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How to Care for Frost River Leather

Posted by Alex Messenger

How to Care for Frost River Leather

We pride ourselves on crafting rugged canoe packs, our big backpacks for carrying a camping kit from lake to lake in canoe country. Everything we make is built to those same standards. There’s unique character built into your bag, and with a little care, your waxed canvas and leather friend can be at your side, on your back, and in your canoe for years to come.

Clicking out S.B. Foot leather ovals for Frost River logos. After this step, the leather goes through several more passes, yielding smaller and smaller pieces until the leather scrap is minimal and no longer usable.

Our weather resistant waxed canvas has a proven reputation of performance over seven generations— it’s made to be outside. We pair this rugged, natural material with premium, full grain leather from the S.B. Foot Tannery in Red Wing, Minnesota. They’ve been making high quality leather and supplying Red Wing Shoes (the gold standard in work and outdoor boots) for more than a hundred years. Their leather is sturdy, trustworthy, and made by fellow Minnesotans.

For our buckskin on shoulder straps, mittens, choppers, and Canvas My State Gear, we use locally-sourced, deerhide buckskin leather. It’s naturally water-resistant, supple from the start, and breaks in beautifully.

A close examination of our leather will reveal natural textures, grain, scars, slight variances and blemishes that should not be seen as defects, but added character. We inspect each component throughout our production process, and carefully look over each product before we ship it out. Each bag is delivered to you with our assurance of quality and backed by our lifetime guarantee.

Frost River Buckskin Shoulder Strap Detail

Here are some tips to keep your bag running in top shape for a lifetime.


Once you’re in from a trip, empty out your bag (and all your gear!) and let it dry out. Using a soft or medium bristle brush, remove any stuff that may have come back with you. Don't use a metal brush, they're too rough. An old tooth brush can help with the details. Use plain water, it works remarkably well on its own. Only use a small amount of non-detergent soap if the water and brush didn't do the trick. If you use soap or need to re-wax high wear or weathered areas, you can get a tin of the original formula here. Don’t forget about the inside of your pack, turn the whole thing inside-out and be sure the interior reinforcements are clean. Then let it all dry out, inside and out.


Damp basements are a tough place for a canvas and leather bag to live. This environment breeds mold and mildew and you don’t want either of those around your pack. Don’t store your canoe pack or waxed canvas bag in your basement if it’s prone to those issues. Same goes for concrete, keep ‘em up off the garage floor. Hanging the packs or storing them on a shelf is a good way to keep your pack in good shape between excursions. Better yet, keep it partly loaded and ready to go!

Air dry

Heat guns, campfires, woodstoves, and even hair dryers are too aggressive for drying wet Frost River gear. They can cook and harden the leather… you don’t want that. Our waxed canvas and leather can take a substantial beating, come back looking fine, and last for years, so long as you treat them well (including not trying to dry them out too fast). We’ve had to repair bags that have suffered the wrath of too much heat. Please don’t do that to yours.

Treating leather

Use a pack awhile and the leather will need to be conditioned. There are a lot of different products available and even more philosophies on what’s best. We say: don’t overdo it. Test small, inconspicuous areas first— less is best. All our straps, handles, trims, reinforcements, and odds and ends, are conditioned and good to go when they leave our shop; they’re treated at the tannery. Leather needs be cared for and the heavy duty stuff that we use takes a while to break in, but you’ll be happy once it does!

Some conditioners will work better than others. Take care with load bearing straps so as not to over-treat and over-soften them. Shoe polish does well to condition leather without over softening like can happen with a big glob of mink oil. Several light coats are always better than saturating with lots of conditioner. Wipe off any excess and remember, less is best!

We carry a leather cream that’s been working well. It restores, waterproofs, and protects with a nice blend of conditioning and polish. Plus, it's made in the USA and comes in a handy portable tin!

Color Bleed

Be careful mixing our natural materials with fancy, light colored clothes. The dyes, wax, and conditioners in our bags could transfer to clothing in certain conditions like heat, sweat, water, and friction. Once your gear is broken in, it should no longer be an issue. It doesn’t happen often, just know it could.

Frost River outdoor gear is tough. It’s guaranteed to last, and stand up to hard use outdoors, and, like anything worth keeping, it requires some care and cleaning to fulfill its potential and be with you for years of adventure… on and off the beaten path.

Happy trails and good paddling to you, we thank you for the support!