Eco Back to School: The right backpacks for junior eco warriors

In the next few weeks, many eco blogs and websites will have posts and articles about eco-friendly school supplies, including backpacks made of hemp or recycled materials. Recycla thinks that earth-friendly gear is great, but she has slightly different criteria in mind for what constitutes a good backpack for students. While eco materials are great, what’s more important is how durable the backpacks are and if they can hold up to the daily wear and tear of student life. If you are going to spend $40, $50, or more on a backpack, you want it to last a looooooong time and not have the zipper bust during the first month or the fabric rip in the middle of 4th period. If a well-made backpack just happens to be made from recycled materials, all the better.

2004. That backpack is still going strong.

Recycla has two daughters in middle school, so she knows what it’s like to shop for school supplies and try to balance budget needs with durability. Where does she buy backpacks for her family? Two places: L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Hands down, these are the best school backpacks. Both companies  carry packs of all sizes, colors, and configurations, so there’s something to suit every student’s needs. They’re durable and they last for years.

What you want to avoid is a backpack that is made with cheap plastic or PVC. You know the kind — they’re sold at big box stores and are usually priced in the $10-$20 range. Rarely do they last through an entire school year, so parents are left scrambling for a replacement in February or March. In addition, those cheap backpacks are often made overseas and some have been shown to contain unacceptable levels of lead in them. Yes, lead. In a child’s backpack.

A backpack that costs a little more may seem like an unnecessary expense, but do the math: If your child uses a $50 backpack for five years, that’s $10/year, which breaks down to just pennies per use during a 180 day school year, not including weekends and summers.

There is one cautionary tale that needs to be added to this post: One of Recycla’s daughters got a new backpack from L.L. Bean last year. After a year of use, one of the zippers broke. Replacing or repairing zippers is beyond Recycla’s capabilities, so she  contacted L.L. Bean customer service to find out how to return the backpack to be repaired. She was surprised to discover that L.L. Bean does not repair backpacks.The company has a wonderful 100% satisfaction guaranteed return policy and they were happy to replace the backpack at no charge, but that would have meant that the old backpack would have ended up in a landfill. Recycla felt that this was not at all acceptable, since all the backpack needed was a new zipper. After some searching, she found a local tailor that could repair the zipper, although the cost was more than she really wanted to pay. That is the one and only time that Recycla has had a problem with an L.L. Bean backpack and there are several others in her house in varying stages of use and aging and all are holding up wonderfully well.

Other companies that sell well-made backpacks and messenger bags include REI, Patagonia, Timbuktu, and Keen. Check their websites to see which bags are made with recycled materials. All of the companies mentioned have good corporate ethics that include a commitment to the environment.

There are plenty of eco backpack and messenger bag options out there, but Recycla does not know how well they are made or how long they will hold up.

So that’s the annual school bag round up. What about you? Where do you get your school bags?
Disclaimer: The Eco Women are not employed by the companies mentioned here, nor were they asked to review their products. No compensation was received.

6 thoughts on “Eco Back to School: The right backpacks for junior eco warriors

  1. Thanks so much for the post… I’m in the market for a durable hiking backpack, being very disappointed with the WFS Element Gear I picked up at our Army/Navy store. Looks like I’ll be checking out Ecogear! Thanks again.

  2. We’re huge fans of JanSport, especially since their factory is right here in our city, so we can get some great deals on their products. One backpack from them can last a student’s entire school career plus they do repair their backpacks if they have issues.

  3. I agree, definitely go for Land’s End/LL Bean!! I actually still own my Kindergarden/First Grade backpack and use it for hiking/arts and crafts/smaller trips. And I’m now 23!

  4. My son had a Swiss Army backpack that lasted from 5th grade through mid-Junior year of High School. I remember at the time questioning spending $40 or $50 on a backpack, but it was totally worth it. He’d probably still be using it if he didn’t routinely over stuff it :-). Most days I can’t even lift his backpack, but that’s a whole different issue!

  5. We buy Jansport backpacks as well. My son is hard on backpacks. He’s blind, and he uses a wheeled backpack to carry his Braille books and adaptive tech devices. Jansport has been true to their lifetime guarantee. We’ve tested it!

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