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by , May 30, 2013


We’ve touched on the recycled materials topic before, not too deep, but just a glance. Which, after re-reading it a while back, made us think we should probably jump a bit deeper into it. So we’ve pulled this post together to help us all get a better understanding of the factors brands face when developing carry with eco in mind.

There’s some brands out there who are doing a great job, we’ve highlighted them below. If we’ve missed any brands, or facts/points, please do let us know. This is an ongoing education for us all, and one area we all need to be well educated in.


To start with, how does one “measure” the eco-friendliness of carry items? Say hello to Bluesign… 

Several companies have their own norms and specifications (like Klattermüsen and Vaude) but there’s also Bluesign®. Bluesign® is an established standard for measuring the cycle from raw materials to chemical components to resources for carry items. Companies such as Vaude, Haglofs, The North Face and others comply with Bluesign® and have their production audited from time to time. An elaborate description of the Bluesign® standard can be found here. Quick note, Nike have just signed up as well. 



Eco-friendly carry items start with design. What materials are used (see further on), how much material is used, which specific production methods are necessary for producing the item. You can also look at how durable an item is designed. A bag that will last for 25 years will probably make a smaller footprint than five bags that last five years.

The catch there is while creating a bag to last 25 years is a great goal, how many items do you use daily now that you were using 25 years ago? Progression creates better products, so we’d like to think that as our designers progress so too can the ability to make a bag that’s both functional and relevant today and tomorrow. So what gives our gear the best chance of being relevant in 25 years? My guess is keeping it pretty basic and allowing for adaptation (through things like modularity).


Materials used

Another factor of eco-friendliness is the material that is used for the carry item. Organic cotton, hemp, recycled nylon, and recycled PET bottles are frequently used materials in more eco-friendly carry. Again, we’ve already taken a look at carry brands using recycled materials like fire hoses and truck tarp. Bluesign® makes a difference in materials that touch the skin and ones that don’t.

Materials are what consumers will experience when using the items, although not everyone might see the difference between nylon and recycled nylon or normal cotton and organic cotton. Here’s a story from Patagonia’s website on what made them make the change to organic cotton:

(From Patagonia’s website): “In the spring of 1988, Patagonia opened a store in Boston on Newbury Street. Within days, the people who worked in the store were sick: mainly headaches. We hired an engineer who told us the problem was the ventilation system: it was recycling the same tired air. But what was in the air? Probably formaldehyde, she told us. From the finish on the cotton clothes stored in the basement. Formaldehyde? This led us to commission a study of conventional cotton, and the discovery that cotton grown with pesticides is one of the most destructive crops in the agricultural world. Knowing what we knew, we could not continue to use conventional cotton for our sportswear. We went organic in 1996.”

Black Hole Ortho Rocks

Production process and logistics

A big part of the eco-friendliness of carry items is in the production process and logistics. How much waste is generated in cutting cloth, how much water, energy or chemical substances (tanned leather, anyone?) are used, where are parts of the item sourced, how are items transported. Consumers will rarely notice these things. Even harder to establish is if the designers and manufacturers of the products go to work by car or by bicycle.

Rivendell Mountain Works
Brands like Rivendell Mountain Works have a “locally sourced” strategy: “Supporting our “backyard” by utilizing local suppliers and manufacturers is what we are about. We believe this to be a valid approach to the economies of production and beneficial to the environment in its own small way.”


Packaging and presentation

If you buy a perfectly eco-friendly bag, wrapped in six layers of plastic, sold in a store lit by 100-watt light bulbs and run by amateur pilots/race car drivers who like to dump waste in a nearby lake every weekend, is it still eco-friendly?

Catherine introduced us to some outdoor retailers a while ago, amongst others to REI. REI has its own sustainable operations policy with goals like: “Become climate-neutral in our operations by 2020” and “Become a zero waste-to-landfill organization by 2020”.


After sales service

Is there any eco-friendliness after a carry item has been sold? Yes there is. Some companies spend part of the profits made on eco-projects. Some have a recycling programme, even so far as paying money for returned used bags.

Klättermusen are launching a unique recycling programme – rECOver. Consumers who return their used Klättermusen products to the shop will get back their deposits worth 1, 5, 10 or 20 Euros. The programme will also donate used and repaired outdoor clothing to charity. Initially, rECOver includes textiles made from polyester, nylon and polypropylene, as well as metals. Nylon and polypropylene have so far been difficult to recycle, but Klättermusen is one of the first in the industry to include them in a recycling programme. From 2009, all of Klättermusen’s products will have a small label attached to them. The label states the value of the deposit: 1, 5, 10 or 20 Euros.


Thoughts? Ideas? Opinions?
This post wasn’t so much a spew forth of facts, but more, we hope, a conversation starter that sparks something in the comments.
Have you got a rad eco idea? Do you think some brands should be ‘championed’ more for the eco approach?

Hit us up, could be some great conversation happening…


Pssst, we grabbed the header image from here. It’s pretty rad huh! Go check more out.
Oh, and that real nice sketch image under ‘Design’? We got that image from here. 

  • Marcela

    I love your site. Check out On-Sight Equipment’s products. I just took my Petite Fille Two on a hiking trip to Iceland. I feel great about having a well made pack from a responsible company. Your post is timely. 😉


    BTW, I do not represent the company, I am just a carry geek. I bought my awesome daypack at MEC.


  • The Potato Man

    The most ecological bag is the one that is already in existence. Even if it is made out of the hides of dead baby seals, it is more ecologically sound to use that bag for its full lifespan, than replace it with something new. The ecological cost has already been paid, whether it is thrown out tomorrow, or in 10 years time. This is also a great argument for taking really good care of the bags (and indeed most other things) that you already own. There is a similar argument here with cars.

    Another goal for extending the relevance of a product is classic design. A 25 year old Hermes Birkin or Prada Tote is just as fashionable today as a brand new one in the shop. One of the reasons why leather isn’t necessarily as bad an ecological investment as the process by which it is produced would imply. Why have 10 cheap faux leather handbags when one or two really good leather ones are perfect for any situation or outfit.

    Also, I think specificity is another great way for keeping a product relevant, as long as it is done well and applied to the right situation/product. I don’t have an example from the carry world, but think about a teapot. It pretty much only does one thing – make tea. There are other ways of making tea, but none of them really do it quite as well as a teapot. Will teapots still exist and continue to be a part of almost everyone’s home for the next 20 or 50 years. More than likely.

    • The Potato Man

      Great article by the way. Really got me thinking.

  • benjamin

    I just had this thought but if we gave up having high speed mass production and start to have stores that has samples to view then the bags will be made only when ordered it would ease up alot of the problem of waste. What i believe is that when brands have a new season of designs or colours, what happens to the older stock? are they all sold and used? the waste management of this area could be addressed and having made to order goods, esp for carry that last a long time, it would be a cool concept that creates skilled jobs for many. at the end of the day it is how much money do businesses want to make.

  • Sheena

    Great article and I hope it opens up further discussion.
    Design for repairability is also a consideration. Can you disassemble it to fix it (ie: wheels on luggage, stays in a hiking pack harness), are spare parts available from the brand/retailer, do they offer a repair service? Extending the useful life of a product is an important factor. Can you donate it or resell it when you are done?

    It would be great to see an article and disussion on the HIGG index for Equipment, which is being piloted now. It is probably going to be the most comprehensive tool for improving the sustainability of carry products. “The Higg Index aims to measure and evaluate the environmental and social/labor performance of a product from cradle to cradle.” HIGG indices are being co-developed by the Outdoor Industry Association and Sustainable Apparel Coalition with the input of outdoor industry brands.


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