[In case you were wondering, the photo has nothing to do with this topic. I couldn’t find anything suitable. But at a time when days are getting shorter, and staying warm seems to be a key focus of most days, I like it as a nice reminder of what sunny summer days in the mountains look like. For the record, the photo is of Lac de Moiry in Switzerland.]
This post is overdue.
As an outdoor enthusiast and someone that works in the outdoor industry, I travel often, and spend lots of money each year on gear. At a time of environmental crisis, I’ve got a lot to answer for. Most of us in the outdoorsy world probably do. Yet paradoxically I see myself as an environmentalist (again, as lots of us that love spending time outdoors probably do), and as someone that wants to leave the world in a better state than what I was born into. So how does that tally with my lifestyle?
Before delving any deeper, a quick admin note:
Part one (this one!) looks at the broader issue of consumerism; part two (to follow!) will cover the brands that I believe have the most responsible track record and bring about the most positive change, if we do indeed need to make a purchase.
When we talk about consumption, there are often different words attached preceding it, such as sustainable, conscious and responsible. So let’s first be clear on those definitions:
Sustainable - able to be maintained at a certain rate or level
Conscious - perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of thought or observation
Responsible - to have control and authority over something; to be the person who caused something to happen
I don’t kid myself in thinking that my lifestyle is sustainable in any way. If everyone lived like I do, the world would be in dire straits. I recently took the WWF’s environmental footprint calculator quiz to see just how unsustainable my life is - for the record, my annual estimated carbon consumption is 7 tonnes (less than the UK average, but if everyone in the world had this impact we’d need a few more earths to deal with it).
Being conscious is a good start, but it doesn’t imply any actual action. We all know the consequences of a lot of our actions, but we often choose to pull the wool over our eyes about them when push comes to shove, and we want that latest bit of kit. It’s all well and good to know about things; but knowledge without action is useless. Sometimes I feel like there is good reason for the adage ‘ignorance is bliss’.
So I believe we need to be responsible with our actions, meaning we take control and cause things to happen through our decisions. When it comes to outdoor gear (and consumption more generally), I’ll win no awards for originality in stating that I believe the starting point should be the Rs. This originally started out as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but has since been expanded to include others such as “Repair”, “Rot” and “Rethink”. I’ll expand on the ones I think are most relevant for us when buying outdoor gear.
1. Refuse & Reduce
First, let’s think about not caving in to the marketing campaigns that make us feel that we always need to buy new gear. Moreover, there is often a feeling that each new activity or sport requires its own specific garment or bit of kit, when in actual fact what we already own will probably do the job well enough. I’ve found saying “No” to making a purchase actually incredibly rewarding and stress- relieving. Having cupboards and drawers (or loft in my case) full of gear can be quite draining - it all requires maintenance and if you move home then it all has to come with you.
I’m as guilty as anyone of being drawn in to big ad campaigns and trail running stars wearing the latest kit, and then feeling that maybe I do actually need that new bit of gear I had never even thought about purchasing. I’m challenging myself to question this - I’ve found a good starting point to be drawing up a kit inventory, going through all the outdoor gear I currently have, and seeing if this aligns with the activities I see myself doing in the next few months. If and only if there’s a gap in what I already have and what I need will I then thinking about making a purchase.
I’ve also unsubscribed from sites such as Sport Pursuit and decluttered my inbox to reduce the number of sites bombarding me with flash sales every day of the week. These sort of sites seem to generate demand solely by the virtue that a product is cheaper than it used to be, ignoring the question of whether you actually need it or not.
2. Repair & Reuse
I spent an evening recently trying to repair old shoes by glueing the soles back on with Gorilla glue, and by sewing together holes in my duffel bag. I’m hopeless at sewing, but giving it a go, as well as trying to take on board the coaching from my dear mother and partner, proved to be a fun, therapeutic evening. Sure, the holes will probably reopen and the soles will likely fall off the shoes again, but at least I’ve extended the life of them a little bit, and postponed a further purchase.
On the topic of reuse, I also think it’s important to consider the functions of the kit we have - it’s increasingly common to see products that have one sole use, that you would never use them for anything else other than that one highly specific function. Soft cups for trail races are a prime example of this. When would you ever use these for anything else other than to get water at an aid station in a trail running race? We almost certainly all have camping cups/ mugs at our disposal. They might add a few extra grams and be a little more cumbersome, but are we really competing at such a level where the weight and convenience matter that much?
It’s easy to accumulate endless piles of gear that all serve the same function. But do we really need any more than one of most things? (some clothing items being an obvious exception here) I’ve made a rule of selling or donating any outdoor gear if I purchase a new bit of kit that does the same thing. For example, I recently bought a new stove. So the old one needed to go. Today I cycled across town to give it to someone that was very happy to receive it and will no doubt make good use of it, instead of it collecting dust in my loft.
So that hopefully covers the ground of what to do before deciding to purchase new outdoor gear; part two will look at the brands that have the most responsible track record.