The school year is officially underway, and that means it’s time to get organized. You’re going to need a good backpack to tote around all of your assignments and textbooks-- but there are so many options on the market. How can you narrow down the best bag for you?
Most people gravitate toward the cheapest options-- the $20 backpacks they find at Walmart or Target. Of course, these are the most convenient. But cheaply-produced backpacks don’t usually last very long. A year or so of use, and they need to be replaced. Even worse, these aren’t sustainable backpacks, and they don’t have particularly eco-friendly manufacturing processes. They are often made of harmful plastics, treated with dangerous chemicals like PFAS, and dyed using processes that contribute a lot to water pollution. So not only do they wear down your wallet by forcing you to buy new ones every year, but they also wear down the planet.
Thankfully, there are plenty of sustainable backpacks to choose from. The companies behind them are committed to developing eco-friendly dyeing and manufacturing processes, using recycled or natural materials, and limiting their use of harmful chemicals-- all while working to produce durable bags that last much longer than their traditional counterparts.
Here’s our list of sustainable backpacks to consider buying this year:
First on our list of sustainable backpacks is this sleek backpack from Day Owl. Made of canvas manufactured entirely from recycled water bottles and coated in a water-resistant finish, this backpack is a great option for everyday use. In spite of its sleek appearance, the Day Owl backpack has a capacity of 18L and includes a top pocket, front pocket, and secret side pocket, providing plenty of storage space for an average day of classes.
This backpack, like all of Solgaard’s products, is made entirely from recycled ocean-bound plastic, making it a great sustainable backpack option. Besides that, the Lifepack Endeavor is just an overall versatile bag. Including several hidden pockets, a drop-proof laptop storage pocket, and shoulder straps with back support, this backpack can be adapted for either day-to-day use at school or for travel. It’s plenty big enough for either job, too-- in its compact form, it has a storage capacity of 27L, and when expanded, its capacity is 35L.
This Dakhla backpack from Bagmaya is a cost-effective option for those who want a sustainable backpack but can’t invest in some of the other options on our list. This bag, with its capacity of 25L, is made entirely of natural hemp handmade in Nepal. It includes plenty of pocket space for your everyday items, including secret pockets on the shoulder strap and on the back for valuables. The padded laptop pocket can fit computers up to 17”, and in addition to the thickness and durability of the body material, all internal pockets are waterproof.
Price: £24.95/$31.16 (Regular Price: £64.95/$81.11)
Fjallraven is a company committed to constantly improving the sustainability of its products. As such, the Skule 20 backpack, with a storage capacity of 20L, is made entirely out of recycled polyester and is designed with durability in mind. This hardy backpack features a main pocket with a padded laptop sleeve and organizer pockets-- a great option for keeping track of an assortment of assignments, folders, and textbooks.
Patagonia is one of the most well-known zero-waste brands out there. In keeping with the company’s reputation, the Refugio Daypack is made from recycled polyester and coated in an eco-friendly water-repellent finish. Available in two sizes-- 26L or 30L-- it comes with a removable padded laptop sleeve, a small caddy for pens and small items, and plenty of storage space, making it perfect for school, work, and travel alike.
This backpack from Lo & Sons looks simple, but it has a storage capacity of 26L and a surprising number of interior organizers and pockets-- making it ideal for keeping school supplies organized or for weekend trips. It also has a lightweight feel to it, weighing just over 2lb. The Hanover Deluxe 2 is made from water-resistant polyester, manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, and includes memory-foam shoulder straps for maximum comfort.
Got Bag’s Rolltop backpack is an excellent example of what sustainable backpacks can do-- made mostly of recovered and recycled Ocean Impact plastic and waterproof even without the use of PFC or PVC, this backpack is part of an active effort by Got Bag to clean up plastics in the ocean. Purchasing this backpack also helps support Dolphin Project, an organization that seeks to end the exploitation and slaughter of captive dolphins worldwide. The Rolltop bag has plenty of storage space, with a capacity of 31L, so in addition to being sustainable, it’s also very functional-- not to mention durable, based on the 2 year warranty it comes with.
The Airbag backpack by Rewilder is among the most durable backpacks on this list, and it’s another example of creative manufacturing that helps fix problems in the textile industry. The bag is entirely made of airbag and seatbelt material that was scrapped during airbag production, which prevents decidedly non-eco-friendly textiles from making their way to the landfill. Of course, airbags are designed to be strong enough to save lives, so it stands to reason that the Airbag backpack is extremely durable. This bag also includes a spacious main compartment and several pockets, making it functional as well as sustainable and cost-effective.
The Alem backpack is handcrafted from sustainably-tanned leather, making it both extremely durable and eco-friendly. This bag includes two interior compartments, two side pockets, and a slit pocket, providing plenty of storage space for day-to-day use without compromising its beautiful minimalist and modern design.
This backpack from Dakine has a storage capacity of 30L and is made of durable recycled nylon. The Motive backpack includes a large main compartment with several organizational pockets, an ergonomic back panel and shoulder straps, and even a rain cover in case you enjoy going on hikes during your free time. With so much functional storage space and such a durable material, this backpack is definitely worth the price.
If you don’t need a high-capacity backpack for your course load, the 16L Earth backpack from Terra Thread might work for you. This bag is made with organic cotton canvas in a Fair Trade certified factory and is handmade. Every purchase of the Earth backpack also helps Terra Thread donate meals to families in need through its partnership with Feeding America.
The (R)evolution 25L Convertible Carryall is made of polyester manufactured from recycled water bottles, doing its part to clean up the environment. With its laptop sleeve and side pockets, it offers plenty of functional storage space. Plus, it’s versatile-- its shoulder straps are detachable, and you can carry it as a simple tote instead. United By Blue clearly has confidence in the durability of this backpack, too-- it’s eligible for a lifetime warranty.
Price: $59 (Regular Price: $118)
Since the Mobius backpack is designed for travel, you can be sure it’s got plenty of interior storage space-- 35L, to be exact. In addition to featuring several exterior pockets and a padded laptop sleeve, the whole bag is made of recycled polyester. Even better, for every purchase of a Tentree product like the Mobius backpack, the company plants ten trees (who could have guessed?). So you can help recycle waste materials and give back to the environment at the same time-- we count that as a win!
It becomes clearer and clearer as time passes that buying and supporting sustainable brands is the best way to help everyone going forward. Sustainable products like the backpacks on this list often make a point of ethically manufacturing their bags-- helping their employees. These products tend to be more durable than their cheaper counterparts-- helping consumers save money in the long run. And, of course, all of these companies make an effort to recycle materials instead of manufacturing more harmful plastics, and several actively contribute to environmental justice efforts-- helping the planet. The next time you need to make a purchase, like a backpack, try and look at sustainable options like these!