Returning To School This Fall?
Then you know there isn’t an item quite as important as your backpack. For starters, it needs to be comfortable—and stylish. It should hold all your books and keep your laptop safe. Better yet, it would be great to have a bag that’s also water resistant for rainy days. And it should have a side pocket. Hopefully, one big enough for storing your water bottle or coffee mug.
What’s most important to us though, is to find a backpack that is ethically-made—a bag that is kind to its makers and the environment. While not all of these backpacks have the features described above (some come close!), they are all ethical and sustainable. Most are also created to last not only for one school year but for generations. This means less waste and a bag you can pass down or keep using even after your school days are over.
Whether you’re moving to college, starting high school, or have children who are starting school this year, here are some of the most stylish, functional, and responsibly-made backpacks we’ve found on the market.
1. United By Blue
Best For | Multi-purpose canvas backpacks for adventurous adults & children
Ethics | Certified B Corp, Waterway Cleanup Program
Our Pick | 25L Rift Pack
Price Range | $32–$178
If your ideal study break involves getting outside and hiking trails, put a United By Blue backpack at the top of your back-to-school list. Made from sustainable materials, each backpack is durable and functional—for school, travel, and outdoor adventures. With plenty of options, many of the eco-friendly backpacks have laptop sleeves, water bottle pockets, and convert to a cross body totes, and some are even water repellent. Created for the kids (and adults) who’d rather study nature than binge Netflix, United By Blue bags are what’s in style this fall—plus they have a lifetime guarantee. Best of all, for every bag you buy, one pound of trash is removed from our waterways.
Best For | Women-specific fit & multi-purpose water repellent backpacks
Ethics | 100% recycled materials, solution dyes, fair trade, transparent production
Our Pick | Arbor Daypack
Price Range | $59–$299
Patagonia is known for creating products that are versatile and multi-purpose, and this couldn’t be truer than with their extensive backpack collection. Carefully constructed to encourage simpler and more conscious living, the Patagonia packs are made to meet all your needs. Whether you use it for school, as a carry-on, or as an overnight bag, Patagonia backpacks are built for transition. They are also made to last, and the Ironclad Guarantee promises to replace or repair any product that you’re not satisfied with. For school this fall, check out the water repellent Arbor packs. Dyed with a solution that saves 1/2 gallon of water per bag and uses 96% less CO2 than conventional dyes, these backpacks are stylish, practical, and kind to the environment.
Best For | Cool & stylish give-back backpacks for kids
Ethics | Gives back, fair trade, vegan bags
Our Pick | Kent (Metallic)
Price Range | $55–$140
Head back to class in style with a personalized and responsibly-made backpack from STATE. This Brooklyn-based give back company is passionate about equipping at-risk youth with tools for success. With every bag purchased, a brand-new STATE backpack filled with school supplies is hand-delivered to local students who are in-need. While STATE makes stylish bags for men, women, and children, we especially love this brand for helping teach kids about kindness and the importance of helping others. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, relative, or family friend, tell the kids in your life about the STATE give-back initiative and help them pick out a backpack for school this fall. They also have lunch boxes and pencil cases!
4. Lo & Sons
Best For | Minimalist looks with maximum functionality
Ethics | Eco-friendly & recycled materials, organic textiles, gives back, small business
Our Pick | Edgemont Convertible Backpack & Tote
Price Range | $118–$428
Mothers know best, and that’s the case with Lo & Sons, too. After looking for a functional, affordable, and durable backpack and coming up short, Helen Lo took things into her own hands. Today, they’re a small family-owned business that puts sustainability and eco-friendly practices at the center of their work. Made for frequent travelers, their bags have plenty of pockets and compartments, adjustable sleeves, and sturdy-yet-sleek fabrics that can withstand any kind of globetrotting. We’re huge fans of the Edgemont Backpack, that seamlessly turns into a tote—it’s a two-in-one kind of deal.
Best For | Secondhand backpacks for any age, gender, or style
Ethics | Recycled/upcycled products, eco-friendly practices
Our Pick | Coach Yellow Backpack
Price Range | Starting at $13.99
Say goodbye to textile waste and hello to functionality with thredUP’s line of gently-used backpacks. All of their inventory is either new with/without tags or gently used, so you can find the over-shoulder, bucket backpack, or the crossbody you’ve been looking for. With some of the world’s largest and high-quality brands at up to 90% off, getting the backpack of your dreams has never been easier. And since fashion will be responsible for ¼ of the world’s carbon by 2050, it’s time we take action and go for secondhand first.
Best For | Funky & vibrant unisex backpacks with laptop sleeves
Ethics | Made in the USA
Our Pick | The Flyer Pack
Price Range | $65–$152
If you like patches, vibrant colors, and unique prints, you’ll love sporting a Mokuyobi backpack this fall. Created for the kids who prefer to stand out, these ‘rad bags’ are perfect for carrying books around campus while turning a few heads in the meantime. Since bright colors and fun patterns are proven to make others smile, Mokuyobi intentionally designs funky and unique backpacks that will brighten everyone’s day—including yours. Made from scratch in sunny Los Angeles, these responsibly-made packs are perfect for school, or just to carry around on the weekend. And don’t worry, Mokuyobi backpacks also boast durability: a lifetime manufacturer warranty ensures you’ll be wearing this backpack for years to come.
Best For | Comfortable unisex backpacks designed to protect the environment
Ethics | Made from nontoxic, recycled materials, sustainable & fair production practices
Our Pick | Classic Kånken
Price Range | $55–$225
Born in 1960 in Sweden, Fjällräven backpacks were created by outdoorsman Åke Nordin out of pure necessity: he needed a bag that would hold his gear and sit comfortably on his back. Now, almost 50 years later, Fjällräven has grown into a sustainable outdoors brand loved by conscious adventurers all over the globe. The Kånken backpack, launched in 1978 to protect students’ backs, is our pick for carrying your books, laptop, and school supplies this fall. This responsibly-made bag, which comes in 55 colors, also doubles as a water-resistant adventure bag and is terrific for carrying your trail snacks or books for the beach. Fjällräven backpacks are ultra-comfortable and perfect for students of all ages.
Best For | Affordable & stylish backpacks for the modern man and woman
Ethics | Fair trade and responsible production, radical transparency
Our Pick | The Snap Backpack
Price Range | $48–$80
From our friends at Everlane, responsibly-made backpacks are what’s hot this season. With a growing and affordable collection designed for the modern man and woman on campus, these spacious and stylish backpacks can hold your laptop, notebooks, water bottle, and accessories. Many of the packs are also water-resistant. Everlane’s minimalist-chic bags, available in neutral colors, are everything you need to make a first-day back statement.
9. EST WST
Best For | Artisan-influenced backpacks
Ethics | Natural, organic & recycled materials, fair trade, recycled packaging, made in the USA
Our Pick | KTM City Rucksack
Price Range | $110–$148
Collaborating with farmers and artisans in South Asia, EST WST is passionate about fostering connection between cultures. EST WST hopes to inspire exploration of interconnectedness around the world. While the bags are made in the USA, custom-designed textiles from weavers abroad are also incorporated into many of the backpacks. Other features include waterproof lining, laptop pockets, and vegetable-tanned leather. A brand as passionate about the environment as they are people, every EST WST backpack is also 100% organic and made from recycled materials.
10. Terra Thread
Best For | Unisex handmade organic canvas bags
Ethics | Handmade with 100% organic materials & dyes, fair trade
Our Pick | Handmade Canvas Bag
Price Range | $59
Eco-friendly, handmade, and 100% organic, Terra Thread's affordable canvas backpack is perfect for conscious men and women returning to school this fall. While the bag only comes in one style, nine earth-tone color options allow for customization, and the handmade element of the pack means each one is unique. Other features of the Terra Thread backpack include a laptop sleeve, padded shoulders, and lead-free zippers. Made in a Fair Trade Certified Factory, every backpack promotes economic development and empowers farmers and workers, in addition to supporting environmental sustainability.
11. Pixie Mood
Best For | Feminine, vegan leather backpacks that convert to crossbodies
Ethics | Cruelty-free, vegan materials, fair trade
Our Pick | Kim Backpack (Lavender)
Price Range | $80–$95
For a vegan leather bag, we’re swooning over the soft pastel and ombre-dyed backpacks by Pixie Mood. A Toronto-based brand founded in 2011, the ethical company is committed to offering women unique and stylish bags while remaining cruelty-free. The Pixie Mood collection features a wide array of sizes and styles that sport multiple pockets, gorgeous colors (check out the holographic options), and bags that convert to crossbody bags. These stylish backpacks are perfect for school and going out on the weekend.
Best For | One-of-a-kind unisex backpacks made from recycled sails
Ethics | Recycled materials & packaging, Certified B Corp, made in the USA
Our Pick | Sail Pack
Price Range | $75–$195
Take a story and a piece of the ocean with you to school this fall when you sport a one-of-a-kind MAFIA backpack. These bags are made from 80% recycled windsurfing, kitesurfing, and sailboat sails. The remaining elements of each pack are sourced from local suppliers in the USA, where the company is headquartered in San Francisco. MAFIA bags also come with a lifetime guarantee, although they are durable, water-resistant, and perfect for taking on weekend adventures when you’re not studying. These bags are shipped in recycled packaging—and if you have an old sail to donate, you can have a MAFIA backpack made for you, free of charge!