I recently wanted to buy eco-fair clothes and gear for bikepacking tours, but I did not have a clue which brand or products to buy. So far, we do not list outdoor brands on GETCHANGED.net due to very complex sustainability issues. So we move into the outdoor world by testing which bikepacking brands GET CHANGED! can recommend.
By Mark Starmanns
In various articles we will explore two main questions: 1. Which brands have a good sustainability concept and produce sustainable product? 2. Which products do we recommend from the perspective of sustainability and practicability?
For a start, we present Ortlieb and Vaude, two well known German brands and ARKEL, a Canadian brand, which is less known in the German speaking market.
Orlieb was founded in 1982 in Germany because the founder did not find water proof bags on the market, so he started producing them in Germany, where they still produce them. The band is owner-run and has almost 200 employees and more than 500 products, mainly bags.
Vaude was founded in 1974, and is also family run. Since a few years, Vaude is putting a lot of emphasis on sustainability in the production. Vaude has outsourced most of its production abroad. However, it puts a lot of emphasis on sustainability. The website Rank a brand just recently ranked Vaude as the most sustainable outdoor brand.
ARKEL was founded in 1988, and is a rather small company with only 16 employees from Canada that produces high quality bike bags, mainly in Canada. Being small, the interaction with ARKEL is really personal.
How do the brands care for social standards?
Ortlieb produces in Germany, which GET CHANGED! likes, because the workers have high working conditions or can access remedy easily for GET CHANGED!.
Vaude has been member of the Fair Wear Foundation since 2010, and is listed as a „leader“. This is also recommendable for GET CHANGED!.
Arkel produces its bikepacking bags in Canada, which should be on the same level like Germany regarding labour standards. The bags are sewn in Canada and some processes are then undertaken by a social service program „for folks with Intellectual Disabilities and Pervasive Development Disorders“. This is a great concept.
Go for lifetime warranty!
I came across Arkel, discussing brand with my favourite bike shop Stonebite. They said what is the point of a sustainable production, if the products have to be thrown away after 2 years. They came up with Arkel, who offer a lifetime warranty on all of their products.
We offer a lifetime, transferable, no receipt needed guarantee on the workmanship (meaning the product has no inherent defect to it), stitching (meaning NO stitching will ever rip), aluminum hooks, rails, nuts and screws, and inner stiffening backplate. None of these will ever break. And if one should, you can be sure that we’ll repair it!!! If it can’t be repaired to our high standards, we will replace it. Note that we do not guarantee abuse nor the wear and tear of the fabric and zippers.
I bought my first Ortlieb panniers in the early 1990s. At that time I paid a lot of money (maybe 200 or 300 „Deutsche Mark“), but they are still working and waterproof. How much more sustainable can you get? And it is actually cheap, too: I paid very little, around 10 Mark, if you break it down to years. What I did not like about Ortlieb was that they produce bags that are made out of PVC (Polyvinylchlorid), which involves many environmental issues (and Greenpeace has been trying to ban since long). I will check with them. However, they produce more and more without PVC, and the bikepacking gear is made out of Nylon, coated with PU. They offer 5 years warranty. Vaude has developed it’s own Green Shape label, which labels environmentally friendly production, according to Vaude. They offer 2 years warranty and 5 years on products produced in Germany.
Which products can we recommend?
I would go for a long-lasting product, which is usually very sustainable: A recent report on garments argued that extending the lifetime of a standard product from 30 usages to 60 usages cuts the CO2 equivalent emissions by 52%. So buying a sustainable product also means that you buy a product that you want to use for a long time. Therefore we want to test the products and tell you about our experience. We will test the bags from these three brands, which we received for testing by the brands plus a Salsa EXP Anything Cradle system for front bags, which is very versatile.
In our next post, we will examine the environmental policies and criteria in more detail. And we will test the bags and report our experience.