By: Blonde Two
Why buying outdoor gear from charity shops is a great idea
How many times have you heard the discussion about local high streets? Especially the bit that goes, ‘We’ve only got charity shops left now.’ Well today I’m here with a suggestion. It’s a radical one but I think I have a persuasive argument. Here we go…
Charity shops are better than most big brand shops.
I know! I bet you haven’t thought that one before. It’s a new one to me too but there are reasons for this radical statement.
- The world is full of ‘stuff’ because we’ve forgotten how to stop buying it.
- Charity shops facilitate the recycling, reusing, and upcycling of ‘stuff’.
- Big brands will take our money and make more ‘stuff’ with it.
- Charity shops will take our money and do some good with it.
- Charity shops offer valuable work opportunities and experience to local people
Why we need to rethink our approach to outdoor gear
It’s easy to look at outdoor gear as being different to other consumer goods but that’s not the reality. Yes, we need certain gear to stay safe outdoors, and yes, being outside is all green (or blue) and lovely, but that doesn’t mean the items we buy in order to enjoy the outdoors don’t use energy to create, or produce waste at the end of their life.
The truth (although part of me doesn’t like to admit it) is that buying outdoor gear isn’t any better for the planet than buying other clothing or equipment. In fact, some outdoor gear manufacturers have come pretty close to adopting a fast fashion approach to retail.
The good news however is that, with a few tweaks to how we enjoy outdoor gear, we can all influence our favourite industry towards more responsible models.
When it comes to outdoor fashion, the most sustainable approach is to use what we already have (we women only wear 55% of our clothes) but if we do need (or indeed really fancy) a new item, there are ways to make sure our buying decisions influence outdoor brands for the better. One of these is to support brands that make clear efforts towards taking responsibility for the whole life cycle of their products, as well as how they are made in the first place. Another is to consider buying second hand.
Buying second hand outdoor gear from local high street charity shops
I’ve recently been spending a lot of time in charity shops because I’ve been collecting yarn for a variety of craft projects. As well as looking for wool, I’ve kitted myself out for a wedding, and have been enjoying exploring what’s available, especially when it comes to outdoor gear. Here’s what my research turned up.
Outdoor kit you’ll almost always find in a charity shop
I’m not talking knickers here, even I would draw the line at second hand pants but one thing you’ll almost definitely find in every charity shop is long sleeved thermal tops. They tend to come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes some strange colours. However with under garments, it’s important to remember one thing. You are likely to be the only person that sees them. Mind you, I’m still really chuffed with my rather fancy Helly Hanson ski thermal from the Bath Road charity shops in Cheltenham. I wear it all the time, and don’t mind showing it off at all.
What’s that you say? You don’t do running? Fair enough but running gear is also great for walking or hiking. Whether you want something to wear under your winter trousers, a base layer that will also keep you cool on a hot day, or even campervan pyjamas, you can’t go far wrong with a pair of running leggings and a vest.
For good reason, merino wool is a very popular choice for outdoor life. We Blondes love it but other sheep are available. A traditional lambswool jumper is every bit as warm as a merino one, and by far the best place to find one of these is in your local charity shop.
Fleeces have a bad press when it comes to environmental issues but they have one thing in their favour. They last forever (nearly). This of course is bad news if you want to throw an old fleece away but great news if you want an extra one to take camping. Today I counted four fleeces in my size in just one charity shop. That has to be a plus for second hand outdoor gear. By the way, if you can make a fleece wear out, they make great dusters!
Outdoor kit you might find in a charity shop
Your favourite brand
If you are a fan of certain outdoor brands, you might be disappointed with your first foray into charity shop buying but my advice is to stick with it. Sooner or later your favourite brand will turn up. When it does you’ll feel far more exhilarated than you would to find it in your usual outdoor shop. I put this to the test today. In one high street (four charity shops) I found a good range of well known outdoor brands including one of our Blonde favourites Rohan. I also spotted gear from Hawkshead, Regatta and Craghoppers.
We outdoor-ists all know that not all down jackets are made equal but as they become more popular, decent quality ones are starting to appear in charity shops. And yes, it is possible to wash them. If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself, there are plenty of high quality down cleaning services out there.
I’m not an expert but I suspect ski jackets and trousers are more subject to fashion trends than some other outdoor gear. Although bad news for the planet (and consequently snow levels) this tendency to buy new means more second-hand ski gear is available. My advice would be to start looking as soon as you book your trip, and get chatting to the staff at your local charity shops.
I know! Lots of people throw waterproofs out because they’re not waterproof anymore. However reduced proofing is going to happen eventually whether you buy new or second hand. There are some fabulous products out there that will allow you reproof outdoor gear so don’t dismiss the second hand market, especially if you’re working on a limited budget.
You would be amazed how many times I’ve found good quality, hardly used walking boots in charity shops. Just like with any other hiking boot, don’t be afraid to ask to try them on, and have a good walk around the shop.
Rucksacks appear fairly regularly in my charity shop sweeps. Always check any zips, and I would recommend at least 30-litres for a pack big enough to carry the safety and emergency gear you need for a day out hill walking.
Lucky find outdoor gear in charity shops
Lucky finds aren’t really down to luck. You usually have to adopt a persistent approach to charity shop searching to find them. With a bit of patience however you might well find the ski boots, kayaking top or ice-skates you’re looking for. I’ve spotted all of these but perhaps only once each. Keep your eyes and mind open, and who knows what you might discover.
Buying outdoor gear from specialist charity shops
Did you know that there are a few specialist outdoor gear charity shops out there? Or that they support some fantastic causes? Whilst we don’t advocate travelling miles and miles for a visit, if you live in or are visiting the right location, why not pop in, get the piece of kit you need, make a donation, and support the local area at the same time. Here’s an example.
Stocks: ‘Anything from walking boots and running shoes, to jackets and even occasionally a wetsuit. All items are either good quality donations or brand new‘.
Charity mission: ‘Provide access to outdoor activities and respite accommodation for children and young people with additional needs‘.
Donating your old outdoor gear
In an idea world we would all buy a piece of outdoor fashion then keep for it as long as possible. There’s a lot to be said for the pattern of use below.
buy it – enjoy it – look after it – enjoy it – repair it – enjoy it – repair it again – recycle it
Sometimes however our outdoor gear becomes obsolete before it’s reached the end of it’s useful life. In my case this has happened a few times, usually because I have either lost or put on weight, but sometimes when I have switched hobbies.
The great news is that (as well as your local charity shop) there are now plenty of options for making sure our pre-loved outdoor clothing goes to a good home. I’ve listed a few below but we Blondes have a favourite. We have both benefited from and donated to Rohan’s long-standing Gift Your Gear scheme. I can tell you from experience that being sent a much needed box of good quality gear to help you get youngsters out on expedition is a wonderful experience.
Clothes the Loop – The North Face – donations are recycled and repurposed
2nd Life – Ellis Brigham – donations go to help homeless people
Continuum – Alpkit – donations go to charity partners, upcycling then recycling
There are almost certainly more outdoor brands out there doing the right thing when it comes to product lifecycle, and supporting charities.
For myself, I know that my future purchases will be influenced towards companies who are paying real attention rather than lip service to looking after our planet and its communities.
The way forward for the outdoor gear industry
I would say from my research that most of our favourite outdoor brands are starting to take notice of climate change, and their impact on it.
There are however some that started earlier, and are moving much faster than others. There are also a few that appear to be making gestures but not engaging in any deep thinking about consumerism and climate change.
There is one thing however that has the potential to accelerate progress in this area. It’s us. You and me. What we say matters but it is what we buy, or perhaps don’t buy, that has far more influence.
PS The rucksack pictured in this post’s featured image wasn’t bought in a charity shop but it is second hand. And very special. I’ll tell you more about it in another post.