There isn't one material that will deliver everything you want from a rug or jacket. Some people want something warm and dry. Some people want something cool and breathable. Others want something that will last, while some are happy with something cheap and cheerful.
Synthetics are by far the most popular today as they are lightweight and available in lots of vibrant colours. Materials that feature a thin rubber laminate are very effective at keeping your animals dry. However, with the cheaper synthetics you may end up with a product that is similar to a plastic bag and does not breath at all. At the opposite end of the spectrum, synthetics which are so breathable they are ideal for a hot summer's day but are unable to hold off a shower. It's not uncommon for animals to be wet under synthetics but it is hard to tell if it is rain or a build up of condensation or sweat. An alternative to synthetics is cotton canvas, which has been used in horse rugs and cow blankets for decades. Canvas appeared to go out of fashion at the turn of the century when mass produced synthetics became affordable. However, in some parts of the globe canvas has maintained a strong following because of its natural qualities.
In our opinion, both materials have their own merits dependent on the conditions - which is why we offer both options across our ranges. We have created a chart that highlights the advantages and disadvantages for both materials, to make it easier for our customers to select the correct material depending on their situation.
What do the numbers mean?
The number indicates how waterproof a fabric is, measured in millimetres. Using the first rating, 3,000mm, as an example, if you were to put a square tube with inner dimensions of 1” x 1” over the fabric, you could fill it with water to a height of 3,000 mm before water would begin to leak through the fabric. So, the higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric.
You’ll often see another number alongside the waterproofing number, expressed in grams. This refers to how breathable the fabric is, as tested how many grams of water vapour can pass through a square meter (m2) of the fabric from the inside to the outside in a 24-hour period. In the case of a 3,000g fabric, this would be 3,000 grams. The larger the number, the more breathable the fabric.
|Measurably waterproof, tiny holes in the rubber laminate allow vapour out whilst stopping water coming in. The more waterproof, the less breathable and vise versa. Once that rubber laminate has gone through general wear and tear it is no longer waterproof. Don't waste your money re-proofing, use it as a under rug or for spares.
|Generally proofed in the manufacturing process. It can easily handle a light shower to a short burst of heavy rain before starting to seep. Needs to be wet when new to allow fibres to expand and with regular use should be re-proofed once a year to maintain protection. Will get heavy when wet, however the canvas we use today is much lighter and stronger than previous years. It can last for years if looked after.
|Good quality synthetics are very robust and last well. Normally only being broken down by UV light or excessive washing. Synthetics are soft which make them easier to snag, and even a top quality material can snag and tear with a 500kg horse running along underneath it. As a general rule the higher the denier the stronger the material. A 600dn ripstop should be the bare minimum. A 1000dn to 1200dn would be suited to a playful horse, a ballistics or cordura synthetic, if your horse has been possessed.
Canvas strength is measured by its weight in ounces. 15oz to 18oz is a good all-round weight but can go as high as 24oz for thick heavy winter rugs or as low as 12oz for a light summer sheet. The strongest canvas is ripstop which is really just a special weave that helps prevent tearing. It also has some synthetic content which makes the canvas stronger but doesn't add to the weight. It maintains the qualities of natural fibres being breathable, wicking and UV resistant. Once canvas is proofed it can be quite stiff which helps against snagging.
|One of the best materials you can use on a sunny, hot day is 100% synthetic. This is a cooler rug and is a light strong material that has an open weave. It allows heat and vapours to pass through while blocking enough of the sun to protect the animal and keep it cool. The problem comes when we use the rubber laminate on the underside to stop water coming through. Technically, this is breathable.How breathable, and what those numbers actually mean to the comfort of your animals when its not freezing outside is questionable.
|The cotton content in canvas makes it naturally very breathable and comfortable in varying conditions. We all know the benefits of natural fibres in our own clothings and there is no difference for animals. The heavier the canvas and the proofing treatment does effect the breathability but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Canvas performs well in warm conditions and with a blanket lining just as good in the cold.
Synthetics are generally soft to touch and light in weight so not prone to rubbing. This generally makes them more forgiving when getting a size bigger or smaller. Synthetic products tend to be bigger in design to wear around the animal, fitting more snug, similar to a sleeping bag.
If synthetics are like a sleeping bag, then canvas is more like a fitted shirt. Lightweight canvas is not such a problem, but when you get into heavy winter weights then you need the right fit or it's more likely to rub, especially on the broader animals. No issues going up a size in canvas to cater for a longer or broader animal but too small or too big is likely to cause more issues than it's worth.
Conclusion: In our opinion, both materials deserve to be available for customers and their individual needs. If it is cold and wet then synthetics are the most suitable material. In the warmer months when it's mostly dry, then canvas or the synthetic cooler would be our choice. For the in-between months of Spring and Autumn, when you can experience four seasons in one day, either material can be suitable. Canvas would be more comfortable should the sun come out with no problem holding off a burst of rain. However, should you experience a prolonged downpour then we would recommend the synthetic for its waterproofing qualities. From our experience, if you are lucky enough to be near your animals when the weather changes then it doesn't really matter which material you use. But if you need to make a choice of what will be best during the day when you are away, then it comes down to comfort for your animal and convenience for you.
NOTE: All situations are different. Some animals are hot while others are cold. Age and health are factors to consider when choosing a material, as is the animal's natural coat (clipped or o'natural). Our knowledge and expertise comes from over 15 years experience within the rural and equine industry in New Zealand. The above is our own view on materials used in today's market based on our own successful experience.