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In 2022, global customers spent nearly US$200 million on hiking gear and equipment. And estimates show that this number is expected to grow quickly as hiking becomes a more popular activity. As more and more people hit the trail, more and more people spend money on clothes, footwear, backpacks, and other equipment for hiking.
While it’s great that more people are getting outside, the ethical and environmental impacts of all that hiking gear add up quickly. In this article, we’ll focus on how to pick ethically-produced hiking gear in order to make sure you can feel good about the gear you choose. Follow the tips below so you can take your next adventure knowing that your boots, backpack, and other gear align with your values.
What Does “Ethically-Produced” Actually Mean?
With so many vague uses of the word “ethically-produced” out there, not to mention misleading marketing claims, it can be hard to understand what “ethically-produced” actually means. When it comes down to it, shopping ethically simply means buying from brands that support your values. This usually includes fair treatment of workers, but can also include sustainability and treatment of animals. Ethical production can include incorporating these values in everything from sourcing of raw materials to how goods are transported to customers.
While it’s difficult to make any single definition of ethically-produced, most goods that are considered ethical avoid causing harm to humans, animals, and the environment. In order to make ethical purchases, it’s important to examine your values to determine which you’re willing to compromise on – and which you’re not. Here are a few examples of values that you might prioritize:
- Sustainable products: These are products that are made with low environmental impacts, such as products made from recycled materials or with a low carbon footprint.
- Locally-produced products: Some people consider locally-made products to be more ethical because they support local workers and local economies. Locally-made products also reduce the environmental costs of transportation over long distances.
- Cruelty-free products: These are products that have not been tested on animals. While this is less of an issue when it comes to hiking gear, it may still be important to you to check whether your purchases are made using animal products, such as leathers or furs.
- Fairly-made products: These are products that are made by workers who receive fair treatment, such as fair wages and safe working conditions.
Once you figure out what “ethical” means to you, you can begin searching for hiking gear that meets those criteria.
Choosing Ethically-Produced Hiking Gear
Before making your next purchase, here are a few ways to make sure the hiking gear you buy is ethically-made, whether it’s simply a new pair of wool socks or a whole new tent.
1. Check for labels and certifications
One of the easiest (and fastest) ways to understand whether an item is ethically-produced is to check for labels and certifications that tell you it is! For example, all items with a fair trade label are produced following a strict set of guidelines. This includes ensuring fair compensation and working hours and safe working conditions.
Another certification that demonstrates ethical practices is B-Corp certification. This certification requires businesses to meet a list of environmental and social standards.
There are also numerous labels and certifications for sustainable brands. For example, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) offers certification for products made of organic textiles. Bluesign certified textiles are produced using a set of criteria focused on safe chemical usage and responsible consumption of resources.
Many outdoor brands rely on bluesign and other sustainable certifications to improve their environmental impact. For example, the CEO of outdoor apparel company Mammut explained that “the holistic Bluesign approach helps us measure our impact, set clear targets and reduce our environmental impact significantly..” And it’s not just apparel you can find Bluesign certified – anything made of textile, including hiking packs, can be certified. Other hiking gear brands partnered with Bluesign include backpack-manufacturer Deuter, backpack and tent brand Thule, and clothing company Prana.
In addition to ethical labels and certifications, many brands choose to undergo third-party ethical audits and inspections in order to ensure that their products comply with a variety of environmental and social standards. By choosing companies that go above and beyond to ensure compliance with ethical guidelines, you can be sure that you’re making a difference in the brands you support.
2. Understand the brand’s values
Understanding whether a product is ethically-made is closely tied to understanding the brand’s values. The first place to start is on their website. Do they mention ethical practices or sustainability at all? If so, do their practices sound like they’re in line with your own values? For example, backpacking gear company Osprey has a full page dedicated to social responsibility.
It’s important to note that if a brand does not mention its ethical policies on its site, it can mean they’re avoiding the subject. After all, no brand is going to advertise poor treatment of workers or reliance on sweatshop labor if they don’t have to. But if they don’t mention it, it’s often worth emailing them to ask about their labor practices.
You also don’t need to just take the company’s word for it – do your own research into their practices! To determine if they ethically produce hiking gear, check for articles. Have there been recent news stories about them? Where does the CEO choose to donate money?
Much of this information is available from a quick Google search or the use of a donation-tracking tool. Missing information? Consider emailing the brand yourself. Especially with garage-grown gear companies, they’re likely to answer your questions.
We know that doing your own research can be time-consuming, especially if you’re interested in multiple factors of what makes a brand ethical (such as both sustainability and working wages). Luckily, there are several ethical shopping guides that do the research for you! For example, check out Good on You for ethical ratings of your favorite outdoor clothing brands.
Unfortunately, for non-clothing products and brands, you may need to do a little more research on your own. This is due to fewer guides that comprehensively cover hiking gear like tents or sleeping bags.
Not only does buying ethically-made hiking gear allow you to feel good about your own purchases, but it can actually make a difference in pushing the hiking gear industry as a whole towards ethical practices.
When you support companies that make ethical choices (also known as “voting with your wallet” , this helps ensure these are the kinds of brands that stick around. As consumers begin to demand social and environmental responsibility from the companies they support, we can only hope that companies will listen.