- Buyer's Guide
The Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks in 2022
If you’re looking to carry that classic vibe in a backpack, it’s hard to go past waxed canvas. So let’s dig into the best waxed canvas backpacks around, the history around the fabric, and how to re-wax and maintain your pack, so it carries for many years to come.
History of waxed canvas
With its beautiful, distinct character and rugged durability, it’s not hard to see why waxed canvas (also known as waxed cotton) is a popular material in the carry community. But this tough fabric has a history stretching back centuries. And one that involves the sea.
What does waxed cotton have to do with the sea? Sailors discovered that sails were able to catch wind better when they were wet. However, when sails are wet, this makes them heavier. Not ideal for a seafaring vessel.
Sailors as far back as the 15th century coated their sails with fish oil to make them waterproof. However, over time there was a shift to using linseed oil on flax canvas sailcloth, allowing water to gather on the surface but preventing it from penetrating into the fabric, thereby keeping it light and waterproof. The fabric was also used to create smocks worn by the sailors to protect them against the harsh elements while out at sea. However, the linseed oil caused the cloth to yellow over time.
Near the end of the 18th century, a Scottish mill and sailmaker by the name of Francis Webster Ltd began supplying flax sails treated with linseed oil to British clippers. However, sail production evolved with the need for lighter sails and greater efficiency and speed, altering the cloth to become more durable yet lighter, and so flax sails made way for cotton sails. Francis Webster honed a method of creating cotton treated with linseed oil and supplied these waxed cotton sails to the Royal Navy and tea clippers. But the linseed oil continued to turn the cloth yellow with age and would crack when it was cold, reducing the weather resistance of the cloth.
In the 1930s British Millerain tackled this problem by impregnating cotton with paraffin wax, creating a fabric with better weather resistance and enhanced breathability, while also doing away with the yellowing effect of linseed oil. This marked the foundations of modern-day waxed canvas.
Various mills including Francis Webster made use of British Millerain’s textile finishing services to turn woven, dyed cotton into waxed cotton.
Francis Webster exported a lot of waxed cotton to New Zealand, marketed as Japara. The proven overseas success of the material led to Francis Webster launching waxed cotton in the UK.
The British Army began using waxed canvas for clothing during WWII, later utilizing it for duffels and tents as well. Thanks to its weather resistance and durability, waxed canvas became popular in commercial settings too, being adopted by the likes of outdoor, country-living, and motorcycle brands to create tough weatherproof clothing.
How does waxed canvas age?
Much like full-grain leather will develop a unique patina over time, one of the features that makes waxed canvas particularly appealing is the way it ages with time and use. As the material takes on scuffs and creases through use, it will develop a unique patina that gives your pack a very personal touch.
How to rewax your waxed canvas backpack
Waxed canvas needs to be reproofed occasionally as the wax will eventually rub off over time. Rewaxing enhances the water and wind resistance of the material, giving new life to your pack and helping it to protect your gear for many more adventures to come.
The more frequently you use your bag, the more often you’ll need to rewax it. However, this is still only likely going to be once or twice a year.
There are different products and methods you can use to rewax canvas. You can get reproofing sprays as well as solid waxed bars. It’s important to pay attention to manufacturer guidelines as some products might only be suitable for particular items and materials.
Bars are more time-consuming to apply, while reproofing sprays are quicker to apply but may end up changing the finish appearance (for example, giving an item more of a dry finish). There are many good options on the market but we recommend checking out Trakke’s Reproofing Spray (great for reproofing their dry-finish canvas), Trakke’s Reproofing Wax (suitable for their wet-finish canvas), and Fjällräven’s Greenland Wax.
If you’re using a solid bar, you’ll need to apply it in strokes across the backpack material, before applying heat to the wax using a hairdryer or iron. As the wax melts, you can use a cloth to evenly distribute it across the canvas. Once the wax is evenly applied and the material is sufficiently covered, you’ll need to leave the bag overnight so the wax can dry. Check out this handy step-by-step guide from Trakke for reproofing wet-finish waxed canvas, as well as this video tutorial for using Fjällräven’s Greenland Wax.
How to clean waxed canvas
Waxed canvas is not only water repellent but also dirt repellent. You may simply be able to allow dirt to dry and then dust it off by hand or brush it off with a stiff brush. You can also remove the likes of dust, dirt, and mud by wiping the canvas with a damp cloth.
For more significant staining that has penetrated the canvas, such as oil stains, you can apply an absorbent substance such as corn starch and leave it on for two days and then use a stiff brush to brush it off. You may need to repeat this process. You may also be able to wash a stain with cold water and a mild detergent (use a sponge or cloth in circular motions) but you’ll need to reproof the affected area. Do not wash your waxed canvas backpack in a washing machine. Always leave it to dry naturally (ideally overnight).
Best waxed canvas backpacks for 2022
Great materials alone don’t make great bags. But using quality waxed canvas to create functional, stylish designs that will put in years of hard use and just get better with age? Now you’re onto something special. Just like our picks of the best waxed canvas backpacks to enjoy in 2022…
Fjällräven’s Vardag 28 Laptop Backpack offers an enticing blend of functionality, understated aesthetics, durable construction, and value for money. It’s constructed with G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco S, a fabric made with a mix of recycled polyester and organic cotton and impregnated with Greenland Wax on both sides for added durability. The pack offers a range of practical organization including quick-access exterior pockets, a main compartment, and a separate 15” laptop compartment. The pack also includes a seat pad and is versatile enough to swap weekday commutes for weekend day trips and outdoor explorations too.
The Greenland Top is an appealing option for those seeking urban/outdoor versatility with a nod to classic heritage style. The pack is made with Fjällräven’s waxed G-1000® HeavyDuty Eco S fabric and comes in a choice of colorways. It features a flap and drawstring closure to keep gear secure and protected from the elements. An interior padded pocket accommodates up to 15” tech, with additional pockets for valuables and quick-access storage.
Duluth Pack is the USA’s oldest canvas and leather bag manufacturer, crafting high-quality outdoor gear since 1882. Their Scout Pack offers their extensive expertise in a slim-profiled and stylish bag that suits a range of everyday or outdoor uses. A pared-back take on their canoe packs, the 16L pack is an attractive and tough option for commutes, day hikes, and day-to-day use. Handcrafted with 15 oz. canvas and leather detailing, it’s backed by a lifetime guarantee.
Classic Fjällräven style, burly construction, and a versatile design make this an appealing option for those who want an everyday pack that’s ready for outdoor adventures too. The interior has a padded laptop pocket, a thermos pocket, and a removable seat pad. Externally you’ll find front and side pockets for exterior storage. Add in the G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco and leather construction and you get a fine-looking pack that will last for many years of urban and outdoor adventures.
This handsome pack is handmade in Belgium with heavy-weight waxed canvas and oiled leather. The rolltop closure adjusts to a variety of loads, while the front pocket keeps frequently used gear at the ready. Additionally, the pack also includes a padded laptop compartment. A solid choice if you’re after a head-turner with everyday and travel functionality.
Billykirk offers a modern, mature twist on the classic bookbag with their No. 297 Standard Issue Backpack. Exuding a thoughtful balance of form and function, the pack serves up everyday functionality with urban-friendly style. A good range of pockets including padded interior laptop storage and a complementary No. 302 zipper pouch give you flexible organization for work and leisure use alike. The pack is constructed in the USA with 10.10 oz. waxed canvas, full-grain leather, and an easily cleanable water-resistant nylon canvas lining.
We’re big fans of the Bannoch. So much so, we awarded it our Best Work Backpack 2019 award. And it’s not hard to see why. The Bannoch offers a honed blend of stylishly understated aesthetics that suit a range of settings, a useful selection of pocketing, and top-notch craftsmanship with premium materials. Handmade in Scotland, the pack is backed by a lifetime guarantee and ready to put in the hard graft wherever the day takes you.
Fun fact: Chicago’s Bucktown got its name from the large number of goats that used to be raised in the area (a male goat is a buck). Goats aren’t afraid of tough environments and challenging conditions. Neither is DEFY’s Bucktown Backpack. Built tough with 14 oz. original TEXWAX™ Canvas material on the exterior and 500D CORDURA® on the interior, this hard-wearing hauler is great for the daily commute and overnight trips with minimalist loads. The pack features dual compartments, both with a selection of pocketing to keep tech, EDC, and smaller items neatly organized and easily accessible. YKK AquaGuard zippers enhance protection from the elements, while its sleekly suave styling looks equally good in work settings or embracing downtime pursuits.
Available in a range of colorways to suit personal tastes, this pack offers an eye-catching blend of smart aesthetics and functional design. The Roll-Top Pack is made in Denver, Colorado with 20 oz. waxed cotton canvas, vegetable-tanned leather, and brass hardware. The rolltop closure accommodates diverse loads, with plenty of organization options on hand too including front snap pockets, side pockets, an interior pocket, and a padded laptop sleeve that fits up to 15″ devices.
Tough and classy, this pack lets the fabrics shine in the spotlight, while also providing a functional and adaptable design for work and play alike. The pack features 20 oz. waxed cotton canvas, leather shoulder straps, solid brass hardware, and rivet-enforced pockets. The pack is handcrafted in Denver and incorporates a YKK double-zipper closure for easy access. The padded quilted back panel offers comfort and protection for gear, while a selection of interior and exterior pockets keep your tech and EDC essentials tidy while you’re on the go.
The 20L Sanction is a ruggedly built pack that’s stylish enough for the office and tough enough to tackle after-hours pursuits on foot or by bike. Made in the USA with American-made 10 oz. waxed canvas, the weatherproof pack is backed by a lifetime guarantee and offers a range of pockets to keep your gear neat on the go. In addition, the Sanction also features Mission Workshop’s Arkiv® closure system and can be customized with Arkiv® accessories on the shoulder straps.
Handsome and hard-wearing, the Biographer is handmade in San Diego and features 18 oz. waxed duck canvas. Complementing the waxed canvas is 9 oz. USA harness leather, brass and copper hardware, and wool and canvas padding on the straps. The roll-top design allows the pack to expand from 15L to 20L, while front, side, and interior pockets provide organization.
The Delireis packs understated style, hard-wearing durability, and adaptability into a bag that looks chic on the streets but is ready to step into the wild when adventure calls. Handmade in England with 12 oz. Scottish waxed canvas and Italian vegetable-tanned leather, the bag includes an interior laptop sleeve and two exterior pockets for stashing quick-access essentials.
One of the most iconic packs ever made gets a heritage makeover with the GR1 Heritage. And it’s a stunner, combining waxed duck canvas and Red Wing leather in a bag that will stand the test of time. Available in a range of colorways in 21L and 26L options, the GR1 Heritage offers all the trusty dependability of the original, in ruggedly suave style.
The Bashilo Backpack is a classy pack for your urban commuting or EDC needs, crafted in the UK with Halley Stevensons C4X finish medium weight waxed canvas and a Cordura base, complemented by vegetable-tanned leather detailing. The 19L pack fits a 13″ laptop, with a front pocket for easy-access gear and further pockets for organizing smaller items. And if you need a more compact pack, it also comes in a 12L option.
Handcrafted in Duluth, Minnesota, this pack offers a great heritage feel combined with a quality build. The pack is built with American-made waxed canvas and leather and comes with a lifetime guarantee on craftsmanship and hardware. Available in three sizes and two colorways, this bag is tough enough for years of outdoor use but versatile enough for urban settings too, with plenty of pockets and attachment points to organize your gear.
There’s no denying the Storr is an investment piece. But with this pack, you certainly get what you pay for. Designed for carry-on use, the Storr encourages you to embrace one-bag carry with a bag that looks smart but isn’t afraid to dive into rougher adventures. The 35L pack offers a range of travel-friendly features including a clamshell opening for easy packing and access, an external laptop pocket, quick-access pockets, interior pockets, three grab handles, and stowable backpack straps. Handcrafted with dry-finish waxed canvas, this pack is built to be a trusty companion for a lifetime of travel adventures.
This article was originally published in 2018 and is regularly updated.