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For years I've seen high-tech cuben fiber gear and drooled over how incredibly lightweight it is, and longed to buy or make some of my own equipment with it. (Then upon seeing the price tag, well, my mouth then closes.) It's made of Dyneema so it's theoretically quite a strong fabric for outdoor gear as well. It's become almost a staple material among the super-ultralight gear crowd, but I don't personally know that many people (well, none) who have any equipment utilizing this wonder-material. It's also not common among mainstream manufacturers, being primarily used by cottage gear-makers or DIY outdoors enthusiasts.

What research I've done online is also not very convincing because it is generally based on what the material is supposed to do, and not what it actually does in real-world scenarios.

What I'm interested in knowing is:

  • How durable is cuben fiber? How does it stand up to abrasion, punctures, tearing, repeated folding/packing...

  • How does it's durability compare to sil-nylon (silicone impregnated nylon) which is quite the mainstream lightweight fabric today. (Also much cheaper.)

  • And once it's damaged, how difficult is it to repair? Does it have "self-healing" properties like sil-nylon?

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    AFAIK, its definitely very static when its about elasticity. Its kinda stretch-free unlike Silnylon products. Silnylon is definitely not so good with waterproofing if compared to Cuben fiber as it was basically invented for water-allied industry purposes and used widely in Yachts. – WedaPashi Sep 24 '14 at 7:16
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    I'm not familiar with cuben fibre, but Dyneema is common in rock climbing slings. It's very strong and very light, but it has poor abrasion resistance and melts at low temperatures (rope abrasion can melt right though it). I also know there has been some issues because of it's lack of stretch, again this might contribute to why it's not made it into clothes. It's not a very forgiving material. – user2766 Sep 24 '14 at 8:25
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    I drooled for a long time over my keyboard as well, and I watched plenty of videos, read loads of reviews, emailed probably all the manufacturers of cuben gear - without actually buying anything, yet. What I do know, is that I've read in several places that it is highly resistant to tear but very weak to punctures, to the point that a small branch falling on a tarp will puncture it. Source: outdoorgearlab.com/Ultralight-Tent-Reviews/… I wait for it to become way cheaper - if it will ever be. – Dakatine Dec 22 '14 at 21:16
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Cuben fiber is not as durable as some other materials used in the construction of backpacking gear. In backpacking lighter often means less durable which is generally true for cuben fiber as well. A cuben fiber backpack will probably hold for 2000 miles (e.g, a thru-hike) but not much more. For this reason, there is now a hybrid cuben/nylon material which is a bit heavier (2.92 oz/sqyd) and more durable. It can definitely be expensive if you use it everyday for long hikes.

Cuben fiber resists puncture and tearing relatively well. Not so much with abrasion and folding. I have a rock sack (for bear bagging) made of cuben and it is heavily beaten up.

Cuben fiber is less durable than sil-nylon in my experience. It also depends on the application (tent, stuff sack, pack, etc.).

Once damaged, it is easy to apply duct tape to it for field repair. You can also use cuben fiber patches.


Edit:

From ZPack FAQ backpack section:

Should I go with the normal 1.43 oz/sqyd Cuben Fiber Material or the heavier 2.92 oz/sqyd Hybrid material?

I used packs made with the 1.43 oz/sqyd material on my 2007 Pacific Crest Trail and 2009 Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes. In both cases the packs lasted the full 2600+ mile trips (with some duct tape repairs) but the material was very frayed and ready to be replaced by the end. If you want the lightest backpack possible the 1.43 oz/sqyd material is fine, especially for shorter trips.

Many people including Joe and Sheryl have completed thru-hikes with our newer Hybrid material backpacks. Those packs held up much better and were still in good condition at the end. The material only adds a couple ounces to the weight of a pack, a small price to pay for the added durability on a long trip. If you are doing a thru-hike, get the Hybrid Material, such as our Arc Blast pack!!

  • +1 good answer. Still some questions: Are the 2000 miles just a guess? And what do you think will be damaged - I guess first the belt/strap system which may be repairable. If you aren't rock climbing or that kind, for simple hiking the material should endure quite a long time/distance. Next question I am asking myself: How does the 2.92 oz/sqyd compare to the other materials, what's the density of cuben fiber and sil-nylon? – Wills Jan 6 '15 at 0:57
  • The 2000 miles is based on how long the Appalachian Trail is; the distance is a good reference point as many people thru-hiked the AT with cuben fiber equipment. Cuben fiber is typically less than half the weight of sil-nylon. After a thru-hike of simple (or not) hiking the material will be in a bad shape. Especially backpacks, stuff sacks and maybe not so much tent & tarps. Of course, ymmv. – ppl Jan 7 '15 at 2:50

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