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Green Your Gear

Some green gear along the Laurel Highlands Trail. Photo by Mary Reed.

As the saying goes, you vote with your dollars every day. This is the case with green gear – when, if and what you buy determines not only your individual impact but the industry’s overall impact. Here’s how to get started.

Borrow gear. You only go backpacking once a year? Make sure your hard-core backpacking buddy brings their water filter instead of buying one. They’re not joining you? Borrow it. Ditto the tent, sleeping bag, stove and so on. Plan ahead and contact all of your outdoorsy friends. Make sure to take care of whatever you borrow and be prepared to replace anything lost or broken.

Rent gear. The most obvious example is the destination outfitter who will rent you a kayak or bike for the day. But you can borrow or rent much more than that. For example, you can also rent smaller gear when needed. Your local gear shop or college probably rents gear like tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and so on.

Buy used gear. From eBay to thrift scores to gear swaps to yard sales, used gear is pretty easy to come by. Reincarnate some gear before buying new.

Buy gear only when you need it. “One of the better ways you can be environmental with the purchase of your clothing is to not buy a lot. That’s why the quality of our product is one of our core values, because we don’t want stuff to fall apart,” says Jess Clayton, product marketer for Patagonia. “It’s all about buying just what you need and buying products with multiple uses,” she adds. For example, buy a waterproof shell for use as a windbreaker, a raincoat and an outer layer for skiing.

Buy truly green gear. When it comes time to make a purchase, whether it’s new hiking boots or a tent, do your research. Buy from a company that not only uses recycled and recyclable fabrics, but pay attention to where the product was made, how far it was shipped and what kind of offsets the company has purchased to deal with the carbon associated with production and shipping.

Bluesign is an emerging third party company that provides labeling information on consumer safety, water and air emissions as well as occupational health for manufactured products. Check a company’s website for product information before purchasing from them.

Repair it. You should be able to repair quality gear. When you purchase a pair of shoes, make sure you can get them resoled. When you purchase a backpack or tent, consider what kind of sewn repair is possible should a tear or hole appear. Can you patch that piece of clothing? Can you put duct tape on the gear for a simple fix?

Reuse or recycle it when you’re done. When it’s time to retire your gear due to safety issues – say, a climbing rope – consider a second-generation use for it; in this case, a rope rug, a tree swing or a dog leash. Buy your next rope from Sterling, who will accept your used ropes as part of their rope recycling program. Patagonia accepts much of their clothing for recycling as well.

Ultimately, when we outdoor gear consumers support these green initiatives, the industry will respond by getting greener still.