Sustainability is the outdoor industry’s warmest and fuzziest buzzword, but the movement has fallen short on two points: It’s only really made headway in apparel, and it’s mired in green-washed marketing speak. Osprey has decided to tackle both.

yellow Osprey Arcane backpack

Osprey aims to be the world's most sustainable hardgoods company.

Osprey—which, according to NPD data is the leader in technical, travel, and hydration packs—has just announced a plan to revamp every aspect of its sustainability strategy. Its goal: “to become the leading hardgoods brand in sustainability in the world,” says Senior Product Line Director Mark Galbraith. 

That plan circles tightly around the manufacturing process, which Galbraith says accounts for 70 percent of a brand’s environmental impact. To reduce that footprint, Osprey has brought PFC-free DWR into all new collections, adopted the bluesign restricted materials list across all products, and switched to recycled nylon and polyester for new packs. The company is on track to be completely PFC-free by 2022. 

Osprey has also renewed its commitment to keeping gear out of landfills. In 2009, the brand launched the All Mighty Guarantee (break your pack, and Osprey will fix it for free, no questions asked). Now, the brand has just filed the paperwork for a partnership with the Renewal Workshop, which parts out materials from unrepairable gear to make new gear. Any scraps get separated out into specialty recycling streams.

In the U.S., Osprey is the first hardgoods-specific brand to make such a commitment, says Galbraith.

A worker in a blue shirt moving fabric in Osprey's Vietnam backpack factory

Osprey builds its packs in Vietnam factories.

“In apparel, people don’t question recycled polyester or organic cotton,” he explains. In the world of hardgoods, however, there lurks a misconception that recycled, renewable, or nontoxic materials necessarily mean substandard durability or performance. That’s the perception Osprey wants to change.

“Sustainability isn’t old-school hippie thinking,” Galbraith says. “It can be high-tech, leading-edge innovation that performs at or above the previous standard. It can be a Tesla, not a Prius.”

That’s part of the reason Osprey hasn’t immediately ditched all PFCs (carryover collections still use them for now, albeit the less-toxic short-chain versions), and why they the brand hasn’t hit the 100 percent mark for bluesign certification. It takes time to understand how the new chemicals affect the dyeing and coloring processes, and to innovate new pack technology such that the new fabrics work with the design, rather than simply replacing the older material.

That shift in innovation philosophy is a big part of Osprey’s new strategy. However, Galbraith notes that they also owe the timing to a convenient intersection of several different trajectories. For one, recycled materials and non-toxic dyes and finishes are much more available now than they were even 5 to 10 years ago. There’s also more expertise to pull from within the supply chain, and more third-party verifiers (like bluesign). 

As the sustainable materials market reached critical mass, Osprey found itself at the end of a round of factory and infrastructure improvements, with the bandwidth to really lean into the environmental efforts Galbraith says have always been at the heart of what they do.

The only reason you probably haven’t heard about those efforts? Osprey has kept things like their conservation giving program, carbon offsets, and recycled packaging pretty quiet on purpose. 

“There’s a lot of distrust out there,” Galbraith says. “So we try to way overperform, underclaim, and have third-party verification for everything we’re doing.” But as issues of warming climate and environmental toxicity become more critical, the time has come to be a little more outspoken.

“Consumers are reacting positively, but for us, even if this made no difference in sales volume, it wouldn’t matter,” Galbraith says. “It’s the right thing to do.”