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How to Recycle Outdoor Gear and Clothing (Plus 21 Cool Upcycling Ideas)

Plants growing in boots

No matter how well made your outdoor gear and clothing is, it will, at some point, come to the end of its useful life. In the ideal world the ability to recycle outdoor gear and clothing would be as easy as putting it in with your household recycling. But unfortunately it’s not quite so simple.

That said, with a little bit of effort there are plenty of ways to recycle outdoor gear so that as much of it as possible is diverted from landfill.

In this article I shall do my best to highlight how and where your old gear and clothing can be recycled. Plus, there are some pretty cool upcycling project ideas that you may want to consider before throwing stuff away.

What to do with old gear that’s in OK condition still

Before you condemn your old outdoor equipment to the recycling bin forever, it’s worth taking a moment to consider whether it’s really at the end of its life. Don’t forget that one person’s trash may be another one’s treasure.

If your clothing and gear is totally done for, then yes, it’s probably time you recycled it if at all possible. However, if it’s just tired looking, has a minor tear or break, or you have no use for it anymore, then consider the following:

  • Repair your outdoor gear and clothing

    Many items of clothing can be repaired very easily, and with a little patience (and some YouTubing!) you’ll probably be able to do it yourself. However, if the fix is a little more technical then either get a local seamstress to mend it, or contact the brand to see if they offer a repair service. Some may charge for this whilst others will happily do it for nothing. I once sent back my very old Osprey backpack to be fixed twice — they charged nothing.

  • Donate your gear and clothing

    There are a number of options for getting your old gear into the hands of those who will really appreciate it. It should still be in OK condition if you are planning on donating to charities for future use.

    • Take clothing to your local charity shop or thrift store
    • Donate sleeping bags, tents and backpacks to a homeless charity for them to distribute
    • Donate camping gear, old ropes, cooking stoves etc to your local youth group or Scout/Girl Guide unit
    • Send any gear to Gear Forward or Gift Your Gear who distribute gear to youth projects
    • Put items on Freecycle for other people to pick up from you with no charge
  • Sell gear and clothing

    If your gear or clothing is in pretty good condition, but you no longer want or need it, then you can always make a buck or two by selling it on Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Craigslist.

For more information about buying and selling secondhand gear and clothing, read our guide to used outdoor gear.

How to recycle outdoor gear that’s no longer usable

Your gear is totally un-repairable and you’re sure that it can’t be useful to anyone else in the state it’s in.

What next? Now’s the time to try to recycle it.

Recycle general camping and outdoor gear

  • Metal water bottles and camp cooking pots can be put in domestic recycling (check with your local service first).
  • Small camping gas canisters, that are properly emptied, can be recycled domestically along with metal recycling (check with your local service first).
  • Contact the brand of the item in question to ask if they accept their old gear (sleeping bags, backpacks, tents etc) for research, recycling or reuse.
  • Tent fly sheets, tarps, ropes and sailcloth can be sent to Metamporphic Gear who upcycle stuff into bags and wallets. Get in touch via their contact form.
  • Bicycle inner tubes can usually be taken to your local bike store to be recycled. If not, send them to Green Guru Gear who will upcycle them into cool stuff!
  • Take buckles and fasteners off old backpacks and save them for furture gear fixing.

How to recycle clothing

  • Your local clothes banks will take old clothes and fabrics to be recycled, repurposed or reused.
  • The North Face Clothes the Loop Program takes unwanted clothing and footwear and recycles it. Drop off your clothing (any brand) at one of their stores and you’ll also earn $10 off your next purchase that is over $100!
  • Send your used gear and clothing to REI in a Give Back Box. Simply download a prepaid shipping label, pack up your gear and send it off in the mail.
  • The Patagonia Worn Wear scheme operates in a similar way to REI’s program, but they only accept Patagonia items. Like The North Face, you get credit to use on new gear when you send or drop in clothing.
  • Search locally for organisations that take fabric and parts of gear to upcycle into useful items to sell on.
  • Donate old sleeping bags, quilts and clothing to animal shelters where they can be used as bedding or for cleaning.
  • Compost your cotton and merino clothing! So long as the fabric isn’t blended with any synthetic materials, it can be shredded up and added to your compost bin.

Recycling hiking boots and outdoor shoes

  • Seek out your local shoe bank where you can drop off worn out shoes and boots. These are then sorted and either re-sold or recycled.
  • Worn out climbing shoes can often be repaired or patched. But if they’re beyond that then climbing shoes can go to the same places as regular shoes.
  • Take your shoes to a Nike store. Their Reuse-A-Shoe Program recycles old athletic shoes. Contact your local store to confirm that they are part of the program.

Cool outdoor gear upcycling projects

No matter how hard you try, sometimes it just ain’t easy to recycle outdoor gear. So if you’re struggling to find a way to dispose of stuff without chucking it in the trash, then maybe it’s time to get creative and upcycle it into something else?!

Here are a few geniously simple upcycling ideas to try:

Tent recycling / upcycling ideas

  • Turn a tent fly into stuff sack
  • Make a kite out of an old fly tent
  • Cut the groundsheet out of a worn out tent to use as a tent footprint for your new tent. Or use it as a tarp or a stand-alone groundsheet
  • Use old tent poles to grow beans up in the garden

What to do with old climbing rope

Sleeping bag upcycle ideas

  • Get your sewing kits out and make a cosy winter hat and scarf
  • Turn it into a quilt
  • Use the good parts to make a pillow
  • Turn it into a sleeping bag for your doggie!

Bike upcycling projects

Other outdoor gear upcycling ideas

  • Create a cosy couch with your old or unused bouldering crash pad
  • Turn skis and snowboards into a fence or furniture
  • Grow plants and herbs in old hiking boots and shoes

With a little bit of thought and effort, it’s not difficult to recycle outdoor gear. And there are loads of creative ways to upcycle gear if you’re struggling to find somewhere to recycle it.

If you have an awesome outdoor gear upcycling project that you’re rather proud of then we’d LOVE to hear about it and feature it on COTW — get in touch.

About the author


Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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