UltraTNT: The Newest Material for Ultralight Tarps & Tents
Long-distance hikers are known to converse in a language of their own, tossing around nonsensical gear jargon like DCF, Robic, Cuben Fiber, and X-Pac. But amidst these familiar names, there’s a new contender looking to shake up the hiking world. Say hello to UltraTNT, a revolutionary fabric from Challenge Sailcloth pitching to become the next sensation in backpacking tarps and tents.
Below, we’ll uncover the features and benefits of UltraTNT, compare it to ubiquitous UL fabrics like DCF and silnylon, and hear some real-world feedback from the brands who have been involved in testing this fabric in their tents. Ultimately, let’s see if Challenge Sailcloth has advanced the quest for the perfect balance between weight, cost, and durability.
The Innovation Behind UltraTNT
UltraTNT, where TNT stands for Tent and Tarp, is the brainchild of Challenge Sailcloth’s year-long research and development efforts. The fabric’s construction consists of two layers of .25mm polyester film with Ultra (non-branded Dyneema) yarn inserted between them, to improve stretch resistance and provide exceptional tear strength.
This combination of materials is the same as that used in DCF, but the arrangement is different in UltraTNT, which alters the material properties and makes it cheaper to produce. The result is a durable and lightweight solution that is completely water resistant and with exceptional multilateral strength.
UltraTNT vs. Silnylon
As we compare UltraTNT to other popular fabrics like silnylon, it becomes evident why it’s rapidly gaining interest among long-distance hikers. Silnylon has long been favored for its decent waterproofing and relative affordability. However, UltraTNT’s weight advantage makes it a superior choice for those seeking to minimize pack weight without compromising on performance. UltraTNT weighs .94 oz/sqyd while the lightest silnylon usually comes in over 1.0 oz/sqyd and is not nearly as strong.
UltraTNT’s enhanced tear and tensile strength, combined with the fact it doesn’t retain water means the tent should weigh significantly less than silnylon of comparable strength, especially in wet conditions. Additionally, one of the biggest perks compared to silnylon is that it won’t ‘zipper’ tear. The Ultra yarns form the ultimate ‘ripstop’, so if the fabric develops a hole, it will remain isolated and can be easily repaired in the field with a bit of tape.
In terms of cost, you can expect the fabric to cost about double that of silnylon.
UltraTNT vs. DCF
One of the reasons UltraTNT exists in the first place is because of DCF’s general lack of availability and the resulting skyrocketing price (You may have noticed that our favorite DCF shelter cost a lot more now than they did in 2020). DCF, or Dyneema Composite Fabric is a renowned ultralight material, popular for its impressive strength-to-weight ratio, that combines the same materials as UltraTNT in a different format. DCF’s spread fiber core provides it with remarkable stretch resistance and tear strength, but the process to produce it is costly.
In order to reduce cost and tweak the material properties, Challenge Sailcloth opted for a different approach with UltraTNT. They replaced the spread, evenly distributed Dyneema fibers of DCF with small, yet relatively large Ultra yarns in the warp, weft, and bias directions.
This achieves similar results, though not without consequences. The already suspect puncture resistance of DCF is reduced further by concentrating the strength-giving Ultra into yarns, which leaves gaps of unreinforced mylar to fend for themselves.
So while DCF still holds the crown for its extremely lightweight capabilities, UltraTNT positions itself as a mid-weight ultralight fabric, offering hikers another more affordable alternative. Speaking of affordability, whilst not exact, you can expect a tent made with UltraTNT to cost about half the price as the same made with DCF.
Is UltraTNT as light as DCF?
The simple answer is no. The reason UltraTNT is currently heavier than DCF lies in their differing construction methods and the weight of the Ultra yarn. DCF’s spread fiber core technology involves strategically spreading Dyneema fibers to provide exceptional strength while minimizing weight. This patented technology has become synonymous with the ultimate in lightweight performance.
In contrast, UltraTNT utilizes small Ultra yarns inserted into the laminate material providing stretch resistance and tear strength. Currently, this method hasn’t achieved the same weight-saving benefits as DCF’s spread fiber core and as a result, UltraTNT, while significantly lighter than traditional fabrics, still falls short of DCF’s market-leading weight-to-strength ratio.
For reference, the .94 oz/sqyd UltraTNT is closer in weight to the 1.0 oz/sqyd DCF that Zpacks uses for their burly bathtub floors than the .55 oz/sqyd DCF that they use for their tent canopies. That 73% weight increase is significant.
It’s important to note that UltraTNT’s design goal was never to directly compete with DCF in terms of weight. Instead, Challenge Sailcloth aimed to create a mid-weight ultralight fabric that strikes a balance between affordability and performance. By doing so, UltraTNT opens up new possibilities for backpackers seeking a more budget-friendly option without sacrificing essential features like tear resistance and waterproofing.
UltraTNT in Action: Real-world Feedback
To gain further insights into the real-world performance of UltraTNT, let’s take a look at some feedback from hiking brands who have embraced this cutting-edge fabric.
Tarptent: Pioneering with UltraTNT
Tarptent, a well-known brand in the long-distance hiking community, is one of the first major gear companies to start incorporating UltraTNT into their product line. Their decision to use this innovative fabric comes after testing the fabric over the course of last season.
When asked about why he chose to use the fabric, Henry Shires, owner of Tarptent stated it was primarily, “The quest for a less expensive, tougher/more durable, and higher quality alternative to DCF. We really like it adds next-level wind and rain performance to the Scarp 1 and Double Rainbow DW tents which have previously been available only in silnylon and silpoly.”
Which models can I buy from Tarptent Today?
Tarptent has mainly utilized the material in their 4 season tents. These include:
Scarp 1 Ultra
Weight: 44.4 ounces (1260g)
Double Rainbow DW Ultra
Weight: 40.5 ounces (1150g)
Weight: 39.7 ounces (1125g)
Note: all weights shown include stakes, guy lines, poles, and bags.
ETOWAH Outfitters, one of the small USA-based brands involved in the development of UltraTNT, deserves special recognition for being the first manufacturer to produce tarps direct to consumers. Their collaboration with Challenge Sailcloth helped refine the fabric, ensuring that it meets the demands of outdoor enthusiasts seeking the perfect balance between durability and weight. Paul Fitzner, the founder of ETOWAH Outfitters, launched the first tarps with UltraTNT earlier this year, further establishing the fabric’s potential in the industry.
LiteAF, another small USA brand, played a crucial role in the testing and development of UltraTNT. Chris Millard, the founder of LiteAF, provided invaluable feedback and insights during the fabric’s R&D phase stating:
“We’ve been involved with the development of the TNT from the very beginning. We tested 3 different variations and the final version was a combination of all three. It’s a really cool material and we hope it gives the ultralight community some more budget-friendly options.”
- Impressive Tear Strength: UltraTNT’s tear resistance is exceptional, making it a reliable choice for harsh weather conditions and rugged terrain. Tarptent is currently using this material for their 4-season tents, which should give it plenty of opportunity to resist severe weather. There is also no chance of a ‘zipper’ tear cutting through multiple Ultra yarns. Therefore, holes should theoretically be minor and easily patched in the field.
- 100% Waterproof (when new): Hikers can trust UltraTNT to keep them dry during rainstorms, ensuring a comfortable and safe night’s sleep. The polyester film is impermeable when new, unlike woven fabrics which require further treatment to shed moisture. In addition, this material doesn’t absorb water like its nylon counterpart and so won’t retain as much water weight after getting wet.
- Improved Softness and Packability: Although stiff when new, UltraTNT becomes softer and more packable with use, enhancing its usability over time. That said, Tarptent was particularly impressed with how little warping occurred in testing, stating that they saw less of this than in their DCF counterparts.
- Less Deformation: Adding those Ultra yarns in the third, bias (diagonal) direction adds strength that has been a marginal vulnerability of DCF, which only orients the strong fibers in two directions.
- Competitive Price: Positioned as a mid-weight ultralight fabric, UltraTNT provides a more budget-friendly alternative to the expensive DCF, costing around half the price.
- Heavier than DCF: While UltraTNT offers remarkable weight savings when compared to traditional fabrics like silnylon, it cannot compete with the extremely low weight of DCF. DCF’s spread fiber core technology achieves unparalleled weight reductions, making it the go-to choice for those striving for the absolute lightest gear possible. That hasn’t changed.
- More Delicate Than Silnylon: As with DCF you should roll, not stuff, this fabric and avoid sharp things as much as possible. Laminate fabrics such as UltraTNT and DCF have no way to absorb puncture forces, which is their greatest downside. However, like DCF, should a puncture occur it’s very easy to permanently patch with patch tape.
- Limited DIY Availability: At present, UltraTNT is primarily available for brands and factories. DIY enthusiasts will need to source the fabric directly from Challenge Sailcloth.
The Future of UltraTNT
As the outdoor industry continually evolves, fabric technologies are subject to constant innovation and refinement. While UltraTNT may not currently match DCF’s extremely low weight, there’s still exciting potential for future advancements. Challenge Sailcloth and other industry players are continuously exploring new methods and materials to enhance the performance and weight characteristics of fabrics like UltraTNT.
Already, UltraTNT has garnered significant attention from both major and smaller brands. It’s likely that as technology progresses, we may witness further improvements to its strength-to-weight ratio and more variations. The willingness of prominent brands like Tarptent to adopt UltraTNT speaks volumes about its potential, and it’s not far-fetched to imagine that future iterations may drop the weight into a range that directly competes with DCF.
So, while UltraTNT doesn’t match DCF in terms of weight, its unique properties and competitive price point make it a standout choice for a broad range of hikers who prioritize a more equitable balance between weight, durability, and affordability.
UltraTNT from Challenge Sailcloth is a welcome addition to the fabrics available in the world of lightweight hiking gear. With its impressive tear strength, zero water retention, and growing interest from major and smaller brands alike, it offers a compelling option for backpackers looking to reduce pack weight and gain some of the benefits previously reserved for DCF tents. Its mid-weight ultralight classification and affordable price point make it a strong contender for those seeking a more accessible introduction to cutting-edge fabric technology.
So, whether you’re planning a thru-hike or simply seeking to lighten your load, keep an eye out for UltraTNT tarps and tents — they may just be your ticket to a more comfortable and enjoyable outdoor adventure.
Note: some quotes have been shortened for brevity.
Featured Image: Photo courtesy of Challenge Sailcloth. Graphic Design by Chris Helm.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.