Waxed backpacks, bags, and jackets have been around for many years but recently made a major comeback. This trend took all of us back to the heritage of the material, craftsmanship needed to make waxed canvas products, and beautiful aesthetic that only gets better with age.
The first thing you notice about it is the weight. Waxed canvas has a natural substance and heaviness to it that bags or clothing made from synthetic materials simply don’t have. When you pick up a waxed canvas bag, even when empty you’ll notice a little heft and when you rub the material through your fingers it feels sturdy. There are two reasons for this: the weight of the heavy gauge cotton used to make the canvas as well as the waterproofing wax itself.
The origins of waxed canvas
Before synthetic fabrics were developed with material properties that provided water resistance, people needed to rely on external applications to give woven natural fabrics waterproof properties. There were a variety of methods used depending on the era and purpose but tar, grease, fish or plant based oils, tannins, soap, and wax were all trialed with varying degrees of success and presumably varying types of odor too.
These applications also provided the benefit of cutting the wind and it was actually 16th century sailors who first began applying fish oil and grease treatments to their sailcloths because they realized that it helped their sails better catch and hold the wind. By cutting the amount of wind passing through the fabric, sailors and fishermen also noticed it as an effective way to stay warm and dry under the howling gales, heaving waves, and torrential rain they were regularly required to endure.
The turning point for waxed canvas came during the 19th century with the widespread use of paraffin, a waxy substance derived from petroleum. The benefit of paraffin, as opposed to other oils or waxes used previously, was both its excellent waterproofing properties and tendency not to become stiff when melded with the fabric. Paraffin also didn’t yellow as it aged, unlike the previously oiled cloths, which is one of the reasons why people tend to associate old fisherman’s clothing with being yellow.
It took until the 1920’s for the waxing methods to be perfected, after which an array of uses were devised for these new highly waterproof and flexible fabrics. Soon, waxed cotton became the material of choice for all sorts of outdoor pursuits including camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing, and was the main type of fabric used for many tents, jackets, overshirts, pants, backpacks, and satchels. Chances are, if you were camping before the 1970’s, you were camping under waxed canvas.
Clothing companies began to make use of it for other markets too. One of the first adopters was the outdoor clothing company, J. Barbour & Sons, today known simply as Barbour, who initially designed their waxed jackets for farmers. Around the 1930’s, companies like Belstaff and Barbour began using the material for all their motorcycling clothing, which was a big market due to the widespread use of motorcycles at the time in an era before it became affordable to own motorcars.
Waxed canvas was also used as the main waterproof clothing for the British armed forces during World War II and after the war, the surplus of army clothing was sold off to the public, making waxed canvas clothing popular on both the hiking trails and the streets throughout the 1940s and 50s.
Modern waxed canvas
Although many newer, shinier waterproof materials have since been developed, sporting tech sounding names with a lot of X’s in them, people still have a strong affection for waxed canvas items because of their proven long-lasting nature and the weathered and vintage aesthetic it brings to gear and clothing. Newer types of wax blends and melding methods also mean that modern wax canvas clothing can also be very sleek and lighter weight than many older wax canvas items were.
Today, many high-end outdoor and clothing companies still sell some very practical and great looking waxed canvas clothing and gear. The following range of clothes, bags and other goods gives you an idea of the versatility of waxed canvas and how it is still being used to great effect in modern products.
Barbour Classic Bedale Jacket Price $379
Barbour is renowned for their range of men’s and women’s waxed canvas jackets but also create several wax canvas backpacks, laptop bags, and holdalls. Having been one of the pioneers of waxed canvas clothing over a century ago, they continue to produce high quality waxed canvas clothing and items that are on trend but stand the test of time. Until recently all Barbour’s clothing line was made in England, however today some of their products are manufactured in other countries in Europe or Asia.
Barbour also allows customers to buy the original Barbour wax that they can use to maintain their products and have created a video showing how to properly apply it.
Type 02 Jacket - Tan Waxed Cotton Price: $198
Whiskey Grade makes waxed jackets, overshirts, and bags, with the tan waxed jackets, in particular, creating a rugged, western look that is hard to replicate.
RÄVEN WINTER JACKET W Price: $300
Fjällräven has been around for a really long time and continues to be the popular choice for many outdoor enthusiasts. Many of their bags and backpacks have a unique design that you can easily recognize.
Utility Roll - Brush Brown Price: $59
Bradley Mountain’s range includes adventure, travel, and camping gear as well as items incorporated into everyday life. It has a huge range of waxed canvas products including utility rolls, tool rolls, dopp kits, hats, backpacks, and weekender bags.
Otter Wax Fabric Wax Price: $12.95
Otter Wax stocks a range of waxes and cleaning treatments for the upkeep of fabrics and leather. Periodically reapplying wax to your waxed canvas products allows you to maintain their waterproof properties and helps extend their durability. Otter Wax uses a blend of high-quality beeswax and plant based waxes and oils, avoiding the need to use any petroleum-based ingredients.
Tanner Goods Nomad Duffel Price: $400
Tanner Goods makes modern products with a definite eye towards the past. Its products also have an emphasis on longevity, which is why they have such a broad range of waxed canvas gear. This includes dopp kits, duffels, camera bags, boot bags, and rucksacks.
Ona Bags – The Lima camera strap Price: $79
Ona Bags is a New York based brand that produces bags and accessories with a real focus (no pun intended) on photography related gear. Its waxed canvas line includes camera and laptop bags, backpacks, briefcases, totes, and waxed canvas camera straps that offer a really great alternative to the standard black synthetic or leather straps on 99% of cameras out there.
Trakke Storr Hand Luggage backpack Price: $325
All Trakke’s products are handmade in Scotland and are carefully thought out in their design to ensure they’re lasting and reliable. Unlike most other manufacturers, it uses stainless steel buckles on its bags as an example of a commitment to longevity. Paired with the proven durability of waxed canvas, when looked after properly these types of bags can literally last you a lifetime.
Other great brands offering waxed canvas products
- Mercy Supply Co.
- Taylor Stitch
- Iron & Resin
- Saddleback Leather
- Frost River
- Duluth Pack
- Buffalo Jackson
- Savage Supply Co.
- Best Made Co.
How to sew patches on waxed canvas
Due to their rugged aesthetic and cotton construction, waxed canvas products are ideal to be used for sewing on patches. The post and included video will show you how to properly apply patches on waxed canvas to give your clothing and gear an even more original look.