When photojournalist Jim Domke first invented the world-renowned Domke Bag back in the ‘70s, he deliberately chose to produce it in a very traditional material—canvas duck. His extensive research on this rugged, durable material revealed that it had been used for centuries by seafarers and was prized for its unique combination of softness, breathability and weather resistance. Domke bags in traditional canvas duck are now available in a wide range of colors and styles, and they’re still among the most popular camera bags used by working pros. But now a select group of bags in the Domke line is available in Ruggedwear, a natural fabric that’s ultra cool looking, environmentally friendly, virtually indestructible, and more weather resistant than ever. Most remarkable of all, it has a noble history dating back more than 500 years!
Ruggedwear is a cotton-based fabric impregnated with proprietary natural waxes and oils that have been developed over generations, a process that provides a permanent resistance to inclement weather, but still allows the fabric to breathe. It also imparts a unique well-worn patina to the material—a fashionably distressed look that projects professionalism, but is less likely to attract unwanted attention as a bag containing expensive equipment. The unique appearance of Ruggedwear complements traditional casual outerwear perfectly and it has the unmistakable air of genuine authenticity that few modern materials possess.
The development of today’s Ruggedwear really begins back in the 15th century when early mariners noticed that wet sails were more efficient than dry sails but that their extra weight slowed the vessel down. They applied fish oils and grease to the heavy sailcloth and the result was more efficient sails in dry weather and lighter sails in wet weather. Remnants of this material were cut into waterproof capes to keep the sailors dry—the first fisherman’s slickers! In 1795 English sail makers Frances Webster, Ltd. perfected the art of adding linseed oil, creating oiled flax, a lighter sail material that was soon used by the Royal Navy on early tea clippers. Since these clipper ships were often used to transport cotton from Egypt, experiments were made with this lighter material, and by the 1850s it was widely used for tea clipper sails. All these cloths suffered from two problems—stiffness in cold weather and yellowing. Both were overcome by the mid 1920s, when three British companies cooperated to create paraffin-impregnated cotton, a highly water resistant, breathable cloth that’s not subject to stiffening in the cold or yellowing with age. Proofed Egyptian cotton is still used in a wide range of clothing worn by outdoorsmen and motorcyclists. Good examples are the traditional Barbour and Belstaff motorcycle jackets made in England, prized for their classic appearance and rugged durability, and for keeping riders dry even in the most atrocious weather conditions.
Ruggedwear is actually an improved version of traditional proofed Egyptian cotton—it’s every bit as rugged, durable and impervious to water but isn't oily to the touch and is completely odorless. Like leather, Ruggedwear isn't supposed to be machine washed or dry-cleaned, but it can easily be hosed off, cleaned with mild soap, a damp cloth or soft scrub brush, or even held under the shower! After considerable use you can touch it up and restore the original wax finish to perfection with the tin of finishing ointment furnished with each Ruggedwear Domke bag. However unless you’re a polar explorer or a forest ranger, you probably won’t have to do this for years. If you want the weathered look without the wait, and a camera bag that’s optimized for wearing and working out of and not merely used as a storage container, by all means take a close look the Domke Ruggedwear line, the only Made in USA camera bag designed by pros for pros, and the only one with a nautical heritage going back over half a millennium!