Lurking under my bed, buried in a drawer, shut in a box or in the dark in my wardrobe. These are the places where my unused outdoor gear lives. These are the bits of hiking and climbing gear, clothing and equipment that have been superseded when I upgraded to new, better kit, no longer work as well as they should, never really fitted me that well or were retired because they too old to be safe any more. Now they take up space in my small London flat and provide a home for dust bunnies. I’ve decided that they need to go. I’ve also decided when they do go I want them to be put to good use rather than rotting or rusting away in a landfill.
A few of my unused bits of gear are still perfectly functional and someone could use them if I can get them to a new owner by selling or donating them. However, there are some things that couldn’t have this second life with someone else. For example, climbing ropes, slings and harnesses all degrade over time and past a certain age they have to be permanently retired because there is a risk that they will break in a fall. However, this doesn’t mean I couldn’t reuse my old climbing rope by turning it into a rug (see SummitPost for some instructions on how to do this yourself). The plastics and metal in my old gear could also be recycled and made into something else.
If I can in some way reuse or recycle my unused outdoor stuff then I can help the environment by making less use of the planet’s resources and reducing the amount of waste I throw away. I might also be able to make a little bit of money by selling my old stuff and create a bit more space in my flat.
Unfortunately, trying to reuse or recycle this gear hasn’t been as easy as I hoped and some of my old gear may be living under my bed for a while longer. The limited number of recycling services can be restricted to particular areas and/or limited in what old gear they will take. Some manufacturers offer a recycling and reuse service, but this can be limited to the gear they have made and seem to be more prevalent in North America. There are a small number of websites that allow people to sell, buy, swap and donate used outdoor gear, but these are only really as effective as the quantity and quality of what people choose to offer through them and the demand that exists for buying this second-hand gear.
Using and publicising the available services is probably the best way to create a virtuous circle that gets more old gear being put to use. It shows manufacturers that there is demand for recycling and reusing and so encourages them to either keep going with their existing services or set up one. It also increases the long-term viability of other recycling and reuse services and encourages social entrepreneurs and non-profits to start ones to fill gaps in the market.
With this in mind, here are the recycling, up-cycling and reuse services that I have been able to find. I’d be really interested to hear about other services you know of.
ROG allows you to post an ad to sell or swap for outdoor clothing or equipment. It also allows schools, youth groups and other organisations to post ads seeking gear. ROG was set up by Sara Howcroft, who was one of the founders of the outdoor gear company Rohan, and is endorsed by the UK’s Outdoor Industries Association
In addition to this service, in 2012 and 2013, ROG partnered with Rohan for the Gift Your Gear Initiative in which unwanted, useable outdoor trousers, jackets and fleeces could be taken to a Rohan shop for money off a new purchase. Interestingly, the gear could be made by any brand, not just Rohan. The donated gear was given to local community organisations, youth groups and charities to enable their beneficiaries to use it to get experiences in the outdoors.
I’ve been pretty impressed with ROG. Once you have created an account, it’s quick and straightforward to put together an ad and there is a dashboard that lets you see your ads and know how many people have viewed them. Any replies are forwarded to your own email account. I would like it if ROG didn’t limit you to one photo per ad (and only 1MB or less file size for the photo at that), but it’s not a big issue.
A challenge with buying and selling sites like ROG is in writing ads that actually get people wanting to buy what you are selling, including selecting a price that balances what is a fair price with the possibility that people may not be willing to pay too much for something second hand. Of the three ads I’ve put up, I’ve only managed to sell one item so far and I may need to rethink how I’ve written the other two ads.
The other challenge with these sites is in ensuring a smooth transaction and not getting defrauded by someone who doesn’t pay up or sends something that was not as described. Obviously, this is a common challenge on the internet and ROG recommends using PayPal to give both buyer and seller some security.
Green Peak Gear is a pilot project with the support of the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) that’s trying to see if a viable, self-supporting and long-term business reusing and recycling climbing gear in the UK might be possible. It collects used climbing gear and remakes and sells it as new products such as rope rugs, dog leads, dog toys, skipping ropes and jewellery. Anything not turned into a new product is recycled or given to other organisations with a strong community commitment.
It can reuse or recycle ropes, harnesses, helmets, slings, nuts and karabiners. However, it currently only operates in the Northwest of England (where it has collection bins at participating climbing walls) and so doesn’t help me with finding a good use for my old climbing gear.
Green Peak Gear is a social enterprise that donates its profits to the Access and Conservation Trust (ACT) – the charitable arm of the BMC – that funds projects to protect cliffs and mountains and promote sustainable access to them.
This popular climbers website has a For Sale/Wanted Forum that allows you to advertise used clothing and gear for sale. A standard ad is just text. For an item, or group of items, being sold for £100 or more, UK Climbing requires that you pay for a Premier For Sale Post. These ads get enhanced positioning on the For Sale/Wanted Forum and a photo or YouTube movie can be added. This enhanced positioning comes at a weekly rate of £6.
Registration with the site is required to use the service.
Pretty much anyone who spends a lot of time in the mountains has managed to lose one of a pair of gloves, whether its whipped out of their hands by the wind or left in a hut or café. They may also have come across a single, lost (usually sodden) glove while out on the mountain. For people wondering what to do with these solitary gloves, Glove Love might be the answer.
Glove Love is run by UK charity Do the Green Thing and describes itself as “a matchmaking service for single gloves who have become separated from their partners.” Single gloves are donated to Glove Love and then matched with other single gloves, given some glove TLC, and then sold on to new owners. Each new pair of gloves is sold for just £5 through the Glove Love website.
As well as taking donations from the public, Glove Love receives donations from companies that presumably have large lost and found collections. This includes the Ambassadors Theatre Group, Transport for London and London’s Natural History Museum.
I didn’t see any mountaineering, hiking or skiing gloves when looking through the current range of gloves for sale, but I think that’s just another good reason to make a donation.
This company based in Boulder, Colorado, will up-cycle climbing ropes, tent and rain flys, bike inner tubes and neoprene wetsuits into new products that they then sell. A lot of their (very cool) backpacks, panniers, messenger bags and wallet seem to be mostly made from inner tubes. Climbing ropes get turned into key rings and bracelets.
Green Guru collects from shops, manufacturers and recycling centres in locations across the USA.
GearTrade is an online marketplace based in Utah. It provides a place where used and closeout (clearance sale in UK English) outdoor gear can be advertised for sale and bought. It’s different to some of the other sites that do this by being open not only to individuals but to retailers and manufacturers as well.
MEC (formerly known as Mountain Equipment Coop) is a Canada chain of outdoor gear shops. The GearSwap section of its website allows people to buy, sell or swap used outdoor gear for free. There’s an extensive range of things for sale. The climbing selection including ice axes, crampons, quick draws, cams, harnesses and climbing shoes, while there are also tents, sleeping bags, skis, snow shoes, rucksacks, waterproofs, softshells and many other things.
All Patagonia products can be returned to Patagonia for recycling by depositing them at a Patagonia store or mailing them (to an address in Reno, Nevada). The products are recycled into the materials that make more products.
In addition, selected Patagonia stores buy back used Patagonia shells, fleece, down and synthetic insulation, and ski and alpine trousers that are in good condition. These stores then sell on these used clothes.
Used Patagonia clothing can also be bought and sold on a dedicated section of Ebay.
Participating North Face stores in the USA will give $10 off your next purchase for a donation of used North Face footwear or clothing. This old gear is either reused or recycled into raw materials that are used in things like insulation, carpet padding, stuffing for toys and new clothing. Proceeds go to The Conservation Alliance, which funds community-based campaigns to protect wilderness and recreation areas.
Sterling Ropes will take any dynamic rope, from any manufacturer and turn it into a dog leash, rug or hammock. Any ropes not reused are recycled so that the nylon can be used in such things as carpets, telephones and coat hangers. Ropes can be posted to Sterling Ropes or deposited at climbing events where Sterling Ropes are taking donations.
This California company sells rugs, dog leashes, horse leads, dog toys, cat toys and key chains made out of old climbing ropes. They even sell a kit to help you make your own rope rug. If you prefer, you can post them your old rope and they will make it into a rug for you.
UPDATE: 3 February 2018 – Since I wrote this post I’ve used Gift Your Gear several times to donate clothing and equipment to community organisations, youth groups and charities. I’ve either dropped these donations off at a Rohan shop (one of which I usefully work reasonably close to) or posted them directly to Gift Your Gear (which obviously involves a cost). It’s worked well and I’m pleased that my old gear is being put to good use after I’ve finished with it.
I also recently found out about The Alpkit Foundation’s Continuum Project. This allows you to donate outdoor clothing, sleeping bags and sleeping mats to homeless charities and education charities. Donations can either be dropped off at an Alpkit shop (there is one in Hathersage in the Peak District and one in Ambleside in the Lake District), at the Climbing Unit in Derby or with Alpkit when you attend one of their events. Alternatively, you can post the donation directly to Alpkit. It’s not a service I’ve made use, but might well do in the future.