Image credit: QWSTION
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Everyone needs a reliable, sustainable backpack for something. Whether you started commuting to work, taking weekend trips or hiking, or headed to school, a backpack is useful to hold all your essentials. But these days, backpacks have also become more of an everyday fashion staple, with many women ditching purses for this more practical alternative.
So here’s what to look for in a high-quality, sustainable backpack:
Sustainably sourced, natural and/or recycled materials: Many of the backpacks below are made from recycled materials, natural materials like organic cotton canvas, locally sourced and vegetable-tanned leather, and banana fiber(!). These kinds of materials can be renewable, biodegradable, non-toxic, and much less taxing on the planet. More often than not, they’re higher quality and more durable, too.
Fair wages and transparency: Because, well, people should be paid fairly for the work they do —period. Look for brands that are committed to paying their makers living wages for their work while also providing other benefits like healthcare and education.
Quality and durability: A backpack is first and foremost functional. So whether you’re taking it on a camping trip or to work every day, there’s a good chance you’re going to be slinging it around, getting it wet, and generally subjecting it to a good amount of wear and tear. The last thing you want is to end up on a hike with a broken strap or in an airport with a bag with a busted zipper. Durability is always a must for sustainable fashion, but especially so for backpacks.
Repair, take back, guarantees: Buying a backpack is mostly an investment, so extending its usage is a must. Check out brands that offer lifetime warranties, take back and repair programs. A few of the brands below offer these services.
Durable water repellent/PFAS-Free: Backpacks and other performance gear are typically treated with synthetic chemicals, known as polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS), to make it impervious to water. But the problem is, these chemicals don’t ever break down or go away. Once washed, they can make their way into our water systems, contaminating wildlife and even our bodies. PFAS have been linked to various human risks, including cancer, miscarriage, infertility, hormonal disruption, and obesity. We’ve listed below a couple of brands that are finished with PFC-free water-repellent coatings.
Lastly, note that few of these companies are doing absolutely everything 100% ethically and sustainably — but they’re honest about that and are committed to improving. If we ever find out that a brand isn’t operating responsibly or honestly, or that they’ve fallen behind their peers, they are removed!
Here are our favorite brands for sustainable, ethically-made and eco-friendly backpacks:
Not only are Solgaard’s backpacks made completely from recycled ocean plastic — a step up from straight recycled bottles — they are also super functional for travel and/or everyday use. These backpacks have some awesome features like a solar-powered charger for your phone, an anti-theft lock, secret compartments for your passport or debit cards, and a drop-proof laptop sleeve. Plus, for every item purchased, Solgaard pulls five pounds of plastic from the ocean in partnership with The Plastic Bank.
Great for your commute or day hike, United By Blue’s backpacks are made out of sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and vegetable-tanned leather. Plus, every product purchased removes one pound of trash from our oceans and waterways.
A leader in sustainability for the past four decades, Patagonia carries a variety of backpacks, from an everyday pack to technical, sport-specific packs. Much of the materials used are recycled, and as always, Patagonia is committed to ethical and transparent production, so you can find out more about where your pack was made right on the product page.
Day Owl creates backpacks out of recycled materials, such as plastic bottles. They come in a beautiful selection of colors and two sizes for you to choose from. Once you’ve worn it out, you can send your backpack back to Day Owl, and it will give you a deal on a replacement, making sure the returned backpack becomes input materials for new bags. In addition to selling brand-new backpacks, Day Owl also sometimes sells secondhand options. You can join the brand’s waitlist to be notified when it launches its next secondhand drop.
Founder Kathleen Kuo used to be a luxury leather specialist at Chanel and Dior. After witnessing and educating herself on the amount of waste created in the production of luxury goods, she felt compelled to make a difference—and Opus Mind was born. The brand focuses on circular design and uses materials that meet sustainable, RCS-100 standards. Its upcycled leather is sourced from RecycLeather™—a green tech company that recycles natural leather fibers from used traceable leather waste. It is extremely durable, lighter, and waterproof. Everything is made in a family-owned factory in Florence, Italy that has been passed down three generations. Use code ECOCULT20 at checkout for 20% off your purchase.
Fjallraven is committed to sustainability throughout the entire manufacturing process, from design to production. It uses natural and recycled materials and says no to harmful chemicals while prioritizing longevity, recyclability, function, and simplicity. Fjallraven’s code of conduct is based on the Fair Labor Association’s Workplace Code of Conduct and covers human rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, sustainable development, and anti-corruption.
QWSTION’s beautiful, sleek packs are great for urban use, work, and travel and come in a variety of colors and sizes based on what you need. They are made using organically grown fibers like high-density cotton canvas and Bananatex (made from banana fibers), then finished with PFC-free water-repellent coatings. Check out Alden’s experience visiting QWSTION in Switzerland here.
Incorporating a zero-waste philosophy into its entire company, grünBAG only uses durable materials that last and would otherwise go to waste (like old seatbelts, lifeboats, and advertising banners, for example). Most of its bags are made to order right at its headquarters in Switzerland. You can read Alden’s full review of a backpack she designed herself here, and you can even buy her design as well here!
Duluth Pack is the oldest canvas and leather bag and backpack-making company in America. With its rich heritage, Duluth is committed to handcrafting its versatile products using quality materials that are meticulously ensured by its artisans that each bag will last for generations. Duluth Pack offers a lifetime guarantee that covers craftsmanship and hardware.
ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty by providing economic opportunities for women. The brand’s wages are transparently published on its website in order to protect the women makers and empower consumers. The brand offers a good selection of everyday leather backpacks.
Nisolo sells backpacks that are made out of vegetable-tanned leather or recycled post-consumer plastic bottles, perfect for everyday use. Nisolo is known for paying its artisans fair wages, and for providing a healthy working environment. The brand also partners with Ecosphere+ to offset carbon emissions and protect forests in the Amazon.
Vaude is a German outdoor apparel and gear company with transparent and stringent criteria for its eco-friendly and ethical products. It strives for durable, repairable products, avoiding toxic finishes and materials like PVC and PFCs. Vaude is certified as non-toxic by bluesign and OEKO-TEX. It also makes a large portion of its products in its own facility in Germany, which has pioneered ensuring fair working conditions in its foreign factories with a living wage required that is above and beyond the legal minimum wage. It offers both overnight campaing backpacks as well as cycling, day, and travel backpacks.
Jack Wolfskin creates multi-functional outdoor apparel and equipment. Its products are made from recycled material and without PFCs. Some of its outdoor and city-style backpacks are made with at least ninety percent bluesign-certified textiles and thirty percent bluesign-certified components.
Deuter creates high-quality PFC-free backpacks ranging from trekking, daypacks, and hiking backpacks. You can customize your search based on several sustainability efforts, including bluesign certified, 100% recycled polyester, 100% recycled pre-consumer waste, and 50% recycled. Its hiking, camping, and travel backpacks also come in a wide range of colors and sizes.
Komodo uses Fairtrade cotton to create its minimalist and contemporary backpacks. Its backpacks come in a couple of different styles, including two designs with a roll-top function and one waterproof.
Cotopaxi is a certified B Corporation with a foundation that’s on a mission to alleviate global poverty. From its everyday lifestyle backpacks to its larger hiking ones, everything is made transparently in the Philippines. Be aware that some of the materials used are not entirely eco-friendly, but many of the bags are made using excess remnant materials like fabrics, zippers, buckles, and thread to prevent waste.
GOT BAG created a completely waterproof backpack that’s made from 100% recycled plastic from the ocean. It can be used as an everyday pack, but it’s also a great bag for the adventurer. The backpack is durable and comes with a removable laptop bag.
Terra Thread’s fairtrade Earth Backpack is made out of heavy-duty GOTS certified organic cotton fabric. Its large backpack fits a laptop, comes in a wide variety of fun colors, and is great for everyday use, travel, or school. Terra Thread is also a certified B Corp, and each purchase contributes 20 meals to children, families, and seniors in need in the United States through Feeding America.