Dyneema: The Future of Backpacking?

Recently DSM Dyneema purchased Cubic Technologies — the company that’s single-handedly changing the face of outdoor sports. As the pioneer of Dyneema® (previously known as Cuban Fiber), the advances that Cubic Technologies has made has allowed tent and backpack weights to be sliced in half.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already seen equipment that looks like it belongs in the future. But just how much of an impact can we expect Dyneema® to have? I recently spoke with DSM’s outdoor industry expert, Nina Romano, to find out.

Q. Having worked with raw Nylon, I’m interested to know what is Dyneema®?

A. Dyneema® is an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). Today, there are four forms available: fiber, unidirectional sheets, fabrics, and tape. These form factors share the following winning properties:

  • Very high strength for minimal weight ratio 
  • Low elongation at break
  • High resistance to abrasion, moisture, UV radiation, and chemicals
  • Floats on water
  • Highly flexible
  • High energy absorption
  • Dyneema® also shows the highest impact strength of any thermoplastic.

It doesn’t smell, doesn’t taste of anything, and isn’t toxic. It is self-lubricating and its friction coefficient is lower than nylon and comparable to that of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, Teflon) – but with better abrasion resistance. As a fabric (available as a knit, woven, composite, and denim), it offers game-changing properties for the sports and lifestyle, life protection, and workwear industries.

  • 30% lighter than nylon/ polyester
  • 45% lighter than aramid
  • 15 times stronger than steel

Dyneema® Composite fabrics take strength and durability to new highs. These fabrics highly perform in protecting against tear, puncture, and abrasion. They can also be tailored and optimized for strength, stretch, and weight, and for thickness overall and at specific points or along predetermined load paths. The customizable properties of these flexible composite fabrics allow them to be used in numerous applications and industries, ranging from outdoor sports equipment to emergency medical products.

Q. How is it that the fabric itself is waterproof?

A. Not all Dyneema® Composite fabrics are waterproof. The waterproofness and breathability is dependent on the films and/or face fabrics that we use. Our portfolio of composite fabrics consists of air permeable fabrics to fabrics that can contain helium. Most of the fabrics that are used in tents/tarps and backpacks have a waterproof film on at least 1 side. The fabric can also be made with e.g. a waterproof breathable membrane.

Q.With DSM’s acquisition of Cubic Technologies, what is the projected market outlook?

A. DSM Dyneema acquired Cubic Tech, who specialized in the custom design, development and production of innovative high performance ultra-lightweight flexible laminates and fabrics — most of them based on Dyneema® fiber — for high-end solutions in applications as diverse as racing yacht sails, apparel and equipment for Outdoor.

The acquisition of Cubic Tech reinforces the position of Dyneema® as one of the leading brands of ultra high performance materials. It broadens DSM Dyneema’s product portfolio, provides it with downstream knowledge complementary to its own in the processing of UHMwPE fiber, tape and production of unidirectional (UD) fabrics, and enhances the company’s innovation pipeline.

Cubic Tech does not produce high performance fibers, but is a technologically advanced converter of high performance fiber. The combination of the two companies means that fiber properties can be optimized and further developed, while the solutions from Cubic Tech can be accelerated and expanded.

Cubic Technologies’s 20+ years of experience, R&D expertise and complimentary product value proposition will enable DSM Dyneema  to offer an expanded product portfolio, add complementary knowledge to DSM Dyneema’s current offerings and extend our innovation pipeline.

Q. How is DSM hoping to develop this product?

A. DSM Dyneema is a science-driven business that focuses on innovation for real-world applications. Our goal is to bring the advantages of Dyneema® to every industry, product and application where high strength and/or low weight are key.

DSM Dyneema will invest in improving the fabrics in 2 ways: better quality and more innovations. DSM Dyneema and Cubic Technologies are complementary, and we expect that innovation will go both ways, and lead to products that meet the requirements of customers and consumers. For example, DSM Dyneema recently introduced a black fiber, and Cubic Technologies could immediately develop fabrics based on this newly designed black fiber. Many more like this to follow…

Q. Do you expect to see additional price increases?

A. We do not comment on our pricing policy. That is something between DSM Dyneema and our customers.

In plain English: DSM Dyneema and Cuban Technologies are developing the most efficient material on the market. It’s unfathomably strong,  lightweight, flexible, and works really well with  moisture and abrasion. For those of us who are terrified to puncture a $300-$500 Dyneema® product, put your fears to rest. Dyneema® is more puncture-resistant than Nylon. In fact, it’s all around more efficient. Take a look for yourself.

Compare & Contrast The Following Products:

Zpacks Arc Blast: 20.8 oz & 45L capacity

MSR $325

Made with Dyneema®zpacks-arc-blastOsprey Exos: 35.68oz & 45L Capacity

MSR $190

Made with NylonOsprey ExosAlthough both products are considered Ultralight, the Zpack’s Arc Blast is 42% lighter than Osprey’s Exos. Both packs can handle about the same amount of weight. The Arc Blast won’t require a rain cover. It’s less bulky, and less puncture prone (albeit Nylon is more elastic). But the Arc Blast it’s also 42% more expensive than the Exos. We’re seeing similar changes in tents, stuff sacks, and kilts. End users are also creating buoyant ropes, and slings. This is a game-changer for the adventure-bound.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Courtesy of Wikimedi

A Few Additional Dyneema® Applications:

  • New York Police Department recently announced that they’re switching out their bullet-proof vests for Dyneema®-based vests.
  • Vehicle armor
  • Nets
  • Chains
  • Denim
  • Apparel and footwear

A Look Into the My Glass Ball:

With the recent restructuring of companies, industry end users (ie Zpacks, Hyperlite, Mountain Laurel) will not see price decreases for several years. There’s simply too much corporate shifting at play. This means that you and I have to wait to see Dyneema® become the new standard in the backpacking market. But DSM, one of the plastic industry’s superpowers, is ensuring the evolution of outdoors sports. When the dust settles, life as we know it will get a whole lot lighter. There appears to be no limit on the amount of impact that Dyneema® will have on the future.


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Comments 1

  • BunnyHikes : Nov 23rd

    very interesting article, thank you!

    I’m more interested in how this technology impacts hikers. Your comparison of the 2 packs was great, something similar with tents, hammocks, and clothing would be very interesting!
    How specifically does waterproofness of Dyneema change venting requirements of tents?
    Will the lack of stretchiness (I’m sure there’s a more technical term) make this not workable for hammocks?
    How will Dyneema be used in clothing other than rain gear? In footwear?

    You gave me just enough info to make me want more! 🙂


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