If you’re going to go to the effort of making a backpack, you’re going to want to make sure it lasts. And if you want it to last, you’re going to need to make sure it’s made from a fabric that’s practical, sturdy and tough enough to take some hard knocks.
Rewind a few decades, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any backpack that wasn’t made from cotton canvas. Today, it’s fallen somewhat out of favor due to its habit of rotting when damp and its inability to stand up to abrasion. You can still find cotton canvas fashion backpacks, totes, and handbags, but most manufacturers have made the switch to synthetics for any bags designed to be anything more than fashion accessories.
With the days of cotton backpacks behind us, nylon has come into its own. Strong, durable, and far superior to cotton at keeping your perishables dry, nylon has some great things going for it. It’s one true downfall is its tendency to tear if it gets punctured… although with the right weave, even this can be easily avoided. Just be conscious that not all nylon fabrics are waterproof – if you get a straight-up, non-coated version, it’s not going to be the best for rainy days.
Polyester, like nylon, has surged in popularity since people started looking for an alternative to cotton. Cheap, readily available, and resistant to fading, it’s got a score of great qualities. On the flip side, it’s not quite as durable as nylon…hence, no doubt, why store-bought polyester backpacks tend to be cheaper than their nylon equivalents.
Thanks to its durable nature, PVC makes a popular option for backpacks. Waterproof and tear-resistant, it’s widely accessible, relatively cheap, and available in a great range of colors.
If you come across a fabric titled ballistic nylon, you’re on to something special. Originally designed to protect soldiers from bullets or shell impact, these days it’s enjoying a new lease of life as a backpack fabric. Incredibly durable and with exceptional tear resistance, it makes an excellent choice for backpacks that are likely to see a lot of hardcore action. On the flip side, it’s not the easiest of fabrics to dye – if you’re hoping for a backpack in fluorescent pink, you might need to look elsewhere.
If you want a fabric that can stand up to just about any challenge you throw its way, Cordura should be top of your wish list. Heavier and more resilient than nylon, it’s fully waterproof, superbly resistant to abrasion, and durable to the point of being almost indestructible.