Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fabrics used to make backpacks offer competing positives, negatives

Most backpacks in the United States today are made of Cordura nylon.
Backpacks are made of different materials, and knowing the pluses and minuses of each can help you decide which fabric is the best for you.

Generally, manufacturers use one of four different fabrics: Cordura nylon; pack cloth; rip-stop nylon; and cotton canvas. The first three are synthetics and the fourth is a natural material.

By far the most common fabric used is Cordura nylon (aka Kodra). Offering a rough and fuzzy texture, it is resistant to abrasion. Since the material used to make backpacks is constantly stretched when the sack is loaded and often rubs against tree branches and rocks, abrasion is a significant issue with backpacks. The downside to Cordura is it is not as puncture resistant or as waterproof as other nylon fabrics.

An alternative is pack cloth. Somewhat shiny and slick to the touch, pack cloth is made from polyester. Its primary benefit is resistance to UV degradation, which can be a problem with backpacks as sunlight causes the polyurethane coating – the waterproofing material used on backpacks – to delaminate. Pack cloth also waterproofs well and is very resistant to punctures. The downside is it is a heavier fabric compared to any of the nylons. While once popular in the United States, today it’s primarily used in Europe and Australia.

A third type of fabric is rip-stop nylon. Made of a grid pattern of heavy threads, it’s stronger than standard nylon and so is unlikely to further rip if the backpack is punctured or torn. The downside is holes are more likely to appear from abrasion. Though common in Europe, in the United States is is mainly found in upmarket backpacks.

The fourth material is cotton canvas. Though rarely found in new backpacks, it was the most common fabric used during the last century. Because of the abundance of used military rucksacks, backpacks made of this material can be readily found as surplus and second-hand stores, making it a very inexpensive option. Cotton canvas, however, needs to be waterproofed, is heavy compared to synthetic materials, and if wet can rot.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.