Want to make a statement every time you stride out, and lower your carbon footprint while you’re at it? Have a think about going vegan the next time you invest in a new pair of trail boots or shoes.
You don’t have to be a full card-carrying vegan – or even a vegetarian – to embrace footwear made without animal products. The best vegan footwear has come a long way in the last few decades – it’s now pretty indistinguishable in looks and performance from traditional footwear, and there are plenty of hardwearing vegan models designed with hikers, trail runners and explorers in mind.
Lots of people – especially those with a love for wilderness and the outdoors – are simply reducing their consumption of meat and animal products, a shift that has been accelerated as we become more aware of how the industry around animal farming impacts climate change.
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There are many reasons for embracing a plant-based diet and avoiding animal products in clothes, ranging from ethical concerns about animal welfare and food poverty to personal health considerations, but one of the most compelling is the enormous environmental impact of meat production.
The American Vegan Society say: “Taking into account all greenhouse gases associated with animal industries, it has been estimated that the lifecycle and supply chain of animal products are responsible for at least fifty-one percent emissions produced by human activity on the planet each year. This estimate has been published in prestigious scientific journals, including Nature, and cited by a number of eminent sources including The New York Times.”
Should I just avoid leather?
Going vegan from head to toe isn’t as simple as just avoiding leather boots. Plenty of other elements in footwear – from the glue holding your favourite shoes together to the pigment dying your sandals – can also be derived from animal parts, such as fish, bones and connective tissue… nice!
As the American Vegan Society says: ‘Being vegan is care in a dress. Vegans understand that leather and wool are not by-products of slaughter, but inherent to the business of killing. Many animals are killed only for their skin, fur, silk.’ Outdoorsy types can also add feathers and down to that list, both products commonly used in puffer jackets and sleeping bags.
The good news is that the vegan footwear industry is growing fast. One study found that vegan offerings from major shoe retailers in the UK alone increased by 75% between 2018 and 2019, bringing a wide range of outdoor-ready shoes and boots made from everything from used car tyres to hemp to the market.
Even if you aren’t a card-carrying member of the plants-only club, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make a more ethical choice next time you’re looking to replace your worn-out hiking boots – after all, why pick a pair of boots made using animal products when there are great alternatives on offer?
There’s also no need to do loads of research to make sure your new kicks are cruelty-free. One of the easiest ways to buy a 100% vegan product is to check if it’s approved by the Vegan Society or by Peta – look out for their logos on websites and packaging. Product descriptions will often also state that a boot or shoe is certified as made without any animal products.
So what are vegan shoes made of?
Plenty of walking boots and running shoes are made entirely or partly from synthetic or plant-based materials. Boots and shoes that look like traditional leather are made with vegan leather, derived from innovative and sustainable materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, recycled plastic and oil derived from organic cereals.
These alternatives used in vegan walking and trail running shoes can even perform better than traditional materials when you’re out in the elements – vegan leather is lighter, easier to break in and less likely to stain in wet weather than traditional leather.
Which brands make the best vegan footwear?
If you’re replacing boots or trainers from a well-known outdoor brand, check to see if a vegan version of your favourite model is now available, because some big brands with rock-solid reputations are embracing vegan footwear.
Well known and respected by everyone from hill walkers and trail runners to rock climbers and mountaineers, La Sportiva offer a vegan collection including climbing shoes, approach shoes and crampon-compatible mountaineering boots. In fact, their entire mountain running collection is made of synthetic materials.
Merrell, too, make a wide range of their popular trainers and hiking boots in 100% synthetic materials – our pick of their vegan hiking shoes is the MQM Flex 2, which is fully waterproofed with Gore-Tex.
Will’s Vegan Shoes are a great one-stop shop for cruelty-free footwear made in the UK, priding themselves on being ‘always and forever vegan’. They’re best known for selling smart leather boots that you’d never be able to tell weren’t once part of the hide of a cow – but they also make excellent vegan hiking boots, hiking sandals and faux fur-lined snow boots for winter, all using vegan leather and tough rubber Vibram soles.
Other outdoorsy brands may not be 100% vegan but will still offer a healthy selection of options that are certified as animal-free – Vivo Barefoot make shoes that aim to reconnect you to the feeling of walking and running without shoes, and offer vegan versions of their most popular models, including comfy hiking trainers (we rate the Primus Lite, constructed from recycled plastic bottles) and trail running shoes. If you want to sport something really futuristic on your next adventure, try their vegan ULTRA Bloom aquatic shoe, made using algae-based ‘Bloom’ foam – a sustainable alternative to the petrochemical EVA foam that is found in many sports shoes.
New vegan capsule collections from big brands are launching thick and fast, such as Superdry’s bright new vegan trainer range, showing that both fashion houses and adventure-shoe brands alike can easily join in the vegan revolution by committing to using animal-free materials and getting approved by the Vegan Society (and, crucially, making all this information clear to the conscientious consumer).
If vegan ethics matter to you, it’s never been easier to vote with your money and purchase animal-free footwear. As Will Green, founder of Will’s Vegan Shoes says: “You do not need to be a vegan to enjoy wearing vegan products. If you are working towards wearing vegan clothing then that’s exactly what the world needs.”
An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.
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