Ripstop vs Canvas Fabric: Which is Better for Workwear?


Choosing between ripstop vs canvas fabric for workwear can be tricky, since both sound very durable. And yes, both function very well as workwear. But there are significant differences in canvas vs ripstop fabric. How do you know whether ripstop or canvas is better for you?

Ripstop and canvas fabrics are both durable enough for workwear. Canvas fabric is heavier in weight, and more durable. Ripstop provides a lighter-weight alternative that is more breathable and better for hot-weather work.

Canvas fabric is made from cotton and is very rigid and stiff, and it supplies premium abrasion resistance due to this heavy, tough texture. But canvas fabric is not very breathable, and it can be a pain to wear in the summer months.

Ripstop fabric is often made from nylon, but in workwear you will occasionally see cotton ripstop pants also. The nylon ripstop is most popular, and it is very thin and lightweight.

No, it can’t take a pounding like canvas fabric can, but the ripstop weave is designed in a way that, although it is thin and lightweight, it is resistant to ripping and tearing. Ripstop fabric allows you to wear a breathable, thin fabric during hot weather that at least provides some tear resistance.

Here is a look at canvas vs ripstop fabric. The canvas fabric on top is much thicker:

ripstop-vs-canvas

Canvas is undoubtedly the stronger, tougher fabric. But when you factor in breathability, there are many situations where a ripstop fabric makes more sense, not only for work, but for activities like hiking.

Of course canvas is strong enough to handle hiking, but it is stiff, heavy, and hot. Ripstop fabric is lightweight, breathable, and still gives you some protection against brush and debris. For work, when choosing between ripstop vs canvas fabric, you’ll need to decide if you need something ultra tough (canvas) or something built more for breathability (ripstop).

In this article let’s take a closer look at ripstop vs canvas fabric by discussing the pros and cons of each. I will use some examples of the pants I own.


Canvas vs Ripstop Fabric

Canvas Advantages

Canvas is a heavyweight fighter. It is very stiff and rigid, and this tough texture means it can take a beating and not let up. Here’s a close-up look at my heavyweight canvas jacket:

carhartt-cotton

But with this toughness comes stiffness. Yes, over time canvas fabric will break in (and you can buy pre-washed canvas that feels broken in), but many types of canvas pants and jackets can feel stiff off the rack.

Here’s a pair of my heavy duty canvas pants – you can see how stiff they are:

duck-canvas-work-pants

Because canvas is often made with 12-ounce heavyweight cotton, canvas workwear can be very heavy and hot. This is not a breathable fabric. If you wear heavyweight canvas in the summer, expect to sweat. Hot weather is where ripstop pants make more sense (more on that later).

Some workwear brands will offer summer canvas pants that are more hot-weather friendly. To do this, they may use a lighter-weight canvas fabric (for example, 7-ounce cotton instead of 12-ounce).

Here’s a pair of 7.5-ounce cotton canvas pants I own (Carhartt B151 work pants):

b151-material
best-lightweight-canvas-pants

Those lightweight canvas pants (32×34) weigh under 1.5 pounds, whereas most heavy-duty canvas pants will push towards 2 pounds, or beyond.

You can also buy canvas fabric blends, where companies will add either spandex or polyester to the cotton canvas to give it stretch or extra-breathability (more on that later).

But traditional 100% cotton will not be as breathable as nylon ripstop. Cotton by itself is not moisture wicking, and does not have the capability to wick sweat away and disperse it to the outside of the garment.

Again, you can find some canvas fabrics that will wick sweat, but they will use a fabric blend to get this done. Later I will show you an example of blended canvas that I use. First, let’s discuss ripstop.

Ripstop Advantages

Ripstop is a lightweight alternative to canvas. In many ways, it’s nothing like canvas fabric. It doesn’t feel stiff or rigid, it isn’t made of cotton, and it’s not heavy or hot. But the one similarity it has is it discourages rips and tears.

The ripstop weave has a square, boxed appearance. If you look closely, you can see the ripstop weave here in my pants:

force-carhartt-ripstop

No, nylon ripstop will not be as tough as heavyweight canvas. To the touch, it is much more flexible, and easier to wear. The weight is possibly the biggest difference.

For example, here’s a pair of ripstop work pants I own. A size 32×34 weighs only 0.62 pounds:

columbia-weight

This is a quarter of the weight that some heavyweight canvas pants will weigh. And not only is this fabric lightweight, it is much more flexible:

columbia-gusset

But again, the fabric is quite thin. Even though it is weaved in a manner that discourages large rips and tears, this fabric won’t protect you like canvas fabric will. But it makes for great summer work pants and summer work shorts.

Ripstop fabric is often designed to be moisture wicking, meaning it will pull sweat away from your body and disperse it to the outside of the garment so it dries quickly. This triggers evaporation, which can naturally help pull some heat away from your body.

Ripstop is a great summer fabric. It’s also a great option if you need a fabric that allows you to move quickly and be responsive. Canvas fabric is stiff, and can slow you down.

For those of you who prefer cargo pants, it is much more common to find ripstop cargo pants than canvas cargo pants. Thick canvas material can be a bit bulky when you add large cargo pockets. To see ripstop cargo pant options, visit our article about the best lightweight cargo pants.


Summer Canvas Options

Okay, we’ve established that ripstop is more summer-friendly. But what if you need that canvas toughness during the summer months?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, some companies will make canvas pants using a lighter-weight cotton (like 7-ounce instead of 12-ounce). Obviously, this makes the pants weigh less, but I would just caution you, these lightweight canvas pants (in my experience) are still not as breathable as ripstop.

But if you need summer canvas pants, a lightweight option is your best bet. I personally use the Carhartt B151 pants for summer.

Another summer canvas pant I like is the Wrangler ATG Canvas Pant. Here’s an up-close look at the canvas material of those pants:

atg-pants-material
atg-work-pants

These pants use a cotton/spandex blend. Not only does this help take the stiffness away from these pants, it also allows the pants to be moisture wicking, and pull sweat away from the body. But, these pants are still going to weigh much more than ripstop.

atg-pants-weight

Of course, you may be considering ripstop work shorts or canvas work shorts. All that we have discussed also applies to shorts, but it is worth noting that most canvas shorts don’t use a heavyweight 12-ounce cotton. It is common to see a midweight canvas used in shorts. Canvas work shirts also often use a lighter-weight canvas.


When to Choose Ripstop or Canvas

Which is better for winter?

Canvas pants will give you much more warmth, and help trap heat. This is an easy winner for me. You can buy insulated canvas pants for even more winter warmth.

Which is better for summer?

Ripstop. As we have discussed, it is lightweight and more breathable than canvas. Many ripstop pants are designed to wick away sweat. For your best summer options, visit our article about the best work pants for hot weather.

Which is better against rain?

I’d lean ripstop here, but I’d also ask about temperature. If it’s a cold rain, I’d rather wear canvas. But be careful, cotton canvas will absorb water, and can become drenched and heavy.

It is much easier to find water-resistant ripstop than water-resistant canvas. If it’s a spring or summer rain shower, give me ripstop.

Which is better against heavy wind?

Canvas. Easy winner. Ripstop is lightweight and can be controlled by wind. Many canvas pants and jackets are labeled as wind-resistant.

Which is more durable?

Canvas is more durable than ripstop. Yes, ripstop is designed to discourage rips and tears, but canvas is a much stronger, tougher fabric.

Which will last longer?

Obviously, brand can affect this. But in general, expect canvas pants to last longer than ripstop pants.

Which is more flexible?

Ripstop is easily more flexible than canvas fabric. But you can find stretch canvas blends, so if you need something ultra-durable, you might shop for stretch canvas that has a small bit of spandex blended in. To find options, visit our article about the best stretch work pants. For shorts, visit our article about the best stretch work shorts.

PRO TIP: If you want to skip the stiff feeling of 100% cotton canvas, buy pre-washed canvas. The pre-wash process helps break the canvas in, so it has a worn-in feeling on the first wear. Some companies refer to this as “Sandstone” canvas.


Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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