Gear on test: Natural fabric walking kit

Outdoor gear makers are increasingly harnessing the high-performance, low-impact properties of natural fibres in their products. Jen and Sim Benson put a handpicked selection to the test.

A man standing by the coast, wearing a T shirt

Outdoor gear makers are increasingly harnessing the high-performance, low-impact properties of natural fibres in their products. Jen and Sim Benson put a handpicked selection to the test.

Buyers' tips

The past few years have seen a steady return to the use of natural fabrics in outdoor clothing, along with new techniques to improve their comfort and performance across a range of conditions. Natural fabrics can be biodegradable, antimicrobial, temperature- and moisture-regulating, breathable, insulating, lightweight and water-resistant – resulting in the perfect materials for surviving and thriving in the great outdoors. 

Harnessing these naturally occurring properties can help reduce the amount of plastic and polluting chemicals produced and discarded by the outdoor industry.

Organically grown cotton and fast-growing, disease-resistant crops, such as bamboo and hemp, help to reduce chemical and water usage and runoff. When choosing products produced by animals, such as down, leather and wool, animal welfare should be a primary consideration. Avoid wool from mulesed sheep – a painful process involving the removal of skin, often without anaesthetic – and down from live-plucked birds. 

Look for the Woolmark and Responsible Down Standard (RDS) logos or check brands’ websites for details on how they ensure responsible sourcing and production. 

We strive only to include animal-derived products that meet these standards in our reviews. Cheaper versions are often available, but this cost saving often comes at a high price for the animals involved. 

Women's pick graphic

Thick green jacketFjӓllrӓven Vidda Pro Wool Padded Jacket

£415 fjallraven.com

The beauty really is in the detail when it comes to this substantial jacket, designed for walking in cold, damp conditions. The outer is a tough, protective polycotton, which can be waxed for even better weather resistance. Warmth comes from Swedish wool and corn starch insulation, while the adjustable hood is lined with cosy recycled wool. Six good-sized external pockets and a zipped internal chest pocket offer acres of storage.

 

Single walking bootHanwag Tatra II Boots 

£235 hanwag.com

With a beautiful, durable nubuck leather outer, soft and comfortable leather lining, and a grippy Vibram sole that incorporates at least 30% natural rubber, these boots really make the most of natural fabrics’ unique qualities. They feel very protective in use, with a smooth roll through each step. The soft, lower cuff is designed to have a women-specific fit, while the locking lacing allows for the wearer to customise the fit around the ankle.

Grey long sleeved topIcebreaker Merino Tech Lite Long-Sleeve Melt Layers T-shirt

£70 icebreaker.com

This versatile long-sleeved top is perfectly suited for wearing on trails or in town, and also as either a base, mid or top layer, depending on the conditions. The soft, breathable, itch-free fabric is 87% responsibly sourced merino wool blended with nylon for durability, faster drying, and shape retention. Wool’s naturally antimicrobial and thermoregulatory properties mean it’s a great choice all year round. The print looks great, too.

Pale blue short sleeved T shirt

 

Silk Living Silkspun Short-Sleeve Crew

£70.60 (approx) silkliving.com

Designed to be worn against the skin, either as a base layer or standalone top, this super comfy tee from New Zealand-based Silkliving is made from Silkspun fabric, comprising 72% silk, 13% merino wool and 15% cotton. The feel is more luxurious and the look more lustrous than a normal cotton or merino top, with silk bringing an even better balance of lightweight breathability, temperature regulation and softness. All fibres are responsibly sourced.

Pink zip up long sleeve topVaude Valua Fleece Jacket 

£90 vaude.com

Soft, stretchy and wonderfully wearable, this lightweight full-zip top is made from a mix of organic cotton and lyocell – a cellulose made from FSC-certified wood pulp – with some polyester and elastane for improved drying, durability and freedom of movement. The fluffy fleece lining is undyed to reduce dye use and wastage. There’s no hood, so it’s great under a waterproof or other hooded jacket, and has two handwarmer pockets.

Waterproof grey jacket

 

Klӓttermusen Ansur Windproof Jacket

£166 klattermusen.com

Utilising the power of heat and pressure, Swedish sustainable outdoor brand Klӓttermusen has transformed cotton into a superbly lightweight and durable technical fabric. Windproof and water- resistant, this 100% organic cotton jacket fits like a synthetic windproof shell but is more pleasant to wear, as moisture and air are able to move through the fabric. Very comfortable, with an offset zip, soft-lined hems and cosy thumb loops.

Beige trousersSalewa 5-Pocket Alpine Hemp Trousers

£120 salewa.com

They look smart and are a great choice for year-round dry-weather walking. The fabric combines recycled polyester with hemp. Hemp is fast growing, requires little water and no pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, and is six times stronger than cotton. This naturally light and breathable fabric, combined with a relaxed, active cut and articulated knees, means these trousers are a joy to wear on long or challenging walks.

Pair of colourful, blue,grey and pink socks

 

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Pattern Crew Socks

£24.99 smartwool.co.uk

Made from Indestructawool, using 57% responsibly sourced merino wool, the toes are ‘Virtually Seamless’, while the 4-Degree system ensures a perfect, snug, female-specific fit. Zoned cushioning, mesh venting and over-the-ankle height offer superb comfort inside a walking boot.

Men's pick graphic

A short sleeved T shirtFinisterre Bora Short-Sleeve Bamboo Base Layer

£35 finisterre.com

A close-fitting top designed to be worn against the skin as part of a layering system, the Bora also looks good enough to wear as a standalone tee in warm weather. The soft, comfortable fabric is a mix of 68% bamboo, 28% organic cotton and 4% elastane. Bamboo grows faster than cotton, requires less water, and is more disease resistant. A versatile, high-performing choice from sustainable Cornish brand, Finisterre.

A pair of shoes

 

Naglev Unico Shoes

£186 (approx) naglev.com

Based in northern Italy, Naglev’s owners, the Morlin family, have been crafting footwear for six generations. This supportive, technical walking shoe has a fairly narrow fit, tough feel, and smart looks. The durable one-piece upper is Kevlar – used in tyres and body armour – with a comfortable, naturally antimicrobial wool lining. The grippy, protective sole unit combines a natural rubber outsole, cushioned midsole, and a leather and coconut-fibre footbed.

ShirtSherpa Geluk Shirt

£80 sherpaadventuregear.co.uk

This smart-looking, comfortable shirt is made using cotton and SeaWool, an innovative blend of crushed oyster shells and recycled polyester. It looks and feels like a traditional wool-mix shirt, ideal for use within a layering system or as a standalone top on warmer days. Named after Geluk, the largest of the four main orders of Tibetan Buddhism, for every product sold, Sherpa contributes towards education and resources for Nepalese children.

Jacket

 

Howies Seacole Wool Sweater

£89 howies.co.uk

This good-looking chunky-knit sweater from Wales-based sustainable clothing brand, Howies, combines 80% warmth and breathability from lambswool with 20% nylon, to increase durability and reduce drying time. The fit is fairly standard, making it ideal for wearing over a base layer or two, or as an insulating mid layer on colder days. Features include a zipped chest pocket, reinforced elbows and a ¾ zip for variable venting. 

Trousers

 

Alpkit Kraft Trousers

£54.99 alpkit.com

Designed for hiking and climbing on cool, dry days, these tough trousers also look smart enough for everyday wear. Made from 97% durable, comfortable organic cotton with elastane for stretch, they’re cut to allow unrestricted movement. The dense weave offers good wind protection but dries slowly, so they are not well suited to wet weather. UK-based Alpkit is a certified B Corporation, underlining its commitment to corporate responsibility.

Yellow jacketHilltrek Braemar Organic DV Smock

From £300 hilltrek.co.uk

This fully waterproof smock-style jacket is custom made in Scotland. It features a deep peaked hood, large kangaroo pocket with optional side zips, extra pockets and length adjustment. The double-layered Ventile fabric is a high- quality 100% organic cotton, made with a very dense weave that expands when wet for waterproofing without the need for a plastic membrane. 

Three socks

 

Royal Robbins Venture Crew Socks

£20 royalrobbins.com

Good socks are essential, particularly on longer walks. These lightweight crew-length socks have cushioning through the heel and Achilles area, seamless toes to reduce rubbing, open-weave panels for enhanced breathability, and a supportive knit through the arch and ankle. The fabric combines sustainably grown, naturally antimicrobial hemp, recycled polyester for durability and faster drying, and elastane for stretch.

A pair of mittensWoolpower Mittens 400

£36 woolpower.se

Woolpower prioritises responsible, sustainable sourcing and production, alongside high-quality manufacturing in its merino wool-based clothing and accessories. Made in Sweden with 70% merino wool and 30% nylon, these mitts combine a soft, thick, terry-looped inner, trapping heat for maximum warmth, and a denser-weave outer fabric for protection, wind-resistance and durability. They’re an ideal choice for wearing over a liner glove for luxurious warmth and comfort on really cold days.

Kit graphic

A pink capOn 5 Panel Cap

£32 on-running.com

Woven from 100% soft yet durable chambray cotton with flat seams throughout, this comfortable, protective, versatile cap from Swiss brand On adds warmth and windproofing in winter. It is also an effective sun visor and offers UV protection in summer, with side ventilation holes and an adjustable snap fastening at the back. 

A collection of Nikwax productsNikwax Country Kit

£25.99 nikwax.com

This contains all you need to keep natural-fabric walking gear looking and performing at its best. Packed in a handy 10-litre dry bag, it includes Wax Cotton Proof; Footwear Cleaning Gel; Fabric & Leather Proof and Waterproof Wax for Leather. All are water-based and free from harmful PFCs.

Tall backpack

 

Osprey Arcane Roll-Top Pack

£80 ospreyeurope.com

This roll-top daypack with padded shoulder straps is made from 55% hemp and 45% recycled polyester. Treated with a non-toxic water-repellent, the durable fabric and stylish design make this pack equally well suited to hiking or commuting. 

 

 

Our experts 

 

Sim Benson is an outdoor author and photographer with an environmental science background. He is a kit expert with over 15 years working, testing and reviewing in the outdoor industry. 

Jen Benson is an outdoor adventure photographer and writer with an MSc in sport & exercise medicine. Jen is happiest when she is outdoors, and is passionate about exploring Britain’s wild places on foot.