The Beauty of Cotton Canvas Bags

June 25, 2011

When it comes to messenger bags or musettes to carry on the should in Africa, the first thing that I think of is leather. When I look at Saddleback Leather’s (www.saddlebackleather.com) bags, I cannot help but admire their beauty and ruggedness. I mean, full grain leather will last longer than I will live. It will not rip or tear unless a rhino runs over it. It can get soaked in a river, and it will simply dry out and be fine And dust and grime will not affect it too much. A simple clean with a leather conditioner will restore it to new condition. And as for looking like a daring adventurer, it is difficult to outdo leather.

But then I began looking at photographs from some of the Victorian English explorers, and of soldiers in the desert. You know what? They all used cotton canvas. Why? Why would they use such a low-brow material, when leather is available? I asked several people who know about such things, and to my surprise, they were all in support of cotton canvas.

Apparently, cotton canvas has several qualities that make it ideal for Africa. First, it is lightweight. I had not considered that, while trekking miles across a savanna, ounces count! Second, cotton canvas is naturally waterproof. At the first hit of rain, the cotton fibers swell and press together, blocking out the rest of the water. Third, cotton canvas is breathable. Leather, to the contrary, does not allow air to pass through it, and so everything inside will not only become hot, but also humid. Food will be ruined, and paper will get damp. Next, when cotton canvas gets wet, it dries out very quickly, while leather takes longer, allowing for the possibility of rot. Last, cotton canvas is surprisingly durable and resistant to abrasions. Leather is thicker of course, and can take a direct hit well, but in terms of daily wear and tear, cotton canvas actually holds up better.

So, I have sadly given up my hopes of owning a leather shoulder bag. But, to my delight, it is relatively easy to find military-surplus bags from several different countries. And that, friends, is just plain cool.

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