There’s no doubt that all of us require a high-quality and durable backpack in our home. While most durable backpacks are primarily designed for rough use outdoors, there are others that fit into our daily professional and leisure activities. Regardless of where you intend to use it, you want a backpack that’s worth your money and will prove to be durable and reliable.

Why is it hard to choose?

However, the problem with choosing the right backpack is not just the budget and features. Yes, these aspects are essential. The backpack has to be affordable, and it should accommodate essentials as well as accessories. But the construction and durability of the bag rarely rely on these two factors.

How well the bag holds up depends on the material and the quality of the product. This is where it gets tricky. Since there is a wide range of raw materials used in backpacks, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of each fabric. Also, most technical specs are mentioned in industry-lingo. This means average shoppers get confused and make the wrong purchase.

To ensure that you have the most reliable and up to date information on backpack materials, we’ve compiled this easy-to-understand guide on backpack fabric. We’ll breakdown which materials are the best and the reasons why. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to choose the best and most appropriate backpack for your needs. 

The Best Materials for Backpacks

Although there are dozens of source material and hybrid materials available, not all of them are equally reliable. For our purposes, we’ve narrowed down the options to a manageable number. This way, you’ll be able to perceive the information accurately and recall them later.

Cotton Canvas

Cotton Canvas backpacks aren’t necessarily the best materials in terms of convenience and usage. But we’ve included this one as the first item because of the sheer popularity of the fabric. Also, when backpacks were first used, they were mostly made from cotton canvas. So, cotton, in a sense, is the predecessor of any high-quality fabrics we have today. Although cotton isn’t the most reliable material today, it was still the most comfortable option back in the early days. However, it did provide a sturdy and durable material that could endure a lot of wear and tear.

Attributes/Properties

When cotton canvas bags were first introduced, the canvas surface would be coated with a layer of wax. The reason for this was to let the water disperse on the surface without clinging on to the fabric. In other words, this was one of the earliest means of waterproofing a backpack. However, there was a risk that came with this crude method. If the backpacks weren’t allowed to dry completely, they started to decompose soon after (Cotton is an organic material, after all).

Remember those old war movies where the soldiers carried their ammo, canteen, gear, etc. in a sizeable duffle-looking bag? Those were the cotton canvas backpacks back in the day. The problem with cotton backpacks was that they were cumbersome. Once filled to capacity, cotton bags would add their own weight to the load and make it heavier for the person carrying it. Fortunately, a more efficient alternative was soon invented – Nylon.

Current Usage

Today, most cotton backpacks are either old remnants or novelty items. Cotton canvas has given way to more efficient materials such as nylon, polyester, corduroy, etc. Even if you do find cotton backpacks, they’ll be one of many ingredients that make up the material. Chances are, most cotton bags you see today will have a tinge of synthetic material in them. However, it is still relevant to know that cotton, as a fabric, still has a wide variety of applications in backpacks. It’s just that cotton canvas is not the first choice of primary material anymore.

Nylon

Nylon was invented around the mid and late 1960s. Different sources have claimed credit for inventing nylon, and it is not clear exactly which individual first introduced it. However, our purpose is not to determine the inventor, but to understand its utility with respect to backpacks. By the late 1960s, cotton was phasing out as a backpack material. This is also the time when nylon started gaining popularity as a better alternative to cotton. 

The excess weight and weak resistance to water made cotton slowly phase out. With the growing need for a material that could repel water better and yet be light enough to carry, nylon became the natural choice of backpack material. 

Attributes/Properties

 Nylon is a polymer that is highly pliable and tensile. It can be fashioned into a wide variety of shapes and sizes. This property is what makes it so useful. It’s the main reason why we see nylon in different forms all the time. Right now too, when we say ‘Nylon,’ there must be a collection of images that come to mind. You may have thought of strings, ribbons, stockings, stretchy fabric, etc.  

This property is what makes it so useful. And the huge variety of products we associate with nylon is because it’s actually a family of polymers (Synthetic Polymers). 

In its core form, nylon is actually a thermoplastic fiber. This is why it can be melted to form strands that combine to form everyday items that seem so different from each other. 

Current Usage

Nylon is still in use today as a material in making modern backpacks. The main benefits of nylon as a fabric is that its water resistance and durability are better than cotton. Also, the fact that it can be worked into a variety of shapes is a very useful attribute when designing backpacks. 

Although nylon has proved to be a way better fabric for backpacks compared to cotton, it still has a flaw. Nylon can get easily torn when it comes in the way of a sharp object. If you’re out hiking, you’ll want to carry tools and implements that may poke and prod at your pack. In cases like these, nylon alone is not enough to ensure the durability of a backpack. The best way to fix this endurance issue is to introduce specific patterns of weaving and stitching to make it more resilient.

Ripstop

Rip-stop is the solution to nylon’s tendency to tear when confronted by a knife or sharp object. Rip-stop, as a material, was created as a progression of improving nylon and giving it more strength. Hence, Rip-stop is actually a sup-type of nylon. This handy material was developed during the Second World War when scientists and engineers wanted to replace silk parachutes with more sturdy and reliable material.

Attributes/Properties

Rip-stop is essentially nylon with reinforcements. It takes a criss-cross arrangement of strong threads that are sewn on the nylon fabric. This gives the fabric an additional layer of integration. With this enhancement, the material becomes much more resilient to tearing and much more durable. It also improves the already existing water-repellent property of nylon.

Current Usage

Today, Rip-stop is an integral component of most hiking backpacks in the market. This proves the efficiency with which Rip-stop protects your belongings in the backpack. Because of its strong core and improved waterproofing, it’s also widely used in parachutes, sails, and even hot air balloons. 

Although Rip-stop seems like the perfect fabric for strength and water-resistance, it has its drawbacks too. Since it’s a very strong material, it does not blend well with soft and lighter materials. If you use Rip-stop along with other lighter fabrics, the fabric will lose its strength in an uneven manner. Since the light fabric will wear out faster than the Rip-stop, you may see holes and punctures appear in the fabric. These holes can grow bigger and eventually force you to discard or take apart your backpack altogether. The seams are usually the first part to give way because of the difference in density of the light fabric and the Rip-stop. 

If you’ve ever had a backpack that seemed as good as new but developed an unexplained hole, it must be made of incompatible fabric components.

Polyester

Polyester is another widely used material in backpacks. After cotton gave way to a more durable and cheaper material, more and more materials started popping up. And polyester is one material that has come to stay. Besides the nylon family, polyester is the next biggest source of backpack fabrics. To understand why we’ll need to take a look at the unique properties this material possesses.

Attributes/Properties

The popularity of polyester has more to do with the cost than the durability. The price of manufacturing and procuring materials is cheaper if you’re dealing with polyester. There is a demand for all categories of backpacks in the market. And low-cost production utilizes polyester in high quantities to churn out decent quality backpacks for different purposes.

Also, one of the most useful attributes of polyester is that it holds and retains color much better than other materials. It may not have the durability of nylon or the strength of Rip-stop, but it’s cheaper to make and better to look at a lot of times. This gives it much more potential in terms of appearance and aesthetics when designing backpacks. 

If you come across backpacks that have fancy designs and bright colors adorning the exterior, it’s safe to assume that there must be some polyester included in the material. Besides hiking gear, polyester has a lot of applications in schoolbags and backpacks designed for the younger generation. Given the range of colors and design options it can accommodate, polyester backpacks are among the most commercial products in the industry.

Current Usage

The catch here is that polyester alone will not be as strong and durable as other stronger materials on this list. It may save some manufacturing cost, but it won’t be as durable as nylon. However, these backpacks are available at more affordable price tags. Not everyone can afford upscale backpacks all the time. Polyester backpacks fill the gap in an economy where there is something for everyone. 

Polypropylene

Today, one of the most used materials for backpacks is polypropylene (or PP in short). It’s essentially a thermoplastic polymer, and it’s formed by bringing together propylene monomers. That may sound confusing, but you’ll be surprised to know how often you see and use polypropylene in one form or the other. It’s part of most of the plastic containers we use in and around our homes. It’s also seen in wrappers, tents, paper, chairs, etc. It’s so widely used that even the little colored stickers on a Rubik’s cube have polypropylene in them. 

Attributes/Properties

Among its many uses, one property of PP that makes it very useful is the fact that it dries out very quickly and does not absorb moisture or water droplets. This aspect of the material makes it an excellent choice for waterproofing materials. It’s better at repelling water than even polyester. PP is also used as an efficient insulator in a host of products. The main reason is that PP does not transfer the heat around it as much as other materials.

Given its natural water-resistance and insulation properties, polypropylene becomes a favorite material for backpacks. They are especially handy in heavy-duty backpacks that are designed to endure the elements and harsh climate. Normally, these large backpacks have pp as one of the components in a combination of materials. You’ll also find that polypropylene is used to make accessory bags such as tote bags. 

Current Usage

One of the drawbacks of PP is that it cannot endure Ultra-violet rays as well as the other materials. The UV rays of the sun can have detrimental effects on any product made solely of polypropylene. So, if a backpack has pp as its primary material, you’ll find that it seems to wear out faster than backpacks of other materials. The low resilience to UV rays makes the PP lose its color and radiance if exposed to the sun and the elements for long periods. One of the most common and regular signs of this effect is when the backpack’s color starts wearing out quickly.


Conclusion

If you’re going hiking or doing other intensive activities, we highly recommend a stronger pack made of nylon or rip-stop. If you’re just using it to go around town, or you’re on a budget, polyester might be a good choice. Polypropylene is a good choice in very cold or wet climates, and cotton is good if … You want to say you have a cotton backpack?

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