What Material Are Backpacks Made Of? 

 May 19, 2023

By  Diane Wuthrich

When you’re shopping around for a backpack, you’ll notice that there are so many different features and aspects to think about. The material used in a backpack is one of the most important considerations. So what materials are backpacks made out of?

Backpacks are made with different materials designed for specific purposes. The most common fabrics used in backpacks are nylon, polyester, canvas, polyester, oxford, or specific material blends. Less common backpack fabrics include leather, denim, and cotton.

Knowing what fabrics are used in backpacks can help you make better buying decisions for your needs. Read on below to learn more.

What Are Backpacks Made Of?

The purpose and performance of a backpack is largely determined by the material used. Knowing what fabric a backpack is made out of will also give you an idea of the backpack’s strength, durability, resistance to tears, and waterproofing abilities.

Many renowned backpack brands are very specific with the quality of materials used in their backpacks. For example, the JanSport Big Campus backpacks are made out of polyester which is durable yet soft enough for everyday or school use. On the other hand, The North Face Borealis backpack is made out of various nylon and polyester fabrics which are tough and water-resistant, ideal for outdoor and hiking adventures.

We’ve compiled a guide to the materials that are used to make backpacks:

Most Common Backpack Materials


Nylon is the most common fabric used in backpacks. It can be made from natural or synthetic fibers.

Many backpack manufacturers use nylon because it’s durable, soft, lightweight, easy to clean, and has varying levels of water resistance depending on the make and finish. Nylon can be combined with other fabrics to create specialty materials including Ballistic Nylon, Cordura, Ripstop, and Kodra to name a few. These specialty fabrics come out much stronger than just nylon, which is why they are commonly used in outdoor, hunting, and travel backpacks.


Polyester is a plastic-based fabric that is widely used in backpacks. These days, many backpack manufacturers have started to use recycled polyester because it’s more eco-friendly.

Polyester is superior in durability and water-resistance, which is why most outdoor backpacks use polyester. It also has the ability to dry quickly.


Canvas is one of the oldest backpack fabrics. They were invented in the 1870’s, and widely used by the military and outdoorsmen because of its durability. It’s made from a natural fiber that may or may not be treated with wax for waterproofing.

Canvas is still a popular choice for backpacks because it will last a lifetime. It’s an excellent material for school and everyday backpacks, though they are significantly heavier than other materials.  


Polypropylene is a synthetic fiber that usually blended with other fabrics to make stronger backpack. It’s chemical and water-resistant, tear-proof, and can withstand serious wear and tear. Polypropylene is extremely lightweight too.


Oxford fabric is renowned for its durability and strength, as well as its resistance to wrinkles. It’s made from either woven nylon or polyester. Oxford materials have a wide range of applications in backpacks: many business, laptop, travel, and school backpacks rely on the unique strength of this material.

In addition, oxford backpacks require little to no maintenance since they are easy to clean. When they do need to be washed, it can retain its shape after getting wet.


Mesh can easily be identified by the many tiny yet visible holes that enable air to pass through it. It’s breathable, see-through, durable, and lightweight. Many sports and outdoor backpacks use mesh material in their front pockets and side water bottle pockets.

Mesh is also commonly used in other parts of the backpack that come into contact with your skin. These include the back panels, shoulder straps, and hip belt since it’s efficient in promoting ventilation while reducing sweat buildup.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)

TPU is a plastic-based material commonly used in cycling and outdoor backpacks because of its excellent waterproofing ability. It’s also resistant to scratches, stains, abrasions, and extremely elastic.

Less Common Materials Used in Backpacks


Leather is one of the strongest materials around. It’s traditionally made from the skin of cows, but leather can also be made from the other animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, ostriches, crocodiles, and snakes. Leather backpacks are on the higher end of the price spectrum, and they are considered a luxury.

However, leather backpacks will last many years but they do require care and maintenance. They are durable and tough but also heavy to carry. Leather backpacks are appropriate for every day, business, and fashion backpacks.

Since leather is not animal-friendly, vegan leather is another great alternative. It’s derived from synthetic materials that are designed to look like authentic leather.


Denim is a stylish and fashionable backpack material that’s also inexpensive. It’s made from woven cotton that has been around since the late 17th century. Denim is still used today, appreciated for its rugged look especially the older it gets.

Denim backpacks have been known to last decades. They are washable and tear-resistant.


Cotton is a natural plant-derived fiber. On its own, cotton is not a strong backpack material because it’s expensive and absorbs water. However, when mixed with other fabrics, it results in a tougher, more water-resistant fabric.

For example, cotton canvas and cotton polyester blends are more ideal than using cotton as a raw backpack fabric. These combinations are stronger, can last many years, and are usually wrinkle-resistant.

Other Components Used in Backpacks


Zippers can be found in most backpacks. They are used to open and close the main compartment or pockets around the pack.

Metal zippers are the most common kind of zipper; they are also the most durable. Plastic zippers are also common. They aren’t as durable as metal zippers but can handle more wear and tear.


Backpacks with padded shoulder and hip straps are typically filled with foam. Several types of foam can be used: open cell foam, closed cell foam, dual density foam, and EVA are the most common.

Open cell foam padding is soft and compressible though not ideal for backpacks designed to carry a significant weight. Being subject to extreme weight will force open cell foam to compress, and it will no longer be able to provide padding. On the other hand, closed cell foam can handle compression more effectively.

Dual density foam offers the best of both worlds, and is thus considered among the best materials used for backpack padding. EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam is also a superior choice for backpack strap padding because it’s comfortable and breathable.


There are many high-quality fabrics that are used for backpacks. Understanding the characteristics of each will help you choose a backpack that is best suited for your individual needs.

About the author

Diane is our head writer and researcher for our backpack informational content. Her everyday carry is a Herschel.

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