Skip to main content

Waterproof and Insulated Jackets

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 17 brands of Waterproof and Insulated Jackets

We also look at toxic PFCs, down filling, supply chain policies, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Patagonia and our recommended best buys. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Learn more about us  →

What to buy

What look for when buying an outdoor jacket:

  • People before profits? Policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lag behind other clothing sectors and even the shoe industry. Buy from companies that commit to fair conditions for the person making your jacket.

  • Do they use organic cotton? There are many problems associated with cotton production, from the use of forced labour to the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Look for 100% organic cotton.

Best Buys

What not to buy

Policies in this industry are far from water-tight, with outdoor retailers lagging behind many other clothing brands.

  • Does it contain PFCs? Lots of companies use PFCs to make jackets waterproof. Unfortunately, these chemicals are very damaging for the environment, and so best avoided.

  • Is it down-filled? Down filling for insulated jackets is often produced from the live-plucking of ducks and geese, so is a major issue in terms of animal welfare. Check whether clothing contains down.

Companies to avoid

The following 3 companies sit at the bottom of our rankings table

  • Marmot
  • Helly Hansen

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Paramo outdoor clothing [S]

Company Profile: Paramo Ltd

Rab outdoor clothing

Company Profile: Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd

Howies waterproofs

Company Profile: Howies Ltd

Sprayway outdoor gear

Company Profile: Sprayway Ltd

Mountain Equipment outdoor gear

Company Profile: Outdoor & Sports Company (OSC) Limited

Patagonia waterproofs

Company Profile: Patagonia Inc

Montane waterproofs

Company Profile: Montane Ltd

Helly Hansen Waterproofs

Company Profile: Helly Hansen (UK) Ltd

Jack Wolfskin Waterproofs

Company Profile: Jack Wolfskin Ausrüstung für Draussen GmbH & Co.KGaA

Berghaus waterproofs

Company Profile: Berghaus Ltd

Mountain Warehouse

Company Profile: Mountain Warehouse Limited

North Face outdoor gear

Company Profile: North Face (The)

Columbia outdoor gear

Company Profile: Columbia Sportswear Co Inc

Mountain Hardwear outdoor gear

Company Profile: Mountain Hardwear, Inc

Peter Storm waterproofs

Company Profile: Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd

Marmot waterproofs

Company Profile: Marmot Mountain, LLC

Gelert waterproofs

Company Profile: Frasers Group (was Sports Direct International)

Karrimor waterproofs

Company Profile: Frasers Group (was Sports Direct International)

What is most important to you?

Product sustainability

Our Analysis

There’s a great irony that those who love the outdoors can have such a negative environmental impact through the clothes and kit they buy to enjoy it. And with policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lagging behind other clothing sectors it’s people, as well as the planet, that pay the price.

While scandals about conditions in clothing supply chains have hit the big fashion labels and retailers, prompting change, the outdoor brands have failed to keep up. 

As well as asking companies about their environmental and supply chain policies we asked companies questions about the following areas key to this market:


We asked companies if they have a policy that covers: 

  • Includes a set of clear targets to remove discharge of all hazardous chemicals


We asked companies if they have a policy that covers: 

  • The use of genetically modified cotton,
  • Pesticides and herbicides, 
  • Sourcing from Uzbekistan, a country with an appalling human rights record and massive use of forced labour in its cotton industry.

Animal rights

We asked companies if they have a policy that covers:

  • the use of goose/duck down in sleeping bags, leather in boots or merino wool from Australia.

Comparison of companies' positive policies

Table: Positive policies table

Pollution and Toxics

Most of the brands in this guide were started by outdoor enthusiasts themselves. You would think they would do everything they could to protect the environment that their customers will be out to explore. It is disappointing then, to see that all the companies covered lost some marks for pollution and toxics.

Only Jack Wolfskin scored an outright Best for its Toxics Policy due to aiming to ban all dangerous chemicals from its entire production chain by 2020. They also, along with Patagonia and Mountain Equipment, only use cotton that is organic. Paramo and Howies also got a best ranking for being smaller companies offering more environmentally conscious alternatives.

Rank a Brand in the Netherlands have just released new rankings for the sustainability of Sports and Outdoor brands, covering issues including child labour, fair wages, environmentally preferred materials, toxic chemicals and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Here are the rankings of the brands we have also covered:

  • Jack Wolfskin and Patagonia – ‘Reasonable, Could do Better’ 
  • Berghaus, Helly Hansen North Face and Regatta – ‘First Milestones, Should be Better’
  • Columbia – ‘Don’t buy’

Chemicals in Waterproof Jackets

Images of pristine nature are often used for advertising outdoor clothing. But nature does not remain untouched by the chemicals in weather-resistant fabrics. In September 2015, Greenpeace launched the Detox Outdoor campaign to get outdoor brands to eliminate the use of toxic PFCs to waterproof their products. This is part of Greenpeace’s wider Detox campaign which they began in 2011.

What are PFCs?

PFCs are per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, which are used for their ability to repel water, dirt and oil. PFC use can also be identified by various other names including PFOA, PFOS, PTFE and PFAS.If an outdoor jacket is waterproof and doesn’t say it’s PFC-free, it may well contain them. The widely known and used materials Gore-Tex and Teflon use a PTFE membrane. You will see many companies using the term DWR (durable water repellent), which in many cases will contain PFCs.

Who's using PFC's?

The only brand in this guide taking a strong position against PFCs is Paramo but some companies are doing more than others.

Paramo Test each batch of material for fluoride to stay PFC-free
Mountain Equipment Use a polyurethane (PU) coating. Not clear if totally PFC-free
Jack Wolfskin Committed to eliminate hazardous chemicals by 2020
Helly Hansen Some PFC-free
Berghaus Some PFC-free options in 2016

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

Workers' Rights

In the last guide to outdoor gear in 2010, we commented that workers’ rights policies in the outdoor market were lagging behind other clothing sectors, largely due to lack of scrutiny. There has been some improvement in supply chain policies this time, partly helped by Jack Wolfskin, Mountain Equipment and Sprayway signing up to the Fair Wear Foundation initiative. But only Jack Wolfskin, Paramo and Patagonia get our best rating for supply chain management. Most of the companies still score worst for supply chain management and workers’ rights.

However, in 2014, the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) and the European Outdoor Group (EOG) industry body, did produce a report called Living Wage Engineering which recognised the potential for outdoor gear companies to become leaders and pioneers on living wages.

Forced labour

According to the US Department of Labour, cotton is one of the goods most commonly produced using forced labour. Forced labour exists in nine countries producing 65% of the world’s cotton – Benin, Burkina Faso, China, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Europe is the biggest single destination for Uzbek cotton.

While forced labour in cotton production remains endemic in many countries, nowhere is it more organised than in Uzbekistan. Farmers are ordered to grow cotton and every year at harvest time the repressive government forcibly mobilises over one million citizens, including teachers and doctors, to leave their regular jobs for a few weeks and go to the fields to pick cotton. The profits from the cotton production go to the country’s powerful elite.

Cotton sourced from the Xinjiang region in China

The End Uyghur Forced Labour (EUFL) says that there is evidence of the Chinese government using “forced labour as a means of social control” throughout the cotton-producing Uyghur region of Xinjiang.

Brands are being urged to cut ties with the Xinjiang Uyghur Region of China as a result. Find out more in our feature on Uyghur Muslims.

Table: down policy
TDS - Traceable Down Standard
RDS - Responsible Down Standard

The Cruelty Behind Down-Filled Jackets

Down is a prized commodity for the outdoor equipment industry. Every year, hundreds of tonnes of it are processed, from millions of ducks and geese. 

But you may be shocked to hear that these geese and ducks can have their feathers plucked while alive, repeatedly for years, and that the more you ‘live-pluck’ a bird, the more sought-after is their down for its higher ‘fill-power’. Down and feathers may also come from birds that have been cruelly force-fed for the controversial paté, foie gras.

Many outdoor gear manufacturers state that the feathers they use come only from birds that were reared and killed for meat, and that were only plucked after slaughter. However, there is often very little traceability within the supply lines of these companies. 

Outdoor companies now leading the way

Although 90% of down used globally is in the bedding industry, momentum for change eventually came from outdoor companies, with Patagonia, The North Face and Mountain Equipment each developing their own standards – the Traceable Down Standard (TDS), the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), and the Down Codex.

Logo: Bluesign

Eco Product Labels


The Bluesign logo is a voluntary scheme for clothing companies. It is a certification and labelling scheme designed to provide environmental and health & safety standards and solutions for textile manufacturers. It is built around five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, air emission, water emission and occupational health and safety. 

It aims to tackle environmental problems at their root. Prior to production all inputs – from raw materials, to chemical components – are analyzed and receive a rating based on the toxic impacts on humans, animals and ecosystems. The hope is that this will eliminate potentially harmful substances from the process before production begins. 

Many companies have signed up to the standard but few have the mark on specific products. Christine Waeber from Bluesign said:

“Not all brands are interested in having a bluesign label on their clothes as their main focus is mostly to work in their supply chain and the environmental issues there in.”

The brands covered in this report that are working with Bluesign are:

  • Berghaus
  • Helly Hansen
  • North Face
  • Patagonia
  • Jack Wolfskin

Company behind the brand

Patagonia is a B-Corp, or ‘Benefit Corporation’. This means employees, communities and the environment rank alongside shareholders in decision making processes. In 2015, Patagonia increased its number of Fair Trade products from 33 to 192, made in India, Sri Lanka and Los Angeles, California. The company is now looking to enrol other factories in the Fair Trade program in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. After discovering human trafficking in their own supply chain in Taiwan in 2012, they developed a ‘Migrant Worker Standard’ which they now apply to their whole supply chain.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.