Main header image courtesy of Mountain Laurel Designs
OK, for those of you who say – ‘You already posted this!’ – ‘I know’! It was last year but I’ve had a load of emails from people saying they heard I did a post on Cuben but cannot find it on this site, or on searches. So, back by popular demand, here it is:
Cuben Fibre is the new kid on the block. It stands cockily on street corners sporting a Justin Bieber haircut, with its jeans hanging over its arse and throws taunts in the direction of its rivals. Silnylon takes it all with a bored yawn. Silnylon is a trusted friend. It has been around for a few years, has been tried and tested and won’t let you down. It stretches easily resulting in a taught shelter pitch and feels soft to the touch. Imagine being ensconced inside your tent on a wild and windy night. Silnylon will absorb the storm and accommodate being thrown around a little. It also doesn’t like disturbing you, like a nurse checking on you in the middle of the night. Raindrops are softly muted and absorbed quietly, almost as if whispering to you.
“Hey, I’m really sorry to disturb you. Just wanted to let you know that it’s raining out here but I can deal with it and keep the noise down. Don’t worry, you sleep well and have a good night.”
Cuben Fibre has more attitude.
ZPacks Hexamid Solo – my tent on the Appalachian Trail last year, made from Cuben Fibre (with Tarptent Contrail in the background). There’ll be a report on the Hexamid in the future.
“Hey! I said Hey! Guess what? It’s really raining out here! I’m trying to keep the noise down but it’s not easy and you know what? I really can’t be bothered! Wohoo!”
Sleeping in a Cuben shelter during a rainstorm is like trying to sleep in a tent with 4 other people all constantly tapping away on snare drums and digging you in the ribs for good measure. To summarize, it’s bloody annoying.
This is the first year that I have seen a huge uprising of tents, packs and other equipment constructed from the promised material. Cuben Fiber is nothing new, it came to mine, and others attention in the last five years or so when cottage gear manufacturers started to realize that this material could be the answer to every hiker’s dreams, and possibly the downfall of Silnylon as we know it. It promises an ultra-light weight, non-stretch, waterproof and incredibly strong alternative material for manufacturing various different items of backcountry gear.
But, is all the hype warranted?
The answer is a resounding ‘No’. Before everyone flails their arms and the screams of protest arrive, allow me to explain. First, let’s start with the positives. The one major advantage is Cuben Fibres weight, around half that of Silnylon, the material of choice for many. It doesn’t absorb water, is theoretically 100% waterproof, can be repaired with duct tape, does not stretch and compresses more.Silnylon is far cheaper, more resistant to abrasion and UV, makes for a better pitch because of its flexibility and ability to stretch and most importantly of all, it has been proven over many years.
My current tent is made from .51oz/sq.yd Cuben and weighs a paltry 10.7 ounces (303 grams). This thickness is the lightest version of the apparent wonder fabric and is used for the lightest pro level tarps and tents. It is also available in .7oz sq/yd , the most common thickness for more durable shelters and shelter floors. The final options are 1.2oz sq/yd and 1.4oz sq/yd for high abrasion gear items such as backpacks.
The Hexamid again. This was the first pitch I did ont he AT and even though it was after a heavy night of rain, I make no claims to it being perfect!
Long distance hikers are going nuts for this material that was first used in the sailing industry in the early 90’s and has been subsequently refined and tweaked to give us the Cuben Fibre of today. It’s therefore nothing new but between then and now the material has been refined and developed to iron out some initial problems. It is cracking stuff, but not in the sense you’re thinking.
The real problem with Cuben, however, is the question mark behind its durability. My tent stufsac is already showing signs of wear, the material is thinning out and the stitching holes are elongating, it looks like it is cracking, and this is just where the tent is stored, it has no undue stresses or abrasion issues. I have seen backpacks with as little as 300 miles of use showing abrasion wear in hot spots such as the back panel and stitching areas taking the brunt of the load such as hip belt and shoulder straps meeting the main body.
You know that old, favourite pair of jeans you have? The ones where the knee has worn down and white threads are visible over the signs of a hole? This is what Cuben looks like in these hot spots. This could arguably be a result of exceeding load weights but those hikers in question assured me they did not and if anything, were well under the limits. Perhaps these high wear areas would be better suited to incorporating a more durable material insert such as Dyneema , Cordura or even Silnylon itself? However, shelters do fare relatively well in Cuben. There are fewer hot spots because there is no real abrasion, if you can get a good pitch (tough because there is no ‘give’ in the material), then it is almost a perfect medium.
So, I would argue that Cuben is a good choice for shelters but until those tweaks are resolved, if indeed they can be, there are just way too many negatives to warrant paying over the odds for it.
Lose the snare drums people and stick with Silnylon, your favourite nurse won’t let you down.
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GET DEHYDRATED – A LOOK AT DEHYDRATING TRAIL FOOD