Canvas pants are extremely versatile, and can be worn for many different occasions. Whether you wear them for outdoor activities, work, or just as a fashion statement, canvas pants are dependable pants that resists wear and tear. But what about summer? Are canvas pants breathable?
There are two types of canvas: plain canvas and duck canvas. Plain-weave canvas is typically made of cotton, which is lightweight and absorbs moisture. This property makes it relatively breathable. Because duck canvas is heavier, more tightly woven, and water-resistant, it is less breathable.
Because of its tight weaving, canvas is not the most breathable material for pants. Luckily, other material options are both breathable and durable. In this article let’s discuss why canvas pants are not that breathable, and what some of your other options are.
To read about your best canvas pant options for summer, visit our article about the best lightweight canvas pants.
Why is Canvas Not Very Breathable?
Canvas is extremely firm and durable and is used to make clothes, shoes, tents, bags, boat sails, upholstery, and much more. Because of its tight weave, canvas is desirable for its strength and durability.
Worker in harsh environments rely on canvas pants to protect them from the surrounding environment, and the elements. Canvas pants are heavy, and durable, but the tight weave of these pants makes them not very breathable.
What is Canvas Made Of?
Originally woven from hemp, canvas is now commonly made from cotton and sometimes linen. It originated in the 13th century as backing support for oil paint due to its flexibility and strength.
The material is made from thick yarn, so its lower thread count causes it to be rough to the touch. In fact, the process itself does not attempt to make the final product soft, with the yarn being carded instead of combed.
For us workers, it is most common to see 100% cotton canvas. Like most types of canvas, this 100% cotton duck canvas can be quite stiff off the rack. Some companies will pre-wash their canvas to help break it in.
What is Duck Canvas?
Duck canvas differs from regular canvas because it is woven even more tightly. You will often see this type of fabric referred to as “duck cotton” or “canvas duck”.
Here are some of the pros and cons of duck canvas work pants:
- Tougher than most work pants
- Resistant to wind and cold weather
- Some (but not all) versions may be flame resistant
- Some (but not all) versions may be water resistant
- Resist snags and rips
- Durable for years of wear
- They can be stiff at first
- Some find them unattractive
- Not breathable, hot during summer
Canvas Alternatives that Are Breathable
If you are looking for a canvas alternative that is both durable AND breathable, I’d recommend a ripstop fabric. This type of fabric is used in many types of hiking and work pants, and is much thinner than canvas, but still resists tears (ripstop or canvas).
No, ripstop is not as durable as canvas, but it is much more summer-friendly. To see options, visit our article about the best ripstop work pants.
Let’s discuss in further detail some of the best canvas alternatives, and how they compare to canvas.
Cotton is the most widely used material fiber in the world. It is naturally occurring, lightweight, breathable, and strong.
Clothing that contains more cotton and less synthetic material tends to be more breathable but overall less durable and firm, depending on how it has been woven.
|Canvas (Duck Canvas, Tin cloth)||-Work Clothes||-Less breathable-Not very flexible-Thick fabric||-Extremely durable-Thick, rough-Resists wear and tear|
|Denim||-Jeans||-Very breathable -More flexible-Absorbs water||-Less durable, depending on thread-count|
|Ripstop (Nylon crosshatch)||-Tactical pants-Cargo pants||-Extremely breathable-Lightweight-Flexible||-Durable -Strong-Thin|
Again, if you are looking for a breathable canvas alternative, I’d recommend a cotton ripstop pant. Of course denim is also an option, but in my experience ripstop cotton is more durable and more breathable than denim (canvas vs denim pants).
Synthetic material fibers allow for durability and flexibility when woven with cotton. Clothing that contains a high percentage of synthetic fibers is typically flexible, lightweight, and strong.
The higher the cotton content, the more breathable these synthetic materials will be. By themselves, synthetic materials like Nylon are not breathable at all. The water-repelling quality of synthetics causes humidity to form between the material and your skin.
|Polyester (Duratex)||-Work pants-Activewear||-Very breathable||-Durable; a durable cotton substitute-Thin|
|Nylon (Kevlar, Polyamide)||-Work & Hiking pants||-Only breathable in cotton blend-Not breathable by itself-Repels water||-Very durable-Thin|
There are other synthetic fabrics on the market, but those are (by a wide margin) the two most common you will find in work pants. You will also see spandex used a lot for stretch work pants.
One of the best synthetic materials for pants is polyester. Its moisture-wicking capabilities, breathability, and strength make polyester blends a great option for work pants.
How to Pick a Breathable Fabric
Breathability in work pants is the degree to which a fabric permits air and moisture to pass through (source). What this means is that a less breathable fabric will not allow moisture from your skin to permeate through the fabric and evaporate.
During those brutal summer months, this is obviously a problem. Yes, of course you could wear work shorts instead, but shorts don’t make sense for all jobs and may not be allowed on some jobs
Choosing a breathable work pant is critical. When choosing the right fabric for your workwear needs, you must first consider how the material was made. If it is tightly woven, it will be less breathable, no matter which kind of fibers were used to make it.
Breathability also depends on the construction of the garment itself. Tight garments with little give/flexibility will also be less breathable. If a canvas material is treated with oil to make it even tougher, it will be far more durable but far less breathable.
If you are searching for summer work pants, I’d suggest visiting our article about the best work pants for hot weather.
Moisture-wicking and breathability go hand-in-hand. For summer, it’s also important to consider the material’s moisture-wicking abilities. Moisture wicking pants are designed to combat sweat and are perfect for summer work.
They are made out of a fabric engineered to move sweat away from the body and disperse it across the outside of the fabric in a way which causes it to evaporate quickly. Also, the evaporation process naturally helps pull heat away from the body, providing a small cooling effect.
Many types of hiking cargo pants are moisture wicking, and make for nice summer work pants. To read more, visit our article about the best breathable cargo pants.
If a piece of clothing is made entirely out of cotton with no synthetic blends, it will absorb, not wick, moisture. This means 100% cotton canvas is not moisture wicking.
But, for cotton, this is where synthetic fabric blends help. If a garment is made mostly of cotton but is blended with, for example, polyester, it can have moisture-wicking abilities, making it a breathable option.
To read more, visit our article about the best moisture wicking work pants. Another option for summer work pants are convertible pants that can zip at the knee. To read more, visit our article about the best convertible pants for work.
Breathable Canvas Pants
Yes, canvas is a great fabric for work pants, but it doesn’t always make sense for summer. That said, some jobs need canvas toughness. So, what are the best canvas pants for summer?
I personally wear the Carhartt B151 pants. Here’s a look at mine:
Yes, these pants use 100% cotton canvas, so they are not breathable compared to other fabrics. But, if you must wear canvas, I find these pants to be a nice summer option because they use a lighter-weight 7.5-ounce cotton canvas fabric (instead of the heavyweight 12-ounce fabric).
Although canvas is not breathable compared to other fabrics, this does provide me with some relief. If you need summer canvas pants, I’d recommend considering those.