It is a familiar story for outdoor enthusiasts.

You use a piece of kit for so long it becomes like an old friend; that jacket that has seen you through many a winter storm or the rucksack that has accompanied you throughout years of memorable trekking.

But one day even the most beloved item has to be retired and there are countless ropes, bags, cagoules and other items tucked away in cupboards with the owners unable to face throwing them away through a combination of sentimentality and, increasingly, a guilty knowledge they will most likely end up in landfill.

However, a Cumbrian company has been busy making use of just such items and returning them to the wild once more.

As keen climbers themselves, Jen and James Dickinson, both in their early 30s from Kendal, had built up their own supply of redundant kit and, in 2017, they decided to do something about it.

“When something like a climbing rope becomes too old or too dangerous to use the only thing you can do is throw it away or perhaps give it to a group to practise tying knots,” says Jen.

"So we started messing about with what we could do with rope and how we could turn it into something usable."

They also turned their attention to retired climbing harnesses, backpacks and jackets and other items of equipment.

“A jacket might have a big hole in it, but the zip is still OK and we can use that, or a buoyancy aid might have reached the end of its life but we can use the buckles,” says Jen.

"I started working with friends and then friends of friends and then worked with outdoor groups and activity centres and then we started contacting bigger companies and asking them what they did with their waste.”

Their company, Dirtbags Climbing, now recycles clothing and equipment from small local firms like Aguille, in Staveley, to well-known names such as Alpkit and Berghaus, as well as accepting donations from the general public and outdoor centres. The items are painstakingly unpicked and turned into everything from belts and bum bags to bracelets and chalk bags.

Jen initially started the business as a side project, but now runs it full-time alongside a team of four from an industrial unit in Gatebeck, south of Kendal, while James works in the business in his spare time alongside teaching engineering at Kendal College.

"I just started thinking, I want this to be a full -time job, it's really cool. How do I make this happen?,” says Jen.

“I think one thing that’s made it easier is that in all our marketing and social media and the way we talk to people we’ve only ever behaved like who we are.”

The company runs a short working day from 9.15am to 3.15pm to help the team fit work around their lifestyles and which also helps Jen and James have time to look after their four-year-old son Harris.

“We take a small profit, but not much at all, the main aim is to create a fair, enjoyable workplace,” says Jen.

However, while Dirtbags is making a dent in the amount of outdoor gear going to waste, Jen says the clothing industry in general still needs to make significant changes to how garments are produced to reduce the number of items going to landfill.

Jeans, for example, are often made of cotton mixed with plastic-based materials held together with metal studs, which all makes recycling very difficult. At the same time Jen says many products are also made to last only a season to encourage more purchases.

“There is still fast fashion in the outdoor industry as well,” says Jen.

“What really needs to change is the way things are made at the start of the process.”