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 still in OK condition
- How to recycle outdoor gear that’s no longer usable
- How to recycle outdoor clothing that you can’t sell or repair
- Recycling hiking boots and outdoor shoes
- Cool outdoor gear upcycling projects
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.
Here are some top outdoor brands offering repair services:
Rab offer a repair service for Rab and Lowe Alpine equipment. Simply choose your required repair service and they’ll send you a prepaid returns label and care card to complete, your fixed up kit will then be returned to you. Prices start at £10.
Alpkit have been offering repair services since 2004. Take your outdoor clothing, gear and equipment to one of their repair stations and they’ll repair it. Any brand is accepted and prices start at £10. Either take your item to a store with a repair station or contact customer services to discuss postage options.
Feet First have been repairing outdoor footwear for 19 years. Download and complete the form and send your walking boots, climbing, running or bike shoes to be repaired. Prices start at £10 for toe patches.
Mountain Soles have been repairing and altering outdoor clothing and gear since 1979. Based in Portland but they offer a US nationwide service. Complete the online mail order form and send your clean items via USPS, postage charges apply.
Mountain Equipment offer a cleaning and repair service for all of their items. Complete the contact form to register your required service and to receive a quote.
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.
- Worn out climbing rope can be sent to Dirtbags Climbing to be made into outdoor accessories.
How to recycle outdoor clothing that you can’t sell or repair
If you’ve had no success donating, repairing or selling your outdoor clothing, then there are few other options to consider:
- Your local clothes banks will take old clothes and fabrics to be recycled, repurposed or reused.
- Search locally for organisations that take fabric and parts of gear to upcycle into useful items to sell on.
- Donate old clothing, along with sleeping bags, quilts, 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.
Additionally, more and more brands are offering take-back services that put your unwanted clothing to good use. Or if it’s no longer useable, they recycle it.
Here are a few outdoor clothing brands and retailers offering some kind of recycling service:
Houdini have been recycling polyester products since 2006 and in the winter of 21/22, 77% of their products were officially ‘circular styles’. A take back system for all Houdini products is available via drop off at any Houdini store or stockist.
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!
The Patagonia Worn Wear scheme allows you to trade-in worn clothing and gear, 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.
Cotswold Outdoor have partnered with SEOX (the largest clothing re-wear and recycle company in the world) to deliver their Recycle My Gear scheme. You can drop off your old clothing and shoes at any of their stores, all items need to be clean and dry. They don’t accept sleeping gear (sleeping bags, pillows or blankets), tents, rucksacks, ski boots or skates.
Rohan’s Gift Your Gear scheme supports charities via donations of outdoor gear, enabling them to run outdoor all-weather activities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Since 2012 the scheme has gifted 195,000 pieces of kit to over 650 organisations. Drop off your preloved Rohans gear to one of their 54 UK stores or request a free returns label. In return you’ll receive a discount off your next purchase.
Ellis Brigham’s 2nd Life initiative supports UK homeless charities by donating and recycling old clothing and gear. Donate your preloved items at one of six UK drop off points or contact customer services for more information. All items should be cleaned and where possible, reproofed.
Columbia’s Rethread program launched in 2017. Take your unwanted Columbia garments and footwear to any US Columbia store and they’ll either repair and sell second hand or recycle them into new products. Items must be clean and dry.
Recycling hiking boots and outdoor shoes
Some shoes and boots can be easily resoled. And being sure to care for your footwear properly will certainly help prolong the life of outdoor footwear. However, when your toes start poking out the ends of the shoes it might be time to move them on to a local shoe bank or recycle them via one of the following services:
In 2021 2,600 pairs of Vivos were kept from going to landfill with their take back programme. Send back your old Vivos in any condition, and, if possible, they’ll bring them back to life, and re-sell them. Free shipping is available for UK, US and EU based customers.
Send back your Merells in any condition and, where possible they’ll be restored and resold. In cases when restoration isn’t possible, they’ll grind them down and the materials will be used to create new products. Merrell vouchers are offered in exchange for returned shoes and free shipping is available to all customers.
Take your shoes to a Nike store. Their Reuse-A-Shoe Program recycles old athletic shoes. The program has collected 28 million shoes for recycling since 1990. Contact your local store to confirm that they are part of the program.
Sportsshoes.com have partnered with Jog on and Evri to deliver a running shoe recycling service. Download a returns label and drop your unwanted shoes to a local Evri drop off point and Jog on will do the rest. They aim to divert 1 million pairs of shoes from landfill in 2022 and onto the feet of those in need.
Take your old running shoes and sports clothing to an Asics sponsored race expo and you’ll receive a reward voucher for your next ASICS purchase. Check the website for participating European events. Any brand and any condition accepted. Items are sorted and either repaired for reuse or recycled into other products.
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
- Turn it into a dog leash
- Make a rope swing
- Use it to hang a hammock
- Create a hanging rope shelf
- Make a climbing rope rug
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
- Turn on old bike wheel into a designer clock
- Make cuff links out of bike chain links
- Use strips of old inner tubes as fire starter!
- Mount old dropbars on the wall as a bike rack
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.