Aug 30, 2023
by Karl Smith
The 14 Best Vegan, Sustainable & Performance-Ready Bags Available Right Now
by Karl Smith
Aug 30, 2023

When we think about bags and sustainability, we tend to think of packaging – of remember to take a tote bag to the store for fear of the (justified) shame of paying for a plastic carrier bag. You know, those kinds of things. We don’t, for whatever reason, tend to think of those two concepts in the same way as do with fashion and with footwear. Not quite as often, anyway.

Perhaps it’s because brands know that – unless you’re Hermès, and in which case you probably couldn’t care less about the issue anyway – clothes and shoes are the marquee names of their product offering. Brands know that we, as consumers, are paying attention to sneakers and to jackets and even to the humble T-shirt in a way that we don’t really afford to bags and accessories for the most part.

Now, that’s a blanket statement. Of course there are exceptions at both ends. Stella McCartney, for example, has worked both Natural Fiber Welding and Bolt Threads on alt-leather materials for the brand’s line of luxury handbags. And consumers, too, can sometimes see the word for the trees with a particularly egregious plastic product or particularly cruel animal-derived piece.

Still, the fact remains: we should be paying more attention. Bags – outside of the uber-luxury realm, at least – may not have quite the same cultural cachet as shoes, but they’re just as ubiquitous; just as much a part of our everyday lives. And, for that reason alone, it’s essential that they’re put under the same scrutiny as other products. And it’s essential, too, that brands who are doing it right are given the attention they deserve.

It’s with all of this in mind that we’ve put together a list – non-exhaustive but still pretty comprehensive – of the best planet-friendlier and (with the exception of one minor infraction) vegan-friendly bags available right now. They may vary in purpose – from performance-ready hiking gear to travel bags to bags that are actually chairs – but they all have one thing in common: each of them, in some way or another, takes steps to doing better for the Earth.

From Carhartt to PORTER to Fjällräven, recycled materials to bio-based fabrics, here’s what we came back with.

The Bag: Calvin Klein Recycled Crossbody Water Bag
The RRP: $75 USD
Where to get it:

Now, on first glance, this looks like your standard polyurethane “vegan leather” job – which we all know is bad, but which you’d be within your rights to expect from a mid-level label like Calvin Klein. But, as it turns out, looks can be deceiving. And that’s certainly the case here.

In fact, you’d be half right: this bag is mostly made from PU – but not the kind you’re thinking of. Instead, you may be surprised to learn, this bag is crafted from 45% bio-based polyurethane – a chemically-replicated version of PU that removes petrochemicals from the equation completely – 35% recycled nylon, and 20% cactus, bringing the grand total up to 65% bio-based materials and 35% recycled materials.

Another surprise: if you don’t carry around a bottle all the time – although maybe you should think about staying better hydrated – you can put other things in it, too. Versatile.

There’s also a recycled polyester version, if leather isn’t your thing.

The Bag: Greater Goods Chalk Bucket Bag
The RRP: $115 USD
Where to get it:

Greater Goods is one of those brands consistently doing – as the name suggests – good things. Between working with Bali-based radical recycling studio Space Available, working with Nike on its Re-Creation upcycling event, and working with French outdoor brand Salomon on a charitable piece of adventure gear, the London-based label has racked up an impressive list of projects this year alone.

But they also do good work alone. Take these bags, for example, which come in an eclectic range of colors and are made not only from reappropriated scraps but from Greater Goods’ own leftovers. Crafted from the offcuts of previous GG projects, the Chalk Bag range neatly represents the brand’s ethos: the idea that nothing is waste, everything has a purpose – and, if it doesn’t right now, then it still could down the line.

Each piece being unique, the Chalk Bucket Bag is composed of a real mix of materials: the external pocket and zip are made from off-cut Gore-Tex nylon, the upper lining is constructed from Cordura nylon, the inner lining is made of vintage fleece, and the handle is crafted from webbing sourced from backpacks.

There’s also a smaller Chalk Bag, sans the bucket element, if you’re looking for something a little more compact.

The Bag: William Ellery Beachcomber Chair
The RRP: $900 USD
Where to get it:

Alright – this one isn’t cheap. We know that. Obviously $900 USD is no small amount of money. But, short of saying that the product is definitely “worth it” – which, without testing, seems slightly dishonest – when you dig a little deeper on this one, you can see where that price-tag comes from.

First of all, the Beachcomber Chair is a one-of-one – a prototype. Second, it’s two things in one: it’s a bag and it’s also a chair, so you’re really getting your money’s worth out of the multi-functionality here. Third, which is kind of an extension of point number two, it’s also made from bags – or, more specifically, from vintage framed hiking backpacks.

No, there are no “fancy” materials at play here. But, instead, what you have in the Beachcomber Chair is a piece of utilitarian lifestyle art – a lovingly-assembled, low-impact piece that uses pre-existing materials well. And, of course, does two jobs at once.

(If you like the look of the Beachcomber Chair but $900 USD feels a little rich, the NYC-based brand’s full Beachcomber collection features a selection of bags – as well as sunglasses – from around $140 USD.)

The Bag: QWSTION Bananatex® Travel Kit
The RRP: $95 USD
Where to get it:

If you’re looking for something compact, durable, and plastic-free to protect and transport your travel essentials, Switzerland-based QWSTION has the answer. Made with Bananatex® – a material created from the naturally grown, self-sufficient Abacá banana plant – these little bits of kit are at an interesting intersection of properties: built to be durable and sustain heavy use, but also to be lightweight and – at the end of its lifecycle – biodegradable.

In terms of the practicalities, the QWSTION Bananatex® Travel Kit features a water-resistant finish, a YKK®-zippered main opening, a carry-handle for convenience, and two additional internal compartments. It’s worth mentioning here, however, that the bag also features “vegetable-tanned leather trims” – which feels like something of an unnecessary misstep and will rule this product out for vegan consumers.

However, if it’s a lower-impact, plastic-free solution to your travel-based issues that you’re looking for – you could do a lot worse than QWSTION’s offering.

The Bag: Patagonia Fieldsmith Roll-Top Pack
The RRP: $150 USD
Where to get it:

Ah, Patagonia. The planet-friendlier outdoors-lover’s go-to brand. And, packing 30 liters of volume, the Fieldsmith Roll-Top might just be the quintessential Patagonia bag – designed for doing the kinds of things that fans of the brands love to do.

Made in a Fair Trade Certified™ factory and crafted from 100% recycled, solution-dyed polyester, the Fieldsmith is finished with a PFC-free durable water repellant finish free from PFCs. When it comes to usage, the bag “adjusts to accommodate the day’s load and can be rolled tightly for additional water protection,” with the added bonus of exterior storage fit for a 15″ laptop sleeve – idea for those days when being totally off-grid is a step too far.

The Bag: Fjällräven Re-Kånken
The RRP: $100 USD
Where to get it:

You know the Kånken. You’ve seen them. You’ve seen them everywhere and you’ve seen them on everyone. Having gone from being a fairly niche brand based in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, Fjällräven’s signature bag has – in a relatively short space of time – become ubiquitous on the backs of people all over the world.

With great power, though, comes great responsibility. And so, with producing enough Kånken backpacks to satiate the ever-growing consumer appetite comes a need to examine how that production can be less detrimental to the planet.

Thus, the Re-Kånken was born: recycled and recyclable – made entirely from polyester recycled from plastic bottles – the bag takes the same form as its predecessor and is designed to fulfil the same everyday duties. Produced without PFCs, using what Fjällräven refers to – a little too opaquely – as “better processes,” the Re-Kånken is a durable, water-resistant and functional product with all the benefits of its less conscious forbear – including an impressive range of pop colors.

If you’re in the market for a Kånken, it’s the easy choice.

The Bag: Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack
The RRP: $95 USD
Where to get it:

Based in San Francisco, California, Everlane is rightly proud of its conscious credentials – a list which extends not only to the materials, production, and finish of its products, but also to the ethical standards of the factories that the brand chooses to work with.

Having eliminated 90% of the virgin plastic from its supply chain, Everlane’s ReNew Transit Backpack is a planet-friendlier option for an all-purpose travel bag.

Made from 100% recycled polyester – other than the zipper teeth, which the brand is both working on and happy to cop to – and crafted from 29.2 renewed plastic bottles, the bag features an impressive 27-liter capacity and a host of other practical features designed to improve the travel experience.

Built with a 15″ exterior laptop pocket, internal and external water bottle pockets, two zip-closure pockets and two internal slip-pockets, the ReNew Transit Backpack also comes with a fluorine-free water-resistant finish, and is colored exclusively with bluesign®-approved dyes.

The Bag: Thule AllTrail X
The RRP: $129.95 USD
Where to get it:

Now, this is what you might call a serious bit of kit. It’s not for everyday use – unless, of course, you live the kind of life where hiking and general outdoors-related business do take up a significant portion of your time. In which case, good for you – that sounds great.

The AllTrail X is a heavy-duty bag: yes, it’s constructed with 50% recycled waxed polyester canvas, but it’s also proof – if you should need it – that “recycled” doesn’t have to mean weak. In fact, the recycled canvas used by Thule on this bag is five-times stronger and three-times more water resistant than traditional waxed cotton canvas.

Built, as the name suggests, for the trail, the AllTrail X features plenty of practical add-ons and comfort-oriented solutions beyond its fortress-like construction. A non-exhaustive list of which includes: a 25-liter capacity, breathable back panel, exterior compression straps, daisy chains, and attachment loops, multiple zippered stash pockets, a hydration sleeve that doubles as a 15″ laptop compartment, and a hipbelt for extra stability.

And, if you’re still not convinced, the bluesign® system member also maintains a test center in Hillerstorp, Sweden, where all its products are put through the wringer before they even reach the consumer – after, that is, they’re produced by the brand’s rigorously-audited, ethically-sound factories.

The Bag: F/CE.® 3-Way Helmet Bag
The RRP: $250
Where to get it: Universal Works

First things first: much like the Calvin Klein Crossbody Water Bag, you don’t need to own a helmet for this bag to be useful. In fact, its impressive 29-liter capacity means you can use it for pretty much anything you want.

The Tokyo-based brand says it best when it says that F/CE® exists at the intersection of functionality, culture, and exploration. Which, distilled even further, basically means that F/CE® products work, they look good, and they’re designed to keep you moving rather than hold you back. All of which is certainly true of the 3-Way Helmet Bag.

Among the many features this versatile product boasts, you’ll find a buckle-adjustable shoulder strap and a buckle closure system for the main compartment, two large front gusset pockets, a multi-compartment pocket and multi-use mesh pocket inside the zippered main compartment, an ergonomic handle and backpack straps that can be easily zipped away depending on your need and/or preference.

And, of course, it has the benefit of being crafted from 50% recycled nylon and 50% high-density weave 630D Cordura nylon – a composition which lends itself to claims of both durability and sustainability.

The Bag: Carhartt WIP Jake Hip Bag
The RRP: $58 USD
Where to get it:

Ask anyone with a passing interest in workwear, skatewear or streetwear where they get their hard-wearing basics and they’ll likely tell you Carhartt. Or, even more specifically, they’ll tell you Carhartt WIP.

A sub-division of the Michigan-based brand, WIP is somewhat more culturally ingrained than its big brother and – perhaps because of its closeness to more contemporary mores – often works with materials which reflect that. As an acronym for Work In Progress, this makes a lot of sense. After all, there are few bigger ongoing challenges than the planet-friendlier reform of the fashion industry.

And, in terms of this particular product, what we’re looking at here is what Carhartt WIP does best: with a 2.8-liter capacity, water-repellant finish and featuring two zippered compartments, the Jake Hip Bag is an everyday item, designed for maximum durability and maximum freedom. And, in this case, built with the benefit of a 97% recycled polyester construction.

The Bag: Herschel Supply Co. Little America Eco
The RRP: $60+ USD
Where to get it:

Much like the Fjällräven Kånken, you’ll have seen these bags everywhere. And, as with the Swedish brand, Canada’s Herschel Supply Co. has found itself reckoning with the impact of that success.

In answer to the environmental cost of its ubiquity, the brand has deliver a dedicated line of “Eco” variations on its most regonizable styles. The Retreat Backpack, the Classic Backpack, and the Little America Backpack all feature here – in an array of sizes and colors – re-tooled with recycled materials.

Made from 20 post-consumer water bottles, the Little America Backpack Eco is a prime example of just how easily these styles translate to Earth-friendlier mirror images. Complete with the same 25-liter capacity, the same 15″/16″ laptop sleeve, and the same dual water bottle pockets, what’s changed here is that the main body fabric of the bag and the fabric liner are both 100% recycled. (The latter even features a “recycle/reuse” print.

The Bag: Chilly’s x RÆBURN Bottle Bag
The RRP: $58 USD
Where to get it:

Now, a water bottle company may not be the first thing you think of when you think about sustainability. And that’s understandable. They don’t quite have the glamor or allure of fashion and footwear brands and it’s fair to say that there’s a little less razzle-dazzle in the bottle business. Still, maybe that’s a mistake: after all, given that Chilly’s bottles are made from high-grade stainless steel, not only are the products themselves not made from plastic but – for every bottle bought – it stands to reason that a few less plastic water bottles are likely to be sold.

In terms of Chilly’s specifically, the London-based brand also makes good use of collaboration: having previously worked with the environmental charity City to Sea, environmentally conscious design outfit RÆBURN now has its turn with Chilly’s on a broader project. The star of which, they themselves will tell you, is Chilly’s x RÆBURN Bottle Bag.

Like the other Bottle Bag featured in this list, there’s definitely room for more than just bottles here. In theory, you can fill it with whatever you like – it’s certainly big enough for your everyday essentials, so long as they’re not a particularly weird shape. However, what’s different from the previous Bottle Bag, is that – with this one – you don’t have to: the Chilly’s x RÆBURN effort is a double-header, featuring a companion piece in the form of a Packaway Sling Bag.

And, of course, given RÆBURN’s well-established progressive credentials, there’s a material aspect at play which makes this collaboration more than just an aesthetic effort: the main event is constructed from 60% Recycled Polyester and 40% Repurposed Nylon, while the Packaway Sling support act is 100% recycled Polyester.

The Bag: Bellroy MIRUM® Sling Bag
The RRP: $170 USD
Where to get it:

Plant-based and plastic-free, Natural Fiber Welding’s MIRUM® material is a lower-impact alternative to animal-derived leathers. It is, in many ways, also an alternative to the other alternatives out there – materials which, billed as “vegan leather,” are far-too-often found using petrochemical-based PU and TPU to coat their product.

And it’s a product put to good work here by Australian small goods brand Bellroy. Reworking its Sling Bag with MIRUM® instead of animal-derived leather, the bag – part of a larger collection which also features cardholders and wallets – manages to the straddle the line between minimalist and premium aesthetics without losing functionality.

In terms of those practicalities, the MIRUM® Sling Bag consists of a 4-liter capacity, expandable storage gusset, padded paneling for extra comfort, a zippered front compartment, a main compartment with the added bonus of a soft-lined sunglasses pouch, and – saving the best for last – a built-in key clip designed to eliminate the hateful act of rummaging.

When it comes to the MIRUM® aspect, it’s really more of an aesthetic choice – an added extra, replacing what would normally be an animal leather component. That being said, the bulk of the bag’s construction is formed from a durable recycled nylon, ensuring that those Earth-friendlier elements aren’t negeclted.

The Bag: PORTER “OLDNEW” Collection
The RRP: $360+ USD
Where to get it:

Rounding things off in style, then, this list’s final entry exists at the higher-investment end of the financial spectrum. Here, Japanese legacy brand PORTER – now in its 61st year of producing high-end bags and luggage – offers up something a little different.

Existing at the intersection of contemporary aesthetics and traditional craft, the “OLDNEW” collection is a literal expression of PORTER’s ethos. Newly released this week as part of the Luggage Label sub-division, the Rucksack, Shoulder Bag and Newspaper Bag don’t actually feature any Earth-friendlier materials per se. What’s interesting about these bags, however, isn’t what they’re made from so much as what how they’re made.

While neither the nylon twill or nylon taffeta of the construction are recycled – though they are, it’s worth noting, cruelty-free – the bags are dyed without the use of the kinds of harmful pigments or high-impact, heavy water-usage processes that characterize modern coloring. Instead, they’re dyed with fruit – persimmons to be exact.

Watched over by master craftsmen Seiji Omae and Shinya Mizutani, the bags are soaked in fermented green (unripened) persimmons by artisans Seiji Omae and Shinya Mizutani and then dried au naturel – that is, in the sun. All of which creates a wholly new coloration on each product – a unique bag that’s naturally fade-resistant and soft to the touch.