Is Waxed Canvas Breathable?

While waxed canvas offers excellent water resistance, it isn’t the most breathable fabric. The waxing process, which gives it its protective qualities, compromises its ability to release moisture vapor. However, waxed canvas can be a suitable choice depending on the activity and climate.

Understanding Breathability

Breathability in fabrics is crucial for comfort, especially during exertion or in hot weather. It refers to the material’s capacity to allow perspiration (moisture vapor) to escape, preventing clamminess and overheating.

How Waxing Impacts Breathability

  • The Waxing Process: Waxed canvas starts as a tightly woven canvas fabric (usually cotton). A blend of natural waxes is then applied, filling the microscopic gaps between the fibers and creating an effective barrier against water.
  • The Trade-off: This wax coating provides exceptional water resistance, but it also reduces the fabric’s ability to transmit moisture vapor.

When Waxed Canvas Works (and When It Doesn’t)

  • Moderate Activity & Cool Temperatures: For light hikes, everyday wear, or outdoor work in cooler climates, waxed canvas provides ample breathability.
  • Outerwear: Waxed canvas excels as jackets, hats, and bags, offering wind and rain protection with a manageable breathability trade-off.
  • Durability Advantage: Where breathability is less crucial, waxed canvas’s superior durability and weather resistance make it a long-lasting choice.
  • Not for the Tropics: For strenuous activities in hot or humid conditions, waxed canvas might lead to overheating. Modern technical fabrics offer far better breathability for these scenarios.

Factors Affecting Waxed Canvas Breathability

  • Fabric Weight: Heavier waxed canvas will be less breathable than lighter-weight options.
  • Layering: Wearing breathable base layers under waxed canvas can improve overall comfort.
  • Re-waxing: As the wax coating wears with use, breathability gradually improves but water resistance decreases.
Waxed canvas bag vs. synthetic waterproof bag, comparing natural and modern materials

Alternatives to Waxed Canvas When Breathability Is Key

  • Modern Technical Fabrics: Synthetic fabrics like Gore-Tex® and other waterproof-breathable membranes offer far superior breathability while maintaining water resistance.
  • Natural Fabrics: For hot climates, untreated canvas or linen provide excellent breathability.
  • Hybrids: Some garments combine waxed canvas in high-wear areas with breathable fabrics in others for the best of both worlds.

Waxed Canvas: A Legacy of Performance and Tradition

Waxed canvas offers a distinct blend of water resistance, durability, and timeless style. By understanding its limitations and strengths, you can make the best choices for your outdoor adventures and everyday needs.


Is there a breathable alternative to waxed canvas?

Yes! Modern waterproof-breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex® and others offer superior breathability while maintaining water resistance. For hot weather, natural fabrics like untreated canvas or linen provide excellent breathability.

Can I make waxed canvas more breathable?

While you can’t drastically improve breathability, there are a few things to consider:

  • Choose lighter-weight waxed canvas fabrics.
  • Wear breathable base layers to help manage moisture.
  • Over time, re-waxing less frequently will gradually increase breathability at the expense of some water resistance.

Is waxed canvas a good choice for hiking backpacks?

It depends on the conditions. For shorter hikes in cool climates, waxed canvas’s durability is a plus. However, on extended treks or in warmer weather, a backpack with a breathable mesh back panel and technical fabrics will provide better comfort by reducing sweat buildup.

How does waxed canvas compare to leather for jackets?

Both materials offer durability and weather protection, but have different strengths:

  • Waxed canvas is generally lighter weight and initially more water-resistant.
  • Leather offers better wind resistance and can develop a unique patina over time.
  • Breathability is limited in both materials compared to modern technical fabrics.

Summary and Key Takeaways

Waxed canvas is a traditional material prized for its natural water resistance and durability. Its unique properties stem from the wax-infusion process, a technique with a long history. However, a critical consideration when choosing waxed canvas is its limited breathability compared to modern technical fabrics.

Key Takeaways

FeatureWaxed CanvasModern Technical Fabrics
BreathabilityLimited, good for moderate activity & cool weatherSuperior, ideal for intense activity and warm climates
Water ResistanceExcellentExcellent
DurabilityVery highVaries, but many technical fabrics are highly durable
StyleClassic, timelessRange from sleek and modern to outdoorsy

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