Buying Vegan: Animal Welfare in Outdoor Sports Gear

Date Posted: 26 July 2022

How do you make animal welfare-conscious choices when shopping for outdoor gear and apparel? We'll lay it out for you!

Most people love animals. If you are vegetarian or vegan, then one of your reasons for the lifestyle is animal welfare. But even if you aren't, we think it's important to consider animal welfare when selecting outdoor gear and apparel. Here's how...

1. Understand what vegan really menas
Vegan apparel and gear do not contain ANY animal-derived products. This seems simple (no leather, wool, down/feathers or fur, right?) but it isn't always. Vegan products also must not use anything containing animal products in glues, adhesives, dyes...ANYthing. As you can imagine, this can be tricky to certify.

2. Look out for real animal welfare standards
Words and phrases like animal-friendly or sustainably farmed sound nice, but where's the proof? Brands that use real animal welfare standards in their production will display those standards proudly. Credible labels should have transparent, defined standards with a regulating or certifying authority. Ideally, they should promote the widely-accepted five freedoms of animal welfare:

  • freedom from hunger and thirst
  • freedom from discomfort
  • freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • freedom from fear and distress
  • freedom to express normal behaviour.

Look out for: Responsible Down Standard (RDS)
Many sleeping bags, blankets and puffy jackets use down and feathers for insulation. If you see "RDS-certified" or "RDS-approved" on outdoor gear, it means that the down and feathers came from ducks and geese that were treated according to the five animal welfare freedoms. RDS standards also eliminate cruel practices such as force feeding or live plucking.

A professional third party certification body audits each stage in an RDS-approved supply chain to ensure that the chain of custody preserves the identity of RDS down and feathers. Only products with 100% certified down and feathers may state they are RDS certified.

Look out for: Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
A RWS label certifies that the product's wool content comes from sheep raised in accordance with the five animal welfare freedoms. RWS bans mulesing: a painful practice used to ward off parasites that involves removing strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks. RWS also requires sheep farmers to manage their land in an ecologically healthy way.

There is a similar standard for goats and alpacas, respectively called the Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS) and the Responsible Alpaca Standard (RAS).

Look out for: Leather Working Group (LWG)
LWG ratings can help you make a more environmentally sustainable leather choice: it promotes leather hide traceability and evaluates the supplier's environmental stewardship practices.

But LWG auditors do not examine how the animals that provided the leather were treated. As a result, LWG certification can't tell you anything about animal welfare.


3. Consider animal product alternatives
Wildfire allows you to tailor your searches to only include vegan options. We also try to note that these products are vegan in their product descriptions and specifications.

When buying online or in-store, you can also think about animal product alternatives. Rather than down and wool, consider synthetic insulation. It's often cheaper, and unlike down (which clumps together when wet), it stays warm in the wet. Recycled down and wool are also becoming more common, which reduces impacts on animals and the environment. And rather than leather, consider vegan leather or synthetics, which are often cheaper, lighter weight, quicker drying and quicker to break in than leather.

4. Make it easy by buying these brands
We've recently built up a Vegan Athlete collection that showcases popular vegan products. That's right, we've sorted it all out for you! You can even use the sidebar to sort by brand if you're in love with a particular brand. Some of our favourite brands with a strong vegan offering include:

  • Altra - By now, almost everyone has heard of Altra. They made zero drop (no height difference between the heel and toe) and wide toe boxes famous!
  • Brooks - Brooks is a wildly popluar running shoe brand, and one of its drawcards is that almost all of its shoes are vegan. In fact, all of them are except the ones listed here.
  • Chaco - Founded by a white-water rafting guide, Chaco sandals are great for watersports and general outdoor fun.
  • inov-8 - inov-8 specialises in lightweight, minimalistic trail running and gym shoes. All inov-8 shoes that don't contain leather or suede (which is most of them) are vegan! The company is also serious about reducing their ecological footprint.
  • Merrell - From lightweight cross-trainers to burly hikers, Merrell shoes are a byword for comfort and durability.
  • Newton Running - Newton running shoes aim to create an efficient, relaxed and intuitive running form. They're also all made of 100% synthetic, man-made materials.
  • On Running - On's premium, Swiss-engineered running shoes are all vegan, and the brand is actively trying to move to vegan and/or animal welfare-friendly apparel.
  • Radix Nutrition - Radix makes nutritious ready meals across a range of nutritional requirements, dietary restrictions, and food allergies. Their vegan range is seriously tasty.
  • Salomon - Salomon crafts high quality outdoor gear, shoes and apparel, specialising in trail running and alpine sports. Their famous Speedcross range is just one of their vegan offerings.
  • SCARPA - Italian-made mountain sports footwear (hiking, rock climbing, skiing, etc.) with some seriously premium vegan options.
  • Topo Athletic - Topo is a fairly new athletic shoe brand that uses wide toe boxes, lightweight materials and low drop platforms. And all of their modles are vegan-friendly except for the Rekovr (as of time of writing), which uses an ethically-sourced wool/poly blend.
  • Vibram - Otherwise known as fivefinger shoes, Vibram creates five-toed shoes to mimic the mechanics of being barefoot. Vibram also makes high-quality rubber soles for a range of brands.
  • Vivobarefoot - Vivobarefoot is an all-round super-sustainable and ethical brand, making barefoot shoes with zero drop for a more natural walking/running/hiking experience. Plus, almost half of their range is vegan.
  • Xero Shoes - Xero makes high-performance minimalist, zero drop shoes based off the traditional hurarache. The Xero Shoes founders aren't vegan themselves, but they're committed to making vegan-suitable shoes.