Pack materials redux

This is an update of and the evolution from this post 18 months ago.

R0010048A good pack fabric, like the well patina’d 1000 denier Cordura above, can do a lot of great work, simply. There is a subtle elegance to something which is easily sewn into a finished product which continues as a reliable, innocuous companion for many years and many miles.  The following is a collation of experiences and opinions from the last few years.

R0010038In the first half of 2015 I’ve gone out of my way to beat up on cuben fiber whenever I have the chance.  I don’t think cuben makes sense from a cost/function perspective, but my primary objection is that companies like Hyperlite Mountain Gear have begun to use it as a sole talking point, rather than discussing how they have nice packs which happen to be made of good fabric.

The 150 denier hybrid cuben pictured here is good fabric.  The cuben backing is very waterproof, and the tight polyester face fabric is impressively tough for what is by any standard light duty stuff.  I can’t think of anything of a comparable denier which comes close, but nonetheless there just isn’t that much material there.  As seen above, holes in the poly face are easy to come by, the while the cuben backing does put up a fight, the package just does not stand up to abrasion very well.  Tear strength is pretty good, but abrasion is the source of every hole I’ve ever put in a pack.  If you don’t beat on your gear regularly this heavier hybrid will last a long time, but with other options that weight almost the same, have exactly the same performance properties, and cost half as much I just don’t see a reason for cuben hybrid, other than fashion novelty.

Closing question: would HMG sell more or sell fewer Windrider 3400s if they were made from X33, weighed a few ounces more, and cost 75 dollars less?

R0010035This leaves me with Xpac fabrics, for which my enthusiasm has not diminished.  VX42 is still a favorite, as pictured above and below, which has held up very well and is heavy enough for almost anything but not egregiously so.  As Brendan has often said, the X layer looks cool but doesn’t really do anything but provide an abrasion point.

R0010040The oxford face fabric of VX42 lags behind the plain Cordura face of X33 and X50, which are my current preferred moderate and heavy use fabrics, respectively.  There is just something about the even and symmetrical Cordura weave which stands up proud to abuse of all types.  The X series is quite a bit more pliable and quiet than the VX series, which is welcome, but currently only available retail in multicam prints, which is less so.  I’ve put holes into X33, but it takes more quite a bit of effort.

IMG_1324Highly waterproof fabrics like Xpac and cuben are sexy, but there’s a lot to be said for quality PU fabrics, especially if lots of precipitation is not a regular feature.  Good cordura remains an excellent option.  Sadly, lighter fabrics are more difficult to find.  The 210 denier gridstop from Thru-hiker is still a bit on the expensive side, and still an outstanding option for a moderate use pack.

In summary, I’d use X33 for most packs, and X50 and X51 for pack bottoms, and packs which will get lots of abuse.  210D gridstop is great for pockets and extension collars.  Every year more and better options appear, and more and better retail options come into being.

R0010050All the better for growing a fat quiver.

15 responses to “Pack materials redux”

  1. Thanks Dave, for a well written post. I am no expert on fabrics for packs. However, I have owned HMG packs for the past 3 years as you alluded to, the design is the reason I purchased HMG packs, not the fabric. The cuben is tough and does well for my uses and certainly does not wet out like other packs I have used in the past. But more importantly it fits, carries the load well and has minimal bells and whistles. If I was prepared to, I would be happy to make my own using similar design principles with different fabrics. All the best for the family in the coming days and weeks.

  2. Thanks for another great post Dave! And also for the link to the fabric test.

    I’m also a happy user of HMG backpack. Mine is an older model which uses the 150D face fabric and has survived four summers of use pretty well. The small holes I’ve put into the pack have been from the stiches of the upper compression straps pulling the fabric (and some from using it as a canister stove windshield…) The latter is a design failure which seems to be addressed now. As I really like the pack, and the minor problems seem to be fixed in the new generation, I’m thinking of buying one with 100% dyneema face fabric. It’s expensive as hell but if it works for years to come I’d be happy. The question is, is the 100% Dyneema fabric so much better? Any ideas on this? I’m afraid they won’t make it out of VX42 for me…

    1. Assuming all the pure woven dyneema out there is more or less the same, it certainly seems to be good stuff. Brendan got hold of a yard a while back and the pack he made from it (used in our Grand Canyon trip last March) wore very well indeed. At roughly twice the cost of hybrid cuben it better be!

      1. Thaanks for the insight. That’s the price of custom full-dyneema/cuben too (double the poly/cuben hybrid) so that’s exactly my worry: is it worth it. But it just might be…

  3. I’m excited for news from the backrooms and side hallways of the textile companies at Outdoor Retailer next month.

    1. There is room for improvement. Xpac stuff resists water absorption, but something durable light and w an exterior coating (not DWR) would be nice.

      1. Once GORUCK starts using fabrics other than Cordura I imagine our purchasing power could sway some R&D. Baby steps.

        1. Keep an eye on us in 2016.

        2. Look forward to it.

  4. Thanks again for your help with my pack decision. What are your thoughts on seam sealing and reinforcing high wear areas on packs? I would think that gear tape would provide good support to pack bottoms.

    1. Seam sealing can be helpful. I often do the outside of the bottom seam, and a few of the horizontal seams if applicable. Seam grip is very effective at reinforcing wear points, too.

  5. […] post and the follow-up a year later have remained among my most popular works, and with 2018 coming into focus they are at […]

  6. What fabric would you use on the sides of the pack for ski carries? Would VX42 be enough?

    1. 42 would be the minimum. If you’re making a ski mountaineering pack and will be regularly hauling (in either a frame or diagonal) I’d go double layered (with an outer layer of 500 or 1000d cordura) and maybe throw a layer of 1/16″ foam in between the two. The ski edges rubbing against something rigid inside the pack is what makes holes fast.

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