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We’re all looking for ways to fulfil our desire for wanderlust whilst minimising our impact on the planet. One way we can do this is by ensuring our travel gear is sourced sustainably.
For many years, it was only small independent backpack manufacturers that were using recycled materials, but now many of the well known brands are jumping on board too giving us more choice than ever before.
In this guide I’ll share some of the best recycled backpacks for travel covering both day packs (under 30L) and larger backpacks (30L+).
All of the backpacks here are made from recycled materials and many of the companies have additional sustainability benefits for choosing them such as repair-ability or the causes they support.
What a Recycled Backpacks Made From?
Before we jump in with the full list of recycled backpacks, let’s consider some of the key materials used and how to ensure the backpacks are eco friendly:
Nylon is the most common material used in backpacks as it provides strength and durability that traditional materials such as cotton don’t provide. However, Nylon is a plastic which is derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel.
A sustainable alternative is Recycled Nylon, this is usually made from ocean waste such as fishing nets or old nylon carpets that would have gone to landfill. As well as using waste products, recycled Nylon uses less resources in the process than virgin Nylon (non-recycled) however it’s also far more expensive to make.
Like Nylon, Polyester is a prominent material used in the manufacture of backpacks for its strength and durability. It doesn’t absorb water, so it doesn’t get heavier when wet. However, it’s also derived from petroleum so it’s not sustainable.
Recycled polyester is made from old consumer and industrial plastic with a major contributor being plastic bottles. As well as stopping those bottles from going to landfill, recycled Polyester takes 59% less resources to make than virgin Polyester.
A polyurethane coating (commonly known as PU coating) is applied to backpacks to make it lightweight and water resistant, but again this is derived from petroleum. A bio-PU coating is a new development that creates similar properties to a traditional PU-coating but is made from bio-renewable sources such as vegetable oils or cashew nuts.
Most companies now purchase recycled polyester and nylon for their products, however some of the backpacks here use innovative projects to support the environment, for example the Mafia Sail uses old kite surfing and boat sails, and the GOT bag uses ocean waste collected by fishermen, these typically cost more to make so are more expensive products.
How Can Backpacks be Eco-Friendly?
As well as making use of recycled materials, we should also consider the following aspects of a backpack to learn how sustainable it really is. We have tried to address these in the reviews.
- Durability: Where possible, we have listed the Denier number of the material which refers to the mass. A higher D number means a thicker material and therefore it’s durable.
- Repair-ability: There is no backpack more sustainable than not having to buy one in the first place. This is why durability and repairability are key factors in sustainable backpacks as it prevents you from needing to buy a new one so soon.
- Carbon Footprint: Both the production of materials and transportation will impact carbon footprint. Recycled materials generally use less resources to make than virgin materials but most backpacks are still
Of course, not all backpacks use these materials and some are being creative in many other ways. So let’s jump in to the full list of recycled backpacks.
Best Small Recycled Backpacks (Under 30L)
Patagonia Black Hole Pack
Perfect for mountaineering or the 32L could be a carry on for a short trip.
Volume: 25 or 32L
Specs: Made from Recycled Ripstop Polyester, the body is 300D and lining is 200D, coated with polyurethane film.
Origin: Made in Vietnam
✔ Most water resistant backpacks around
✔ Uses 100% recycled fabrics and lining – so far, they have used 10 million old plastic bottles in their black hole bags
✔ Strong and durable bags
✘ Padded laptop compartment provides limited protection
Patagonia’s line of black hole travel bags has long been a good choice and the company has always endeavoured to be as sustainable as possible. Now, it’s gone that one step further with a recycled backpack using Polyester made from plastic bottles.
Today, 100% of the fabrics and lining used to create the bag are made from recycled polyester which has so far used the equivalent of 10 million plastic bottles.
The bags design has been well thought through with daisy loops on the back to hang any items you need as well as compartments for water bottles, pens, a laptop sleeve and spaces for small items.
The padding around the laptop sleeve is not particularly strong but that’s the only real weakness of this bag.
Fjällräven Re-Kanken 16L
Perfect for taking to and from work or school if style is important
Specs: Made from recycled polyester, equivalent to 11 plastic bottles. Dimensions: 30 x 30 x 7 cm. Weight: 0.45kg.
Origin: Not available
✔ Made from recycled polyester – each bag contains the equivalent of 11 recycled plastic water bottles
✔ Classic Kanken shape and style
✔ Available in 12 different colour choices
✘ Same straps as the Kanken which aren’t too comfortable
The Swedish made Fjallraven Kanken is an iconic backpack that was launched in 1978 and has changed little in design since then.
The brand has recently launched the Re-Kanken, a version of the much loved brand that’s made completely out of Recycled Polyester.
The bags are a fashion statement and have become a staple bag for school or work. As well as the backpack straps, they also have handles so they can be used as a totem.
The 16L bag will fit a 15″ laptop along with all your other daily needs.
The bags have all of the loved features of the standard version but has that nice sustainable edge. They also have the same straps which in my opinion is a downside as they are not too comfortable, you can buy shoulder pads which is highly recommended if you’re carrying a lot of weight.
The colours are super vibrant because of a new spindye colour process and the logo has been embroided which is another change to the traditional pack.
View on Amazon.
ONYA Back 14L
Great alternative to a totem
Specs: Made from rPET, equivalent to 10 recycled plastic bottles per bag
JULY 2020 UPDATE: NO LONGER IN PRODUCTION
✔ 100% recyclable at the end of it’s life
✔ Accessible price for everyone
✔ Lightweight and folds up really small
✘ Only suitable for light usage – think of it as a bag-for-life backpack
The ONYA backpack is small and simple. It’s made from Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate which can be a mouthful so is referred to as rPET.
At less than 90g, it’s super lightweight so would be ideal for packing into a larger backpack to carry a few belongings whilst exploring the area.
The backpacks come with a 12 month guarantee and should last for many years. However, their material means they aren’t as strong or durable as the others listed here so they are best suited to ultra light use, you definitely won’t be mountaineering with these.
When they do eventually come to the end of their life, they are fully recyclable, so the cycle continues.
The ONYA Backpack is perfect for replacing a totem or bag for life as a backpack.
GOT Bag 23-30L
Most sustainable bag, made from Ocean plastic collected in Indonesia
Volume: Between 23-30L depending upon how much you roll it.
Specs: Each bag made from 3.5kg of ocean plastic. Bag weighs 1.1kg. Dimensions: 33x43cm (hxw), expands to 66cm.
Origin: Plastic collected by fisherman in Indonesia
✔ Made entirely from ocean plastic
✔ 100% Waterproof
✔ Uses bio-PU coating
Originating from a Kickstarter idea that raised over £25,000 to get off the ground, the concept of GOT bag is that it’s made entirely from ocean plastic.
The plastic is caught by their network of fishermen and is then turned in to yard which is used to create the bag. Each bag equates to about 3.5kg of ocean plastic removed.
The creators have ensured the bag is durable so that it doesn’t end up in the landfill any time soon.
I would suggest that this is the most eco-friendly backpack on the market as it’s one of the few that has used a sustainable coating as well as fabric. It uses a bio-PU coating instead of the traditional petroleum based coating which ensures that the bag is fully waterproof.
The bag has all sorts of use occasions with a padded laptop holder and a roll down top that allows you to adapt the size according to what you’re doing.
View on Amazon.co.uk – difficult to find on other Amazon sites
Mafia Bags W-Pack and Discover Pack
Volume: 13L (W-Pack) and 20L (Discover Pack)
Specs: Made from recycled kitesurf and boat sails.
Origin: Made in California
✓ Stylish design
✓ Water resistant
✓ Padded laptop sleeve, water bottle holder and top pocket
✗ A bit pricey compared to other recycled backpacks
Mafia makes its backpacks from a combination of windsurfing and kitesurfing sails. The company claims to have saved over 16,000 yards of sails from going to landfill. The sails are donated by
Each of the bags is slightly unique because none of the sails are going to be the same.
This is a classic backpack that’s perfect for a day trip. Features include a laptop sleeve, water bottle holder and top pocket.
As far as a day bag goes, it’s got you covered, although you probably wouldn’t want to spend too many days with it on as may get a little uncomfortable.
Because of the material used, it’s very water resistant too.
There are a variety of different styles, my personal favourite is the Discover backpack which comes in a range of awesome colours.
OGIO Alpha 320 and 525R
Volume: 20L (320) and 25L (525L)
Specs: Made from recycled polyester, 600D body and 1200D base.
Origin: Not available
✓ High quality, durable material
✓ Different styles to choose from depending upon your needs
✓ Reasonably priced
The fabrics use a combination of 600D Polyester body and 1200D base which indicates a much thicker and higher quality than many on the market.
Pace 20: At the lower price level, their Pace 20 backpacks are ideal for work or school with a durable build and a 17” laptop sleeve, pen holders, key clips, quick access pockets and comfortable straps.
Alpha Convoy 320: If you’ll be using the backpacks more actively, the Alpha Convoy 320 is an all rounder
Alpha Convoy 525R: Made from strong, abrasion resistant materials to withstand anything. It has a roll top so you can adjust to the size you need, premium zips, lockable compartments and compression straps.
View on Amazon
Best Large Recycled Backpacks (30L+)
North Face Dome Pack
Excellent day pack that’s also great for climbers
Specs: 200D Recycled Polyester Ripstop with DWR, Weighs 1.3kg.
Origin: Not available but North Face have factories all across Asia so this is most likely.
✓ Recycled ripstop polyester – sustainable and resistant to tearing
✓ Inner and outer mesh compartments
✓ Well made and sturdy bag
✗ Treated with DWR coating which isn’t sustainable
This 31L bag has the usual great quality of a North Face bag only it’s made from 100% recycled polyester.
The material is coated with DWR which isn’t a very sustainable material itself due to being petroleum based, but makes it very durable.
It has lots of handy pockets on the inside to keep all of your belongings organised. The backpack has been created with climbers in mind so you’ll find pockets for chalk and extra webbing too.
The bag is very sturdy with a strong back panel and it stands up well when left due to the flat bottom.
This has been a leading travel backpack for a while and from 2020 will be made with recycled polyester.
Volume: Available in 35 or 45L
Specs: 900D Recycled Polyester with DWR
Origin: Made in China
✓ Front loading
✓ Good size backpack that holds up to 45L and still fits as hand luggage
✓ Strong material, excellent for travel
✗ Difficult to get hold of outside the US
✗ Not all colours are currently made from recycled material
Last year, Tortuga announced that their well known Setout backpacks would be made from 100% recycled polyester so you can add this to your list of best sustainable backpacks.
However, you’ll have to note that only the black and navy versions of the backpack are made from recycled polyester and the grey version isn’t.
The 45L Setout has been one of the market leaders in carry on sized luggage as it can be taken in the cabin of just about any flight in the world. They also announced a 35L version which has all the same benefits but is slightly smaller and fits some of the budget airline who are more stringent on their hand luggage.
The backpacks are front loading which means it opens like a suitcase rather than top loading like a traditional backpack. This is an absolute must when choosing a backpack for travel these days as it’s easier to organise and find your belongings.
Tortuga’s Setout backpacks have a string suspension system and can distribute weight evenly across your body.
This is the best backpack for travel. Osprey’s latest ‘top of the range’ backpack packed with features and made with sustainable materials.
Volume: Available in 25, 30, 45 and 70L
Specs: 1880D Recycled Nylon Canvas with DWR coating.
Origin: Not available
✓ Industry leading warranty and repair service
✓ Made from recycled nylon
✓ Very durable
✗ Most expensive backpack
✗ Heaviest backpack with 30L weighing in at 1.7Kg
Anyone who has been backpacking will recognise Osprey, it’s one of the worlds most popular backpack brands that’s known for creating durable backpacks. Having used one of their backpacks for years I can speak to this quality.
The company has always tried to be sustainable and has put huge emphasis on fixing broken backpacks for a reasonable price rather than expect customers to buy new ones.
But now the company has gone a step further by launching the Osprey Archeon range, a sustainable backpack made from 100% recycled nylon. At 1880D, this is one of the thickest and most durable recycled backpacks on the market.
This is Osprey’s latest top-of-the-range backpack and includes a raft of features such as integrated and detachable rain cover, side compression straps and walking pole attachments.
The heavy duty material and metal buckles mean that it’s a weighty backpack with the 30L weighing in at 1.7Kg and the 70L at a whopping 2.8Kg.
The backpacks are all fairly similar although the 25L has a roll top whereas the others are zip top with an extra compartment. The bigger 70L also has an extra compartment at the bottom as you’d expect from such a big backpack.
View on Amazon
Price key: £=under £50, ££=£50-100, £££=£100-150, ££££=£150+