Nothing lasts forever. Good things seem especially fleeting. Love. Youth. Hero dirt. Powder stashes. And sadly, our gear. From the moment our gear is manufactured, it begins to degrade. Never mind how lovingly it is cared for nor even how little it is used: The majority of today’s outdoor gear and apparel is made from a blend of synthetic polymers that have a predetermined lifespan straight out of the box.
Of course, with proper maintenance and storage, gear can last decades. But even then, stuff happens. Goathead thorns pierce sleeping pads in the night. Heavy storms snap tent poles. Zippers fail. Tires flat. Boots blow out. Eventually, be it from age or accident, gear reaches retirement. But how do you know for sure that your gear is at the end of its life? And how do you dispose of it responsibly once it has?
In this guide, we provide pointers on how to assess when to retire your gear, donate it or sell it secondhand. If, after reading, you’ve determined your gear is unsafe, unusable or unsanitary for others to recreate with, we’ve included ideas on how to recycle, upcycle, downcycle or (as a last resort) dispose of your gear.
Donate, Resell or Repair Your Gear if Possible
To determine whether your gear is ready to be retired, ask yourself: Would I give this to a friend? For example, if you recently went over the handlebars and smacked your (helmeted) head into a tree, you wouldn’t want your friend wearing that helmet, would you? Bike helmets are only designed to mitigate the impact of one crash. After that, it’s unsafe to depend on that helmet for protection. Most gear consignment shops (including the REI Co-op Re/Supply program) don’t accept used safety equipment—think helmet, climbing harness, etc.: If they don’t trust the gear’s integrity enough to resell it, you probably shouldn’t pass it on either.
On the other hand, say you have a like-new pair of trail runners that just don’t work for your feet but can’t be returned. Your running-curious neighbor might really appreciate a fresh-to-them pair of shoes.
If the item is suitable enough to give to a friend, first consider organizing a local gear swap or donating. Community gear swaps are opportunities to keep functional gear in use and out of a landfill. If you’d rather donate your gear, look for grassroots organizations that redistribute outdoor gear free of charge and prioritize those who have been historically marginalized by the outdoor industry, such as people of color, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. The Gear Fund Collective and the Eugene Gear Collective are two excellent organizations doing just that. Gear libraries are also great candidates for receiving used gear donations. Check out The Mountaineers in Washington, Thrive Outside Grand Rapids in Michigan, Get Outdoors Leadville! Gear Library in Colorado and the Katahdin Gear Library in Maine—or do an online search to find a gear library closer to you. Or your town might have an organization like Seattle’s Bike Works and Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, which fix up donated bikes and parts in order to give away to folks in need or sell at low cost.
Resell or Trade In
Outdoor gear is expensive, and there’s no shame in wanting to recoup a little bit of your gear investment. There are dozens of platforms where you can resell or trade in your gently used gear and apparel. REI Co-op Members can trade in their used gear for store credit. Arc’teryx ReGEAR, Patagonia Worn Wear, The North Face Renewed and Stio Second Turn are just a few of the reward-based trade-in programs that brands offer for their used gear and apparel. You can also sell many items yourself through online consignment platforms like Geartrade and Rerouted, or through local brick-and-mortar shops like Colorado’s Boulder Sports Recycler; Outdoor Exchange in Idaho; and The Gear Room in Utah.
Maybe your gear’s current condition is less than ideal—think sizable holes or tears, missing or broken parts—but doesn’t necessarily constitute grounds for disposal. At least, not yet. Some gear can be repaired and restored to its original functionality. Check out our Care and Repair article library for comprehensive how-to instructions on everything from patching bike tubes to fixing jacket zippers, and much more.
If you’re not the DIY type, REI Co-op has its own repair experts who can fix just about anything (within reason) from any brand. Fortunately, it’s becoming more common for brands to have their own repair services: Bedrock Sandals, The North Face, Big Agnes, Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear all have repair-don’t-replace initiatives.
Sometimes, however, used gear is beyond rescue. The following section is intended to address those items: the irreparable, unsellable, unsafe, unwanted and otherwise unfit gear (may their adventurous souls rest in peace). Here’s how to know the signs and symptoms of when your gear is truly ready for retirement and solutions for how to keep that gear out of the landfill.
Upcycle, Downcycle, Recycle
There are several ways to keep unusable material in the circular economy and divert it from landfills.
- Upcycle To recycle an item in a way that changes or adds value to the resulting product, or to create an object of value from a discarded object. For example, a travel kit made out of an old bike tire and a sleeping pad.
- Downcycle To recycle an item in a way that results in a lower-value product than the original, yet still has value enough to prevent it from being discarded. Rubber boot soles might become filler material for playgrounds and other surfaces, and fabric shreds might be used for insulation.
- Recycle To process an item in a way that reduces it to its component material in order to produce a new product by reusing the material.
We’ve recommended a few ideas for upcycling, downcycling and recycling for some of the most widely used (and abused) gear in each category. Try these out before you throw out your gear.
How to Retire Your Gear
Here is a list of the activities and gear listed in this guide: Click on any link to jump ahead or continue scrolling to read more.
Signs and Symptoms Holes and tears in the floor, body or rainfly that are larger than the palm of your hand. Glue that is degrading and peeling around the seams. Flaking or sticky residue on the rainfly, which indicates delamination.
Reach out to the tent’s manufacturer to inquire about brand-specific end-of-life programs. (Tentsile, for example, collects its old tents to send to design students at Utah State University’s Outdoor Product Design Department). Green Guru Gear out of Boulder, Colorado, collects used tents for upcycling into a wide range of bike bags, backpacks and other products. You can find a participating Green Guru recycling partner at greengurugear.com, or ship your tent directly to the address provided on its website.
Repurpose old tent material yourself by cutting out a groundsheet for your next tent, or by sewing a stuff sack out of the tent’s mesh-free sections. You can also fashion a kite or garden stakes out of old tent poles.
Signs and Symptoms Remains clogged even after backwashing. Is known to have frozen due to cold exposure. Is more than five years old and has not been stored properly or used regularly. Some brands have a filter test that will help you determine whether or not the filter fibers are safe to use.
Unfortunately, the only non-landfill option for water filters at this time is to send them into a mail-back recycling program, many of which are for-profit. (Do an online search for “water filter recycling” for options.)
Inflatable Sleeping Pads
Signs and Symptoms Holes or tears that are too large to effectively be repaired with glue and a patch kit. Leaking valve.
Some brands will repair wear and tear like punctures and leaking valves, so call your manufacturer first to see what services they offer. Currently, however, no brand provides end-of-life recycling options for inflatable sleeping pads, so if it’s beyond fixing, your best bet is to repurpose your pad. Cut it open and create a small groundsheet, painting tarp or seat protector. You can also cut the mattress up into smaller pieces to create patches for other gear and apparel.
Signs and Symptoms Holes in the toe box or any mesh material. Soles that have little to no remaining tread (think bald tire) or are separating from the shoe. (Remember that some boots can be resoled, often multiple times.)
There is currently no downcycling option for hiking boots made from polyester, so your best alternative is to get crafty. Upcycle your boots into planters for your garden or make a funky DIY birdhouse out of a boot. Baxter Wood will take rubber boots from any brand and downcycle them in Michigan, where the rubber scraps will be used to make materials like playground surfacing, roads and kickboxing bag filler.
Signs and Symptoms Oil from human sweat glands. (Note: This can be washed off with waterproof friendly technical fabric detergent, but unless your jacket returns to 80–90% of its original functionality, it’s a good candidate for disposal.) Seams that are beginning to peel apart. Flaking on the interior of the jacket. Any rips, tears or holes that are bigger than a quarter.
- For the sewers out there, technical fabrics like those used in rain jackets are ideal for making a bike seat cover or a rolltop stuff sack or laundry bag (perfect for wet, damp or muddy clothes). If you’re not good with a needle and thread, you can send your old rain jacket—and any other technical outdoor apparel you have that is also at the end of its life—to the fashion brand For Days for recycling. For $20, you can stuff one of the company's Take Back Bags with up to 15 pounds of any brand’s no-longer-wearable apparel and send it back: After going through an extensive sorting and assessment process at the For Days facility, a large majority will be resold or downcycled, and only a fraction are discarded in landfills. In exchange for buying a Take Back Bag, For Days will give you $20 toward anything from the brand—which feels a tad pro-consumerism, but at least everything For Days makes is 100% recyclable. (And we are all for transitioning to a circular economy, even if it happens one closet at a time). To date, Take Back Bags has helped divert 1.2 million pounds of clothing from landfills. Given that it takes up to 200 years for synthetic and chemical-treated textiles to decompose, closed-loop initiatives like the Take Back Bag are welcome alternatives to sending outdoor apparel to the landfill where decomposing fabric can leach chemicals into our soil and groundwater.
Signs and Symptoms Empty.
If you live in Seattle, the MSR repair shop will collect empty fuel canisters from any brand as part of its Fuel Canister Recycling Program. In exchange, you’ll get 20% off MSR IsoPro™ fuel canisters. But if you don’t live in Seattle, it’s actually pretty simple to recycle your canisters on your own. Make sure the canister is completely empty of fuel, then use an approved tool such as the Jetboil CrunchIt to safely puncture it. Recycle the canister anywhere that accepts mixed metal recycling.
Tubes and Tires
Signs and Symptoms Tubes with holes and tears bigger than a dime. Tires that have obviously worn tread, have large tears in the sidewalls, cracked rubber, multiple plugs, bubbles or sliced knobs.
Green Guru Gear accepts old tubes so long as they are not puncture-resistant and do not have slime or sealant on them. Visit greengurugear.com and navigate to “tube upcycling” under the “About” dropdown (and note that there are shipping costs for donating tires). Alchemy Goods also accepts used tubes and, similarly, does not take tubes with slime or sealant. Used tubes are also a great substitute for straps, a bicycle chainstay protector or patches for future punctured tubes.
Used bike tires are unfortunately much harder to recycle. Some larger cities, like Park City, Utah, and Boulder, Colorado, have recycling centers that take bike tires and tubes (sometimes for a small fee), but smaller municipalities almost certainly will not accept bike tires. Some Liberty Tire Recycling sites downcycle tires to create recycled commercial-grade rubber products such as crumb rubber (which is used in asphalt, running tracks and turf fields), pavers, mulch and landscape edging. While Liberty has a network of collection centers throughout the United States (and a few in Canada), it primarily deals with automotive tires, and only select locations accept bicycle tires. Even then, they may only accept bicycle tires in bulk—100 minimum—for a per-tire fee. If you’re close to a collection center that accepts bike tires, work with your local outdoor community or bike shop to host a tire collection day.
For many of us, however, bicycle tire recycling is frustratingly still out of reach. Consider Washington, D.C., for example, which has a huge bike scene and currently does not have recycling options for bike tires nearby. A streamlined and affordable collection process through bike tire manufacturers or retailers seems long overdue.
While we await better solutions for our bike tire recycling woes, consider making bird feeders out of your old tires. Check out bike gear and apparel company Liv’s DIY upcycling guide.
Bibs and Chamois
Signs and Symptoms Holes or tears. Spandex that is so see-through it is almost translucent.
If there are no holes or tears on your bibs yet your butt crack is very visible through that once-solid black spandex, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to wear your bibs underneath a pair of baggy shorts. But if the bibs are falling apart at the seams, or the chamois has disintegrated, you can send bike shorts off for downcycling in a For Days Take Back Bag. For $20, you can stuff one with up to 15 pounds of any brand’s no-longer-wearable apparel and send it back: After sorting, a large majority will be resold or downcycled, and only a fraction will be discarded in landfills. (See the “Solutions” under the Rain Jackets category for more specifics on this program.) H&M also offers free in-store garment collection and will recycle any type of apparel or textiles from any brand.
Signs and Symptoms Worn during a crash (even if your head did not necessarily make contact with anything). Five years or older. Major scratches, dents or imperfections that indicate it may have been involved in a crash. Deteriorating foam.
Since bike helmets are typically made of a number of different plastics, foams and other synthetic materials, there are very few standard recycling options for them. Recycle Utah in Park City recycles bike helmets through its car seat recycling program: Your local recycling center may have something similar. There are also private recycling companies that offer mail-in programs.
To recycle at home, you may be able to disassemble your helmet and recycle the individual components, like the plastic shell, the interior expanded polystyrene foam and the nylon straps. See this recycling guide from Bern Helmets on how to safely take apart your helmet. Otherwise, you could always turn your helmet into a hanging basket or planter.
Signs and Symptoms Holes in the toe box or mesh fabric. Soles with no tread and/or that have begun to separate from the body of the shoe.
The Nike Recycling + Donation takeback program is one widely available option for recycling running shoes. Check your local Nike store to see if they accept any brand’s shoes for recycling. Shoes that are deemed unfit for resale are downcycled into Nike Grind, a recycled manufacturing material used to make everything from playgrounds to turf fields. The Native Shoes Remix Project accepts the brand’s shoes back after wearing in order to donate pairs to those in need, or grind them up to make material for playgrounds, among other things. Nonprofit organizations like Soles4Souls and One World Running accept gently used athletic shoes for donation to those in need.
Hydration Reservoirs and Bladders
Signs and Symptoms Leaks in the reservoir seams. Broken hose connection points. Permanent damage from mold.
Although there is not currently a widespread recycling program for hydration reservoirs, that does not mean brands aren’t actively seeking solutions. Contact your hydration reservoir’s manufacturer to see whether they offer take-back recycling programs or initiatives.
Another option is to go DIY and upcycle your old reservoir. Upcycle designer and CamelBak ambassador Nicole McLaughlin has remade unusable CamelBak hydration systems into wearable apparel such as a reservoir jacket and functional skirt. Check out McLauhglin on Instagram for more ideas on how to upcycle your old outdoor gear. Get inspired, then get creative!
Fitness Trackers and GPS
Signs and Symptoms At least 7 years old or older. Doesn’t charge. Doesn’t hold a charge. Cracked screen. Does not sync to modern fitness apps.
Check your individual brand for recycling options. Fitbit provides free recycling through its third-party recycling partner, Reverse Logistics Group. Garmin also has its own consumer product recycling program. Best Buy will recycle most small electronics, such as GPS devices.
Signs and Symptoms Deteriorating seams. Large holes or rips. Threadbare areas and dry rot.
Neoprene wetsuits that are at the end of their lives can be sent to a number of different brands for upcycling and recycling. Yoga brand Suga will take your old wetsuit and turn it into a yoga mat. If you’re in California, check out its collection boxes or ship your suit to the address provided, and you’ll receive a discount code.
Rip Curl provides free recycling of any surf brand wetsuit. Find a participating store or ship to the address provided.
Signs and Symptoms Broken shafts and blades.
Many stand up paddle board and kayak paddles are made out of a combination of plastic and fiberglass, which makes them virtually impossible to recycle. Instead, try upcycling your broken paddle into wall decor, a coat rack, towel rack or curtain rod.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
Signs and Symptoms No longer provides flotation, or flotation capabilities have noticeably reduced over time. Tears longer than a couple inches in length. Degraded nylon fabric due to factors like excessive UV exposure and prolonged storage when wet.
At present, there are no branded take-back options available for personal flotation devices, so you’ll have to get creative with ways to repurpose your old PFD. (Note: Check with your PFD’s manufacturer to see what foam is used in it; some low-end PFDs are made with PVC foam, which contains hazardous chemical additives and is not suited for reuse.)
If you have a few old PFDs, you can cut up the foam to make a dog bed or beanbag-style cushion. Reach out to local drama or theater groups to see if they may have any upcycling use for foam, which can be glued together to create sets and props. Larger panels of foam can be used to make kneeling pads for gardening, while the nylon fabric can be cut and sewn to make wallets and small zip bags.
Skis and Snowboards
Signs and Symptoms Cracks, gouges or delamination anywhere on the tips, tails or edges of skis. Flattened base on a snowboard. Burrs on snowboard edges that cannot be repaired with diamond stone. Dry or peeling snowboard base that does not respond to waxing.
Certain municipal recycling centers will recycle snowsports equipment, especially if those cities happen to have big ski- and snowboard-related tourism. Recycle Utah in Park City, for example, accepts skis and snowboards seasonally, from November 1 through the spring. Green Mountain Ski Furniture in Vermont accepts used skis to upcycle into unique pieces of ski furniture. Drop them off in person if you happen to be in Waterbury, or mail them to the company’s address. Colorado Ski Chairs does the same thing, and folks can drop off their old skis, snowboards and even surfboards in person at their shop in Manitou Springs, Colorado.
For the handypeople and carpenters among us, there are tons of ways you can upcycle your old skis and snowboards into decoration, furniture and, of course, the ever-popular shot ski. Check out this roundup from international ski school École de Ski (ESI) for a heady dose of inspiration. You can also make your own ski Adirondack chair—and yes, we have a DIY for that.
Signs and Symptoms Any binding that is no longer indemnified (which means that manufacturers will not allow shop technicians to service them). Retailers and manufacturers create an updated indemnification list every year but don’t make this list available to the public, so you’ll have to call your local shops to see whether or not your bindings are still supported by liability indemnification.
Check with your manufacturer first to see whether or not they offer buy-back programs for bindings. Fix recycles its snowboard bindings, which you can send to them for 20% off online orders. Skimo will buy back certain binding models, offering anywhere from $25 to $50 for a working toe or heel piece. Unfortunately, Skimo does not accept bindings that are in “poor condition.” So if you’re looking for something creative to do with those unwanted bindings, check out these sweet DIY coat hooks.
Signs and Symptoms Large amounts of missing down insulation. Holes or rips that are bigger than the palm of your hand. Major burns or other damage that compromises the warmth and wearability of the jacket.
Although Alpkit offers down jacket recycling, it is only available in the United Kingdom. Stateside, you can send in your unwearable down jackets to For Days via one of its Take Back Bags: For $20, you can stuff one with up to 15 pounds of any brand’s no-longer-wearable apparel and send it back. After sorting, a large majority will be resold or downcycled, and only a fraction will be discarded in landfills. (See the “Solutions” under the Rain Jackets category for more specifics on this program.) Or you can drop it off at H&M, which offers free in-store garment collection and will recycle any type of apparel or textiles from any brand. Customers get a “thank you” discount for choosing to responsibly dispose of their apparel.
You can also stuff the feathers into your own DIY pillow or pet bed.
Signs and Symptoms Has been involved in a major fall with huge loads, even if no visible damage is apparent. Cuts, flat spots, stiffness, discoloration or lots of fuzziness. Read When to Retire Climbing Gear for more guidelines on when to retire your rope, depending on the amount of usage.
Sterling Ropes currently recycles dynamic climbing ropes made from nylon 6 or nylon 66. Drop off your rope in-person at a participating store, or ship it to the provided address, indicating that the package is for the Rope Recycling Program on the label.
There are also dozens of DIY craft projects for giving your old climbing rope new life. Check out this list for how to make everything from dog leashes to rope rugs.
Signs and Symptoms Have already been resoled or otherwise repaired a few times. Holes in the rubber. Severe tears or damage to the rand, the thick layer that protects the shoe’s upper. Blowouts in the toe box. Delamination of the glue.
Have you tried resoling them? No, we really mean it. Manufacturers like Scarpa make climbing shoes to be durable enough to resole two or three times. If you are into deep water soloing, consider repairing your climbing shoes as best as you can and then retiring them to a life of bliss, water and big sends.
Climbing shoes that are completely worn out can also go to a Nike Recycling + Donation collection bin. (See the “Solutions” under the Running Shoes category for more information.)
Signs and Symptoms Broken or splintered carabiners. Carabiner gates that don’t work properly. Loose, bent or missing rivets on carabiners and cams. Cracks, corrosion, excessive wear or burrs in belay devices, cams and stoppers. Cam lobes stay open and do not retract, even after lubrication. Deformed stoppers.
Solutions Nearly all metal climbing hardware can be recycled at your local recycling center in mixed metal or scrap metal bins. Check with your recycling center for details. So long as old carabiners are not used for load-bearing activities, you can still use them for keychains or as a clip for your water bottle.
Replacing Your Gear
Now that you know more about your gear’s end of life, you might be inspired to invest in brands that prioritize more sustainable design and material decisions. Read How to Understand Clothing and Gear Sustainability Features for more information about considerations and certifications like the Responsible Down Standard, Fair Trade certification, bluesign® and more.
Check brand websites for information about trade-ins, repair services and/or recycling. If your favorite brands don’t practice any of these, reach out and encourage them to invest in these sustainability practices and provide end-of-life take-back programs for their products.
The REI Co-op Re/Supply program is open to members for both trade-ins and purchases. Members who trade in their gently used gear receive a gift card good for purchases at REI Co-op, and shoppers looking for used gear will often find quality items offered at a considerable discount, as much as 70% off the retail price.