10 Ethically Made, Eco-Friendly Backpacks

Water bottle and backpack sitting on rocky ground

Westend61 / Getty Images

Clothes and shoes are usually the first things that come to mind when we think about sustainable fashion, but the term can also be applied to accessories like backpacks. The following list includes a few of our favorite backpack picks, some of which are made entirely from waste materials or recycled fabrics, others from renewable, biodegradable cloth, and a few certified fair-trade, handmade, or made in USA. These backpacks cost more than what you’d normally pay at a local sporting goods store or online, but that cost reflects more ethical production and consideration of the bag’s entire life cycle that most consumer goods do not – but should – acknowledge.

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Re-Kånken Backpack

Stylized product shot of three recycled plastic backpacks

Fjällräven

Swedish outdoor gear retailer Fjällräven has just improved its classic backpack by making a version made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Each Re-Kånken backpack contains 11 bottles, which are converted into a yarn that is used for the fabric, lining, and webbing. The process is called SpinDye and, according to Ecouterre, uses “far less water, chemicals, and energy than conventional dyeing techniques.” The monochromatic backpacks come in 11 vibrant colors.

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Hemp-Cotton Backpack

Product shot of a Sativa backpack

Arrogance

Backpacks don’t have to made of nylon. By using a cotton and hemp blend, you can have a very durable, washable bag that will grow softer with use and eventually biodegrade once it reaches end of life. This backpack made by Sativa is 55 percent hemp and 45 percent cotton. It has several zippered pockets, a laptop holder, and padded straps. Sativa is a UK-based company that specializes in hemp products, but the backpack can be purchased through Life Without Plastic in North America.

3
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Kasum TSA-Friendly Laptop Backpack

Open backpack sitting on the ground

Looptworks

This attractive backpack made by Looptworks is made entirely from upcycled materials, meaning that old fabrics destined for landfill, incineration, or recycling have been transformed into something of greater value – a high-quality backpack that should last you for many years. Its production has saved virgin resources from being tapped and conserved an estimated 25 gallons of water in the process. TSA-Friendly means that the bag has been designed to go through airport security checkpoints more efficiently: "A design that meets this objective will enable TSA to allow laptops to remain in bags for screening."

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R123 Woolf Backpack

Backpack sitting on a wooden table

FREITAG / YouTube

In case you’re wondering, the R123 Woolf is indeed named after author Virginia Woolf. This gorgeous bag comes from Swiss bag manufacturer FREITAG, which uses old, water-resistant truck tarpaulins, seat belts, and used bicycle tires to craft its stylish, high-end accessories. The lining is fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The R123 has adjustable straps, which means it can be whatever you need – a backpack, a purse, a messenger bag – with a 7-L (almost 2 gallon) capacity.

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Rucksack 101

Woman wearing a backpack while standing next to the water

InconnuLAB

If you buy a Rucksack 101, you’ll have a bag unlike any other. Made entirely from high-quality Italian material leftovers, such as leather and canvas, no two of these upcycled masterpieces is the same. The bag is made with water- and oil-repellent canvas (a natural biodegradable fabric), that’s also resistant to mold, stains, salt, and UV fading. The leather straps are tightened and loosened by tying simple knots, and the top closes with a magnetic or snap closure.

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Baggu Cotton Drawstring Backpack

Woman holding a striped backpack

Baggu

Baggu’s cute sailor strip backpack is made from 100 percent recycled cotton, which is arguably much better for the environment than organic cotton. From the company Eco Ethics page:

“In our recycled cotton canvas line, all of our cotton is made from pre-consumer, recycled cotton; cotton scraps recovered during the creation of other cotton products like t-shirts and socks that would otherwise have gone to a landfill.”

The backpack is small (10.5” x 15” x 5”), but perfect for carrying daily essentials. It features a drawstring closure and metal snap at top. There is one main compartment and two exterior side pockets.

7
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Kathmandu Convertible

Woma standing on a city sidewalk with a backpack over her shoulder

Est/Wst

Est Wst is a socially responsible brand that partners with weavers in rural Nepal and India to produce beautiful traditional textiles. The weavers are paid fair wages, and all fabrics are sourced from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and stinging nettle, and waterproof linings are made from recycled polyester. This eye-catching convertible bag transforms from backpack to messenger bag as needed. It fits a 15” laptop.

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Pembrooke Backpack

Product shot for the Pembrooke backpack

Eve Cork

You don’t often find backpacks made out of cork fabric! These beautiful PETA-approved bags come from cork trees harvested in southern Portugal; they're handmade there, too. Cork is a renewable, biodegradable, and traditionally Mediterranean resource. It creates a fabric that is soft, lightweight, waterproof, antibacterial, and as durable as leather. These bags are the epitome of slow fashion:

"Newly planted cork trees can require over 25 years of growth and care before their first bark harvest, making the process a time-honoured tradition often passed down from generation to generation. After the initial harvest, our farmers strip off the outer layer of cork bark every 9-10 years once it has matured. This harvesting technique yields high-quality, raw material, and it is sustainable in that it allows our cork trees to grow larger and produce more bark for up to 300 years."
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The Discover Pack

Person wearing a back pack

Mafia Bags

Reusing waste materials in new ways is by far the greenest way to create a new product. Mafia Bags does a good job of this, by transforming old kitesurf and windsurf sails into brilliant colored, practical, durable bags. The Discover Pack comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s a medium-sized backpack with an interior padded laptop sleeve, water bottle holder, and top pocket.

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Brooklyn Backpack

Product shot for the Brooklyn backpack

Alchemy Goods

Made by Seattle-based Alchemy Goods, all their bags are fashioned from old bicycle tires. The company has upcycled half a million tires to date, and people are encouraged to send their old tires for reuse, rather than letting them languish in landfill. The Brooklyn Backpack, pictured above, has a padded laptop compartment, padded straps, and internal organizational dividers. Because of its rubber material, the pack is highly water resistant, not to mention stylish and extremely durable.