Vegan Outdoor Clothing, Do You Have To Use Synthetics?

By and large, the worldwide clothing industry is responsible for a number of impacts on the environment. If you didn’t know already, it is the second-largest form of pollution in the world – with the first spot taken by none other than the oil industry. In fact, if we talk about carbon emissions, the clothing industry, from sourcing, to manufacturing, all the way down to the logistics of having them stocked on retailer’s shelves, causes more emissions than international aviation and maritime shipping combined.

As hikers and avid outdoors people, this is somewhat of a concern. We thrive on the adventure of exploring the world around us and basking in the sights and sounds of what mother nature has to offer. However, being outdoors requires us to be dressed appropriately – I mean waterproof jackets, windbreakers, warm insulating layers, gloves, hats, and sturdy boots. And where do we get all this gear? From the retailers and manufacturers involved in the clothing industry!

Adventures in sustainability

Here’s the honest truth – your windproof gore-tex jackets and waterproof tech trousers are more often than not, made out of synthetic fibers. Although they may be unparalleled in function and form, there is a growing concern about sustainability as tech wear and outdoor wear becomes increasingly popular.

All things considered, however, when it comes to being in the great outdoors and faced with the elements, your clothing may be the difference between life or death if you get stuck in a dangerous situation. Hypothermia is a huge risk especially in rainy, cold or snowy weather, and outdoor clothing manufacturers are constantly researching new ways to protect their human customers while they go on their outdoor adventures.

This is where synthetic fabrics come in – if you’ve seen words like polyester, spandex, and nylon on clothing labels, you’ll realize that these are the most common synthetic fabrics used in manufacturing garments and such. To be fair, synthetic fabrics work wonders for keeping the body warm, repelling water and generally keeping us safe from the elements while outdoors, all while being notably less expensive than natural fabrics. But here’s the issue with synthetics – they are engineered in labs, produce way more emissions and most importantly – are not biodegradable at the end of their life cycle.

A case for ethical outdoor clothing

This doesn’t mean that you should give up your outdoor habits altogether – in fact, we recommend going out to explore more of mother nature’s beauty. The only thing you need to do is look out for ethical outdoor clothing when you go shopping for new gear for your adventures.

Ethical outdoor clothing basically encapsulates the concept of brands or products that emphasize environmental issues, animal rights, and human welfare concerns (like modern slavery and such). Finding the right ethical outdoor gear is about looking for the balance between sustainability, animal rights, and human welfare – the perfect product should be right in the middle of the three when placed in an imaginary Venn diagram.

In an ideal, perfect world, that would surely be the case. But in reality, however, it is very much a work in progress. It’s difficult for manufacturers to be perfectly centered and produce products that achieve all three ethical considerations while being affordable for the consumer at the same time. It just makes financial sense for a business not to sell their products at a loss consistently.

Vegan outdoor clothing

With all that is said about synthetics and the effect of their resulting microplastics on the environment, it seems like natural fabrics are the way to go. However, some of the best warmth-inducing and water-repellent natural fabrics are derived from animals. Case in point, leather that comes from a variety of animals, wool that comes from sheep, and down that comes from duck feathers. And for vegans, this is not ideal.

In this case, this comes back to synthetic fabrics. Yes, they are not animal-derived, but in the long run, an increase in demand for materials like polyester, nylon, and the like will result in increased net emissions worldwide.

Outdoor clothing solutions for vegans

When it comes to outdoor clothing for vegans, you can use synthetic fabrics. There are several ways one can reduce the effects of microplastics on the environment when washed, as you can invest in things like an eco-friendly washing bag to filter out the plastic fibers in your washing machine before they even make it to the wastewater.

And if you’re choosing natural fibers, go for plant-based alternatives like hemp, silk, or cotton. Although they may not be as effective as wool or down, with the right kind of layering technique you’ll be surprised at how much warmth you can get from your outdoor gear.

Considerations for buying new outdoor clothing

If you’re in the market for some new products to gear up for your outdoor adventures, here are some considerations you should think about before taking out your credit card or driving down to your local outdoor retailer.

1. Do you actually need new gear?

This is the most important consideration of all – if you already have an outdoor jacket in fine condition, it only makes sense to use it to its full extent. For vegans, this might be slightly trickier if this is an animal-made product, but generally, if you have functioning gear – use it. You get to save money too!

2. Can you borrow?

Are you a regular outdoor warrior or a casual visitor to mother nature? If your answer was the latter, then try to see if you can borrow a jacket from your adventure-loving close friends or family. Bonus points if you get them cleaned professionally before returning them.

3. Did you try second-hand markets?

Second-Hand markets are great for 2 reasons – they help reduce the world’s waste, and help you save money at the same time. More often than not, you’ll be able to find a deal for a second-hand winter jacket in good, or even great condition at less than half the price of retail, which is an absolute bargain.


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