13 Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks and Rucksacks

by D.T. Christensen
Updated March 17, 2023

waxed canvas backpack
Photo: Kyle Niemier

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The waxed canvas revival is real, and brands like Day Owl are making the hardy, old-school material more versatile than ever.

Known for its water-resistant and tough-as-nails durability, waxed canvas was a staple of England and Scotland’s sailing culture.

Today, innovative companies across the globe are putting their own take on the fabric, and we’re not complaining. We’ve hauled all kinds of canvas packs on camping, paddling and backpacking trips, and there’s nothing that feels as hardy as solid cotton canvas.

Here’s a look at 13 of the best waxed canvas backpacks for all your adventures at home, in the office or in the field.

Most Sustainable

1. The Backpack, Day Owl

waxed canvas backpack day owl

The EPA estimates that 10 million tons of textiles end up in landfills each year. That’s depressing, but brands like Day Owl are doing their part to reduce that waste.

Leading the charge is The Backpack, made from recycled consumer plastic bottles that are sustainably collected, recycled and repurposed with First Mile, Day Owl’s sister company. The bag also uses recycled lining and sustainable foams to make for arguably the most environmentally friendly waxed canvas backpacks out there.

The Backpack sports a minimalist aesthetic that works well for the city, outdoors and travels, and there’s plenty of organization for whatever your day (or night) has in store. The regular version’s available in eight colors, including grey, red and olive, and The Slim Backpack is available in seven colorways.

Both bags are built to last, but if it’s ever time for a change of pace, just send Day Owl your old one and they’ll fix it up or recycle it so it never has to hit the landfill. It’s just one of the ways the Certified B Corp embarks on their journey to become “the first completely circular bag company,” and we’re on board for the ride.

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Best Tactical Bag

2. Urban Assault 24, MYSTERY RANCH

Urban Assault 24 waxed backpack

Bozeman-based MYSTERY RANCH has been in the backpack game for more than 20 years now, and their Urban Assault 24 in Wood Waxed brings their trademark craftsmanship to canvas enthusiasts around the world.

The pack’s focus on organizational efficiency starts and ends with the brand’s 3-zip closure system that makes it easy to get in and out of your pack without reorganizing every time. Pockets and a padded sleeve offer protection and structure where you need it and flexibility everywhere else. It’s also backed by the Ranch’s signature guarantee on materials and construction, so you’re covered for the long haul.

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Best Rucksack

3. GR1 Heritage, GORUCK

gr1 waxed canvas rucksack

Don’t call it a backpack: the GR1 Heritage is a rucksack through and through, with military roots and a mission to “house a lot of weight over time and distance.” But that doesn’t mean GORUCK didn’t skimp on style, which the GR1 exudes in every feature.

The Martexin Wax finish gives it a durable, rainproof protective layer that’s ideal for the outdoors, but a slim profile and minimalist aesthetic fits well in the city. A “bombproof laptop compartment” is about as secure as you’d expect from that moniker, and MOLLE webbing makes it easy to custom the interior based on your everyday carry needs.

The GR1 Heritage’s made in the U.S. with outstanding attention to detail and craftsmanship, and their lifetime guarantee means you don’t have to worry about what happens in the field: this thing’s goin’ the distance.

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Best Heritage Pack

4. Deluxe Roll-Top Scout, Duluth Pack

rolltop waxed canvas backpack

The Deluxe Roll-Top Scout is a smaller version of Duluth Pack’s famed canoe pack patented in the late 1880s. The concept was brought to life when a prominent fashion writer requested a smaller bag, and Duluth Pack delivered.

Today, it retains its heritage vibe and scoutmaster look, from the classic roll-top to the leather straps and buckles keeping things on lock-down. Duluth Pack’s signature leather emblem makes for distinct but not over-the-top branding, and the slim profile looks good in the city or the field.

The Deluxe version of the Scout pack adds more leather, including a hearty bottom that keeps your pack more protected out in the wild. A side-access zipper also makes getting to the main compartment incredibly easy, where most canvas bags only offer top-closure access.

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Best for Outdoor Work

5. Oil Finish Rucksack, Filson

waxed canvas rucksack filson

Filson’s been around since the Klondike Gold Rush, but that doesn’t mean they’re behind the times. Their Oil Finish Rucksack is outfitted with contemporary — and comfortable — back and shoulder padding to alleviate one of the most common complaints of traditional canvas packs.

A simple interior and a few outside pockets offers organization without taking away from the pack’s uncomplicated vibe, and the 14-ounce waxed canvas is ready to take on the elements in any season. If you get why Filson’s craftsmanship is still around today, you’ll appreciate the Oil Finish Rucksack without pause.

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Best for Travel

6. Eskape™ 25 Kanvas Backpack, KÜHL

Eskape™ 25 Kanvas Backpack

Proving not every canvas pack has 19th century roots, KÜHL’s Eskape™ 25 Kanvas Backpack is a case study in modernizing the throwback material. Their nylon-canvas hybrid exterior offers waterproof protection in a contemporary package built for modern travel.

A clamshell-style body and quick-access pockets make it easy to grab items on the go, and the ergonomic shoulder straps and contours take on long-distance travel with gusto. A sizeable 25-liter capacity, water bottle holders and KÜHL’s iconic outdoor angling also make the Eskape™ 25 ideal for day hikes and other outdoor treks.

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Best for Students

7. Kånken No. 2, Fjällräven

Fjällräven Kånken No. 2

When Fjällräven launched the Kånken in the late ‘70s, their goal was to alleviate back problems in Swedish schoolchildren. We don’t know the state of those kids’ backs now, but we do know the Kånken is now ubiquitous for students and adults around the world.

The Kånken 2 is a double-waxed version of the original, offering superior water-resistance and a rugged but clean look that works just as well for hiking as it does school. At 16 liters, it’s one of the smaller, lighter packs on our list, but that doesn’t mean it lacks substance.

The back’s more padded than most canvas packs you’ll find, and Fjällräven’s iconic and simple ergonomic design makes it easy to wear for long hours or miles. It’s a solid urban option for those who don’t need the larger, outdoorsy capacity of their Stubben, but still want the G-1000® waxed fabric construction.

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Best for Cycling

8. The Sanction, Mission Workshop

mission workshop waxed canvas backpack

Mission Workshops’ technical cycling roots go back to the mid-’90s, and today they’re still leading the charge when it comes to durable gear made for city streets. The Sanction is a prime example of why MW’s hung around for so long, and its blend of function, form and fabric make it one of the toughest packs on our list.

The American-made pack’s lean profile keeps it close to the rider, and the canvas exterior provides just enough structure and balance. The Sanction also works with the brand’s signature Arkiv® system, so you can add helpful attachments like a cell phone pocket or utility pouch.

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Best for Daily Use

9. Räven 28, Fjällräven

Räven 28, Fjällräven

The Räven 28 is ideal for anyone wanting the classic schoolbag look of a Jansport with the durable water-resistance of waxed canvas. It’s made with an eco-version of Fjällräven’s G-1000® made from recycled polyester and organic cotton, and maintains the same ruggedness of their original waxed fabric.

A padded sleeve fits 15” laptops and there’s no shortage of organizational options. Because it’s often stiff and difficult to work with, waxed canvas usually lends itself to simple bags, but not here. The Räven 28 has enough zippered and internal pockets to hold everything you need for class, work, and more.

Two exterior side pockets can hold slim water bottles and even with a heavier load, the main compartment won’t weigh down the padded shoulder straps to the point of discomfort. A nice foam sheet on the back gives the bag structure without making it feel heavy and inflexible. It’s available in all sorts of bold colorways, but we dig the dark olive with its minimalist vibe.

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Best Bushcraft Pack

10. Isle Royale Bushcraft Pack, Frost River

Isle Royale Bushcraft Pack

Waxed canvas’s sailing roots transition well to life on the lake, or wherever you explore when you jump off the canoe. The Isle Royale Bushcraft Pack is an old-school bag meant to endure the elements with ease, and up in the North Woods of Minnesota, the elements can be downright nasty.

But this pack gets the job done and more. Large pockets sandwich a convenient axe sleeve — perfect for Frost River’s wood craft axe – and thick-padded shoulder straps carry the loan even when it gets wet and heavy. Three sizes and optional bedroll straps make it easy to find the pack that suits your backcountry adventures.

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Best Roll-Top

11. The Biographer, Bradley Mountain

The Biographer, Bradley Mountain

Tyler Axtell began Bradley Mountain in his Ocean Beach garage in 2012, setting out to “help people in practical ways have a simple set of tools to tackle their dreams and goals.”

One of the company’s crowning achievements is The Biographer, a rugged yet sleek waxed canvas rolltop that’s decorated with oiled leather, brass hardware and detail where it counts most.

Bradley Mountain makes The Biographer in San Diego, and their team of four craftsman offers this bag in field tan (pictured), brush brown, charcoal and black.

It’s a little smaller than some packs, offering between 10.5 and 13 liters depending on how open the rolltop is, but the quality of The Biographer is second to none.

The waxed canvas contrasts well with the organic leather that’s dyed and oiled in-house, and the straps are lined with a nice wool padding that makes The Biographer as comfortable as it is distinguished.

Put all this together and you get one of the best waxed canvas packs on the market.

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Boldest Colorway

12. Roll-Top Pack, Winter Session

roll top waxed canvas backpack

Husband and wife Roy Katz and Tanya Fleisher run Winter Session from their Denver storefront, and their Roll-Top Pack captures perfectly the couple’s approach to craftsmanship and quality.

Made from durable 20-ounce waxed canvas, the Roll-Top has subtle but powerful design features that only get better with time. Case in point: vegetable-tanned leather straps that’ll darken with age, and a canvas body that shows its history in the best way possible.

Pleated exterior pockets give the pack plenty of room to take on trips, and the body’s construction is slim enough to use around the city. Brass hardware is used only as needed, giving the Roll-Top a clean, simple vibe that’s easy on the eyes.

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Best Large Pack

13. Dakota Roll Top Backpack, Buffalo Jackson

dakota roll top backpack

If waxed canvas is having a moment, then roll-top bags are having a moment within the moment, and we’re not mad about it. The old-school styling of the Dakota Roll Top makes it easy to secure larger loads, and at 45L, this one’s three times the capacity of the Commuter pack above.

It has the same attention to detail and craftsmanship as the rest of Buffalo Jackson’s line, but extra features like side buckles make it easy to hold down a wool blanket or sleeping pad if you’re spending the night under the stars. To bear the extra weight and capacity, the Dakota Roll Top has impressively padded shoulder straps for comfortable miles on the trail.

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