No, this is not the classical magazine gear guide – this is the Suston version. We believe that the most sustainable outdoor products are the ones that are used over and over again. Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Arthur goes ski touring and chooses ten favorites that have stood the test of (a very long) time.

About the test:

I started ski touring with climbing skins at the age of 18, first in the Swedish mountains and then in the mountains around Chamonix. It has been my favorite outdoor activity ever since. It requires really good clothes and equipment. In a snowstorm above the tree line, gear can even be a matter of survival. But can the high performance requirements be combined with high standards of sustainability? In my experience, absolutely.

When it comes to sustainability, there is a “before and after” for me: The summer of 2008. As editor-in-chief of our German magazine NORR, Natur des Nordens, I was tired of brands using nature as a prop for marketing. In the summer of 2008, we made a decision: from then on, NORR Magazin would only write about outdoor brands that were genuinely committed to sustainability. The rest would simply be dropped. This philosophy continued when we launched Suston in 2017.

Similarly, as a customer in outdoor shops, I would only choose such clothes, shoes and accessories – if they were available.

This was a difficult decision in 2008, both as editor-in-chief and as an outdoor enthusiast. The research became much more time consuming. I became something of a mystery shopper, asking questions in various outdoor shops to test the knowledge of the staff. “This hat has a Bluesign symbol on its tag. What does that mean?” “Uh… I have no idea.” Thankfully, today’s store staff have become much more knowledgeable.

That said, when I look back and select ten favorites, some patterns emerge, even from before 2008:

  • Some of my gadgets from pioneering sustainability companies were short-lived. The quality was simply too poor, such as with the first generation of shoes using recycled polyester fabric.
  • But the majority of the “green gadgets” have actually survived summit trips, kayaking, hiking and frequent use in the city.
  • I have some favorites dating back to the 1990s, when the outdoor industry was its own niche before the growth boom of the 2000s. In other words, back when ALL outdoor products were designed to withstand harsh conditions in nature.
  • Such quality is not self-evident today. In my own outdoor life, I opt out of several global brands that work well with sustainability, but at the expense of quality.
  • Last but not least: repairability is a must for creating a winner. Sooner or later, even the best products break down.

 

So, when I choose my ten winter favorites, this much is clear: The winners come from brands that had an ambitious, systematic approach to sustainability early on. AND: the products are designed according to the “Durability first” principle!

 

Fleece beanie by Turtle Fur

When and why: My oldest favorite. In the winter of 1997, I was a freelance journalist reporting on summit tours in Hunddalen, Norway. I needed a warm hat and the guy in the shop recommended this one. It comes from an American company, which also sponsors an environmental organization that helps endangered turtles. This little story shows how companies run by passionate people can get their message across. More than 25 years later, thinking about the turtles always makes me a little happy.

Durability: There was probably no mention of durability in the product description in 1997. The material is probably 100 percent virgin polyester. Today Turtle Fur is a B-corp as well as part of the OIA Climate Action Corps and other initiatives. The company has a very transparent supply chain and is also working actively with inclusion. In short, one of those really committed smaller brands that are not as visible as the big brands – but often do more.

Quality: Top-notch. It has retained its stretchy shape and warmth throughout the years. Are hats of this quality made today?

 

Narvik Ecocuir by Hestra

When and why: I visited the Swedish glove manufacturer as a journalist around 2008. In their low-key way, the owner family told me that they were doing a lot in terms of sustainability, but didn’t want to boast about it. For example, the operations in Sweden were ISO 14001 certified. But above all, it was their passion for craftsmanship that made me choose Hestra ever since. I bought this model in 2021.

Sustainability: The Ecocuir cowhide is tanned without using chrome or synthetic dyes. The backhand of the glove uses a tough polycotton blend, waxed to withstand wind and moisture. The wool lining is removable, making it both washable and replaceable when it is worn out. At the company level, the most important aspect is that Hestra owns all its factories. This way, the company can ensure higher environmental and social standards are applied than if the manufacturing was outsourced.

Quality: The fit is very good. Both the leather and the polycotton fabric are durable, and I have greased the leather to make it even more so. Unlike previous models I’ve had, the only thing that hasn’t been 100% is the seams. After two winters in the Scandinavian mountains, some finger seams broke. I took them to Hestra for repair, and now they’re back in action.

 

Ratatosk backpack by Klättermusen

When and why: Klättermusen was founded by Swedish alpinist Peter Askulv, who had extremely high demands on function and quality. This backpack was designed to accommodate multiple winter activities – not just summit hikes, but also ice climbing and long-distance skating – using smart solutions. I bought it for a winter report in 1998 – and have been using it ever since. When testing more modern backpacks, I feel like I’m letting down an old, dear friend…

Sustainability: Klättermusen was one of the first outdoor companies in the Nordic region to strongly commit to sustainability, back in the mid-2000s. This backpack is from before that, so its great strength is its durability. Another advantage is its versatility and clever details. For environmental reasons, I am against using a special backpack for each activity – this one works for many things. Today, however, Klättermusen has different owners and a more average approach to sustainability.

Quality: This is the backpack that refuses to die. I have only had to repair it once, at my local tailor. The fabric is a laminated mix of nylon and polyester. I think the fact that the backpack is a little heavier than more modern products is also one of the reasons why it is so good. And the fit is as good as it was 25 years ago. I have made some modifications as well, as the original lacked a chest strap.

 

Baselayer sweater by Marmot

When and why: Another old favorite! I also bought this in 1998, in connection with a report on summit tours in Scandinavia. Since then it has been my standard winter sweater. (This winter I have actually added a new long-sleeved wool sweater with collar and zipper, from Icebreaker. It has the potential to become a new favorite).

Sustainability: The shirt is 100% polyester, so no environmental points for the raw material. But in terms of durability, this sweater is incredible. In addition to a lot of winter rides, I’ve also worn it while commuting to the office by bike in the winter months. It’s worn and pilled, but it lasts! When it comes to the company, Marmot, I admit I’m a bit conflicted about their sustainability work. On the one hand, the company does a lot – on the other hand, they communicate in a way that, in my opinion, borders on greenwashing. Difficult to judge!

Quality: See above – it is clear that this product was designed to accompany climbing expeditions. Old school quality!

 

Tee 200 by Woolpower

When and why? A base layer in Woolpower’s own wool terry material. I bought this T-shirt for winter hiking around 2014, and wear it over my long-sleeved Marmot sweater. Often nothing more is needed than this combination and a shell jacket on the way up the mountains, even when it’s really cold.

Sustainability: Woolpower was one of the few outdoor companies to meet NORR Magazine’s sustainability requirements in 2008. The main reason – then and now – was the company’s own factory in Östersund, Sweden. But also that the company had good control over its supply chain, including avoiding mulesing. Ullfrotté is more durable than pure wool because it also contains polyester, polyamide and elastane. The downside is that it is not recyclable with current technologies, nor is it biodegradable.

Quality: I have visited the factory in Östersund and seen the care that the seamstresses give to each garment. Their material has environmental disadvantages, but is more durable. Woolpower makes garments that last much longer than average.

 

The Only by Grown Skis

When and why? I met scientist and mountain guide Tobias Luthe around 2010. He was exhibiting at the ISPO fair with his Grown Skis brand and told me about his passion for wooden skis, with a much smaller ecological footprint compared to regular skis. He had designed them as part of his research into sustainability and design. I bought a pair in 2012, made of cherry wood and basalt. I still use them today on summit tours, off-piste and on the slopes. Absolutely love them!

Sustainability: Probably the world’s first freeride ski with a thoughtful approach to sustainability, from material selection to construction. Tobias Luthe commissioned an early LCA analysis, which was published in a scientific journal. It showed that Grown Skis had about 30 percent lower ecological footprint compared to regular skis.

Quality: For touring, it is actually a bit heavy, as it is a freeride model. But on the other hand, the ski is very good downhill. My pair is worn on the upper side and is starting to lose some of the tension. But they still get the job done! Maybe a bit like myself…?

 

32 Oz Wide Mouth by Nalgene

When and why? Could I have bought this in 2002? I don’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter. Nalgene’s classic bottle has looked the same for decades and has a lifetime guarantee. It’s been in my pack on lots of trips since then, all year round. In winter, I fill it with hot water and put it in a warm sock. The heat also makes the duct tape I have wrapped around it easier to use, if needed.

Sustainability: When I bought it, the durability and US manufacturing were the major sustainability benefits. But today, Nalgene is ahead of the curve in several areas. The BPA/BPS-Free bottle product line derive from 50% certified recycled content. Nalgene works with responsible sourcing but also try to make an impact on the social side, when it comes to access to drinking water.

Quality: Lifetime guarantee! More outdoor companies should offer this. One detail that broke rather quickly, however, was the flexible plastic piece between the lid and the bottle. The bottle still works well, but hopefully this detail is of better quality today.

 

32 oz TKPro Insulated Thermos by Klean Kanteen

When and why? If you walk up a windy, cold mountain in Scandinavia for several hours and finally take a break, you’ll want warm liquid! Over the years, I’ve had several thermoses from famous outdoor brands. And very often, some detail breaks and/or they do not keep the heat. Klean Kanteen proved with this all-steel model that it is possible to make a really good and durable thermos.

Sustainability: Klean Kanteen is a company where the commitment to sustainability is also evident from the owner’s side, including the fact that Klean Kanteen is a B Corp. I have interviewed their sustainability managers, who have a holistic approach that is unusual in the industry. At the product level, the thermos is 90% recycled stainless steel, made in the USA.

Quality: As soon as you unscrew the cup and then the lid, you can tell this is a quality product. And it comes with a lifetime warranty (provided you handle it correctly). And yes, the coffee is still hot well into the afternoon.

 

Dunfri by Houdini

When and why? In the winter of 2011, I was doing some longer reports in northern Sweden, including a dog sledding trip, and needed a warm yet lightweight jacket. This has been in my backpack on summit tours ever since, when the temperature is around 10 degrees or lower. (On warmer days, I have a thinner jacket from Tierra, with a wool lining from Lavalan).

Sustainability: Houdini is another pioneering company. One of their strengths has been to drive development in collaboration with their subcontractors. Such as Primaloft, another one of the pioneers. The filling is partly made of recycled polyester, something Primaloft started doing already back in 2007. All material labels have worn off over the years. But in Houdini’s similar model today, the outer fabric is made of recycled and Bluesign-certified polyester, which is also recyclable.

Quality: The outer fabric is quite thin and a dog made some tears in it with his paws in 2011. I was able to repair the damage at my local tailor. I also changed the zipper there. The jacket is still toasty warm!

 

Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket by Fjällräven

When and why? In 2019, my brother needed a shell jacket, so he took over my existing one and I tried a few new models. I fell in love with Fjällräven’s Bergtagen jacket not only for its environmental performance, but also for the fit and small details – like the fact that the fabric doesn’t rustle. A good decision, I think, five years later.

Sustainability: The brand is a pioneer in the industry.  In the same year that we decided on our strict sustainability policy with NORR Magazine – 2008 – Fjällräven stopped using PFAS in membranes and impregnations. Unlike many companies that mainly make one-off efforts, the company has a systematic, long-term approach. This is evident in the development of its own PFAS-free material, Eco-Shell.

Quality: Fjällräven has grown a lot and is now one of the global brands. I think that, unlike some other global brands, they have managed to preserve the genuine “outdoor quality.” For example, I like the sturdy zippers on my jacket. One disadvantage of the Eco-Shell material is that it soaks through quite quickly in the rain, so in summer this jacket is not 100 percent. But on winter trips in sub-zero temperatures, the jacket works great.

Images: William Falk

Gabriel Arthur
gabriel.arthur@norragency.com
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