Gear

Tested: The Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks of 2024

Posted by
Elisa Parhad
January 11, 2024
Updated February 01, 2024

Buffalo Jackson backpack
Photo: Elisa Parhad

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Waxed canvas is burly, rugged, and totally having a moment. We tested a host of waxed canvas backpacks, and these are our favorites.

Waxed canvas is hailed for its water and dirt resistance, rugged durability, and sustainability—just some of the reasons we have been cheering on the revival of this old school material. Its real beauty, however, is the way the material ages—the more you use it, the more pliable and comfortable it becomes. Cleaning the material is rarely necessary. When it gets scuffed, the product simply gains more character.

These helpful features make waxed canvas a superb material for backpacks, something that sportsmen, soldiers, sailors, and woodsmen have known for ages. Tack on the added appeal of its undeniable heritage quality and you have a product category with a cult-like following. 

We tested eight backpacks of all styles and varieties that work in a range of environments, from a day at the office to days in the wild. Despite its sustainability and durability perks, waxed canvas is heavier than its synthetic counterparts—something to consider for long treks. Some backpacks below utilize a hybrid of waxed cotton canvas woven with nylon or other synthetic material to provide additional durability, including the Tom Bebke, Fjällräven, and Day Owl brands.

Our Top Picks:

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpack for Students

Day Owl Slim Backpack

day owl backpack
Day Owl backpack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

“Everything you need, and nothing that you don’t” might be the best way to sum up the Day Owl Slim Backpack. While its contours are skinnier and its capacity is smaller than your average backpack, this Slim Backpack makes up for its size in hard-wearing durability, smart design features and streamlined look. We especially appreciate the small details and high-quality finishes, including the hidden (and zippable) side water bottle pouch, rollaway luggage strap and bundable top handles for an easy carry. A separate back compartment nicely fits a laptop or tablet up to 14 inches. 

A certain 5th grader in our household liked its look and has been using the Day Owl as his school backpack since. With a back slot for his Chromebook and a compartment for his folders and a few small books, he is good to go. The only bummer is that the bag has no spot for a lunch sack, which he has solved with a carabiner attached to the lunch bag handle, which swings around as he walks. He is so attached to the bag that it isn’t a problem for him.

We love this bag even more knowing that it is created using recycled landfill-bound materials, including 25 recycled post-consumer plastic bottles (made into Day Owl’s First Mile® waxed canvas) and algae-based foam, among other sustainable parts.

Day Owl’s Slim Backpack is an excellent choice for a light day at the office or in the field. It also works well for a smaller frame—as noted in our household—including kids and teens. For those looking for a similar design and functionality with a larger capacity, take a look at Day Owl’s Backpack.

Buy at Day Owl

 

Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 2 lb 
  • Capacity: 10.5 liter
  • Dimension: 15.5″ H x 11″ W x 3.5″ L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes, up to 14″
  • Water holder: Yes, zipped interior
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $129

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: Made from long-lasting, highly sustainable materials
  • Pro: Minimal, but highly functional, design
  • Pro: Well thought out organizational compartments
  • Pro: Perfectly suited for lightweight days or frames
  • Con: Small for longer hikes or days out

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpack for Travel

Mystery Ranch Mission Rover 30

Mystery Ranch mission rover backpack
Mystery Ranch mission rover backpack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

Any traveler will immediately recognize the Mission Rover bag as a strategic answer to those days on the road when a backpack is not enough and a suitcase is too much. This versatile, do-it-all pack offers strategic compartments to separate your gear—including for footwear and dirty laundry—in a way you wish all bags were thought out. In all, there are five zippered mesh sections (one of which is perfect for laundry), one sizable main compartment, a bottom shoe (or other) slot, two small pockets (for items like water or sunscreen), and a padded laptop sleeve. The only change we’d make would be to add an exterior water bottle holder for water on the go. 

If you aren’t an organized traveler, this pack will help you become one. We especially loved the helpful way this bag opens up like a book on a bed, with a contained (zipper-heavy) design so that not everything flies out if you don’t have a good spot to organize.

Even though Mystery Ranch uses top of the line YKK zippers, we found them “sticky” around the corners of the main bag very early in our testing phase, making us wonder how long a life for the zippers remain. While we hope to never have to make a claim, the company does offer a warranty as well as repair services. 

The Mission Rover was designed for just about every carry option available, ready to be stowed away when not in use. There are backpack straps, a shoulder strap and a strap to attach the bag to rolling luggage. For those who need more capacity, the Mission Rover is available in two larger sizes: 45 liter and 60 PLUS, all of which can be used as a carry-on bag for a flight.

 

Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 3.5 lb
  • Capacity: 30 liter
  • Dimension: 19″ H x 13″ W x 10″ L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes, up to 15″
  • Water holder: Yes, interior
  • Waist Belt: No, chest strap only 
  • Price: $225

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: Available in three sizes
  • Pro: Separate compartments for gear and accessories
  • Pro: Contains straps and handles for several carry configurations (backpack, shoulder and suitcase)/Contains straps and handles for any carry configuration
  • Pro: Sleek, modern styling
  • Con: Lacks an exterior water bottle pocket
  • Con: No waist belt means heavier packs will weigh on shoulders when in backpack mode
  • Con: Zippers are hard to use at tight junctions

Buy at REI

Buy at Amazon

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks for Rucksacks

Nutsac RuckSac

Nutsac Rucksac
Nutsac Rucksac – Photo: Elisa Parhad

At first opening, the Nutsac’s RuckSac has an aged, leather smell, giving this mid-sized backpack a nostalgic scent to match its simple-yet-sturdy look. That heritage vibe carries over into the construction—the canvas is strong and durable, all of which is reinforced with a tightly woven, brown canvas lining (non-waxed). While its size and build is made for an everyday backpack, its rugged construction makes it a great contender for days out in the wild.

The RuckSac has a simple design, with room for your laptop, a front zippered compartment and several interior pockets. The two exterior water bottle holders on each side of the pack have a button to open in order for  water bottles to slide in. This means you need two hands to use them, which is my only complaint with the pack’s streamlined build. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but more of a design quirk that seems unnecessary. One element we definitely like is the stud closure on the main compartment—no fumbling with buckles.  

The interior compartment has ample room for a day’s worth of clothes, accessories and gear with a cinching rope and a snap flap closure to close it all up. Minimalists could get by with this bag for a weekend getaway, but most of us will find it useful for day hikes, commuting, or an adventure around town. While it takes a little bit of effort to get back into the bag, a handy zippered side access allows for easy access to the interior while on the move. The solid leather base provides a nice protective foundation. With a lifetime guarantee and solid, made in the USA construction, the RuckSac is a sure bet for lifelong exploration.

 

Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 3.5 lb
  • Capacity: ~20 liter
  • Dimension: 19″ H x 13″ W x 5″ L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes, up to 15″
  • Water holder: Yes
  • Waist Belt: No
  • Price: $379

Pros and Cons

  • Pro: Easy side access to interior
  • Pro: Streamlined look with vintage appeal
  • Pro: Quality craftsmanship and durable materials
  • Pro: Comfortable padded back and shoulder straps
  • Con: Heavy for its size
  • Con: Premium materials and design comes at a cost

Buy at Nutsac

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks for Sling Packs

Nutsac Sling

Nutsac Sling backpack
Nutsac Sling backpack – Photo Elisa Parhad

Everyone loves a good sling pack, and the Nutsac Sling may be one of the best out there. Great for days when a mid-size backpack is overkill, the Sling is designed with organization and durability in mind.

The Nutsac Sling interior features five rows of MOLLE webbing, suited to fit whatever gear you need. If you aren’t familiar with MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) design, you’ve certainly seen it. It features rows of nylon strapping stitched down in spots to provide a flexible slot to hold down gear. Members of the armed forces are familiar with this tactical design, used for knives and ammo, but it works just as well with art supplies, camera gear, or other tools and supplies. On first glance, this seems like overkill for a lightweight day pack, but its modularity provides flexibility and possibility, while keeping items from jostling inside the bag. In many cases, this forced organization will render a larger backpack unnecessary.

Although the sling is too small for most laptops, the size is the perfect fit for a tablet and any accompanying cords. An outer zipped pocket leaves room for additional small items.

The Sling comes with a comfortable, padded shoulder strap that works on either shoulder by adjusting the clip to a D-ring on either side of the bag. This ambidextrous design continues in its 4-ply all-way-around zippers, for easy access into the bag no matter which way you are wearing it.

Like the RuckSac, the Nutsac Sling has impeccable, high-quality construction made from thick waxed canvas that should last a lifetime. Our only complaint? The price. At $189, this is an expensive sling. But, over a lifetime of use, it just may be a steal. With its thoughtful design and hard-wearing materials, we can bet it will last that long.

 

Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 1 lb 7 oz
  • Capacity: 5.2 liter
  • Dimensions: 3.5″ H x 11.5″ W x 8″ L
  • Padded laptop pocket: No, but sized to hold a tablet
  • Water holder: No
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $189

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: Comfortable shoulder fit for either the left or right shoulder
  • Pro: Excellent interior organization for gear and supplies
  • Pro: Four-way zipper system for easy internal access
  • Pro: Well-sized for day excursions
  • Pro: Large capacity for a sling bag
  • Con: High price point for a small bag

Buy at Nutsac

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpack for Commuting Packs

Fjällräven Raven 28

Fjallraven 28 backpack
Fjallraven 28 backpack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

Fjällräven’s Raven 28 backpack lies firmly at the intersection of durability, functionality and style, making it a top pick for an everyday use backpack. Like any good human or product coming out of the cool climes of Scandinavia, this is a workhorse that doesn’t advertise its labor. We’ve dragged this backpack to the beach, on hikes, to the office, on our bike, on a plane, and days out in the city—there is nowhere that the Raven 28 can’t go. Its 4-layer compartment build offers a multitude of options for gear stowage, including three zippered interior mesh compartments, five interior slip pockets (including a laptop sleeve), top and front pockets for small items and two side water bottle containers. 

Given its structure, it won’t make a good travel bag to carry clothes or larger sized gear—you’ll want it as your carry-on for a place to stash your books, papers, pens, cables, and laptop. Unlike some backpacks that are pliable and loose, the Raven 28 holds itself together as if it had a soft internal skeleton, something that makes us feel like it will glide through years, if not decades, of use. The Raven 28 is a showcase of its Scandinavian heritage, delivering on sleek styling, organization and comfort in a mid-range sized backpack, without the look of overdoing it. 

Fjällräven takes a “sustainability through longevity” stance with its own version of hard-wearing waxed canvas called G-1000, made from a mix of recycled polyester and organic cotton. This material takes a wax coating in the same way a 100% cotton material does, providing extra weatherproofing and dirt resistance. Other modern elements include a comfortable padded air mesh back panel and shoulder straps with easy to pull adjustable strapping, making this pack a highly functional carrier for a life on the go.

Pro tip: Waxed canvas backpacks are known for their affordability; if you want a truly affordable hiking backpack, you’ll have to look at other materials. But the Raven 28 is the most affordable pack on our list.

 

Tech Specs: 

  • Weight: 2.2 lb
  • Capacity: 28 liter
  • Dimension: 18″ H x 12″ W x 8″ L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes, up to 15″
  • Water holder: Yes, 2
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $120

Pros and Cons: 

  • Pro: Modern styling with highly functional design
  • Pro: Many options for gear stowage
  • Pro: Optimal size for everyday use
  • Pro: Mix of natural and sustainably sourced synthetic materials for long-term durability
  • Con: Doesn’t carry larger items

Buy at REI

Buy at Amazon

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks for Heritage Packs

Duluth Pack Roll-Top Scout Pack

Duluth roll-top pack
Duluth roll-top pack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

Duluth Pack bags are the real deal, made of waxed canvas and leather in Minnesota since 1882. The company is the oldest manufacturer of such bags and packs in the country. Duluth Pack bags feature a simple but solid design complete with high quality leather, pliable waxed canvas made of 100% cotton and copper rivets.

Made in the classic roll-top style with plenty of buckles to secure it all, the Scout Pack has significant depth but a somewhat short breadth, which evens out to mid-size pack. The stated height of 22 inches for max capacity is more like 19 inches, as the straps are too short to reach the buckles for larger loads.

With no internal organizing system, this pack is versatile in that it can hold a wide range of cargo, but some may miss the ability to compartmentalize clothing, gear and supplies. With one main compartment, the Scout Pack is more suited to stuffing than organizing, but an outer front zippered pocket makes accessing small items easy. (However, we wish it was not a flat pocket, we’d love to see a little bit of depth to it so that bigger items could fit!)

Considering its heritage, it isn’t surprising that the Roll-Top Scout Pack isn’t lined. While this keeps its weight down, it means that the material is not water-resistant or waterproof. A little more weatherproofing could be added with the protection of a leather lined bottom—also missing. Bushcrafters—or anyone who wants a pack that can be stuffed easily—will appreciate its loose, pliable frame.

What the Scout Pack offers in spades is comfort—the thick canvas straps don’t need to be worn in. The pack sits nicely on your back once adjustments are made with the buckles. With no padded laptop sleeve and specifically built for rugged environments, this may not be what you reach for in a commuter bag, but it is a solid choice for what it has long been built for—a lifetime in the outdoors.

 

Tech Specs: 

  • Weight: 2 lb 4 oz
  • Capacity: 13-17 liter
  • Dimension: 16″ H (up to 22″) x 12″ W x 4″ D
  • Padded laptop pocket: No
  • Water holder: No
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $210

Pros and Cons: 

  • Pro: Comfortable and strong cotton straps that do not need wearing in
  • Pro: Versatile main compartment with roll-top suitable for a wide range of load types and sizes
  • Pro: Sturdy build with rock solid components made to last
  • Pro: Fair price point for a high-quality, heritage product
  • Con: Lacks interior lining and compartments
  • Con: Top straps are shorter than what is necessary for maximum loads
  • Con: No exterior water holder or reinforced base

Buy at Amazon

Buy at Duluth Pack

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpack for Daily Use  

Tom Bebke Canvas Backpack

Tom Bebke backpack
Tom Bebke backpack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

This everyday carry backpack features several helpful elements that make it a versatile choice for both urban and wilderness environments: a two-way main compartment zipper, snap cover pockets, padded back and straps, and a luggage strap for use with rolling luggage. We love the wide range of compartments, pockets and stowaway zones, many of which are on the outside and protected by covered flaps. 

As an insurance for the weatherproof exterior, the interior is lined with waterproof nylon. The sizable main compartment is separated inside with a padded internal laptop sleeve and the exterior features three exterior zippered front compartments and cinched pockets for two water bottles with a snap cover for smaller items. We have the same issue with these as the water bottle holders on the Nutsac backpack—the button makes it hard to slide a water bottle into while on the go. These buttoned covers make a little more sense, as they protect the sleeve from rain when not in use or allow the compartment to be closed off for small items. 

For those who like the look and feel of leather, this pack makes minimal use of the material, on its top handle and zipper pulls. Cotton strapping is used for the adjustable shoulder straps, lined with MOLLE webbing. Just one other fitting can be used with a carabiner, under the front, buttoned flap.

Like the Fjällräven Raven 28 backpack, Tom Bebke’s Canvas Backpack is an easy go-to pack for everyday use, with one large main compartment, making it a better fit for packing clothes or bigger items that need more horizontal space. Overall, this canvas backpack has a sizable capacity and nice mix of modern design and materials with all the benefits of a waxed canvas build.

 

Tech Specs: 

  • Weight: 2.5 lb
  • Capacity: 24 liter
  • Dimension: 18″ H x 12″ W x 5.75” L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes
  • Water holder: Yes, 2
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $325

Pros and Cons: 

  • Pro: Several separated compartments for extra capacity
  • Pro: Large main compartment
  • Pros: Built for comfort with padded backing and straps
  • Cons: On the high end of cost

Buy at Amazon

 

Best Waxed Canvas Backpack for Bushcraft

Buffalo Jackson’s Dakota Roll-Top Backpack

Buffalo Jackson backpack
Buffalo Jackson pack – Photo: Elisa Parhad

With a 45-liter capacity, burly waxed canvas, and a bevy of sleek pocket options for holding your stuff, Buffalo Jackson’s classic roll-top backpack has the heart of the past and the build for today. The interior is lined and includes a number of places to stash items inside its capacious main compartment, including a padded laptop pocket.

The exterior is outfitted with two water bottle pockets, buckles to attach blankets or pads and a sturdy leather base. At first glance, this backpack looks over-engineered, but with use, we see the method to the madness in the versatility it offers. We only wish that the large water bottle side holders had an improved cinch mechanism—the leather pull is well made, but hard to use. And, given the rest of the traditional materials—leather, metal, and canvas—the black nylon mesh on the water bottle holders seem out of place. One aspect we love: the high-quality construction on the industrial felt and leather shoulder straps. Not only are these comfortable, but they are also beautiful.

Buffalo Jackson’s classic roll-top design harkens back to the day when outdoorsy folk needed a large, versatile main compartment for the supplies to survive life in the woods. Its large capacity and seriously durable 15 ounce waxed canvas also means that this is a heavy pack. It may be the perfect fit for bushcrafting and easy to moderate walk-in camping, but not serious hiking or backpacking. Despite its appealing vintage appearance, this pack doesn’t trade in its modern functionality. In addition to a laptop sleeve and numerous spots for cables and other tech, look closely and you’ll find a zippered sleeve on the front right side and an inconspicuous pocket below the main buckle.

We love the space in this bag, which can be adjusted to fit whatever you put inside with its roll-top design. Its capacity for serious stuffing feels freeing after spending time with other, more compartment-minded packs. 

As an added bonus, Buffalo Jackson bags are shipped inside branded canvas bags, which make a nice laundry bag. This perk might not make up for the high price tag, although we think its quality and long life expectancy will.

 

Tech Specs: 

  • Weight: 4 lb 5 oz
  • Capacity: 45 liter
  • Dimension: 21″ H x 9.5” W x 14” L
  • Padded laptop pocket: Yes, up to 15″ 
  • Water holder: Yes, 2
  • Waist belt: No
  • Price: $379.95

Pros and Cons: 

  • Pro: High-quality materials throughout, including an impressively thick and durable waxed canvas
  • Pro: Large capacity for varying loads
  • Pro: Ranks high on vintage appeal
  • Pro: Large, versatile main compartment with added multi-use buckles, containers and pockets
  • Con: High price tag
  • Con: Heavy weight makes this impractical for hiking or backpacking

Buy at Buffalo Jackson

 

Best Brands for Waxed Canvas Backpacks

Waxed canvas backpacks no longer equate solely to vintage sacks made to haul wilderness tools in the woods or on the water. Today, you are just as likely to find a sleek waxed backpack on a bike commuter or sold in a range of vivid colors. Sure, many brands pay homage to the heritage lifestyle, including Duluth Pack and Buffalo Jackson. But other brands have introduced technical, ergonomic, and sustainable elements that bring these backpacks into the 21st century. To find your fit, we suggest focusing on brands that make waxed canvas and high durability goods a key part of their business, such as Duluth Pack, Nutsac, Fjällräven, Buffalo Jackson, and Tom Bebke. 

What to Consider When Buying a Waxed Canvas Backpack

Considering the wide range of waxed canvas backpack brands and styles on offer, you’ll want to zero in on what suits your needs to help narrow down your choices. Consider these questions: How will you use your pack—day hikes, commuting, boating? You’ll then want to think through what size pack you need. 

Finally, focus on the details. Perhaps you like a pack with compartments? Will you want a laptop sleeve? And, what type of fasteners—buckles, zippers, or stud closures—do you prefer? If zippers are what you are after, consider that this may be a backpack’s downfall. Look for high quality zippers, like YKK (which can still fail), and be sure you purchase from a company that offers a warranty or repairs. All the brands listed on this gear review guide offer warranties on their products and repair services.  

How to Care for Your Waxed Canvas Backpack

While waxed canvas backpacks should last a lifetime, they do require maintenance. Overtime, you will need to apply additional wax as the coating thins with use; we recommend roughly every 1-3 years, depending on the amount of use it gets. Several products such as Fjällrävens Greenland Wax can help you keep your packs in tip-top shape.

 

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