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Published Aug 5, 2022 7:49 AM

The first canvas backpack was originally designed in the 1870s by Henry Miriam, and has seen numerous revisions since then. Ubiquitous to students, service members, and outdoorsmen, canvas backpacks have been carrying our equipment for well over a century. Now, with autumn coming up in a few short weeks promising school as well as cool weather perfect for hiking, we at Task & Purpose decided to put together a list of the best canvas backpacks for your next adventure.

Kuhl has been known for years now to make some of the best hiking clothes, and its backpacks follow that trend. The Eskape 25 Kanvas is an excellent example of its craftsmanship. The Eskape is made of nylon-reinforced canvas and has additional reinforcement in high-wearing places to ensure its longevity. Available in ink black, the backpack features a clamshell design making it easy to pack your stuff, while the high-vis blue interior means that once your stuff is packed, you won’t have to hunt too hard to find what you need.

Where this bag truly excels is at everyday carry. The laptop compartment is suspended, and although it holds a 15-inch laptop quite nicely, it can hold some 17-inch models, too. Meanwhile, the main compartment isn’t short on organization features; there’s a mesh divider in the bottom to allow for sorting papers, smaller electronics, and other gear, and a mesh bag towards the top of the bag to allow further organization. Moving to the outside of the bag, there’s a water bottle pocket on either side of the bag and a fleece-lined pocket along the top to hold your sunglasses, and two small pockets on the front.

The bag is an excellent option for travel, too. The sides feature a carry handle, so the bag can be held like a briefcase, while the easily hidden-away hip belt allows the load to be transferred off your shoulders when going on long treks. The bag can also be fitted onto a roller bag, as there’s a gap between the main compartment of the backpack and the padding, allowing you to slip the bag onto the handle of your luggage, keeping it secure. Additionally, a small hidden pocket allows for discrete placement of tracking devices, so in the event that your bag is stolen, it can easily be tracked down.

The only drawback that I’ve been able to find is that many users have commented on the bag’s weight. Kuhl hasn’t published the bag’s weight, but given that the backpack is made of canvas and not a lighter nylon-based material, I would speculate that the backpack’s users aren’t used to the weight associated with canvas backpacks, and were expecting something lighter.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 25 liters
  • Materials: Nylon-reinforced canvas Waxed: YesNylon-reinforced canvas
  • Waxed: Yes
PROS

Water-resistant zipper

Can hold up to 17-inch laptops

Excellent for travel

CONS

A little on the heavy side

Most Eco-Friendly

For an eco-friendly knapsack, look no further than the Raven 28. Fjallraven is committed to environmentally-friendly textiles, and this bag is no different. The bag is made of its G1000 Heavy-Duty Eco canvas, which is made of cotton blended with recycled polyester, giving it strength while also keeping used material out of landfills.

Fjallraven also marks this material as free of fluorocarbons. According to Fjallraven, fluorocarbons are used to improve the resistance of water and dirt in textiles, but can lead to cancer or disrupt hormone production in animals, and won’t break down over time, staying in the ecosystem for decades. By using the close-knit canvas, the company avoids using these chemicals. The canvas doesn’t come pre-waxed to improve the water resistance of the material, which is disappointing because Fjallraven sells its own wax, but won’t sell its bags already treated with it.

The backpack comes in a variety of colors, so you can choose the option that best fits your personal style. The back and shoulder straps feature mesh padding for comfort, although there’s no hip belt, so the bag is better suited for lighter loads and shorter trips. That’s not to say that it has a low cargo capacity. At 28 liters, it has the same capacity as many other offerings on this list. The inside features a padded pocket suitable for a 15-inch laptop, although some users have mentioned being able to fit a 17-inch model inside, as well. Beyond the laptop pocket, this bag has one main compartment, two smaller zippered pockets, and a small mesh pocket along the top. There’s also a water bottle pocket on either side to ensure you’re always hydrated.

Coming in at a cost of just over $100, this option feels perfect for students who want a backpack to haul supplies around campus, as well as a more budget-friendly option for an EDC backpack. The build is quality, and Fjallraven advertises lifetime repairs for its products, as well as a warranty against defects. Additionally, it published repair guides on its website so that the bags can continue to be fixed and used long after other bags would have been disposed of, making it clear that it’s committed to sustainability.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 28 liters
  • Materials: G1000 Eco (recycled polyester/cotton blend)
  • Waxed: No
PROS

Made of recycled materials

Available in multiple colors

Excellent cost-to-performance ratio

CONS

Doesn’t come pre-waxed

Best for Bushcraft

The Fjallraven Singi 28 is an excellent option for bushcraft, featuring a 28-liter main compartment, a padded hip belt with pockets, and shock cord on the back to secure additional equipment. Though a tad on the small side, the bag can be enlarged with the addition of side pockets that loop into the side of the backpack. Additionally, these loops can also allow extra equipment to be laced through or hung from a paracord.

The bag is rectangular in shape with one main compartment, featuring an internal nylon sleeve. This sleeve allows for separating a laptop or a hydration pack from the rest of your cargo.

The bag also features multiple smaller zippered pockets, located inside the main compartment, outside of the backpack on top, and one on either side of the hip belt for quick access. The padding on the backpack is fairly simple, with mesh placed around the back, on the straps, and around the waist belt. But the padding is heavier on the waist, which is a plus since that means that weight can be shifted from your shoulders to your hips, meaning you can hike deeper into the woods without wearing out.

If you find yourself caught in the rain, you’ll be glad to find that Fjallraven has included a rain cover. This is a welcome addition, as though the material is water-resistant, the bag isn’t waxed. It comes off as weird to me, as Fjallraven sells its own wax, called Greenland Wax, and the Singi is marked as compatible with the wax.

My one major gripe is how size expansion works. The sides and back of the Singi are mostly slick, with nylon loops sewn in to allow for additional pockets, either side pockets or gear pouches, to be daisy-chained on, with the alternative being to weave paracord in to hold equipment. Personally, I’m not a fan of this.

While I can appreciate the modularity of the backpack, I think that the side pouches should come with the backpack rather than as an option, especially since 28 liters is on the smaller end for bushcraft packs. Offering the optional pockets, pouches, and its Greenland Wax as a bundle would be an excellent solution to what seems reminiscent of microtransactions. That said, given the price point of the bag, these items might have been withheld to keep the price down.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 28 liters
  • Material(s): G1000 Eco (recycled polyester/cotton blend)
  • Waxed: No
PROS

Rain cover included

Detachable hip belt

Recycled material

CONS

Relatively small

Side pockets sold separately

Doesn’t come pre-waxed

No listicle regarding canvas backpacks would be complete without an entry from Duluth Pack, and this article is no exception. Duluth Pack has been making bags of 15-ounce canvas and high-quality leather since its inception in 1882. Simple in design, the bags are instantly recognizable with the large leather badge featuring a moose.

The bag features one main compartment, as well as a small zippered pouch on the front. The top rolls down and can then be buckled using the leather straps, securing the roll in place. When lightly loaded, the bag collapses to a capacity of 13 liters but can be expanded to 17 liters when the top is unrolled. While the base aesthetic of this bag definitely belongs to a different era, one modern amenity has been added for the deluxe version, that being the zipper down the side of the bag. This allows easy access to possessions inside without the hassle of unrolling the top.

The bottom is made of leather, while the shoulder straps are made of strong cotton riveted to leather, so the places that see the most wear are also the best secured. Meanwhile, the canvas is available in a variety of colors, allowing you to select the best option for your style, and you can choose waxed options for a small upcharge.

Admittedly, the biggest killer here is the price-to-feature ratio. Duluth Pack products are extremely high-quality but are rather simple in design — a simple main compartment, an extra pocket, and some shoulder straps. But if the rustic aesthetic is your style, look no further.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 13-17 liters
  • Materials: 15-ounce canvas and leather
  • Waxed: Optional
PROS

Vintage style

Available in multiple colors

Secure design

CONS

Smaller capacity

Rather pricey

The Buffalo Jackson Dakota Messenger Bag feels a little out of place on this list since it’s a messenger bag rather than a backpack, but don’t let that fool you. The bag features top-quality materials like full grain hide and heavy 15-ounce canvas. Aesthetically speaking, the bag rides the fine line between vintage and out-of-date perfectly. It features tanned brown leather for the handles, shoulder strap, and accents, while the main body is made of navy-colored waxed canvas. Admittedly, I would like to see some other color options, as the only other option is khaki, but that is my only gripe with its looks, and the navy pattern looks excellent.

The bag features a main compartment with three internal pockets while the laptop sleeve is big enough to hold a 15-inch laptop. Additionally, there are two more pockets on the outside of the bag, one on either side of the shoulder strap. With all these options for organizing your bag, you’ll easily be able to fit everything you need for work inside.

It’s not perfect though. The two biggest issues mentioned in reviews are the top flap and the clips for the shoulder strap. The clips attach to a rectangle-shaped metal ring, rather than a triangle or D-shaped ring, meaning that the clips tend to gravitate to one corner or another. While this is a minor gripe, it seems to be simple to fix the issue, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t considered. The other issue is that the top flap doesn’t cover the sides well enough. According to reviews, the bag tends to leave two or so inches on either side of the main compartment uncovered, which could let in rain or present a security issue.

Despite the minor issues presented in the above paragraph, in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. This bag is incredibly sharp-looking, and its design and features would make it perfect for the office or when traveling to a meeting.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 20 liters
  • Materials: Tanned leather, cotton canvas
  • Waxed: Yes
PROS

Sturdy construction

Plenty of pockets

Professional aesthetic

CONS

Flap doesn’t cover entire top of bag

Shoulder strap tends to shift to side of bag

Things to consider before buying a canvas backpack

Waxed or non-waxed

Ideally, any canvas backpack that you purchase should be waxed. This is because the waxing gives the canvas several properties, chief among them is waterproofing. Canvas by itself is naturally water-resistant, but over time the fibers will absorb water, making the bag heavy and getting your belongings wet. Canvas that has been waxed already has its fibers filled with wax, allowing the water to roll off the material. This also keeps your bag cleaner, as the wax is not only waterproof, but also dirt-resistant. As an added bonus, the wax forms a patina over the years similar to leather, giving your bag its own personality and making it distinctly yours.

Care

Canvas backpacks are quite durable. However, like all things, they occasionally need a little bit of care. Although wax improves dirt resistance of canvas, it’s not impervious. If your bag looks dirty, simply get some hot water, a mild soap, and a rag, and spot-wash it. Additionally, over time the wax layer may wear out. This doesn’t mean that your bag is ruined, though. The wax can be reapplied, getting it back to its original waterproof state. 

Quality

Nobody wants to be ripped off when making a purchase, and unfortunately, like many consumer items, several cheap options are available on Amazon. A simple search will turn up dozens of canvas bags. However, reading through the reviews shows that they often have an excess of issues. The most prominent ones were complaints about the quality of stitching, with several bags falling apart with very mild use. Additionally, vintage-styled backpacks often featured leather buckles, but these were only for decoration. The flaps were actually held down by weak magnets that let go quite easily. As with many things, quality doesn’t come cheap, and you should expect to spend over $100 to find a well-made bag.

FAQs about canvas backpacks

Q: Are canvas backpacks waterproof?

A: Canvas backpacks are water–resistant, not waterproof. However, a waxed canvas backpack improves water resistance by filling in the gaps between the fibers. 

Q: Is canvas the most durable material for backpacks?

A: Honestly, no. In testing, nylon was more abrasion-resistant, while being lighter, Additionally, canvas tends to be more flammable than nylon. That said, canvas is still a rugged material, and you can rest assured that a canvas backpack will serve you well. 

Q: How do you keep canvas backpacks clean?

A: Canvas backpacks can be cleaned by spot-washing the affected area with some hot soapy water. They should not, however, be placed in a washing machine.

Final thoughts

If I were to pick a canvas backpack to replace my own current daily driver, it would definitely be the Kuhl Eskape 25 Kanvas. Though all our other picks are worthy in their own right, the design of the Eskape combined with the built-in waterproofing and ease of use when traveling makes it my top choice for the best canvas backpack.

Methodology 

Deciding which backpacks made the cut was not an easy task. To decide on which backpacks were worthy and which weren’t, several things were taken into consideration including brand reliability, materials used, whether the material was waxed or not, and above all, customer reviews. A few notable reviews that were key to the decision-making include pieces from Engearment, Pack Hacker, GentCreate, and Outdoors Magic

Additionally, Fjallraven was chosen as the sustainable pick because of the company’s sustainable approach towards materials and its guides to fixing its products, as well as the fact that you can take its bags to a physical storefront, drop the bag off, and have it repaired. In my mind, that’s an excellent step towards keeping slightly damaged materials out of the dump. For more information on how we at Task & Purpose review products, please view our review guidelines.

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