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Home / Features / Bags for life: the best sustainable backpacks for eco-friendly exploring

Bags for life: the best sustainable backpacks for eco-friendly exploring

Roam responsibly with these recycled rucksacks

best sustainable backpacks featuring Bearmade Gouthwaite Got Bag Millican Smith

You can’t carry the whole world on your shoulders, but with the best sustainable backpacks, you can at least shoulder some responsibility for the state of it. 

Already rocking a rucksack? The longer you keep your trusty two-strap, the more economical its existence becomes and the less manufacturing waste enters the system. Problem is, there comes a time when even the most treasured of tatty totes has to go. Usually when the webbing is worn out, you’re missing two zips and there are too many unexplained stains to count.

Ready to overhaul your haulage? Stick with the green theme and pack something sustainable. From surplus fabric to recycled plastic bottles, the best sustainable backpacks are made from eco-friendly materials that prevent potential pollution from harming the planet – perfect for conscientious carriers.

Buying tips

Open and shut

Closure is a key consideration when selecting a sack. Want easy packing access? Bag a zip-shut number. Clips offer extra security, while roll-tops promise added water-resistance but take longer to unravel.

Shoulder shackle

Unstructured straps might be lighter and less bulky, but padded ones promise greater comfort. If you’ll be schlepping far with your load, be sure to choose a bag with contoured bands that sit well on your shoulders.

Internal review

Not all compartments are created the same. Pockets, dividers and mesh sections are sweet for neat-freaks with numerous knick-knacks, while unstructured interiors make sense for bigger bits or packing cubes.

Rain game

You might want to be at one with the world, but you won’t feel so harmonious if a downpour drenches the contents of your carryaround. If rain is a risk where you’re roaming, pick a pack with waterproofing.

The Pooh-approved pack: Bearmade Gouthwaite 15L

The Pooh-approved pack: Bearmade Gouthwaite 15L (£175)

If Paddington swapped his briefcase for a backpack, it would probably look something like this. Crafted to last a lifetime, the dry-waxed cotton construction is weatherproof, hard-wearing and uses 88% less water than your average yarn. Plus the only plastic in the pack is recycled polyester thread.

The sack itself ships in two sizes to suit your sandwich storage requirements, while a pair of exterior pockets are perfect for small jars of marmalade. And to make sure your eco efforts are approved by Peruvian mammals, BearMade plants 20 trees for every roll-top sold – and uses 10% of sales to fund free wild workshops, from foraging to forest bathing. Two of Paddington’s favourite pursuits.

The sea-saving sack: Got Bag Rolltop Sea Shepherd Backpack

The sea-saving sack: Got Bag Rolltop Sea Shepherd Backpack (£130)

Need a backpack for your next beach clean-up? Got Bag’s roll-top rucksack tackles floating trash while carrying your stash. For every bag made, 3.5kg of ocean plastic is collected by fishermen in Indonesia. The best of this jetsam is then sorted, shredded and sewn into a seaworthy sack. Built tough enough to brave the waves, the waterproof Sea Shepherd can pack down tight with the help of compression straps, while a removable laptop pocket keeps your stuff safely sorted inside.

The waste-free messenger: Lefrik Capsule

The waste-free messenger: Lefrik Capsule (£58)

Reprocessing tech is now so effective that you can’t tell recycled polyester from the standard stuff. Luckily, this stylish two-strap from Lefrik makes things clear with a sewn message: “I used to be a plastic bottle.” Divided inside for handy stashing and equipped with a back pocket for quick access to key particulars, it’s ideal for a greener daily grind.

The hardcore carrier: Finisterre Drift Backpack

Sustainability might make you feel better about your backpack, but eco credentials alone won’t keep your contents safe from showers. Need a greener knapsack that’s fit for a dunking? Enter this reinforced roll-top from Finisterre. Welded seams and a 600D recycled polyester shell translate into an IP67 rating – which means it’s fully waterproof, for the uninitiated. With a 30L capacity, laptop insert, bottle pockets and adjustable padded straps, the heavy-duty Drift is built to go the distance – whatever the weather.

The ripstop revival: Lyle & Scott Recycled Ripstop Backpack

From wingsuits to parachutes, ripstop is the material of choice for daredevils. Which means it’s more than sturdy enough to store your particulars. While this recycled ripstop rucksack won’t be much use if you jump from a plane, practical touches and a classic design make it a durably adaptable daypack. A zippered front pocket and elasticated side slots keep your gear organised, while a roomy main compartment offers useful stuffing space – for coats, not canopies.

The guilt-free tripper: Bellroy Transit Backpack

The guilt-free tripper: Bellroy Transit Backpack (£185)

Planes put a strain on the planet, but sometimes you’ve got to get airborne. Use this 28-litre sack as your carry-on and its water-resistant shell – fabricated from recycled plastic bottles – should at least offset some carbon. Neat and tidy on the outside, its main compartment can take a weekend’s worth of gear, while a raft of separate pockets makes stashing your travel necessities a cinch. There’s even a soft-lined slot on top for your sunnies. Flying for longer? Take a look at the Transit Backpack Plus, which features deeper pockets and a larger 38L storage capacity.

The rugged roamer: Patagonia Black Hole

Fling your gear into a black hole and there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again (not in this dimension, anyway). But fling your gear into Patagonia’s Black Hole pack and it’s pretty much guaranteed to get where you’re going. Lightweight yet weather-resistance, the 650g sack is designed for durable daypack duties: side pockets hold bottles and bits, while a front stash section is ideal for key accessories – plus a padded sleeve safely stores 15in laptops in the main compartment. Recycled ripstop polyester ensures the shell is sturdy, with the lining and webbing joining the line-up of renewed materials.

The Scandi revamp: Re-Kånken

As ‘90s dance-pop outfit Aqua proved with Barbie Girl, plastic is the perfect material for a Scandi classic. Same goes for this eco version of Fjällräven’s best-selling sack: featuring all the functional style and bold saturation of the natty standard edition, the Re-Kånken’s polyester shell is crafted from 11 recycled plastic bottles – and dyed using a technique that’s easier on the world’s resources. Side pockets are swell for easy-access stashing, while a removable seat pad inside stops the contents from pressing against your back. It’s fantastic.

The pannier replacement: Stubble & Co The Roll Top

Pedal power is a greener way to go. For a rucksack to suit your sustainable steed, stick Stubble & Co’s robust pack on your back. Designed with cyclists in mind, it features a reflective bottom to keep you seen in the saddle, plus well-placed pockets for your everyday essentials – including your laptop, bottle and bike lock. Crafted predominantly from recycled PET, the bag’s waterproof body is ready for two-wheeled travel in all weathers. Get it in Urban Green and no-one will question your eco credentials.

The patchwork pack: Cotopaxi Allpa Del Dia

The patchwork pack: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Del Dia (€215)

Not a fan of standard colourways? For a distinctive sack that matches your sustainable style, try this technicolour number: sewn using excess fabric from mass-production, pick a colour and one of Cotopaxi’s stitchers in the Philippines will build a bespoke bag featuring your selected shade. Robust, comfortable and practical to boot, each custom carrier comes equipped with a plethora of pockets, sleeves and mesh compartments, while its 35-litre capacity is a boon for one-bag travellers.

The leftover lugger: 66 North Backpack

The leftover lugger: 66 North Backpack (€130)

Trim fabric for a raincoat and you’ll likely end up with lots of little leftovers. You could use the spare bits to make a matching mac for your pet mouse. Or, like 66 North, you could create a rugged daypack. Less cute than a rodent coat but, with a waterproof shell, 15-litre capacity and quilted lining, a lot more practical.

The rugged roll-top: Millican Smith The Roll Pack

The rugged roll-top: Millican Smith The Roll Pack (£140)

Hiking in the hills or hunched over handlebars, the best pack will have your back wherever you head. Designed in the Lake District, Millican’s multi-talented tote is made to go the distance. Light, tough and waterproof to boot, the Smith’s roll-top closure keeps kit safe and dry in every weather. External stash pockets are perfect for bottles and bulky bits, while sleeves inside the 25-litre sack – plus a subtle laptop slot – ensure your stuff is always sorted. Feeling burdened? Padded straps protect your shoulders, just as the recycled polyester shell and lining protect the planet.

The two-strap tote: Roka Bantry B

When is a backpack not a backpack? When a zip on top transforms it into a handy tote. Carryable by hand or on your back, the versatile Bantry B ships in two sizes to suit your haul. Top-load the medium model and you’ll find space for a laptop, water bottle and more. Pockets and slots keep everything sorted, while a padded back should prevent painful pokes. At least twelve plastic bottles are used in the recycled nylon shell which, together with the canvas base, is coated for a weather-resistant finish.

The haulage hauler: M-24 Medium Rolltop

The trucker’s tote: M-24 Medium Rolltop (£75)

If it’s tough enough to sheathe the sides of lorries, it stands to reason that tarpaulin can handle some hardcore hauling in backpack form. M-24 trims down old tarps, gives them a good scrub and forms them into roll-top companions that can go the distance. Each is completely unique, with straps fashioned from cargo webbing.

The green guardian: Pacsafe Vibe 25 Econyl

The green guardian: Pacsafe Vibe 25 Econyl ($130)

Fabricating a backpack from banana leaves might be the most renewable way to lug your gear, but one slash from a ne’er-do-well and your ethical possessions will be gone for good. For more secure sustainability, try Pacsafe’s slash-proof pack: equipped with locking zips and an anchor strap, its reinforced shell is formed from Econyl regenerated nylon, sourced from fishing nets, carpet tiles and industrial plastic.

Profile image of Chris Rowlands Chris Rowlands Freelance contributor


Formerly News Editor at this fine institution, Chris now writes about tech from his tropical office. Sidetracked by sustainable stuff, he’s also keen on coffee kit, classic cars and any gear that gets better with age.

Areas of expertise

Cameras, gear and travel tech

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