This is an update of and the evolution from this post 18 months ago.
A 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.
In 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?
This 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.
The 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.
Highly 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.