Looking to make your next trip a little greener? Start with your suitcase. Traveling with a lighter effect on the planet has gotten easier, thanks to innovations in recycled and other sustainable gear. By using recycled plastics and fishing nets, as well as postindustrial cotton that would otherwise end up in a landfill, the following companies have prioritized sustainability and adventure.
A carbon-neutral roller carry-on, the Aviator showcases modern-day recycling at its best. The suitcase includes a recycled polycarbonate shell, recycled zippers, a lining made from upcycled plastic bottles, and recycled vegan leather — a composite made from plastics — and a telescopic handle made from durable, recycled aluminum. Paravel offsets the carbon emissions generated from manufacturing and shipping the Aviator, and it also offsets the estimated emissions of your first trip.
A lightweight tote that can be carried messenger-bag-style or as a backpack, the colorful Taal is made from leftover fabric as part of Cotopaxi’s (Re)Purpose collection. Workers use leftover fabric destined for a landfill from other companies to piece together this bag. Customize your colors or let them pick for you. The tote is big enough for a water bottle, guidebook, phone, wallet and windbreaker, with room left over for souvenirs.
Leakproof, watertight reusable capsules for shampoo, lotion and anything else you need in travel-size containers or smaller tiles, Cadence systems are made from recycled ocean-bound plastic (20 percent) and repurposed and reground manufacturing scraps (30 percent). The capsules and tiles are magnetic, so you can make a bundle. The capsules, which are BPA free and compliant with Transportation Security Administration rules, eliminate the need for single-use travel bottles, encourage buying everyday products in bulk, and support beach cleanup through Cadence’s partnership with Envision Plastics. Plus, packaging is recyclable: Shipping labels are compostable and recyclable, and the seed-embedded paper is plantable and recyclable.
One of the first companies to make reusable, stainless-steel water bottles, Klean Kanteen has grown into an international business with a dedicated commitment to sustainability. The manufacturing process uses certified 90 percent post-consumer recycled stainless steel, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy demands. The company is also a certified B Corp (it meets social and environmental transparency standards), 1% for the Planet member (it donates 1 percent of its sales to environmental causes), and Climate Neutral Certified (it is offsetting and reducing its carbon footprint). Best of all, these bottles maintain liquid temperatures, come with interchangeable, leakproof caps.
A little goes a long way with this mineral sunscreen with 25 percent zinc oxide. Mineral sunscreen creates a protective barrier between skin and the sun’s rays, and it’s not absorbed into the skin. But unlike zinc protection of the past, KINeSYS’s option goes on white but quickly rubs in entirely. Its only active ingredient is zinc oxide, and the product doesn’t contain any chemicals known to harm reefs. Inactive ingredients include aloe leaf extract, beeswax, coconut oil, peppermint oil and rosemary oil.
Formerly the purview of river guides, signature styles of these comfortable sandals now feature webbings made from 100 percent recycled plastic. Through a partnership with Unifi, which developed a fiber made of recycled plastic bottles, Chaco aims to divert millions of plastic bottles from landfills. The company also has a robust repair program to encourage customers to mend old sandals instead of buying new ones.
With frames made from a blend of agricultural grasses and recycled plastic (30 percent grass fibers, 70 percent recycled plastics) and polarized lenses made from the castor plant instead of traditional plastics, Zeal’s Calistogas are durable and sustainable. They’re part of Zeal’s See Grass Collection, which is produced at a closed-loop German biorefinery that grows and harvests the grasses, then processes the fibers into material. A methane turbine powers the biorefinery and runs on decomposing organic matter, which becomes fertilizer used to grow the grasses.
This classic maillot — soft, lightweight and glamorous — is made from 100 percent recycled material sourced from items that include old fishing nets and plastic bottles. The women-owned, Swedish company produces its apparel in factories that use renewable energy, and it ships products with no plastic and minimal packaging (all of which is recyclable).
Extraordinarily soft and odor-free, bamboo is also breathable, dries quickly and protects against UV rays. But it’s the fiber’s provenance that makes this shirt (and all of Free Fly’s apparel) sustainable. The certified organic bamboo in Free Fly’s products grows quickly without the use of pesticides or irrigation, and it’s harvested responsibly to prevent soil erosion. Free Fly also uses natural solvents in bamboo viscose production, which means that no harsh chemicals are emitted into the factory or environment.
The right travel pants are comfortable and lightweight. They’re soft, have just the right number of pockets, and can be dressed up with a nice shirt or worn casually with rolled-up hems. And they’re made with recycled fishing nets. Meet the Grundéns Sidereal pants. Originally for anglers, this pant checks all the boxes for sustainable travel apparel, including its shipping material: 100 percent biodegradable packaging made from a polylactide produced from cornstarch.
Denim is not traditionally lauded for being environmentally friendly, but these jean shorts, or “jorts,” represent a new generation of sustainable denim. Made with a blend that includes recycled polyester and postindustrial cotton (leftovers from manufacturing that are repurposed and diverted from a landfill), Ripton’s jorts are as soft as pajamas and as durable as work pants. When hiking, cycling or simply traveling, they’re built to last and can go long stretches between washes.
Washing clothing less saves water and prolongs the life of a garment, and that’s one element of Icebreaker’s environmental ethos. Made from natural fibers, these briefs will not shed, at least not on par with their plastic counterparts, whose microfibers make their way into the environment and pollute water and air. Wool microfibers, by contrast, are biodegradable. Icebreaker uses plant-based pigments in certain products to reduce the amount of chemicals in the dyeing process, and the company publishes an exhaustive sustainability report on its website.
Made entirely with recycled fabric, this lightweight, compressible jacket is water- and windproof. Built with recycled Pertex Revolve fabric, the Downpour has a polyester outer and membrane, which means it can be more easily recycled at the end of its life than other jackets made from multiple polymer layers. Rab, a British-based company, has reduced its emissions by 17.4 percent per product since 2019, purchases 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and committed to purchasing more recycled materials than virgin. In 2021, according to a company sustainability report, 63 percent of purchased fabric was recycled, compared with 4 percent in 2019.
Both the shell and the insulation of this ultra-packable (it shrinks to a compact cylinder) and lightweight travel blanket are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. In 2021, Rumpl became a certified B Corp, which compels the company to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and accountability; it also partners with 1% for the Planet.
Walker is a writer based in Boulder, Colo. Find her on Twitter: @racheljowalker.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.