A question from reader Patrick H.:
I plan to buy a new tent and backpack, as part of a larger effort to reduce the weight of my gear. I’m attracted to the weight of Cuben Fiber, but I’m concerned about its durability relative to sil-nylon or Robic. Is it worth the premium price?
Most backpackers who look beyond REI while researching gear have probably learned of Cuben Fiber, either in a standalone conversation or as a fabric option for shelters, backpacks, and accessories made by cottage brands like Hammock Gear, Katabatic Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs and others.
Cuben stands out, partly because equipment made with it is exorbitantly expensive relative to comparable products made of more conventional fabrics. A few examples:
- In Cuben, the MLD Cricket Tarp costs $335. In a premium sil-nylon, it’s $185.
- The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 costs $330. The ULA Ohm 2.0 costs $210.
- A 5.6L Cuben stuff sack from ZPacks costs $20. A 5L sil-nylon stuff sack from Granite Gear costs $11.
These price tags beg the question: Is Cuben Fiber worth the cost?
What is Cuben Fiber?
Cuben Fiber, also known as Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), is a grid of Dyneema fiber — which is the strongest fiber in the world, at 15 times the strength of steel per weight — embedded in flexible polyester film. Imagine a painters plastic-type material that is remarkably waterproof, tear-resistant, and lightweight.
The most common versions of Cuben weigh 0.5 oz/yd2 and 0.75 oz/yd2.
Cuben can also be laminated to other fabrics, like a 50-denier polyester, to improve resistance to abrasion and puncture. These laminates weigh more, in the range of 3.0 to 5.0 oz/yd2, depending on the Cuben variety and the laminating fabric. ZPacks and Hyperlite Mountain Gear are both well known for their backpacks made of Cuben laminates.
Backpacking shelters are typically made of woven nylon or polyester. If the fabric must be waterproof — such as the case with a tent fly or floor — it is coated with polyurethane (PU), polyethelete (PE), or silicone (sil).
All things being equal, silicone results in the strongest and most waterproof fabric. However, pure sil-nylons cannot be seam-taped and do not meet fire-resistant standards for critical US markets like California and New York. So wholesalers like Sierra Designs, MSR, and REI use fabrics that are treated with silicone on one side and with PU or PE on the other.
I think that we will see fully seam-taped and fire-resistant sil/sil nylon available within a few years. But the technology is not yet commercial.
Today’s best coated woven fabrics weigh 1.0 to 1.5 oz/yd2 and have been rated up to 4,000 mm of hydrostatic head, several times in excess of “rainproof” standards. If the fabric performance is undisclosed — such as in the case of Big Agnes tent fabrics — you should assume that it is less.
In the case of hydrostatic head, more is better. A more waterproof fabric will withstand greater forces and will have a longer service life.
The quality of coated wovens is continually improving. I’m certain that the shelter fabrics I used on my longest trips are not as good as what I use and see today, while guiding trips and designing shelters with Sierra Designs.
Among active backpackers, coated wovens may have a trust issue. A high quality coated woven makes an excellent shelter fabric, but one bad experience with a low quality version (e.g. cheap or poor quality control) may create nervousness about the whole fabric category. Personally, I have never experienced “misting,” but I have had to replace multiple shelters because they were no longer reliably waterproof — they absorbed too much water, and in some cases would visually leak.
As a shelter fabric, Cuben is very attractive — if you can afford it. A shelter made of Cuben will be:
- Lighter by 30 to 50 percent, depending on the exact fabrics being compared and on the amount of non-fabric parts, e.g. zippers, buckles, struts.
- As waterproof as the best coated nylons, with hydrostatic head ratings of 3,500+ mm.
The performance of Cuben will degrade over time due to use, UV exposure, repeated folding, and wet storage. But the lifespan is still excellent. Ron Bell at MLD estimates the functional lifespan of his shelters made with .75 oz/yd2 at around 250 “thru-hiker nights,” which assumes intense use and occasional wet storage. This is comparable to or in excess of standard coated nylons, which Ron puts at 300 to 500 nights depending on the quality.
Besides cost, weight, waterproofness, and tear strength, there are a few other noteworthy qualities of Cuben. First, it does not “stuff” small. The material is stiff relative to coated wovens, so it needs to be folded for it to pack away small.
Second, Cuben does not stretch. This results in a less forgiving pitch — the tension and anchor points must be perfect — but the shelter will stay taut until the morning. Sil/sil nylon is especially stretchy, and a pre-bed and sometimes middle-of-the-night adjustment is necessary, especially in wet or humid conditions. Obviously, this could get annoying.
Third, the surface of Cuben is less slick than coated wovens, so more snow tends to stick to it. I’ve had multiple Cuben shelters on my winter guided trips with no issues; the coated nylon shelters nearby have fared better, but not dramatically so.
I have had mixed experiences (and have heard mixed reports) about the water absorption of Cuben versus coated wovens. With use, I think you should expect both fabric types to absorb more water than when new.
Is Cuben worth it?
Without knowing your budget or your expected use, I can’t tell you if a shelter made of Cuben is worth the premium price. But hopefully you now have the information necessary to decide.
If you need some help deciding, leave a comment below with an explanation of your situation.
The weight and performance of a shelter, especially common designs like A-frame tarps, is largely a function of its fabric.
This is not the case with backpacks. I can think of at least a handful of considerations that I prioritize above the pack fabric, including:
- Suspension/load-carrying ability,
- External utility and compression, and
Premium conventional pack fabrics may be branded as Cordura, Dyneema, Robic, and X-Pac. They are all woven nylons, perhaps with a reinforcing gridstop of an exceptionally tough or thick fiber. They can be coated with PU or sil to improve resistance to water, abrasion, and tearing.
For long-term abuse, I would avoid any fabric less than 100 denier.
As a thru-hiker I put serious miles on a handful of packs. For example, I used one GoLite Jam for the length of my 7-month 6,875-mile Great Western Loop trip. And I used the ULA Epic for about two-thirds of my 6-month 4,700-mile Alaska-Yukon Expedition. The packs were made of 210d Dyneema and 210d Robic, respectively. These are high quality fabrics, but reasonably priced and widely available.
On its own, Cuben Fiber is an inferior pack fabric, unless you are okay with:
- Disposable gear, or,
- Babying your backpack.
Why? Because Cuben has poor resistance to abrasion and puncture. For its weight, it’s pretty good, but for my uses I would never buy a pack made only of Cuben, even the heaviest version of it — it would get trashed by a few bushwhacks or rough bumps against granite.
Cuben laminates — whereby Cuben is glued to another fabric, like a 50d polyester — are another story. Their performance is more comparable to the premium woven nylons mentioned earlier, and some would argue that they are even better. The supposed value-added:
- Greater tear-strength, and,
But I think this argumentation is dubious:
1. A pack made of a Cuben laminate will be marginally lighter, by perhaps 5 percent. The reason: the pack fabric constitutes just a small fraction of the overall pack weight. Most of the weight of a pack is its suspension, hipbelt, shoulder straps, and buckles and straps.
2. Based on past performance, standard woven nylons have proven to have sufficient durability for hard, multi-month trips.
3. With extended use, Cuben laminate packs will not remain waterproof. So, as with a pack made of woven nylon, you will need to waterproof your gear. I recommend using a 20-gallon trash compactor bag as a pack liner.
Is Cuben worth it?
If you find a Cuben laminate pack that fits you perfectly and that has your exact wish list of features, go for it.
But I would strongly discourage limiting your search to packs only made of Cuben. They are not functionally lighter or tougher than packs made of conventional woven nylons, and you will pay $50-100 more for it.
Your turn: Do you think that Cuben Fiber is worth the price? Leave a comment.
Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested and trustworthy information, insights, and advice. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products, and I do not publish sponsored content
This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like Amazon or REI, at no cost to the reader. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
I have a “reinforced” cuben pack that is no-frills; basically just a sack with straps. But it only weighs 9 ounces. I’ve found it to be pretty sturdy. It’s perfect for a max of three nights in fair weather. Anything longer – or under a troublesome forecast – and I’d need something more substantial. As with most things, it’s very trip specific. My cuben mid is my go-to shelter on every trip, however.
It’s great to hear your thoughts on this.
There are two additional points that influenced my decision in buying a pyramid shelter-
Silnylon stretches when its wet, causing a tent to sag. (I would love to hear any recommendations for how to cope rather than going out in the rain to tighten guylines) Cuben fiber does not stretch.
Silnylon, reportedly, sheds snow better than cuben fiber.
FWIW, my cuben fiber pack has help up perfectly ice climbing and on short backpacking trips.
You could try tying some shock cord into your guy lines to make them self-tensioning, like so: http://blog.gossamergear.com/diy-self-tensioning-guy-lines-2
I did this on the tent I bought this winter, but haven’t gotten to test it yet in the field.
I’ve used shock cord loops on my silnylon TarpTent guy lines on several trips now. Works great, virtually no tent sagging, even after some pretty soggy nights.
I can lengthen the center pole from the inside in my sil mids to greatly alleviate the sagging. Either with a small rock or two at ground level, or by un-flicking the trekking pole and adjusting its size.
Great article. Do you happen to know if cuben is fossil fuel based like polyester and nylon?
It’s made of plastic, so I’m gonna go with yes.
Wikipedia has you covered. Dyneema fibers are a type of polyethylene basically. From what I gather from reading Wiki and other sources, it is spun out in such a way that tensile stress is efficiently distributed along a very long chain of molecules in an efficient way.
I don’t know the chemical makeup of Dyneema. But the polyester film in which it’s embedded is definitely a fossil fuel-based product.
Cuben fiber is an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). it is made from standard polyethylene, heating it to right below it’s melting point, treating with gamma radiation, and then cooled slowly to ambient temperature (annealed). This creates a cross-linked crystalline structure. In normal terms.. the normal structure of polyethylene is like having strands of fiber.. treating as described above would take that fiber and completely and randomly weave it together into a mess (cross-link).
I’ve worked extensively with UHMWPE when I used to design joint replacements in the orthopedic industry. It is an extremely tough material. It was commonly used as the socket portion of shoulders and hips. Imagine a metal ball rubbing on a piece of plastic in your body with every movement you made, and the plastic surviving and not wearing down… for decades..
Outstanding, Andrew. That’s the best article I’ve read on cuben fiber. Clear and concise. Hey, you should write a book one day 🙂
The information you provide is quite valuable. Your willingness to help the rest of us is priceless.
As of yet merely an occasional backpacker, but I like the zpacks and hmg backpacks and tents I’ve been using…a lot. My perspective….if price is a priority differentiator for you, then maybe not the best option.
Dyneema is not the same as “Dyneema Composite Fabrics” otherwise known as Cuben Fiber, though Cuben Fiber does use dyneema fiber – it is a composite of Mylar film and dyneema fibers. It is not a woven fabric.
Full Dyneema is a woven fabric that is virtually bomb proof but very expensive. The only packs that offer full dyneema are McHale, Cilogear and HMG but only as an extra cost option. Full dyneema by itself is not waterproof.
Of course neither are to be confused with “dyneema grid” which is a common pack fabric pictured above used by ula, Golite, exped, mld, zpacks, and a whole bunch of pack makers. Only the white in the grid is dyneema fiber, the rest is regular nylon.
I have used a composite cuben 150d poly faced fabric and liked it, though I prefer the cheaper 210d xpac and 210d dyneema grid is tougher than either though not waterproof or water resistant.
For shelters it seems to do well with no sag or misting. Some sil is better than others but I have used some older tarptent and smd sil that was pretty bad.
Some sil/PE/PU nylons are definitely better than others, not just among manufacturers but also among the exact fabric rolls. Quality control and fabric testing has a role.
I had a good conversation with Ron about sil-nylon and Cuben while I was writing my book last spring. He said that the quality of sil has improved greatly, even saying that his current Pro is “great” versus the “okay” quality that he was using a few years prior. Experiences with sil products from a few years ago are increasingly less relevant given the technology today.
Great article. Thank you Andrew.
I have heard the cuben fiber shelter’s can be loud in windy conditions is this true? My next question is. Is it bothersome enough to keep you up, or be distracting? Really wanted to get a shelter made of cuben fiber, and I forgot where I had heard this before. Can you guys comment on this, specially anyone who owns one or has backpacked with someone who brought one. Thank you
The fabric crinkles more than I’m more normal coated nylon. You can reduce the crinkliness by getting a top pitch and finding good campsites where the wind will not be as severe. For conditions that I typically see, this would not be a deal-breaking consideration.
I love, love, love my cuben gear. I think it’s important to consider what you are using it for and how gentle you are with your stuff. My zpacks zero is about to go on it’s 2nd thru with just a small repair (that manufacturer did for free, thanks!). I decided to get the hexamid as well and can’t wait to use it on the PCT as needed. Like anything though, it’s only spendy if you pay full price. I paid $355 total for these including shipping, it’s super easy to spend more than that on a silnylon tent alone. Zpacks Bargain Bin and Backpackinglight forums are your friends.
Unquestionably. I love my CF gear. I have been using my Zpacks Zero for 4 years for both every-weekend backpacking and weekly CostCo runs (I live in San Francisco and, when I’m not out on some mountain, I am schlepping stuff around in town on public transit).
But do you love your ZPacks pack because it is made of Cuben, or because of its overall performance (in this case: simplicity, packability, comfort maybe)? I suspect the latter. And I’m willing to bet that if you lost your pack and that ZPacks only made the Zero in, say, Robic, that you would buy it again because the fabric substitution does not dramatically change the pack.
I’d say both, actually. If it were made of Robic then I’d have to consider the rain. Other than that, yeah, Robic would be fine. Though both would cost me about $100. Thing is, before CF came out and sort of turbo-charged UL design it wasn’t as easy to find the sheer ruck I was after.
I agree regarding backpacks, Cuben is less important, especially since it needs to be a laminate for durability. Look at the Z-Packs Arc Haul, it is only 3oz heavier, has more space and carries more weight. That said, I love the near-waterproof Cuben hybrid. I won’t go back to bags that soak up water drench your stuff. It might not last forever, but probably better than the urethane coating on the Gridstop.
Regarding tents, Cuben fiber is great stuff, being lightweight and strong. Still, the design of the tent will probably have a greater effect on your happiness with it.
If you want the lightest tent possible and can afford cuben, it’s worth it. I have a 2 person zpacks duplex tent that weighs 20oz, has floor, two doors, netting, and it very dry in a down poor. Uses two trekking poles.
I’ve had good luck with hybrid cuben retaining it’s waterproofness. It’ll leak at the seams a bit, but 95% of the time it’s waterproof enough here in the PNW until it gets really old and there are obvious problems with the inner plastic (mylar) layer.
I prefer XPac fabrics for packs though. The woven fabric on both sides of the plastic layer really protects it, so i stays waterproof longer plus it’s much cheaper than the cuben options. Xpac comes in all sorts of face fabrics up to 500D or so. XPac VX21 (210D nylon + plastic + 50D inner layer) is pretty sweet.
How is XPac different than Robic? Are they comparable in water repellency?
I love my Seek Outside Divide in VX42. In retrospect the VX21 would have been fine, but I erred on the side of durability since I’d never used XPAC before. My wife has a HMG 3400 and honestly I don’t see any substantial benefit of cuben (for a pack). I would love it if HMG had a XPAC option, though it seems that won’t happen any time soon.
I love CF tents for their weight savings but more often than I expected grab a sil-nylin tent because they pack so much smaller in volume. CF fabric tents stuff down to about twice the volume of a similar s-nylon tent.
I love my sil-nylon Duomid. It weighs in at 18oz, and cost $265.00. In 7.5oz. CUban the same tarp is $455.00, and weighs in at 14oz.. That is a delta of $190.00, for a 4 oz. savings. Much as I would love to bank that quarter-pound, I just can’t justify the cost.
I also love the easy taut pitch I get with the sil-nylon. Like Jan, I’ve taken to keeping a nice flat rock in the mid for a quick pole-lift in the night to retension if needed.
So why doesn’t Big Agnes make a tent with the body of a Fly Creek with a fly made of Cuben? I only see tarp tents made of Cuben, why is that? I live in the PNW so waterproofness is very important, but I’m afraid of committing to a tarp tent because I’ve never owned one and they seem cumbersome to setup.
Columbia uses something they call “OutDry” on their packs, I know it’s not Cuben, do you know what fabric/technology they use for that? They claim it’s totally waterproof.
Cuben is used only by cottage manufacturers because their price structure can support it (i.e. no middleman) and because they can train specialized labor.
OutDry is a waterproof/breathable fabric, similar to Gore-Tex. It’s completely different than Cuben or a waterproof/non-breathable fabric like a tent fly.
Yeah it just seems like in the tent world you have to choose between freestanding and fragile materials, or non-freestanding and durable materials (at least that’s what my read of the landscape is).
I’m currently looking for a UL option for my fiancé and I. So it’s gotta be 2 person. We live in the PNW so it’s gotta withstand heavy rain. The BA Fly Creek looks promising but it seems fragile and reviews say it’s not truly freestanding. I don’t mind paying more for something that is going to last. But last year I made a poor choice and spent a lot of money on the wrong tent (BA Foidel Canyon 3, wayyyyy to heavy) and I really want to get it right this time. We backpack with our 2 huskies, which is a workout in itself, so dropping our pack weight would make a HUGE difference for us and allow us to travel further.
I would look at a mid for 2-3 people. MLD DuoMid, My Trail Company Pyramid 3, Black Diamond Mega Light, etc. For the weight, mids are hard to beat. And you can get one made of durable material. Fairly easy to set up, especially those with rectangular or square footprints.
If you insist on an inner tent, too, mid don’t make as much sense. At that point you are back to BA Copper Spur or MSR Hubba tents.
I’m looking for a shelter for my upcoming PCT sobo thru hike. I’d also like a shelter that would last me another thru on the CDT along with many thousand mile bikepacking expeditions. A mid seems like the way to go, but barring any unforeseen oddities, would one of the fabrics hold up better in the long run? Is this even a reasonable expectation?
A modular tent like a mid+nest or the High Route will give you the performance you need for those wide-ranging conditions and the versatility to mix-and-match components as conditions warrant them.
I think the expectation of one shelter enduring two thru-hikes plus a 1,000-mile bikepacking expedition is probably unrealistic. You might be able to re-waterproof it after each trip, but this is not as good as factory-fresh, and it adds weight. I would suggest you purchase an expensive high quality tent and hope that it goes the distance. Or buy two less expensive tents, and swap them out when necessary.
Andrew, the trash compactor bags linked to on Amazon in this post are the scented kind. I’d update that link to the unscented variety.
Scented is not a problem. Air them out before use. The scent goes away.
I am fairly sensitive to scented products. Simply airing out scented bags does not make the scent just go away for me. It’s better advice to encourage people to purchase non-scented products to begin with. If I had a box of scented bags hanging around my space, it wouldn’t fare well me.
Fair enough, but 20-gallon trash compactor bags aren’t necessarily a ubiquitous product, so some people may have to buy what’s available. Personally, that was me about 5 years ago when I bought a roll of Brute bags at Wal-Mart. If there’d been unscented I would have gone with that, but there wasn’t.
A little late in response to your comment, however here’s link for 18 gal unscented Hefty compactor bags 5 for $5.99
Hefty Trash Compactor Bags 18 GAL – 5 CT https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002BXRGQA
ACE hardware brand bags are unscented if you have one nearby.
After some bad experiences with PU coated nylon or polyester peeling or rotting (a long time ago), I’ve bought pure silnylon or Cuben fiber (DCF) tents and packs since then.
Have PU coated fabrics improved? Will my expensive Cuben fiber (DCF) pack eventually peel or rot? I haven’t seen much on fabric longevity.
PU coatings have improved. And some brands, including Sierra Designs, use an ether-based PU that is even more resistant to peeling off.
I’ve never heard of Cuben peeling. And silicone does not seem to peel either, whether it be a pure sil or a sil/PU fabric.
To me, all gear is disposeable
One feature not dwelled on, was cuben is easy to stuff, and easy to sleep on because its not slippery. Trying to stuff or fold or roll up a silnylon tarp is akin to wrestling an octopus sometimes by comparison.
Cuben also doesnt sag and need retensioning.
In packs, the added water resistance is great, and the reason I prefer it.
Cuben isnt durable, even the hybrid. Ive had holes and tears in packs and tarps. In favt, all my major items have repairs….
But it IS easily , permanently repaired by the user with cuben tape. And ducttape works well too for repairs in fied. No fabrics can be repaired this easily , quickly, or permanently with just tape.
And here shows a greater breadth of considerations – pros and cons – beyond cuben simply being chosen because it’s lighter wt when used in the body of a pack which is often the case.
I’m looking at getting a 9 × 9 flat tarp and am trying to decide between 0.74 cuben and 20D ripstop silpoly. The cuben tarp is more than twice the price of the ripstop silpoly but weighs only 230g. The silpoly weighs 400g. Still, these weight differences are relatively small in relation to the price difference and when considering overall pack weight.
Can you or anyone reading this offer any advice on which to go for?
How often are you planning to use it? And how far do you plan to carry it? Unless I were thru-hiking or undertaking really ambitious trips where every gram mattered, I would go with the silpoly and invest the windfall in something more fun, like gas money to a great backpacking location.
For Dan Durston, are your Dyneema Composite packs seam taped? If they are, and more importantly if you’re putting 1500+ mixed(off trail and not always on super maintained AT, PCT, JMT track – different trail conditions ) miles on each pack per yr, how’s your seam tape still adhering and functioning after 2 yrs or so use?
Another camper told me cuban fiber tarps were ‘noisey’ in the wind. The crinkling sound much more obvious and obnoxious than the flapping sound made by the silicon nylon tarps. Any comments on that point?
Cuben is definitely stiffer than sil, but most will flap or flutter if the pitch is not drum-tight.
Andrew, what is the Hydrostatic Head Testing Numbers of 1.0 oz sq yd Dynamic Composite Fabric (aka Cuben fiber)? That is what is used for Zpacks tent floors. Also curious about HH number for .74 oz sq yd (the rest of the Tent for Zpacks thickest fabric choice (Spruce Green). thanks in advance. I googled this question and can’t find an answer.
I don’t exactly, but it’s in excess of 3500 mm, which is pretty darn waterproof.
Richard nisley at bpl got surprising low results when he tested some in 2011
And it definitely breaks down with age….reports of 250 nights or such leading to leaks.
My oldest only has 90 nights, no leaks yet.
Google backpacking light cuben hydrostatic head
Certainly no xpac….200 psi…but it doesnt delaminate either.
I realize this is an old post but some insight would be appreciated. I usually sweat a lot when hiking, and that funk has worked its way into the foam shoulder straps and back panel of my daypack. I was thinking of getting a more sweat-resistant pack, something made with either DCF or DCH. HMG makes a couple smaller DCF/DCH packs with un-padded straps. But DCH is a polyester-based material – which also gets stinky pretty quickly, at least in clothing form. I’m not sure if DCF is polyester or polyethylene (and if it is polyethylene, does it have the same stink-factor as polyester).
Any experience with DCF/Dyneema packs and foul odors? It would be nice if I didn’t have to soak my pack with Mirazyme after every trip…
Good article, personally I don’t worry about cuben fiber packs. Like you said it’s only 5% of the weight. I would like to have a more durable pack that’s protected against a tear.
I have an old (10 years?) Lightheart Cuben tent that I purchased second hand in perfect shape. I have personally used it for approximately 4000miles and set it up approximately 400 nights. It is still in perfect condition. Zero rips,tears, or any signs of wearing out. I am careful with it but I’m not into babying any of my gear.
So my experience says that this material .74 cuben is very durable and long lasting. Hikers hike!
Any new developments with DCF?
Hi. I’m late to the party, but I thought I would share my experiences. I’m 66, a cyclotourist and hiker.
In my youth, I received from my ancestors a canvas rucksack, brass Svea stove with a steel fuel bottle, Hudson’s Bay wool blanket for summer, a canvas Eddie Bauer rectangular goose-down sleeping bag for winter, and a canvas pup tent. I used stainless steel cooking utensils, a metal canteen and wore wool and LL Bean boots. My kit for three days was 55 pounds summer, 70 pounds winter.
In my late twenties I replaced it all in one go with 1970s style backpacking equipment: my budget restrained me, but I managed to obtain a Lowe Alpine pack, and PU-coated tent and rainwear, goose-down sleeping bag (summer and winter) and garments, all from Frostline kits I made on my mother’s sewing machine. Still with the Svea stove, now with a Sigg aluminum bottle, and in summer I used a brass Trangia-style alcohol stove, Svea brand. Still stainless cookware, pared down. Huge Italian hiking boots. Three day kit: 35 pounds summer, 45 pounds winter.
That outfit lasted me for decades, mostly because I hiked less and toured by bicycle more. As I gained some disposable income, and became more interested in covering long distances, my camping kit developed along the same theory as my bicycles: I would get the lightest available piece of equipment available that seemed like it would suffice. If it did not suffice, I replaced it with the next-lightest, and so on. Minimalist gear was plenty good enough, it seemed, for a week or two, so it worked for some 6- and 10-month expeditions just as well. UL down bag, sil-nylon tent, titanium stove (alcohol) and cookware, the lightest sleeping pad available. I could cycle for months with 30 pounds of gear, and that included four rather bomb-proof vinyl-coated panniers.
Getting back into hiking in my sixties, I again got the lightest I could find. A HMG backpack with a design I love was perhaps $100 more than a nylon one. Two cuben fiber tents, a winter one and a summer one, set me back about $400 more than more conventional tents. I spent a bunch on CF stuff-sacks, some more minimalist kitchen gear, UL rain gear, and super-light shoes. Summer kit: 26 pounds; winter, 33.
Long story short, I spent perhaps $600 more than I had to, in order to save a few pounds. But look at my history: I tend to be careful with my stuff, and it lasts for decades. (I still have the canvas kit, and the nylon kit, all packed and ready, in a museum-like manner). I will likely use my gear hundreds of times, which makes it a two or three dollars per use more to have the lightest and most killer gear I could possibly want. Spend once, forget the expense, use it for life. Applying the same rubric to my AT ski gear (carbon fiber this and that, the best and lightest I could find of everything) and bicycle, I may hurt for a minute or two when I count out the benjamins, but then I’m set. So yes, Cuben Fiber, Carbon Fiber, titanium, and the like are worth it in the long run; and the long run is what matters.
I also have one of those Lowe Alpine packs. It lasted a decades worth of regular climbing (mostly on highly abrasive granite) till it was relegated to day-pack status. I’ve used it many times a week since then on my local walks – thousands of days in total.
Structurally, it’s pretty much as good as new. No holes, even on the bottom. And I don’t baby it – it’s been hauled up pitches and I routinely use it as a seat.
Obviously, the proofing is pretty poor now, though the occasional spray with DWR helps a little. Pretty much a non-issue – I just line it with a trash bag.
It doesn’t even weigh that much. From memory, around 1350 grams for 45 liters.
If you want to opt out of the culture for disposable gear and go for longevity, 1000D Cordura is the bomb.
Many thanks for your time and generosity in sharing so much valuable information;—my comment/question comes about 2 years delayed, but perhaps there is a new more up-to-date insight by now.
Having initially chosen to perhaps purchase a HMG Southwest 3400 to try out something lighter (replacing my heavy decades-old Cordura 60L backpack), I eventually came across your article and you seriously got me thinking; especially since I own a smaller 30L daypack with Robic fabric and its reliability in terms of toughness and protection against abrasion is beyond doubt.
In addition, in Europe where I reside, there are available for purchase HMG’s Dyneema repair kits and I have never encountered one for the Robic fabric on my backpack that has never needed mending or repair.
As I have seen you use a ULA pack in some photos of other articles, which based on its Robic fabric is very resistant; do you think that HMG’s Dyneema Composite is not as puncture/abrasion resistant as mentioned above, or have there been by 2019 any substantial improvements to the Dyneema composite used these days?
what are your experiences and/or thoughts about the Dyneema Composite used by HMG vs. ULA’s Robic?
Both fabrics are tough for their weight, and should last a very long time. I don’t think you can go wrong with either fabric, though you will be paying more for the Cuben, which I’m not sure is justified.
Depending on the tear/abrasion in your Robic, you can sew it up using the baseball stitch and then apply a bead of Aquaseal over it, or you can put a patch of Robic over it.
Many thanks for your superfast reply!
Based on your extended experience, do you think what HMG uses for the white version of the Southwest (according to their specs.: DCH50) is tough enough? —or the black version with DCH150 is the way to go for a long-lasting backpack.
Body: DCH50 (White)
Body: DCH150 (Black)
External Pockets: Hardline with Dyneema®
I take good care of my equipment but an occasional branch or squeezing by a tight rock passage every now and then is something that can/does happen; however since I’ve never used or seen up close any Dyneema Composite Hybrid fabric … I am sort of tapping in the dark.
Oddly enough the HMG backpacks are cheaper in Europe than the ULA packs; but what really made the HMG appealing was the white version; most likely a much cooler backpack on the inside (great for food on extended trips, even if only a few Celsius), with the added benefit of finding perhaps things easier, thanks to the translucent light quality the fabric permits towards the interior.
To reiterate something I said before, all of the pack fabrics that you are talking about are tough for their weight and have proven themselves in multiple through hikes and long expeditions. So you are splitting hairs.
That said, I think the black HMG fabric is the way to go, at least for someone who uses backpacks like I do. It adds marginally more weight to the pack, but will give you a more durable product, which gives you the option of bushwhacking and coming into contact with sharp granite and slickrock without thinking about it as much.
If you are mostly on trails or joyous cross-country travel, I think the white fabric would do just fine.
My primary shelter is a .74 cuben Lightheart Gear SoLong 6. It is approximately 12 years old with 4000 plus miles on it. Not a scratch or patch anywhere to be found. I cannot predict how much longer it will last but certainly many more miles. My only wish would be that it didn’t require 12 stakes. It has been worth every penny that I spent on it. It may be the only survivor of beautifully built tent out there. I have never seen or heard of another.
On the subject of packs,I am now making my own so I probably won’t ever wear one out but certainly anything lighter than 3.0 cuben composite isn’t going to stand up. I have a couple of Xpac packs and so far am impressed with the material.
I left a comment years ago on this topic. Here’s another, shorter one.
Yes, it is worth the money. Forget the technical discussions; this is philosophy. I can say this with assurance: if you were not passionate about your sport, you would not be here reading about the details of its gear. If you are passionate, then you use your gear often, year after year. Whether the pack costs $150 or $450, the cost PER USE is low. Shelling out, as painful as it sometimes is, only happens once. Using the gear happens hundreds of times. If it turns out you don’t like the gear, take the hit by selling it or handing it to a beginner. Then shell out again. Soon you will be happy with your purchase, all the pain will be in the past, and the future is endless.
Just some anecdata about shelter material and hail: This summer on a trip in Alaska, a group of 9 of us encountered a heck of a thunderstorm. 45 minutes of hail that started as the size of peas, then marbles, then gumballs. Within 15 minutes of the first of the hail, my DCF shelter was perforated and the bathtub was flooded. After the hail stopped, a check on the integrity of all the shelters: None of the 3 Sil shelters (2 nylon, 1 poly) had holes in them. All 6 of the DCF shelters had holes, in the following amounts: 1, 1, 2, 2, 8, 36. Mine had the 36 holes. All 6 DCF tents used 0.51 oz/sqyd. 2 of the tents were the identical make and model as mine (1 and 2 holes each). All shelters were 2-3 years old except mine, which was 7 years old; with about ~70 nights of use. I’m not mentioning shelter models, because this was a failure in material, not design or construction. The DCF owners with 1-2 holes were able to easily patch, during the storm, using DCF repair tape and/or Tenacious Tape. I, and the owner of the DCF shelter with 8 holes, had larger punctures than the others and field repair wasn’t a viable option. The two of us opted to double up our shelters (draping mine over theirs and staking it out) to ride out the rest of the rainstorm. That was quite effective. I don’t have a great explanation for why my shelter was damaged so much more than the other 5. The most likely explanation is age. Maybe my shelter was made with a bad batch of DCF? I considered shelter orientation, but there were other DCF shelters oriented similarly to mine. In addition, I had holes across a 120-degree arc of the shelter; there’s no rotation or orientation where my shelter wouldn’t have been compromised. We were at least 20 off-trail miles from the nearest bailout — it was a serious event, but not life-threatening, and certainly a reminder about safety in numbers. If I’d been alone, the situation would have been more dangerous, but conditions broke in our favor. The rain stopped, followed by sunshine, which made subsequent creek crossing serious but manageable. If the rain had persisted for many more hours or days, alone with a compromised shelter and significantly elevated creek levels, it would have been sketchier. I think there are worthwhile discussions to be had around selecting gear for extreme tail risk scenarios. This is a case that I think is interesting because, while hail of that size and duration is an exceptionally unlikely event, there are hail-worthy fabric options that do not weigh significantly more than DCF. That said, would I buy another DCF shelter? Yes, I already did (though I opted for a thicker 0.75 oz/sqyd DCF, which has 72% more puncture strength than 0.51oz). I loved my last shelter — and DCF is the ideal shelter material for 99% of my backpacking. I would even bring another DCF shelter to Alaska, as long as I wasn’t going solo. That all said, if you’re on the fence about DCF vs Sil-X, I encourage you to consider this: if you’ll ever be backpacking situations where (A) you’re alone, (B) bailout would be difficult, and (C) there’s a possibility of hail, I would encourage you to choose a Sil shelter. That’s such an edge case scenario for the vast, vast majority of backpackers. However, there are folks who regularly backpack in such risk conditions, so I figured it’s worth mentioning.