Waxed canvas jackets are readily associated with rugged outdoorsmen and skilled tradesmen. It makes sense. The fabric used in this outerwear was inspired by jackets made by early sailors, who originally crafted jackets from oiled sailcloth. In the early 20th century, textile mills developed a process for finishing cotton with paraffin wax, creating fabric that was flexible, warm, durable and weatherproof.
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What Is Waxed Canvas?
Though many brands have adopted lightweight waterproofing technologies like Gore-Tex, countless companies still produce hard-wearing waxed canvas outerwear. It's tough, water-resistant and has gone largely unchanged over the past century. Although it's occasionally been adapted to suit newer silhouettes, the trusty treatment still works well to this day, in spite of new, synthetic materials and membranes.
Because long before there were synthetic fabrics, before Gore-Tex and “weatherproof breathability," there was thick cotton and a can of wax. Early sailors realized that wet sails caught the wind better than dry sails, but wet sails were too heavy and slowed the ships down. The solution was rubbing oil into the sailcloths, making them more efficient and also water repellent, so they stayed light in the rain. The sailors started cutting jackets out of the oiled sailcloth for themselves, wearing early editions of the rain jacket, but these primitive designs, made with linseed oil, became stiff in the cold and faded in color.
In the early 20th century, manufacturers developed a process for combining cotton with paraffin wax. The new material made for flexible, warm, durable and waterproof clothing that was quickly adopted by soldiers, outdoorsmen and sailors. Since then, a slew of synthetic, breathable and waterproof fabrics have been developed — and used in those lightweight Arc'teryx jackets everybody wears. But a few companies have stuck with waxed cotton, which remains much more suited to workwear and carries the look and history of a real outdoorsman.
Is a Waxed Canvas Jacket Right for You?
How waterproof are waxed canvas jackets?
Although waxed canvas is super water resistant, it is not technically waterproof. In order to be waterproof, something must have a seal or be virtually impervious. Waxed canvas is not. While the waxy layer creates a membrane that repels water, when fully submerged or exposed for a prolonged period, these jackets will soak through, leaving you wet underneath. They're good for steady, even heavy, rain, but no more.
How warm are waxed canvas jackets?
This depends on whether your waxed canvas jacket is lined. While a standard waxed canvas jacket is pretty warm on its own, it won't do you any good in a snowstorm or on a windy winter day. That is unless it's lined with flannel or another insulating fabric. Flint and Tinder's waxed canvas jacket, which is our top pick, comes flannel-lined for year-round wear.
Are waxed canvas jackets breathable?
Waxed canvas jackets are water resistant because the wax layer creates a membrane that blocks out water. As such, a waxed canvas jacket is nowhere near as breathable as an unwaxed cotton canvas jacket. Truthfully, the difference is incredibly obvious. If it's a little warm out, you'll certainly sweat in a waxed canvas jacket, but most folks wear this style in fall and winter when it isn't especially hot.
How to Re-Wax a Waxed Canvas Jacket
The best part about a waxed jacket is that it isn't a finite finish. You can re-wax it whenever it needs touched up, and, if you do, ideally own it forever. For first-timers, you can tell a jacket needs to be re-waxed by its appearance. The areas where the wax has been worn out will appear lighter than the oily, dark patches around seams and indentations.
You can re-wax a jacket in four easy steps.
- Clean and Prep Your Jacket
- Apply the Wax
- Heat the Applied Wax
- Dry, Wipe and Wear It
For easy-to-follow instructions, read our guide to re-waxing waxed canvas jackets.
Want to know more about this jacket? Read our review of the Flint and Tinder Waxed Trucker.