We hike as a family most weekends.
Whether it be a small local trail for a few hours or all day in hills we rely on our best eco-friendly backpacks to carry our precious snacks and water.
Respect The Ground Under Your Feet And The Materials On Your Back
When out hiking we’re mindful to tread as lightly on nature as we possibly can.
The same applies to our choice of backpacks. They need to be stylish and durable, and also sustainable and eco-friendly.
Is it possible to have it all when shopping for ethically made eco-backpacks? You bet it is!
There are many things to consider when choosing your eco-friendly backpack.
I will dive deeper into my selection criteria later in the article.
First I’d like to run down the eight eco-friendly backpacks that impressed the entire Miller family. Well…actually…seven that impressed and one I’m not sure about.
They Say: The best backpack for college, outdoor activities, traveling, work, and more! Our Earth Backpack is sustainably and ethically made. Spacious and durable, made with heavy-duty 14 oz organic cotton canvas and features one large exterior pocket, one small interior pocket, and a laptop compartment. Each purchase supports Feeding America's campaign to end hunger by helping donate meals to kids and families in need.
We Say: Terra Thread organic cotton canvas backpacks have been the go-to school bags for our daughters for many years.
These backpacks are made from heavy-duty organic cotton canvas. They’re incredibly durable, and even after lots of daily use, they still look like they have plenty of years of life left in them.
We have four of these backpacks (in four different colors) that act as family hiking backpacks as well as school bags.
The beauty of this system is that when the girls get bored with one color as their school bag, they can start using one of the others. It’s our way of keeping a bit of variety that school kids like, without needlessly replacing perfectly good backpacks.
One slight downside about this everyday backpack is that the zipper tape and thread are polyester.
This is not ideal. However, Terra Thread maintains that this only makes up a tiny percentage of the backpack and is essential for the item’s longevity.
I agree. I’m also encouraged that they’re currently researching alternative options that will be just as strong and more eco-friendly.
Putting this one minor issue aside, Terra Thread does terrific work supporting charities and those in need.
They’re currently actively supporting Feeding America. Every bag purchased donates 20 meals to help alleviate the hunger problems faced by over 46 million people in the U.S.
I also have a Terra Thread Gym Bag that has served me faithfully for years. It’s big enough and strong enough to hold all my kit and washes well when it gets too whiffy.
They Say: The water-resistant and customizable 30-liter Stealth Pack is built for multiple hatches, changing conditions and extra gear needs encountered on long floats, explorations and multi-day trips. Engineered to be ergonomic, quiet, lightweight and body-conforming, the Stealth Pack features a large main compartment, a quick-access exterior pocket and a top stash pocket. Fair Trade Certified™ sewn.
We Say: As a kid and at college, I loved rock climbing. Proper rock climbing with harnesses, belays, carabiners, meters and meters of rope, etc.
Kids came along. Middle-aged spread started spreading. My love for climbing dwindled. Too much kit, too much hassle.
However, I’ve recently rekindled my rocky love and got into bouldering. Not too much kit needed, but you still get a good buzz and a decent workout.
I’ve recently joined a like-minded group, and we now do overnight hikes and bouldering trips. So I needed a backpack bigger and more technical than the family Terra Thread school/hiking bags.
This Patagonia backpack performs incredibly well. It holds all my gear, keeps it dry, and feels comfortable on long hikes.
It contains recycled nylon and polyester. But it does also contain small amounts of nylon, polyurethane, and spandex to enhance performance.
The levels are acceptable for me, and I love that Patagonia is open and transparent about exactly what goes into their bags and what they’re doing to improve.
They Say: Get ready for some warm fuzzies. Our signature 9L Sidekick got a snuggly makeover with recycled sherpa and organic cotton corduroy accents. Perfect for everything from snowy hikes to daily errands. 100% recycled polyester with 100% organic cotton corduroy. 9L backpack with air mesh padding, adjustable padded shoulder straps, and foldover flap with zipper closure. Expandable open side pockets and padded interior tablet sleeve.
We Say: This is Mrs. M’s mini backpack for when she’s commuting to the office on her bike.
The styling of this backpack is Mrs. M all over. Classy and playful. Love it!
Made with 100% recycled polyester and 100% organic cotton corduroy, it’s not all about looks…the eco-credentials are on point too.
It does stop at the materials, either.
United by Blue is a Certified B Corporation, and they pledge to remove one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every bag sold.
Across their entire range of backpacks, United by Blue uses the following exclusive and sustainable materials:
You can read more about each material here.
They Say: A travel-friendly bag that's also made for everyday use. The ReNew Transit Weekender is fully featured—padded laptop sleeve, two water bottle holders, exterior zip pocket, luggage handle pass-through (that's also a pocket), and multiple ways to carry: crossbody, shoulder, or in-hand. Oh, and it’s made from 100% recycled polyester.
We Say: My lovely daughters bought this weekend bag for me as a fathers day gift.
Ok. It’s not a backpack. But it is a top-quality overnight weekend bag made from sustainable materials.
It’s surprisingly big and can easily take enough clothes, laptops, etc., for a three or four-day business trip away.
It’s also reassuring to know that the waterproof coating used on the bag is fluorine-free.
I love it. Thanks, girls!
They Say: Commuting just got more sustainable. The Daily Backpack uses ALGIX® Bloom foam made from algae for padding and recycled plastic water bottles for exterior material. Stow your phone, laptop, and daily essentials while protecting the planet. 19L tombstone backpack, Adjustable straps, Quick access phone pocket at back panel, REPREVE® recycled polyester, ALGIX® Bloom foam, Multiple zippered internal pockets, Laptop compartment, NATULON® zippers.
We Say: If anything sums up the difference between me and Mrs. M, it’s our small commuting backpacks.
Hers is warm, fluffy, and playful. Mine is plain and functional…and I’m ok with that! 😁
It feels cloud-light on my back and easily holds my laptop, phone, and all my paperwork, files, etc.
The padding is made from foam derived from algae, and the outer material is made from recycled water bottles.
Tentree will also plant ten trees for every order they receive.
Functional and eco-friendly. Lovely stuff!
They Say: Tough, eco-friendly, and waterproof, this backpack is a perfect grab-and-go for your daily adventures. Use it to tote your laptop to work, or stuff it with the essentials for a weekend hike! Made from upcycled materials, including bicycle tubes, hardware, and nylon, this bag brings new life to old products. Plus, you can show off your sustainable pack in the dark with the reflective daisy chain on the front!
We Say: I’m a keen cyclist. So when I saw this backpack on Earth Hero, I simply had to test it out.
The look of this backpack might not be to all tastes. But I love it!
The outer is upcycled bike tires and recycled PET aerospace mesh. The lining is 100% recycled PET fabric.
A small amount of nylon is used for the stitching, etc. But the total quantity is small and acceptable in my eyes.
This 22L capacity backpack punches above its weight. You can cram so much in it reminds me of Mary Poppins’ carpet bag!
This is one seriously waterproof and durable backpack.
As you’d expect from Earth Hero, this backpack is shipping in packaging that can be recycled or composted.
They Say: With adjustable straps and a top handle for versatile carrying, this backpack is comfortable for all day use, whether it be for going between classes, computing to work, or exploring a new city. It features a zipped exterior pocket for easy access, and interior zipped pocket for security, and an interior open pocket to keep all of your items organized. Made from vegan, hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, waterproof, lightweight, durable, biodegradable and recyclable natural cork.
We Say: Natural cork is one of the most sustainable fabrics you can buy.
Co-founder Joana’s family has been producing bottle corks for wineries in Portugal since the 1920s.
Then along came the other co-founder, Amanda, with a vision to utilize Joana’s cork expertise and translate it into the fashion market. And so…Tiradia Cork was born!
Tiradia treats cork with maximum love and respect.
The cork is harvested by hand by skilled tradespeople. The trees are never cut down. The whole process is mindful of the trees to keep them healthy for their entire 150-year lifespan.
This love and respect for cork is reflected in the design of this backpack. Clean, simple lines. No unnecessary clutter.
Not my cup of tea, personally. But Mrs. M is a big fan!
They Say: Fjällräven’s iconic Kanken backpacks have come a long way since they were first launched in 1978. Over those decades, we’ve been busy adapting Kanken bags to every situation and releasing all sorts of functional and durable accessories. Now, there are Fjällräven Kanken bags and accessories for every situation. Our classic Kanken bags work well for everything from hiking to urban adventures, and everything in between.
We Say: Fjallraven’s Kanken backpacks are currently incredibly popular. Drive past any high school and you’ll see packs of these backpacks roaming around.
It’s this popularity that makes me hesitant to recommend the brand entirely.
If you’re buying this backpack because it’s cool and trendy, then what will you do with it if/when it’s no longer cool and trendy?
This is an incredibly well-made backpack that, with proper care, will last a lifetime. It doesn’t deserve to be thrown in the back of a closet once it’s no longer loved.
The hardwearing nature of the Kanken is thanks to Vinylon F.
Vinylon F is made from polyvinyl alcohol, and it has specific properties that are otherwise mostly found in natural materials.
The key selling point for me is that it’s naturally dirt-resistant and water-resistant, without the need to add additional chemicals such as polyurethane (PU) or silicone.
However, if I were going to buy a Fjallraven bag, I would go for one made from G-1000 Eco (an incredibly durable recycled polyester and cotton blend) and waterproof it with Greenland Wax.
So, in summary, an excellent backpack made from eco-friendly materials. I just worry about the fast fashion implications of something so popular and trendy.
Or maybe I’m just an uncool grumpy middle-aged man?! 🤔
Regular backpacks are often made from virgin polyester.
This petroleum-based plastic fabric is incredibly pollutive to manufacture and leaks microplastic pollution into rivers and seas when washed or tossed in the trash.
You can read more about microfibre/microplastic pollution in my fast fashion article.
Regular backpacks are often made in countries with nonexistent labor laws and hazardous working conditions to drive costs down.
The global backpack market was estimated to be $13.90 billion in 2020.
This was a drop from $17.30 billion in 2019. A drop mainly caused by the reduction in travel and school time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the market is expected to recover and be around $19.80 billion in 2025.
With so much money sloshing around the market, some disreputable manufacturers might try to trick you into thinking their product is more sustainable than it is. Beware of greenwashing tactics.
Sustainable, eco-friendly backpacks are made by reputable companies using ethical business practices that ensure fair treatment and a decent wage for everyone in the supply chain.
Also, look for brands that give back to charity or help clean plastic from the ocean, for example.
Eco-friendly backpacks are made from sustainably sourced materials and recycled materials, such as:
For more information on sustainable materials and fabric, you might want to check out my sustainable fabrics article.
A sure-fire way to help ensure that your backpack of choice is truly sustainable is to look out for respected eco-labels and certifications such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Global Organic Textile Standard.
A sustainable backpack is a well-built backpack. High-quality items last longer (sometimes a lifetime).
For example, buying one school bag for your child’s entire education is much more sustainable (and cheaper) than buying a new one every year.
Steer clear of trends. This season’s ‘must have’ backpack will be next season’s landfill. Textbook fast fashion marketing.
Osprey makes some nice eco-friendly backpacks using sustainable materials and supply chain practices. They didn’t quite make the final cut in this article because I feel their average price point is a bit high for what you get.
VF Corporation owns JanSport and, according to Shop Ethical, there is room for improvement when it comes to ethics. They were partially critical of their use of forced labor in China and limited worker rights in Bangladesh.
Buying a good-quality eco-friendly backpack will cost more than the standard mass-produced alternative. But it really is money well spent.
Spending an extra few bucks on a backpack that will last you decades rather than months/years is a no-brainer for me.
It saves you money in the long run and saves the planet for future generations to enjoy.
Buying new items unnecessarily is not a sustainable practice.
If you already have a perfectly good backpack in the back of your closet or in the garage, then please consider fishing it out and using it rather than buying a new one.
Where do you buy your eco-friendly backpacks? Have I missed your favorite brand? Drop me a line and let me know.