Rucksacks

In this product guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 38 rucksack brands.

We also look at the materials used, toxics and animal welfare, as well as giving our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying a rucksack:

  • Is it PVC-free? Rucksacks need to be waterproof, but make sure that the rucksack you buy isn't finished with a PVC coating. Look out for packs which are coated in polyurethane (PU) instead.

  • Is it recycled? Some of the rucksacks in this guide are made from recycled material. This significantly reduces the environmental impact of your purchase.

  • Does it have a wooden frame? Bigger rucksacks often have frames for rigidity. Choosing a wooden frame over an aluminium one can reduce a bags' overall carbon emissions by up to 90%.

Best Buys

All of the following are our best buys for rucksacks:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a rucksack?

  • Is it made with toxic chemicals? Chemicals such as PFCs and phthalates have been linked to a range of health problems including asthma, obesity, breast cancer and endocrine disruption. We marked companies down under Pollution & Toxic if they failed to show commitment to phasing out these chemicals.

  • Does it have an aluminium frame? Bigger rucksacks also have frames, which are most often aluminium. Aluminium is famously energy intensive to make, and so it is believable when Fjällräven claim that their own analysis of one of their rucksacks showed the frame to be the part with the biggest environmental impact.

  • Is it abusing animal rights? Many rucksack brands also make down goods such as jackets. Some down is 'harvested' from geese and ducks whilst they are still alive, a process which is repeated year on year. Of the companies who sell animal down, the only ones that have decent policies to prevent live-plucking are Patagonia, Fjällräven and Sprayway.

Companies to avoid

The brands at the bottom of our table showed little or no sign of mitigating their environmental impacts or safeguarding workers in their supply chain. We'd like to highlight Jack Wolfskin and Nike. Jack Wolfskin's owners, the Blackstone Group, also own the infamous SeaWorld Parks. Nike were marked down for a host of workers' rights abuses and animal welfare issues.

  • Jack Wolfskin
  • Nike

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Fjallraven recycled rucksacks [S]

Company Profile: Fjallraven
12

Deuter rucksacks

Company Profile: Deuter Sport GmbH
11.5

Haglofs recycled rucksacks [S]

Company Profile: Haglöfs Holding AB
11.5

Fjallraven rucksacks

Company Profile: Fjallraven
11

Patagonia recycled rucksack [S]

Company Profile: Patagonia Inc
11

Haglofs rucksacks

Company Profile: Haglöfs Holding AB
10.5

Howies rucksack

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
10

Osprey rucksacks

Company Profile: Osprey Packs Inc
10

Patagonia rucksack

Company Profile: Patagonia Inc
10

Sprayway rucksacks

Company Profile: Outdoor & Sports Company (OSC) Limited
10

Lichfield pacs

Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
9

Mammut rucksacks

Company Profile: Mammut Sports Group AG
9

Montane rucksacks

Company Profile: Montane
9

Trespass rucksacks

Company Profile: Jacobs & Turner Ltd
9

Vango rucksacks

Company Profile: AMG Group Ltd
9

Hi Gear rucksacks

Company Profile: Go Outdoors Ltd
8.5

Lowe Alpine rucksacks

Company Profile: Lowe Alpine UK Limited
8.5

Mountain Warehouse rucksacks

Company Profile: Mountain Warehouse Limited
8.5

Regatta rucksacks

Company Profile: Regatta Ltd
8.5

Craghoppers Packs

Company Profile: Craghoppers
8

Columbia Rucksacks

Company Profile: Columbia Sportswear Co Inc
7.5

Mizuno Rucksacks

Company Profile: Mizuno Corporation
7.5

New Balance rucksacks

Company Profile: New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc
7.5

Quechua packs

Company Profile: Oxylane Group (Decathlon)
7.5

Adidas rucksacks

Company Profile: Adidas AG
7

Arc'Teryx Rucksack

Company Profile: Arc'Teryx Equipment Inc
7

Reebok rucksacks

Company Profile: Reebok International Ltd
7

Salomon rucksacks

Company Profile: Salomon S.A.S
7

Ayacucho rucksacks

Company Profile: Outdoor and cycle concepts
6.5

Puma rucksacks

Company Profile: Puma Group
6.5

Gelert rucksack

Company Profile: Gelert Limited
6

Hurley backpack

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Jordan Backpack

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Karrimor rucksacks

Company Profile: Karrimor
6

Nike Backpack

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Jack Wolfskin recycled packs [S]

Company Profile: Jack Wolfskin Ausrüstung für Draussen GmbH & Co.KGaA
5

Marmot Rucksacks

Company Profile: Marmot Mountain, LLC
4.5

Jack Wolfskin Packs

Company Profile: Jack Wolfskin Ausrüstung für Draussen GmbH & Co.KGaA
4

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Most rucksacks are made by general outdoor companies, although there are a few companies who focus specifically on rucksacks, such as Osprey, Fjällräven and Deuter. 

In this guide we focus on the materials that rucksacks are made out of, but since so many companies also make other outdoor kit, we also look at their policies on animal down.

Image: Ethical Consumer rucksacks guide

Materials 

While daysacks are still sometimes made of cotton canvas, it is considered too heavy for bigger packs. 

Larger rucksacks are now nearly all made of polyester or nylon with a synthetic waterproof coating. The coating is commonly polyurethane (PU), the same coating used to make the vegetarian leather used in shoes.

However, there are some that still use PVC, which is much more environmentally toxic. Hi Gear, Trespass, Regatta, Fjällräven, Vango, Craghoppers, Gelert, Addidas, Puma, Reebok and Hurley all sell some PVC rucksacks, and have therefore been marked down in the pollution and toxics category on the table.

Bigger rucksacks also have frames, which are most often aluminium, although some high end rucksacks use expensive composite materials instead. Aluminium is famously energy intensive to make, and so it is believable when Fjällräven claim that their own analysis of one of their ruckacks showed the frame to be the part with the biggest environmental impact.

They now make a rucksack with a wooden frame, which they claim this has reduced the emissions of the frame by 90%. Rather disappointingly, no one seems to make a rucksack with a recycled frame. 

Fjällräven, Haglofs, Jack Wolfskin and Patagonia all make some rucksacks out of recycled polyester. Each receives a product sustainability mark on the table above for this. As well as diverting plastic from landfill, recycling polyester uses about a-third-to-a-half less energy than producing virgin polyester, and generates half the greenhouse gas emissions.[1] 

Notable ratings – toxics and animal down

A number of toxic chemicals are used in the outdoor industry, particularly PFCs and phthalates, which have been linked to a range of health problems including asthma, obesity, breast cancer and endocrine disruption. As a result we rated all companies on their policies to phase out these chemicals. And they didn’t do too well. All brands receive our worst rating on toxics apart from Fjällräven, Patagonia, Mammut, Quechua New Balance, Adidas, Puma, Nike and Howies. 

Of the companies who sell animal down, the only ones which have decent policies to prevent live-plucking are Patagonia, Fjällräven and Sprayway. We discuss live plucking more in our guide to outdoor jackets.

The only brands that do not sell products containing down are Howies, Arc’Teryx, Craghoppers, Haglofs, Salomon, Mizuno, Adidas, Nike and Osprey. 

Company profile

Fjällräven is the consumer-facing brand name for the Swedish company Fenix Outdoor International. It started in 1960, intending to design more comfortable rucksacks than were around at the time. 

Fenix Outdoor is an environmentally conscious company, as can be seen by its exploring of ways reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of its rucksacks. It focuses on equipment that is high quality and functional rather than glitzy. 

Fenix gets our middle rating for Environmental Reporting and Toxics, and our best rating for Supply Chain Management. It uses animal down in some of its products, but has a good policy to prevent the use of live plucking, and it only uses wool from non-mulesed sheep. 

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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References:

  1. “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester”, by Cherrett et al, Stockholm Environment Institute