Q: After a couple of airport freakouts and a rather vicious stomach virus (I suppose it is OK to drink bottled water in special circumstances), I’m happy to report that I survived this year’s summer vacation in one piece. Sadly, I can’t say the same for my luggage. It’s had a good run — my parents bought it for me back in the late ’90s before I embarked on a not-so-backpack-y collegiate tour of Europe — but after this summer, I’ve finally decided to retire it and replace it with a new set.


I have a new home for my old luggage all picked out — a local charity shop — but I haven’t figured out what to replace it with. Since companies are making everything from shoes to sleeping bags out of renewable and recycled materials, I figured that luggage could be made from these materials, too. But after a couple of exploratory looks at a local department store, I came away empty-handed. Any chance you can point me in the right direction with a few sustainable suitcase recommendations, if they’re indeed out there?


Let’s roll,

Alec — Oakland, Calif.

Hey Alec,

The first thing that comes to mind: Find a long, sturdy stick and tie an old Calvin Klein bed sheet around one end … you now have yourself a DIY designer bundle. Enjoy.

OK, in all seriousness there are numerous luggage options out there that aren’t made from nylon, polyester, fiberglass and/or PVC so I’m glad you asked. But before I make a few recommendations for new pieces, may I suggest going the vintage route? Given the rough and tumble nature of luggage, snagging a Don Draper-approved Samsonite in pristine condition might require legwork but you never know what wheeled wonder you might unearth on eBay, Craigslist or at flea markets, estate sales and vintage shops. You might have an easier time tracking down vintage Hermes or Louis Vuitton luggage, but I’m guessing you’re probably not willing to refinance your home in order to purchase a previously owned LV steamer trunk.

When shopping for new eco-luggage, I’d first and foremost look for pieces that are durable, long lasting and made from quality materials so that they serve you as long as possible. With those qualities in mind, Patagonia instantly comes to mind if you don’t mind a slightly outdoorsy but good-looking big piece of luggage. Described as a “storage locker on wheels,” I’m partial (I don’t exactly pack light) to Patagonia’s Freewheeler Max, a versatile gear bag made from 100 percent recycled polyester with suitcase-like features such as wheels, skid plates and a retractable handle. A smaller Freewheeler is available, too, if you don’t plan on packing your entire wardrobe the next time you head out of town.

If you’re on the hunt for a complete set rather than a suitcase a la carte, I’ve heard nothing but good things — this is an Oprah-approved product, btw — about the EcoCase 3 Piece Set from Heys. The set includes a trio of hard-sided rolling suitcases (28 inches, 24 inches and 19 inches) that are lightweight, expandable and made from 100 percent recycled ABS plastic. Bonus: EcoCases come in colors like red, green, turquoise and pink so they won’t get lost amidst a sea of black nylon when they come down the baggage claim ramp. For a more traditional look that’s no less green, Heys offers the five-piece Renovo set (three suitcases plus a rolling duffle and weekender bag) made from biodegradable Repreve recycled polyester fiber.

Ever think you could support America’s oldest environmental organization while shopping for suitcases? Well, now you can. The Sierra Club has teamed up with Ricardo Beverly Hills for the Muir Pass Collection of upright suitcases. While I’m not that crazy about the design or the colors that resulted from this collaboration, Muir Pass suitcases are affordable, built to last and made from zero PVC fabric along with other recycled/renewable materials.

Are you also on the market for overnighters, handbags and laptop cases? Although on the pricey side, I have a serious thing for the vegan leather goods for men produced by Matt & Nat. This eco-conscious company produces some truly gorgeous and green pieces, so save up and splurge.

Hope this helps, Alec. Drop a line and let me know what you end up deciding on. Happy rolling and don’t forget to leave home with a few Dynomighty luggage tags.

— Matt

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Photos: Jupiterimages, Patagonia, Heys, Sierra Club

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Is there such a thing as eco-friendly luggage? If so, have any recommendations?
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