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Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics

New developments in durable and water-resistant backpack fabrics.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2011-04-01 00:01:00-06

When I posted a photo of a new pack manufactured with a highly unconventional fabric to my feed yesterday, the resulting social media storm caught me by surprise. Here's the story of the fabric that has the Twitterverse up in arms.

Conventional backpack fabrics include oxford nylon, ballistics nylon, and Cordura. More modern materials are impregnated or coated with silicone, or offer ripstop patterns with high molecular weight polyethylene rip threads for tear resistance. And, if you follow the ultralight industry, you certainly know about the variants of Cuben Fiber, which promise very high performance-to-weight ratios.

Unfortunately, all of these materials suffer from the limitations of being synthetic in nature. Disadvantages of synthetic fabrics include:

  • hydrolysis of solvent-based coatings in response to sustained exposure to wet conditions, resulting in peeling and failure of the coating;
  • manufacturing processes that depend on petroleum-based chemical processing;
  • the feeling of abrasiveness and irritation when worn next to skin (i.e., as in the contact areas of shoulder straps, hip belts, and back panels).

Consequently, there has been a significant push by the outdoor industry in recent years towards "natural" and "sustainable" fabrics, including bamboo, merino wool, and even fabrics made from the fibers of coconut shells and corn stalks.

Most of these natural fabrics cannot be processed in a way, however, that is most suitable for backpack materials, due to low strength-to-weight ratios, high elasticity, and high levels of water absorption.

Consequently, we have been partnering with our overseas backpack manufacturing facility to develop natural, sustainable fabrics that can be used in backpacks.

After researching a variety of manufacturing processes and fabric constructions, we are getting closer to a final fabric. This fabric will be featured in the 2012 Absaroka Backpack.

Some of its advantages include:

  1. The ability to absorb very small amounts of precipitation and perspiration into the fabric's interstitial structure, to enhance wicking and prevent moisture from "dripping" off of pack fabric into your clothing system.
  2. The ability to regenerate the pack's waterproofness via natural oil impregnation using many commonly available waterproofing solutions sold in shoe and organic food stores.
  3. Its ability to be manufactured from renewable resources (e.g., organic cotton) using modern automated looms that won't require equipment upgrades.

The new fabric will be branded as "Canovaccio" and be manufactured by a well-known company that specializes in soft shell materials in the high alps of Italy.

We are confident that this fabric will have achieved widespread distribution and be available to small cottage manufacturers by the end of the year - hopefully spurring the development of garage innovation and new business for our friends in the cottage industry.

Ryan Jordan is the Founder and CEO of Backpacking Light and can be found on Twitter @bigskyry if you want to stay up to date about lightweight backpacking industry trends.


"Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics ," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2011-04-01 00:01:00-06.


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Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 03/31/2011 23:41:00 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
01042011 on 04/01/2011 01:10:42 MDT Print View

April fools day?

If not, then I applaud that you're going down the environmental & sustainable road.

But then,

A Canovaccio is a vague plot outline used by commedia dell'Arte players. It consisted only of a list of acts and scenes; the details were left to the improvisation of the actors. Actors in the commedia dell'Arte thus had to be endowed with an inventive mind since the success of the play depended largely on their creativity and above all on their lazzi (jokes and gags).

Edited by skullmonkey on 04/01/2011 01:15:23 MDT.

Ross P Hemphill
(rbimli) - F

Locale: PNW
I knew I could rely on BPL! on 04/01/2011 01:11:01 MDT Print View

Can't wait...

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/01/2011 06:31:54 MDT Print View

>> manufactured from renewable resources (e.g., organic cotton) using modern automated looms

>> high Alps of Italy

How enlightening this article was to me. On a recent business trip, a group of Italian men standing near me on the train were cheerfully singing...

Oh, when those cotton balls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home
It was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from Texarkana
In them old cotton fields back home

I overheard one of them laugh and say 'cuben is dead. It is all ours now'.

Now I now what is going. This is scary.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/01/2011 06:41:11 MDT Print View

Since it's a natural and sustainable fabric, I wonder if you could also use it as food in an emergency situation. That would be quite cool. Finally, you could have your pack and eat it too.....

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
The fabric on 04/01/2011 06:54:41 MDT Print View

There is a Canovaccio collection from Europe that is a cotton and jute blend. From Italy there is also the Canovaccio Linen. I also found the following: CANOVACCIO: Medieval - coarse linen cloth for utilitarian use, from tailor's fittings to horse covers. So now, is it an April Fool's joke or a real fabric recalling one of the European fabrics of the same name. Why the suspense?

Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/01/2011 07:17:54 MDT Print View

If this will be constructed of coarse linen cloth based on based medieval model, perhaps you should name the pack "The Sumpter" and give Sam H. the title of "Soumelier" (which rhymes with "April Fools' Day").

adam blanton
(adamallstar) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
waxed canvas? on 04/01/2011 08:11:50 MDT Print View

Sounds alot like waxed canvas... what's with the mystery around it?

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/01/2011 08:12:47 MDT Print View

I can roll with that.

William Johnson
At long last. on 04/01/2011 15:58:25 MDT Print View

A few years ago while in Zurich, I chanced upon a man dressed in a one-piece made of a material eerily similar to this new canovaccio. He lived simply, and evinced such serendipity and keenness of mind that I had to ask him, "What is your secret?" He replied, "The clothes make the man."

Now that this new product has been revealed here in the States, I shall begin the liquidation of my assets in joyous anticipation.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Here
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/01/2011 16:00:25 MDT Print View

oh dear...
Canovaccio was the nickname (later to become his surname) of an Italian painter well known for working whilst eating canoli(s) .
BTW, the suffix "accio" in Italian is a pejorative , so obviously someone objected to him doing so.
Nothing to do with canvas or backpacks at all.
corrected to Italian spelling, since I can.

Edited by Franco on 04/01/2011 16:18:34 MDT.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Ha! on 04/01/2011 20:52:31 MDT Print View

It's the NEW cotton. Cool and comfy. And named after some Italian painter. Rock on.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 04/03/2011 12:09:19 MDT Print View

George is that the Smokey and the Bandit song?

Sebastian Ventris
(sabme) - F - M

Locale: SW UK
Synthetics not fire resistant on 04/06/2011 12:24:46 MDT Print View

I think you missed - at least my biggest bugbear with synthetics - the lack of inherent fire resistance.

I mean you can spend literally hundreds of dollars on some new piece of equipment, pass within firing ranging of a camp fire and boom you have melt holes all over the place with nice hard edges to crack, cause irritation, render your item non waterproof etc. I know you can get fire resistant fabrics but I don't appreciate the health concerns from those toxic coatings.

I now won't pay top dollar on synthetic items, if I can live without it, for this reason. I look at an Arcteryx jacket and just think, yeah one camp fire and that's ready for the dust bin.

Comments please.

Edited by sabme on 04/06/2011 12:25:47 MDT.

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: Synthetics not fire resistant on 04/07/2011 17:12:46 MDT Print View

Arcteryx products were never designed to be near an open fire. they designed for climbing,skiing and other activities related to them.

If you want a jacket for around a wood burning fir buy a $100ish PU on. I use my alpha LT for ice and alpine climbing, and a cheapo mica for sitting around the fire.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
good progress on 04/08/2011 08:50:51 MDT Print View

I am pleased to see the UL community moving towards natural, cotton-based fabrics. Can we get an article next April 1st on bamboo trekking poles please?

Patrick MURA
( - F
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 08/21/2011 21:59:58 MDT Print View

I am surprised. I have had a look on the Backpacking Light Absaroka Backpack ( and it is specified that durability features the use of very durable, siliconized fabrics. So still some synthetic components...

When will we be able to find again good jungle expedition rucksack made of 100% natural fabrics (as it was possible in the 60's and even still in the 70's) :)?

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 08/22/2011 00:09:12 MDT Print View

All I can say is.... it's gonna be heavy.
Cavnas was the standard material for a while. I don't see anything really beating it.

Patrick MURA
( - F
Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 08/22/2011 00:49:42 MDT Print View

If the last post of Justin Baker is a reply to my previous post, I fully agree with him: "Cavnas was the standard material for a while. I don't see anything really beating it."

So I don't understand the remark: "it's gonna be heavy."

There are some canvas quality that are quite lightweight and that were used to make adventure backpacks in the old days, aren't there :)?

Patrick MURA
skype: patrick_mura

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
On another note on 08/22/2011 18:57:20 MDT Print View

"George is that the Smokey and the Bandit song?"

That is actually a blues song named "Cotton Fields" that was covered in the late 60's by the Beach Boys and Creedence. CCR's version is awesome IMO. The Bandit song is "Eastbound and Down".


a b
Pot Packs on 08/22/2011 19:13:17 MDT Print View

Carvaccio.. whatever.
Out here on the Left coast we have Hemp!
Now that is a proven sustainable high strength fiber that can be used to make packs.
Too bad the hippies keep smoking it all up...

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Pot Packs on 08/22/2011 19:22:16 MDT Print View

different hemp Dude.

a b
precisely the point my friend on 08/22/2011 19:45:37 MDT Print View

Actually it's just a different strain of Cannabis they use to make the fibers.
You are right that it's "different' in that it contains much less of the psycho-active component THC but it's still there.
It is still a valid argument fitting this thread.
Why is it, if fibers made from hemp can make a rope strong enough to sail a ship across an ocean, that we don't grow and harvest hemp in this country?
Hemp oil and fibers are the essence of sustainable resources.
If you cannot smoke the variety of Cannabis known as HEMP to get high but you CAN use it to make superbly strong fabrics, why is it banned?
Why do we overlook the obvious and proven resources we have?
Are we afraid 2nd graders will try and smoke their Hemp backpacks?
Interesting times my friend.

Edited by Ice-axe on 08/22/2011 19:46:39 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Canovaccio: Natural, Sustainable Pack Fabrics on 08/25/2011 14:23:55 MDT Print View

Well, the material is going to be very heavy compared to synthetic fabrics. Surely there are light canvas packs out there, and if you like canvas, then a 2-3lb pack isn't the end of the world. If you want something bombproof that can be maintained and waterproofed with natural, everyday materials, then it's hard to beat a good canvas pack.
But I don't see canvas catching on in the ultralight community. I would assume that any attempt to make a truly "light" natural fabric would yield flimsy results.

Edit: No, I wasn't replying to you in that post.

Edited by justin_baker on 08/25/2011 14:24:58 MDT.