up to our standards. This is exactly why we will always talk about the downfalls and compromises that we find while we are testing anything (If we find any).

About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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