As outdoor enthusiasts, our adventures are only as meaningful as the care we take in preserving the landscapes we traverse. Shopping for outdoor gear with an eye towards sustainability is not just a personal choice, but 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. 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. We hope that you’ll take this information and use it to shop more in a more eco-friendly and sustainable manner in the future.
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 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 actively working against climate change. It’s a commitment to buying from brands that prioritize the planet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investing in renewable energy and reforestation projects. By opting for products with this certification, consumers take part in a larger movement towards a more sustainable economy.
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 specializing in producing energy-efficient camping stoves, solar panels, and lighting solutions for outdoor enthusiasts. Shop BioLite at REI.
- Rumpl – Known for creating high-quality, versatile outdoor blankets made from sustainable materials, ideal for camping and adventure travel. Shop Rumpl at REI.
- Nomadix – A brand focused on eco-friendly, multi-purpose towels designed for travel, yoga, and beach activities, made from post-consumer recycled materials. Shop Nomadix at REI.
- LifeStraw – A company dedicated to providing portable water filtration solutions, making 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.
Responsible Down Standard (RDS) & Traceable Down Standard (TDS)
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is an ethical and sustainable certification that ensures the down and feathers used in products come from ducks and geese that have been treated humanely. 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.
Popular outdoor gear brands that offer RDS-certified products include:
- Mountain Hardwear – A company focused on innovative outdoor equipment and apparel, particularly known for its advanced technology in mountain gear. Shop RDS products by Mountain Hardwear at REI.
- The North Face – A globally recognized brand offering high-performance outdoor apparel, equipment, and footwear, known for its quality and durability. Shop RDS The North Face Products at REI.
- Marmot – Specializes in outdoor clothing and gear, including tents, sleeping bags, and apparel, catering to adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts. Shop RDS products by Marmot at REI.
- Arc’teryx – A high-end brand known for its superior craftsmanship in outdoor clothing and gear, particularly favored by climbers and alpinists. Shop RDS products by Arc’teryx at REI.
In addition to the Responsible Down Standard, the Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS) offers another layer of assurance for ethically sourced Down. 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 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. For outdoor gear, which often includes Merino wool in clothing and accessories for its natural insulating and moisture-wicking properties, the RWS certification ensures that the material 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, 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 outdoor apparel, offering high-performance, sustainable clothing for hiking, skiing, and everyday wear. Shop Ibex.com.
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.
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.
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.
Popular outdoor gear brands that have Bluesign-approved products include:
- Patagonia – A leader in sustainable outdoor apparel and gear, Patagonia is known for its environmental activism and high-quality, eco-friendly products. Shop BlueSign Approved Patagonia at REI.
- REI Co-op – A major outdoor retailer, REI Co-op offers a vast selection of camping, hiking, and cycling gear, along with outdoor apparel and footwear. Shop REI Brand BlueSign-approved products.
- Arc’teryx – Arc’teryx is a high-end brand known for its superior craftsmanship in outdoor clothing and gear, particularly favored by climbers and alpinists. Shop Bluesign-Approved Arc’teryx products at REI.
Read our article about Bluesign Approved for a complete list of brands and more information about this certification.
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. 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, and instead offer certain products or product lines that are certified. Some examples include:
- Patagonia – A leader in sustainable outdoor apparel and gear, Patagonia is renowned for its commitment to environmental activism and quality products. Shop Fair Trade Patagonia products at REI.
- prAna – Specializing in lifestyle and activewear, Prana is known for its eco-friendly apparel, catering to yoga, climbing, and outdoor enthusiasts. Shop Fair Trade prAna products at REI.
- Cotopaxi – Cotopaxi is an innovative outdoor gear brand focused on creating colorful, durable products and is dedicated to social and environmental causes. Shop Fair Trade Cotopaxi products at REI.
- REI Co-op – As a major outdoor retailer, REI Co-Op offers a wide range of high-quality camping, hiking, and outdoor gear, along with educational outdoor experiences. Shop REI Co-Op brand Fair Trade Certified products.
Check out our article about Fair Trade Certified outdoor gear brands for a complete list of brands and more information about this certification.
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, and 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.
We have an article about Certified B Corporations if you want to read more.
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. In the outdoor industry, this commitment is particularly impactful, as 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.
Forest Stewardship Council
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization that sets standards for responsibly managed forests and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) helped create this certification. FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. In the outdoor industry, 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 out article about the Forest Stewardship Council for more information and a complete list of outdoor brands who 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. In the outdoor industry, Rainforest Alliance certification is 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.
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.
This section explores various 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.
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. Similarly, in packaging, a shift towards recycled or reusable materials is evident. 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. 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. Many outdoor retailers and brands now offer platforms for buying and selling used gear, making it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. This practice not only conserves resources but also makes outdoor activities more accessible and affordable, fostering a more inclusive outdoor community.
Some companies that offer used gear include:
Have camping gear you want to sell? Send it in to 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 in preserving the natural landscapes we cherish for outdoor activities 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 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.
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.
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.
Save this pin so you can reference this article later!