• Emily Snell

Recycling Your Outdoor Gear

Updated: Nov 19

Common repairs can extend the life of your gear, but what happens when your gear is beyond repair? If repair and donation are not an option, upcycling and recycling may be your best choice.

Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

Upcycling


Whether or not you are a crafty person, upcycling should be the first choice you consider when dealing with old gear. It involves converting unneeded materials into something useful. Think of upcycling as your outdoor version of “reduce and reuse” before recycling. Many DIY projects require just a simple sewing kit, a pair of scissors, and some time. A few include making pillows and quilts from any fabrics- or reusable grocery bags from old tents. Here are some informative and easy-to-follow-along fabric upcycling articles to get the creative juices flowing.


Synthetic Fabrics:

If you are working with synthetic fabrics, consider this instructive article on turning scraps into pillow stuffing. This works well with torn material that can't be salvaged.


Non-synthetic Fabrics:

If the worn gear consists of any cozier materials, consider this follow-along article to turn those left-overs into a patchwork quilt. This project is the perfect way to stay warm, all the while creating a memento of your outdoor adventures.


Photo courtesy of Ambassadr Nahla Gedeon Achi.

Tent Fabrics:

Has your tent ripped past the point of repair? Consider this article to transform it into a stuff sack. This stuff sack can be sewn with a basic sewing kit and will come in handy with future camping trips. Tent material can also be used for grocery bags and waterproof layers for kids.


If you have no need for additional blankets, pillows, or bags, consider making these for a friend or even donating to your local homeless shelter. Additionally, consider upcycling non-fabric gear. There are a plethora of possible projects. Here are a few of my personal favorites.


Containers and Canteens:

This article showcases various ways to transform containers and other items into customized flower and herb pots. Look for the section that best fits your starting material. From there, it's a matter of decorating and planting!

Surf board chair! Photo courtesy of Cynthia Replogle.

Foldable Chairs:

Upcycling old camping chairs is much easier than you might think. This article is just one example of turning a chair into an apron. However, make sure to recycle the left-over scraps, especially any metal components.


Surf boards:

If you ride too hard and snap your board, don't toss it! Consider some of these awesome projects to repurpose your board into a chair, table, sign, shelf, or art project!


Need help? Donate your gear to one of these great organizations!

  • Metamorphic Gear accepts material from tents, tarps, and ropes to make durable bags, wallets, and other useful outdoor and indoor products.

  • Green Guru Gear accepts materials from bikes, wetsuits, ropes, and much more to make sustainable products.

  • Sterling accepts ropes to make pet toys, skateboards and more.

  • Green Mountain Ski Furniture makes furniture from your old skis.

  • Sugamats accepts worn out wetsuits to make into yoga mats! Donate your old wetsuit in exchange for 10% off an order.

Recycling


Recycling results in a complete transformation of the beginning material. As a result, it is a much more energy intensive process than upcycling. However, it is still a far better choice than throwing your gear into a landfill or letting it collect dust in your attic. The good news is many major outdoor supply companies run some kind of recycling and repurposing program.

Photo courtesy of Gary Chan

The North Face Clothes the Loop program is a great opportunity to keep your gear out of landfills. You can return gear of any brand and condition to a retail or outlet store, so this is a great resort if your clothing and shoe brand do not offer specific recycling and trade-in services. North Face will donate shoes to their nonprofit partner, Soles4Souls.


Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program recycles Nike shoes into rubber and foam for sport’s equipment and courts. Nike, among other popular sports and outdoor shoe companies, also offer shoes made from recycled materials. So once you turn in those used shoes, look for a more sustainable replacement.

Ambassadr Nahla Gedeon Achi with her broken board.

Rerip is a nonprofit based in San Diego dedicated to keeping surfing gear out of landfills. They accept unwanted wetsuits, boards and fins. Rideable boards are donated to local nonprofit partners, but those beyond repair are recycled in creative ways. Rerip has experimented with putting broken boards into concrete for non structural uses, like patios and parking stoppers. They have also used virgin foam dust as filler in concrete for kitchen counter tops and bars. 

MSR Fuel Canister Recycling Program allows you to keep your fuel canisters out of the landfill. MSR collects empty canisters at their Seattle repair shop. If you do not happen to live near their Seattle location, it is easy to recycle your canisters at home. Follow these easy steps for at-home recycling. As long as the canister is fully empty, all you need to do is puncture the canister and deposit it at a mixed metal recycling location.


Conclusion

Photo courtesy of Truc Allen

No matter the condition, age, or brand of your outdoor gear and equipment there are countless choices for upcycling and recycling. Keeping your gear out of the landfills helps to lessen the environmental impact this industry has on the planet and keeps the Earth clean and healthy for any outdoor adventures. So if you enjoy the outdoors, pay it forward by switching to more sustainable choices for your gear.