When this is about hiking and backpacking backpacks, nowadays canvas backpacks are hard to find and they are not very popular. There are reasons for this.
Canvas backpacks are not good for hiking. The best known backpack brands do not make canvas backpacks any longer. This is easy to see if you check for Osprey, Gregory, Deuter, and Kelty packs on Amazon. You will not find any canvas pack of these brands.
So there is no doubt, synthetic is massively used for modern outdoor packs, and this means mainly polyester and sometimes nylon. It started with nylon that was first introduced to backpacks industry by Deuter in 1968, but polyester became far more popular in the recent decades and years.
Why you should avoid canvas backpacks
About terminology first, the term ‘canvas’ is typically used to describe ‘cotton canvas’, and this is how it is used here in the text as well. Here are some of the reasons for avoiding canvas packs:
1. Canvas is naturally heavier than most of synthetic materials. So this is one obvious reason to avoid it, you do not want to carry a heavy pack. The lighter the better, this is a simple rule.
You will also notice on Amazon that such packs come with some leather and metal elements, so they look cool but this drastically increases their weight.
But note that the volume-to-weight ratio in such packs is typically around 10-15 liters/kg. Compare this with Osprey Eja 48 pack where this ratio is around 38 liters/kg, and there are even lighter options on the market.
2. When canvas gets wet, it becomes even heavier.
3. Canvas does not dry as fast as synthetic, this you probably know already from your experience with outdoor clothing.
4. A canvas pack may get mold and mildew. In time, this may destroy the fabric, not to speak about smell and aesthetic issues.
5. I do not remember seeing any canvas pack with an internal frame. Such a frame is a common feature in modern synthetic packs and there are very good reasons for this.
6. Adjustability. Modern synthetic packs offer far more options for suspension adjustability. This includes torso length, hip belt fins adjustability, etc.
7. Rain cover. This is something I always want to have in a pack, and many modern packs come with an integrated cover. I do not think this is so with canvas packs.
As for UV resistance, I have seen some contradictory statements, but I do not think that this is a big deal in any case. This may be far more important for items like tents, not for backpacks.
But are canvas backpacks strong?
If you still decide to go for a canvas hiking backpack, then you should know that such packs are made of a thick cotton canvas material.
So this is a strong stuff and such packs are very durable and they can last long. I am convinced that they can be more durable than most of ultralight modern synthetic packs.
In this video you can see a great example, so you realize they look great:
So, if not canvas, what is the best material for a backpack?
I would say that you do not have many options. The best materials are those that are commonly used in modern packs, and this means synthetic. The reason is that these materials are lightweight yet strong, and tear resistant.
This includes polyester and nylon, but there is a number of sub-types that include ripstop nylon and ripstop polyester, ballistic nylon, Cordura, and Kodra.
Cordura is an extremely strong type of nylon fabric, and if you happen to have a pack make of this material, it may be the only one you will need in your lifetime.
Kodra is just a Korean version the same material that is known as Cordura that was originally made by DuPont in the US.
Ballistic nylon is the most durable fabric you can have in a pack, but these are rare. This material was developed by DuPont for flak jackets for World War II airmen. The name comes from the fact that it was meant to protect the airmen from flying debris and fragmentation.
There are many more options on the market but there is no much sense discussing them here. First, they are not good options for hiking, and second, they may be hard to find.
In summary, cotton canvas backpacks are durable and they look great, but they are better suitable for travel than for hiking. This is why it is so difficult to find a true canvas hiking pack.
But you have seen an example in the video above, so it is easy to get excited when you see such a nicely designed pack. If you like it, then you should not care of what others say about it.
Do you know that I always make my coffee on the summit when I get there? For this, I carry a sports version of Bialetti coffee pot. There are lighter options, but this is not what I want. The same should hold for you if you like a canvas pack. But bear in mind some of disadvantages of such packs mentioned here in the text.
This site is all about outdoors questions and answers and I add texts here on a regular basis, so bookmark it and keep as a reference. Check my texts about choosing a pack if you are new to hiking and on how to deal with a too big hiking pack.
Please use the comment box below in the case of questions or comments. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.