Cuben Fiber, Dyneema, and the Ultralight Cottage Industry (Short Film & Commentary)
Jan 8, 2016 at 9:24 am #3374559Chad BBPL Member
I personally could care less about the future of cuben fiber. Some people act like this is the be all end all material and if it goes away, what are we going to do? If you don’t fork out the big bucks, then you are “not on the cutting edge” of lightweight backpacking. To imply this one fabric has revolutionized the UL movement is kind of a joke to me.
And I’m sure the emphasis on HMG in Ryan’s article is a direct result of his being an ambassador for them.
This video was a well made commercial, nothing more. Certainly not a documentary.Jan 8, 2016 at 9:27 am #3374562Dean F.BPL Member
@acrosomeLocale: Back in the Front Range
I would have to say that I am disappointed by Cuben, but still have hopes for it’s potential. Rog, Dave, and others have already delineated the immense cons of Cuben. To whit: The Cuben boosters like to tout its strength, but rarely mention it’s reduced durability, which are different things. Coupled with the frankly ridiculous cost, that tradeoff is simply not worth it for me.
What we really need is just a massive reduction in the cost of UHMWPE fiber! This will then bring down the cost of Cuben (or whatever it will be called now) to the point that well made but nonetheless “semi-disposable” items make more sense. Please note the scare quotes and don’t go all fanboi on me. Also, as with any new technology there is still a lot of room to improve Cuben, and perhaps the recent acquisition by a larger corporation with more R&D capability will speed this process. The specialty versions of Cuben used by HMG have already been mentioned but, alas, I have no experience with them. They may be a step in the right direction. Obviously, if lightweight Cuben reaches the low price and high durability of silnylon then, well, that’s a no-brainer.
Heck, cheap UHMWPE fabric might displace nylon everywhere… It really is great stuff.
But right now the only Cuben item that I own is the floor of my SuperLight bivy, and that only because MLD had it in stock for quick shipping when I needed it. I will admit that the waterproofness (word?) is nice. I have been tempted by the idea of a Cuben mid, but the dollars-to-ounces-saved ratio is still too high when coupled with the reduced durability.
And at this point, yes, anyone who argues against Cuben’s reduced durability still deserves to be an object of mockery.Jan 8, 2016 at 10:10 am #3374569Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
tent has a lot bigger area so lower weight of fabric makes more sense. 19 ounces vs 29 ounces is worth paying something for. .Maybe 12 yards^2 for a tent?
Backpack has maybe 1.5 yards^2. The weight of the fabric doesn’t matter that much because there isn’t very much of it.
And abrasion resistance in a pack is important, not so much in a tent. The weakness of Cuben is not as important in tent.
Hybrid cuben for pack? Starts to be just as heavy as nylon so you might as well just use it.Jan 8, 2016 at 10:54 am #3374581Gary DunckelBPL Member
Josh, you and Craig now have me scared. So I just now ordered a few yards of cuben from Joe at ZPacks, in case the next batch he buys is priced sky-high.
In my opinion, there are certain products where cuben is the material of choice. For one, it’s food storage bags–small critters can’t bite through a 1.43 oz./yd. roll-top. I’m sure tarps and tents would be great too.
It will certainly be interesting to watch this Cubic Tech buyout by the Dutch play out.Jan 8, 2016 at 11:03 am #3374583Jennifer MitolBPL Member
@jenmitolLocale: In my dreams....
I have to say I was terribly disappointed with how my cuben duomid “wore out” after a few years of use. Granted, it (thankfully!) spent a lot of time in the field and being stuffed/unstuffed/stuffed into/out of my pack…but still. For a $450 shelter it was a shame to see it wear out like it did.
I’m seriously considering going for a silnylon duomid as the replacement (especially now that Ron has bright/sunny yellow back!), but wow the weight savings sure is nice. But that’s just SOOOO much money for a shelter.Jan 8, 2016 at 11:33 am #3374587
Gary, I’m not trying to scare anyone. I’m sure places like Zpacks are buying in the top tier, so they are probably paying similar prices to what everyone use to pay for 9m minimums, it is just that now the minimum yardage(to get that price) is like 100m.
The problem with that is that for smaller manufactures, I spoke with a few, they now have to buy from someplace like Zpacks who is retailing. Zpacks is doing this at quite reasonable markups from what I can tell BTW. So for some people building smaller stuff this works out to a degree, but to build larger shelters these retail prices add up quick, and eventually those costs have to be passed on to the public.
Simple solution, just buy larger quantities directly from DSM, right? Easier said than done if they won’t even respond to emails……….Jan 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm #3374596Gator PaddlerBPL Member
What we really need is just a massive reduction in the cost of UHMWPE fiber! This will then bring down the cost of Cuben
This is what I meant when I said I am hopeful. I don’t expect any short-term benefits to the cottage industries.Jan 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm #3374597Gator PaddlerBPL Member
I really appreciate your perspective on this.Even though I don’t really have any skin in the game, I would be interested in hearing more about the challenges of supply chain on some of these niche materials. You mentioned carbon fiber availability issues, and I’m a bit surprised to hear problems in that area. Are there more international sources? Is it a scale issue? In my job, I sometimes have trouble getting even ton-scale quantities of raw materials because I don’t have huge purchasing potential of a mega-corporation. The suppliers want to know how many rail cars I plan to buy before even signing me up as a customer.
Anyway, it would be interesting to see some kind of article about supply chain challenges as they relate to the small-scale outdoor products industry. Perhaps this could lead to some need being filled, like ripstopbytheroll has done. Although I don’t really know what impact their business has had on the cottage industry, it sure makes it easier to get customized options from the cottage companies.Jan 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm #3374600
With carbon fiber there are several levels of supply chain issues. sometimes its like DSM/Cubic. You are chugging along fine for a few years and someone comes in and buys your supplier, and everything goes South in a hurry. Sometimes its the supply of carbon fabric, or even quality of it. There have been some spells where good prepreg material was hard to find, even in quantity. We have a local prepreg manufacture, which I thought was great for awhile, but if they can’t get fabric, nothing else matters. There are international sources(finished carbon), but I won’t go there with carbon fiber. The prices out of Asia are not all that much better, especially given the quality, which is in contrast to fabrics and some metals.Jan 9, 2016 at 1:39 pm #3374769Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
I’ll update the article as I receive more feedback from cottage manufacturers. I’m very interested in expanding this discussion so that it’s balanced and free of bias. I also think Josh’s comments are very insightful, he has a good pulse on what’s going on in terms of materials. I will try to incorporate some of his comments into the next iteration when I get more feedback from a few others as well.
Regarding my affiliation with HMG: When I was an “ambassador” there was nothing required from each other. Mike would send me a gear sample here and there, I’d try it out, and send him back some feedback. No strings attached. Everything I’ve ever written that’s positive about HMG gear (or any other manufacturer’s gear) is because of my personal use with it, and the positive impact that it’s had on my own wilderness trips. However, the ambassador programs for most companies in the outdoor industry (cottage or otherwise) have changed significantly, and continuing to remain an ambassador would create a serious conflict of interest for me, so I’ve opted out of HMG’s Ambassador program. I’m not an “ambassador” or “sponsored” or otherwise have any consulting or financial relationship with any company in the outdoor industry outside of BPL. I’m back working as a day-to-day employee for BPL again after having to pursue other employment since the financial crisis hit, so I’m going to remain extremely cautious about preserving editorial independence.
I agree that the film seems to be less documentary in nature than PR. “Documentary” was their (DSM) words to describe it, not mine. I’ve inquired directly to the filmmaker to see if this can be fairly called a documentary based on its editorial independence, but I haven’t heard from them yet, and will report back here when I do. But it was nice to see Mike, Ron, et al. play a role in it, and I don’t want to discount at all the impact that these guys have on our industry. They deserve the PR and it can only help their businesses, and the gear we use that’s made by them.
(Also, Josh – When I contacted you this fall that we were getting ready to publish a review of the tent, you didn’t mention anything about it being discontinued. The tent-stove combo you built was a really great combo and I hope you can keep delivering it. It deserves more attention from those of us who spend a lot of time winter camping.)Jan 10, 2016 at 9:32 am #3374877Brad RogersBPL Member
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
I agree that cuben is a good material for shelters as it doesn’t stretch or leak. I had multiple incidents with sil shelters “misting” and although that is controversial I never had that problem with cuben or Golites heavier 1.7oz sil.
While cuben is a good shelter material it isn’t perfect. Other than being incredibly expensive, it is bulky when stuffed, so I usually fold but worry about wear spots from repeated stuffing. It also holds more snow as it isn’t as slick as silnylon.
I am intreged by the rip stop by the roll membrane silpoly but for a major vendor to pick it up like MLD they would have to have a very dependable bulk supplier
I am not sure hybrid cuben has many advantages over the the demintion Polyant x PAC fabrics for packs, but it seems to do ok.
I am glad the build everything out of cuben fad is over as for many uses (quilts, etc) it is a poor choice.
I was also hoping the dyneema buyout would lower prices but it looks like that won’t be the case.Jan 10, 2016 at 10:23 am #3374886Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
.Jan 10, 2016 at 11:28 am #3374899Gabe PBPL Member
Ryan, I’m glad to hear that you weren’t paid to run this article. That possibility had me worried that BPL articles were no longer worth reading. I’m also glad to hear that you’ll be able to focus more on BPL now. BestJan 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm #3374936
Ryan, I’ll have to look at emails WRT you contacting me about the review. I probably assumed(not good on my part) that it was just about the stove as I had not offered the tent for some time. I quit making the tents for several reasons The big one was my time restraints(Life consuming side project), shelters being offered by others(some of these got fit with boots), and supply problems from Cubic tech. Every time I contacted them to place an order, I usually got a “We only have X amount available”, Or “We don’t have that color”, or “Turn around is taking longer than usual”. We built ahead and had them on the shelf, so some of that was buffered. But given the supply issues I see with other products, I was always leery. Like I mentioned before I’ve been down this road too many times, it looks all too familiar.
Supply chain issues: Most might not even think of this one, but just take a look at recent US produced SilNylon. There is a whole other story right there.
As for the Cuben tents, just watch the “film” I’m not “elite”, and frankly I’d just as soon keep it that way.Jan 10, 2016 at 1:34 pm #3374941
just take a look at recent US produced SilNylon. There is a whole other story right there.
Details, please! I have not been following silnylon for the last year or two: focusing on stoves. I know about the Westmark coating story and the EPA: what has happened since?
CheersJan 10, 2016 at 2:25 pm #3374949James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
I am glad to hear that you will be providing a bias-free editing protocol to the articles published at BPL, Ryan. Thanks!
I do not really care if this piece seems more PR oriented. Ryan can hardly be blamed for providing us with information at the expense of a bit of PR on something he did not produce and was released by DSM (the company now responsible for producing dyneema/cuben.)
Often, the PR business is involved or synonymous with the information business in regards to proprietary items. It really cannot be avoided. We have a term for these types of commercial productions: infomercials, new product presentations, “think” pieces, whatever. I always take them with a grain of salt and think my own thoughts.Sometimes, it is all hype, sometimes, they have a point to make. Sometimes, they just don’t know what to do with it. Throw it out there, somebody will think of something…the lure of getting rich… Anyway, the companies mentioned always get a leg up, just from being mentioned.
Dyneema/Cuben is out there, has been out there, and people have used it pretty hard…myself included when it comes to tents/shelters. Not a total flop, but not as useful as we all first thought. Too thick, too thin, ahhh, just right, the cottage people and their faithful users did the leg work for them. This is the nature of experimentation. We shut up about the failures, about the things that didn’t work and focus on the best of the products.Jan 10, 2016 at 3:28 pm #3374962D MBPL Member
@farwalkerLocale: What, ME worry?
“the cottage people and their faithful users did the leg work for them”.
Yes and the “film” was for me just a reminder of who(m) is (are) the people who make all these awesome products available, with the implied hope that the “product” will continue to be available, improved or not. And I thank all of those “cottage” folks for their willingness to lay out a lot of cash, time and effort to let me experiment with their works.
And heck yes I’m a “guinea pig” willing to fork out the bucks to try out the products, but ONLY because I can. 40 years ago I couldn’t have afforded it. The expense is a trade off for being able to go long distance hiking with 1/3 the weight I used to carry. Oh and playing with the new stuff is FUN, let’s not forget that!
But it’s NOT just a “change over to lighter weight gear” thing. It’s a mindset and skills improvement. I’ve used all the cuben/dyneema gear with great care knowing all the time that it’s life is indeed limited. Then again I am willing to do the trade off….silnylon also didn’t last forever and I really didn’t like the “splash effect” on the inside of my older tents and the condensation nor the inability to shake off almost all moisture before packing the tent away. The only thing nicer about it is the snow slipping off easier and all the colors it comes in.
Goodness, I remember when goretex was the awesome “newest thing” and silnylon was just too cool for words. I used to sew all my gear and just loved the stuff. Now I let others do the sewing so I can go hiking. ;-)Jan 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm #3374966Gabe PBPL Member
I for one would stop trusting BPL if I were to learn that’s it’s full of product placement and dishonest reviews. I didn’t pay for a lifetime membership to access a bunch of ads and to be manipulated by marketing, especially when I’m not being told that what I’m looking at is marketing. What I like about BPL’s gear review articles is that I get to find out what really works, rather than have to sift through all the hyperbole and waste my hard-won money on junk. The best articles I’ve read here have not been about the gear. I hope skills and technique focused articles can become more common as Ryan gets more engaged.Jan 10, 2016 at 4:13 pm #3374971
As a side note about more information and other manufactures. I don’t expect a lot of people using or trying to use Cuben to come forth with a whole lot of information, that may appear negative to DSM. They really can’t be expected to. If they are currently getting it, they can’t risk saying anything that would jeopardize that. And if they are still trying to get it, same thing goes. I can’t say a whole lot myself other than to thank those in the industry that were wiling to talk off the record, and help me out. It is greatly appreciated.
To get an idea of how what I’m talking about has played out. You have to look at where everyone use to get their Cuben, going back to the earliest days, who use to carry it, is still trying to carry it, who uses it, wants to sell it, but doesn’t, etc, etc. They are not in a position to publicly hurt themselves, and you as consumers, saying too much. And it should not be this way. Because ultimately, it is the consumers and innovators that will lose out here. There is an invisible hand at work here, and it is not one of the free market. If DSM wants to be Gore and go the licensing route, throw down and lay out the standards. Either way, the result is going to be a contraction of the market, which in the long run is of no benefit to consumers, DSM, mainstream markets, startups, the cottage industry, etc. All the “films” in the world can not overcome that.Jan 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm #3374979
Rodger, I guess I should apply the term “recent” to the ultimate results of Westmark’s finisher not being able to innovate for the benefit of our environment. Which ultimately was a significant price increase in US SilNylon prices.
The story does not add up, and let me explain why. Yes the EPA imposed new regulations for VOC emissions. This affected all kinds of things, fiberglass layup production, paint booths, shot production, etc. I personally am 100% in favor of these regulations by the way, as the fouling of the commons is a far greater cost to all of us than the individual costs companies and consumers end up paying for these regs.
So why am I calling BS on the price increase? Because ultimately this is a problem of poor innovation and long term investment, not one of regulations, as we have been told. In the case of lead shot we saw the price sky rocket, and it had already been climbing for other reasons prior to the new EPA regs. So lead shot use to be made by dropping molten lead from huge towers, though little holes. This caused the molten lead to become little spheres as it falls from the tower into water. There were no emissions controls, which has caused the towers almost entirely to be replaced by some German technology that is much smaller. When the EPA regs came down the price increased because adding emissions controls(mostly scrubbers) to towers, and even the new technology was cost prohibitive. Basically impossible to add to a tower. But there was a guy that figured out how to do it better, smaller, and make the emissions controls very affordable. I sold him a milling machine and helped him learn to code, which is why I know the story. So he now produces lead shot cheaper than anyone, and cleaner than it has ever been done, while also building machines for others to do the same.
Similar things have played out with fiberglass manufacturing, paint booths, etc. If this can be done with lead, it most certainly can be done with silicone. This is nothing more than more industry fleecing that will ultimately drive the production over seas, and not for most of the reasons that we are being told. And in the long run we will still be paying the same high prices. Another no win situation all the way around.
EDIT: In case you are going back to “shiny silnylon”, what I’m talking about has all played out in the last 18-months to 2 years. I hear you on stoves, I’ve had one in the works for too long. I’d like to play in that arena more.Jan 10, 2016 at 5:05 pm #3374983
Yes, I was going back to the loss of shiny silnylon. I knew about the EPA controls, and how that effectively shut down Westmark’s coating plant because the plant would not invest in emissions controls.
I was not aware that there had been further action in the last 1.5 – 2 years though. Any details?
As for the lack of planning for the future and investment for the future driving coating plants overseas – I would say that started when the first shut-down happened, or even before that. The USA coating plants simply did not look ahead: just to the next quarter. Sadly typical.
Stoves: far more fun. I am back in my (cooler) office right now while my CNC does it’s stove thing in my (hotter) workshop.
CheersJan 11, 2016 at 7:58 am #3375081Jim CBPL Member
@jimothyLocale: Georgia, USA
Cuben in shelters is lighter, does not absorb water, does not stretch, and packs smaller than other fabrics
The first three seem right, but packs smaller? I’ve got two pieces of cuben fiber gear—a flat tarp and a mid that Santa was kind enough to bring. I had a silnylon MLD Trailstar, and I miss how easy it was to pack that guy. I’d just shove it in a small stuff sack, and it would take about no space in my pack.
I’ve found it hard to stuff cuben fiber, so I fold it, which is a little tedious and doesn’t always yield the most compact form. Of course, I do like the light weight, and its performance in wet weather, but in terms of packability, I give the edge to silnylon.Jan 11, 2016 at 9:17 am #3375088Ron Bell / MLDBPL Member
2008: Cuben Fiber Extreme Hail Test #37… before all the gray hair.Jan 11, 2016 at 3:12 pm #3375181
Roger, basically just tighter emissions controls this time around. Prior to shiny Sil being lost there were essentially no regulations governing the emissions from the coating processes.
This time around the regs were wider reaching, had tighter requirements, and covered more industries. Or as some here in the states would say….#$%^ing Gub’mint…..I could go dig up more of the particulars, but I am sorry I don’t have the time to.
As Ron has pointed out, Cuben is tough, I’ve had 250 pound pack goats go at shelters made from Cuben and Sil, and the Cuben wins. I have a 5? year old Oware tarp with a duct tape field repair that is still going strong, including the field repair that I never got around to fixing properly. In and out of the stuff sack and UV probably have a much larger impact on it over time, than anything else, maybe more, just like with wovens.
The real or perceived strength of Cuben is not really the problem.
And to touch on comments made earlier that I skimmed over about the cost of raw materials, ie. UHMW, that is not the problem. I work with big chunks of raw UHMW fairly regularly, and have for almost 20 years, it is around the same price as nylon or acetal, and in some forms it is cheaper(almost half). I machine structural sled parts with it, as it works well in a wide range of temperatures. It is affordable and readily available. It is difficult to work with sometimes, so machining costs are higher, but not the raw materials.Jan 11, 2016 at 3:37 pm #3375195
Yeah, it can be tough, but field experience is that it can develop cracks and holes at the creases. Well documented by several people, including Richard N. That’s a worry.
UHMW – I know. I machine nylon, acetal, PET, and a LOT of UHMW myself. (Plus PS, PC, PVC, …) All fun.
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