Why didn’t woven UHMWPE before Ultra take off?
Jan 22, 2023 at 12:39 pm #3771080Tianming CBPL Member
In the past few years Challenge Ultra has been immensely successful in the backpack market. Before Ultra hit the market, there were also other fabrics with high UHMWPE woven face like those used by HMG, McHale and Cilo Gear. It seems they are similar to Ultra in construction, and may be even better than Ultra as they have 100% woven UHMWPE face. However it seemed they were only used in niche applications and never gain mainstream appeal. Did they have some limitations compared to Ultra? Were they too expensive?
I’m also curious where those fabrics were sourced. Given the operation scale of cottage companies like McHale and Cilo, it’s hard to imagine fabric manufacturers making something custom just for them.Jan 22, 2023 at 2:21 pm #3771089Justin WBPL Member
For awhile, you could only get quality UHMWPE fabrics from Honeywell/Spectra and DSM/Dyneema (the two “brand names” of UHMWPE fibers, fabric, cord, etc), and it was very expensive stuff. Also, the material is very slippery, and so the yarns and fibers can come apart in the weave i.e. become loose. Then there is the challenge of making it waterproof. For both of the former issues, putting some kind of coating or bonding it to another fabric or material is very advantageous, but also extremely hard to do due to the very low surface energy of the material.
Now you can buy decent quality, off brand UHMWPE fabrics direct from Asia, like via Aliexpress and the like (sometimes as little as for 17 dollars a meter or so), but you still have the issues of waterproofing and increasing dimensional stability. If you can get a looser weave fabric, theoretically you could heat bond TPU films to each other (from the outside in), holding the weave better and making it waterproof, but it would add some definite weight.
I don’t know how McHale, HMG, and Cilo Gear tackled/tackles these issues. I imagine they were and are pretty tight-lipped about their processes.
Hopefully someone with more knowledge chimes in.Jan 22, 2023 at 8:06 pm #3771102JacobBPL Member
From looking at Honeywell’s website, I’m under the layman’s impression that the investment incentive is on developing body armor for the the US military. The packs McHale and Cilo made (make?) out of spectra were definitely expensive.
These other uses are secondary schemes trying to monetize uhmwpe after they developed it for other purposes.
Dyneema was using it to make cutting edge sails for the (highly funded) yacht racing market. I don’t know if its even still used in sails.
The products we see in the outdoor market represent the investments (bets) that has been made on consumers wanting to buy it. While it might be ‘obvious’ that ‘everyone’ wants it, its still hard to bet 10s of millions of dollars on it. After all, the fibers we already had are probably good enough and can be recycled; uhmwpe is kinda of a solution without a problem from an investor perspective.Jan 22, 2023 at 8:39 pm #3771105Justin WBPL Member
Most nylon or polyester fabrics made for backpack use are coated in either silicone, PU, or silicone-PU blend. This makes it very hard to recycle these fabrics, because you would have to completely remove the coating from it in order to recycle it. PU is probably easier to remove than silicone since the latter is quite inert and an inorganic material.
Both DSM and Honeywell sell A LOT to the military.
UHMWPE even now with DCF, Ultra, Dyneema and Spectra cord, etc, for the hiking/backpacking market is a tiny fraction of overall sales and demand as already has been somewhat addressed.Jan 25, 2023 at 1:52 pm #3771410David ChenaultBPL Member
@davecLocale: Queen City, MT
Availability. Before Challenge no one made these fabrics easily available, either to consumers or most manufacturers. Challenges marketing and customer service (retail or wholesale) has been a massive improvement.Jan 25, 2023 at 2:46 pm #3771417Tianming CBPL Member
That makes sense. Now I’m even more curious how McHale/Cilo got their fabric. Could they possibly acquire woven UHMWPE and DCF and bonded the two together themselves? If DSM/HoneyWell at some point were producing and selling these fabrics, I can’t think of a reason why they would only sell to McHale/Cilo (at presumably very small quantity) instead of offering it to more customers.Jan 25, 2023 at 5:31 pm #3771434Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Now I’m even more curious how McHale/Cilo got their fabric. Could they possibly acquire woven UHMWPE and DCF and bonded the two together themselves? If DSM/HoneyWell at some point were producing and selling these fabrics, I can’t think of a reason why they would only sell to McHale/Cilo (at presumably very small quantity) instead of offering it to more customers.
I can’t speak for Dan McHale, but I suspect he bought very large quantities of Dyneema and Spectra. At some point he apparently couldn’t source Dyneema (or maybe it was too expensive) and only sold Spectra along with a lot of other fabrics. I see he is now using several Challenge fabrics in varying options.
Here’s a link to all the fabric options McHale offers.
My fully woven Dyneema McHale doesn’t seem to have any waterproof coating or bonded material on the inside, it is white. But outside of the fabric is dyed (seems McHale was the only one who could do this) and perhaps this aids in waterproofing. The pack is now 12 years old and has seen a lot of use. The dye has not faded or peeled.
At one point I remember his website, IIRC, stated that the price for a full Dyneema or Spectra pack was triple the price of his basic pack in normal fabrics. Back in 2010 I paid over $1,200 for my pack. I suspect that a couple years ago a similar McHale would have cost over $2,000. Since my first McHale I have gotten a couple smaller packs from Dan, but in rip-stop nylon. One is my 10 year old Bump, and Dan convinced me I didn’t need full Dyneema or Spectra for that pack. A couple years ago I received my third McHale, a smaller LBP34, and went with a conventional fabric, knowing at my age I would die before the pack would.
On all three of my McHales the bottom of the pack and water bottle pockets are heavier Spectra as are the shoulder straps.
This is a link to my review of the Bump and fully woven Dyneema LBP36 on my website with lots of pictures to include the interior of the pack fabrics.Jan 28, 2023 at 2:10 pm #3771659kevin timmBPL Member
@ktimmLocale: Colorado (SeekOutside)
Price and waterproofing … we worked with Spectra on some years ago but couldn’t get it to make sense. We ended up with our SpectraGridHT and a 1500 MM coating. We did built some packs from pure woven for Spectra , but they didn’t have a waterproof layer.
Also , the amount of money to foot the bill yourself vs with Ultra you can literally buy a few yards.
Ultra did a better job at the lamination end.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.