In search of better backpack

Saying goodbye is never easy.


After 10 long years of loyalty and faithful service, my trusty backpack was  on death’s door. Since I rescued it from the side of the road, it had done everything from carry my school books to carry my hiking gear up a mountain, to carry my clothes halfway around the world.


But it was finally done. Torn straps, busted zips and a base that had worn paper thin told me that it wasn’t going to last much longer. And I wasn’t going to wait until I dropped my laptop on the ground to find out.


But even though I’d loose my favourite backpack, I could now get my hands on a better, more sustainable one.


Problem is, the idea of an eco bag to me is a green, hand woven, highly decorated, tasseled pouch that vaguely rips off native american motifs. Hardly something that can be carried around in a corporate office. The thought of carrying that alongside my suit made me cringe.


Surprisingly though, a quick search showed me that I had options, lots of options. A deeper search showed me that ‘Eco Bags’ seem to be broken down into two groups:


Bags that are made from Repurposed/Upcycled materials and those that are made from Sustainable/Organic materials.


Repurposed bags are the ones that are made from materials that would normally be thrown out or cannot be recycled. Taking these materials which were going to be thrown into landfill and reusing them into a useful products extends their life significantly and reduces waste.

It also creates for some funky looking bags. I’ve found that the one thing that all repurposed bags have in common is a unique, industrial look to them. They don’t hide the fact that they were once something else but they’re styled in such a way that they look awesome.

These are the bags that are most at home in an office – some of them are in fact so well made that you wouldn’t know that it was a sustainable bag unless you checked the tag.


Freitag bags for example, turn the old truck tarpalins into bags. Making bags from the huge images from the side of these trucks make some really brightly coloured and contrasting bags. The best part is that, because they take different parts of the truck tarpaulins, each Freitag bag is unique.

One great example of the Freitag bag is the F251 Kowalski. It’s a simple, stylish, no nonsene bag made from the classsic Freitag mix of truck tarpaulins, old seat belts and bike parts. 

At $176 USD it’s not the cheapest bag on my shortlist, but it is the cheapest backpack that Freitag have to offer. 

Check out the stopmotion video below:
Another really good example of a repurposed/upcycled bag is the AirBag – it takes automotive components like airbags and seatbelts – which would be going straight into landfill – and turns them into modern clean looking backpacks.


I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the material an airbag is made of, but the material they’re made of is surprisingly soft and strong. The airbag isn’t as visually loud as the Freitag bag, but they also have the same industrial aesthetic. They’d be more in place on the shoulder of a busy executive than the Freitag.


Bags that are made from organic/sustainable materials are completely different.


These are bags that are made of eco friendly or sustainably sourced materials that can either be repaired or breakdown easily at the end of their life. I’ve broadened this range to include leather bags – as long as it’s sustainably sourced leather.


In addition to the materials, the manufacturers have also committed to sustainable practices such as certified organic, fully recycled or recyclable materials, fair work and fair pay policies, locally sourced and life cycle analysis.


Vegetable tanned and cruelty free leather bags are often the ultimate in sustainable materials – leather is highly durable but breaks down easily at the end of it’s life cycle.


The classic backpack from Utility Canvas is a great example of this. Simple and stylish, the two pouch backpack is made from Canvas (Cotton based). It’s minimalist aesthetic means that it’s only made of a few materials (I’m not sure what the zips are made off). This means that it would break down really easily at the end of its life.


The Djubi backpack from Temono leather in Australia is made from sustainably sourced, vegetable tanned kangaroo leather. Each handcrafted bag (made in their Melbourne Studio) is unique because it shows the unique marks and blemishes of each animal. It will also age and distress overtime, becoming even more unique 

Kangaroo leather is extremely soft and durable and holds up to a lot use. Unlike cows, Kangaroos don’t produce methane or damage the soil with hooves. It’s difficult to beat the environmental standards this brand meets.


When it comes to looks, these bags are completely different from their upcycled cousins, most show off the natural materials that they’re made off and feature earthy colour tones. Browns and greens tend to dominate the aesthetic here. You’d be forgiven for thinking that these bags are only suited for casual travel, but some of the more upmarket ones are just as comfortable in a business class as they are on the back of a camel.


Aside from looks and what they’re made of, the two types of bags also have different characteristics. Here’s short Pro’s and Con’s list of each.


Upcycled Sustainable materials
Pros – Repurposing materials that would normally go to waste

– Lightweight

– Strong

– Can be waterproof

– Often cheaper

– Materials are sourced sustainably

– Easier to repair

– Easier to find locally

– Last longer (especially leathers)

– Easily breakdown at end of life

Cons – Can be difficult to repair

– Harder to recycle at end of life

– Harder to source locally

– Difficult to recycle at the end of life

– Generally restricted to casual colours

– Heavier

– Not often waterproof

– Often more expensive


At the end of the day it all comes down to what your practical needs are and your budget. You’ve already made a massive leap forward by choosing to buy a sustainable product. So only other choice now is to find something that fits what you’re going to use the bag for. Daily commuting or international galavanting? Whatever you need there is a eco bag available for you.

So what did I buy?


After scouring the web for a good couple of hours, I had a shortlist of around four to sort through. Trouble was, they were all from overseas so I was facing a large shipping cost in addition to the cost of the bag itself. In one case the shipping was actually MORE than the cost of the bag.


I also had a budget as well. As much as I liked the higher end bags like Temono and Freitag, my budget was limited to $200 including shipping.


I was just about to give up when I came across a local company called Happy Cow. A Melbourne based company, Happy Cow specialises in making hip bags (think a more stylish bum bag) from leather offcuts, but they also do a small range of backpacks.


What caught my eye was the hemp canvas backpack. It’s large, tough and had the compartments arranged in a way that I needed them to be. It was also on sale!


It was only after I bought it that I found out that they were a local Melbourne based company. This meant that I wouldn’t have to wait too long for shipping, but also, the carbon footprint from shipping would be lower than getting it shipped from across the world.

Bigger companies like Freitag are stocked in a lot of stores, but if you like smaller, more boutique brands and you don’t want the hassle of shipping, local is the way to go.



It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to get a sustainable, eco friendly bag. And it’s great to see so many different styles and materials available.

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