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Dyneema Composite Fabrics FAQ – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

What is Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)?

Dyneema Composite Fabric is a non-woven, laminate material that is used to make ultralight backpacking gear including backpacks, tents, tarps, footprints, stuff sacks, and backpack rain covers. It is made by sandwiching ultra-high-weight-molecular polyethylene Dyneema fibers with polyester to produce an exceptionally lightweight, strong, and waterproof material. Dyneema fibers are 15 times stronger than steel by weight, which gives the material its strength.

DCF is available in different thicknesses and weights which are used to make different types of products. Heavier DCF has a higher density of Dyneema threads that increase its strength. Hybrid variants of DCF are laminated with polyester to make them even more abrasion-resistant. For instance, products like backpacks, tents, and tarps take a beating because they come in contact with rough grand so frequently. Polyester coated DCF is also is also easier to dye, providing a wider range of color options.

What is the difference between Dyneema Composite Fabric and Cuben Fiber?

Dyneema Composite Fabric used to be called cuben fiber, CTF3, or non-woven Dyneema. Originally developed to make ultralight sailboat racing sails, cuben fiber was made and marketed by a company called Cubic Tech. Cubic Tech was subsequently acquired by a Dutch Company named Koninklijke DSM N.V, the makers of the Dyneema fibers which are used to make cuben fiber. They renamed and rebranded cuben fiber as “Dymeema Composite Fabric” after the acquisition.

What is the difference between Dyneema X and DCF?

Dyneema X is ripstop nylon with a PU coating that has Dyneema branded fiber woven into it for enhanced durability. with a very tight grid pattern. It’s used by many backpack makers, usually in a 210 denier weight fabric. Dyneema X is not non-woven DCF. Calling “Dyneema X” a dyneema fabric is mostly a marketing tool and fairly misleading as the huge bulk of the fabric is just nylon.

How much lighter weight is DCF than other materials used to make ultralight backpacking gear?

You can expect a 25-50% weight reduction by using an item made with DCF. For example, silicon impregnated nylon (silnylon), another popular material for making ultralight backpacks, tents, tarps, stuff sacks, rain gear, and backpack covers, is two to four times heavier than the DCF used for similar applications and products.

How expensive is ultralight backpacking gear made with DCF?

Gear made with DCF is typically 50-75% more expensive than gear made with more conventional fabrics. It is also more labor intensive to make gear with since most of the work must be done manually by highly skilled workers in the United States and can’t be outsourced to Vietnam or China. For example, backpacking gear made with DCF is often taped together by hand instead of sewn, requiring gear companies to evolve highly manual fabrication and styling processes to create products using it.

What other benefits does DCF  provide besides weight reduction?

DCF is a waterproof material that doesn’t absorb water like nylon or other woven fabrics. This makes it ideal for making tents, shelters, and backpacks. It also does not stretch like silnylon (used to make ultralight backpacking tents and tarps), eliminating the need for you to adjust tent or tarp guylines at night to counteract fabric sag. DCF is also very tear resistant because the Dyneema fibers embedded in it are so strong. This, in addition to its light weight, was why it was used to make large racing sails.

There’s not such thing as a perfect material for making backpacking gear. What are some of the weakness or disadvantages of using backpacking gear made with DCF?

The DCF used to make tents and tarps is translucent and lets in light that can disturb people who are sensitive to it. Being translucent, it also provides limited privacy, unlike solid fabrics which prevent you from seeing occupants or their backlit silhouettes.

Some sewing is required when making DCF backpacks in order to attach non-DCF shoulder straps, webbing straps, pockets, and hip belts. This creates holes in the fabric which can leak water if not seam sealed or taped. This is the reason that most DCF backpack manufacturers have stopped claiming that their backpacks are watertight, even though DCF is a non-absorbent, waterproof material.

Gear made with DCF occupies more space when stuffed rather than folded or rolled. Frequent folding and unfolding can also weaken the material resulting in fraying or holes, particularly in stuff sacks.

What colors is DCF available in?

Regular DCF is available in light green, light blue, and white. It is used mainly for making tents, tarps, stuff sacks, and backpack covers. Hybrid forms of DCF covered with thicker polyester are easier to dye. They are often available in black, blue, green, orange, or camouflage.

Why don’t all backpacking gear manufacturers switch to using DCF if it’s so great?

DCF is far more expensive to make gear with than other more conventional fabrics and most consumers are unwilling to pay extra for it. That’s unlikely to change unless the cost of DCF drops and automated fabrication processes are invented and tooled to reduce labor costs.

There are also several alternative materials that are comparable to DCF in terms of waterproofness and durability including XPAC and high denier high tenacity nylons called Robic, which are far less expensive. XPAC has also been in use far longer than DCF by mainstream backpacking gear manufacturers.

What companies make ultralight backpacking gear using DCF?

Dozens, but some of the largest, most experienced manufacturers include Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Zpacks.com, and Mountain Laurel Designs, although many smaller companies also create products using the material on a smaller scale.

Where can you buy DCF if you are interested in making your own backpacking gear?

Ripstop by the Roll and MakeYourGear.com are two companies that sell small volumes of DCF and tape to consumers who want to make their own gear.

Published 2018.

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