If you’re searching for a new bag these days, you’re probably debating between waxed canvas or leather. Leather has always been a popular choice, and waxed canvas is experiencing a much deserved renaissance. Choosing between waxed canvas and leather is ultimately going to come down to how you’ll use your bag. To help you compare, we’ll focus on four main points: water resistance, cleaning, maintenance, and durability.
The most stark contrast between leather and waxed canvas is how they handle water. High quality leather - that which is not treated with a synthetic coating - will absorb water, causing it to deteriorate. Choosing a leather bag means you get a soft, supple material - that you’d better dry quickly if it gets wet. Choosing to treat your leather bag with a water resistant coating means compromising the natural patina that would otherwise develop with age.
Waxed canvas, on the other hand, is known and loved for its water resistance. The wax coating repels water, making this a popular material for sails, tents, and outdoor gear that has stood the test of time. However, the wax coating also tends to make the material more stiff as compared to a soft, high quality leather.
Oil and residue transfer easily to leather, so leather should regularly be wiped down with a dry or slightly damp cloth. Once a year or so, it should be thoroughly cleaned with a leather cleaning product.
A few scuffs and a little dust isn’t going to kill waxed canvas, so regular cleaning is not required. But if you’ve got some mud or major dirt to deal with, you’ll let the mud dry and then gently scrub it away with a bristled brush. If you’re dealing with a tough spot that you really want to clean up, you can use cold water and a small amount of mild soap (NOT DETERGENT). Then rinse and allow to air dry. Do NOT dry clean or machine wash your waxed canvas bag.
Leather and waxed canvas both require maintenance. Leather will dry out over time, so at least once a year, a high quality leather conditioner should be applied to your leather bag. You can massage the conditioner into the entire surface of the leather with a soft sponge or cloth; then wipe off any excess with a clean dry cloth. (If you live in an arid climate, you’ll want to do this every couple of months.)
Maintaining waxed canvas means re-waxing the canvas. Over time, you may find the wax coating beginning to thin, or notice spots where the waterproofing has broken down. You can restore your bag by re-waxing it. This is a fairly simple process which only requires a bar or tin of wax and a hair dryer to help soften the wax when applying.
Both waxed canvas and high quality leather far outlast their counterparts in long term endurance. Truly, the more you use them, the better they look. Given the proper care, the same wear and tear that would wear out and tear up another product will instead develop - in both leather and waxed canvas - the character and patina that make them even more valuable and desirable over time.
So, how do you choose between leather and waxed canvas? Bottom line: both waxed canvas and leather are durable materials with rich histories that age well when cared for properly. Make your choice, treat it well, and enjoy it for a long time to come.