As hikers, we tread lightly when hitting the trail. Being thoughtful about the gear we buy and use — and what we do with it when gear reaches the end of its life — is another small way to leave a lighter footprint on the broader world, too.
Care and repair to make your hiking gear last
Before we talk about recycling, we should mention that one of the best ways you can limit your impact is by making your gear last. If you care for your gear properly, it will last you longer. And it’ll mean you save money — and use fewer natural resources.
- Learn more about how to care for and maintain gear.
- Learn how to repair your gear. From simple fixes for zippers to patching tears or holes, a lot of repair can be done without any crafting or technical skills.
- How to rehab torn or stinky gear.
- How to re-waterproof rain gear.
- If you’re not inclined toward home repair, but think an item can be fixed, look for a repair shop or tailor near you. Also watch for pop-up repair events, which are becoming more popular in many communities. In Seattle, Rainy Pass Repair is an excellent resource for all sorts of repairs. If you’re not near Seattle, you can also mail them gear.
Give used gear a second life
- If you have gear that is still in good shape but you no longer need it, consider selling it to a used gear store or donating it.
- Some companies, including REI and Patagonia, will accept back gear. REI accepts gently used gear in exchange for gift cards. Patagonia has a similar program, but only accepts Patagonia gear. North Face also accepts gently used clothes at its locations. (There are none in Washington, but a few in the Portland area.)
- Look for creative ways to re-purpose your worn-out gear. Boots past their lifespan? Maybe they want to be a cute planter for succulents. Have a yoga mat your cat got to? Perhaps you could cut it down to make a sit pad, or a spot to put dirty boots in your car. People are clever and some quick internet searching should get you many creative ideas.
How to recycle fuel canisters, trail running shoes and more
If none of the re-use options will work for your gear, here are some tips on how to get items recycled.
Empty fuel canisters can be recycled, but it may take a bit of extra work, depending upon where you live.
- If you live in Seattle, you can drop off empty canisters at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center, during open hours.
- If you don’t have local drop-off options, you can prepare the canisters for recycling anywhere that takes mixed metals. (Many curbside recycling programs do not take mixed metals — you may have to drop them off at a metal recycling center.)
MSR has step-by-step tips on how to prepare the canisters for recycling using this method. (MSR also has a drop-off program in Seattle, but it’s currently on hold during the pandemic.)
Small camping-style propane canisters
These canisters can be particularly difficult to recycle. If you are in the greater Seattle area, you can drop up canisters at Recology Store locations in Bothell, Burien, Issaquah or Shoreline.
Ferrelgas, which produces and services propane tanks of various sizes, recommends contacting a Ferrellgas retailer, which are located across the state, or asking local waste disposal sites or the public works department.
If you have items such as backpacks or sleeping bags that are too far gone to repair or donate, check with the manufacturer to see if they offer a recycling program. Some companies will even recycle items they did not make. Smartwool, for instance, will take any worn out socks to be recycled. If you have old clothing, sleeping bags or quilts that can’t be re-used, check with local animal shelters or rescues. They might need them. Before recycling items, consider saving items such as snaps or buckles that could be used for later repairs or repurposed.
Metal or plastic items
If you have items such as pots or water bottles that are too damaged to use, check with your local recycling service. You may be able to recycle them curbside. And, more items are likely to be accepted at drop-off locations.
Green Guru, which is based in Colorado, will accept tents for recycling, as well as other outdoor item such as climbing ropes and bicycle tubes.
Nike will accept any type of athletic sneakers, including trail runners, at their locations. (They don’t accept shoes with metal.) The shoes are turned into tracks, surfaces for playgrounds and even new Nike gear.
If you have items that are too far gone to donate, look locally for textile recycling drop boxes or services.