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Cuben Fiber is now Dyneema Composite Fabrics

By Will Rietveld

Fabric Origins

The original name Cuben Fiber doesn’t do much to describe what the product is; a reporter coined the name back in 1992 when sails made of this fabric helped win the America’s Cup. The name stuck and use of the extraordinarily lightweight and strong fabric expanded into other industries. However, R&D and production were slow and it’s expensive, so adoption struggled along.

cuben fiber fabrics

Cuben Fiber is a laminate consisting of criss-crossed Dyneema fibers sandwiched between two sheets of Mylar plastic. Other fibers and plastics can be used in a range of constructions.

Fast forward to May 2015 and it’s announced that Cubic Tech Corporation, the supplier of many versions of Cuben Fiber, has been purchased by Dyneema, a subsidiary of DSM Dyneema, a much larger Dutch company. There is a connection here because Dyneema fibers (ultra-high-molecular weight polyethylene), which have a strength to weight ratio 15 times higher than steel, are the sandwiched strands giving Cuben Fiber fabrics (now called Dyneema Composite Fabrics) their strength. Dyneema, in fact, is the world’s strongest, lightest fiber.

This is all very ironic because Dyneema was first discovered by a DSM scientist back in 1968. At that time DSM was engaged in other industries and had no interest in selling fiber or fabric. From there it took decades for the market (and DSM) to realize the potential for Dyneema fiber. So DSM bought it back.

Why Do We Love It?

Cuben Fiber shelters are extremely light weight and every enlightened backpacker wants one. Cuben Fiber has disrupted the ultralight shelter category, enabling roomy tarps that weigh a few ounces, or an enclosed shelter that weighs around a pound (or less). These shelters are expensive, but once the purchase pain is over, it dramatically reduces the weight of our gear kit.

Ultralight tarp

Cuben Fiber shelters, such as the 7-ounce Gossamer Gear Q-Twinn Tarp, provide a lot of protected area for their weight. A fully enclosed Cuben Fiber shelter can weigh less than a pound.

Where to from here?

Now that Dyneema is recognized for its ability to add exceptional strength and durability to a wide range of projects, DSM is launching its Dyneema Project to expedite applications. Briefly, it will be a research, development, and applications group within DSM Dyneema that will work with companies to integrate Dyneema fibers into new cutting edge products. This approach is not unique; other companies like Gore, Boa, and Vibram have been doing that for years, working with individual companies to develop new versions of the technology and methods to integrate their materials into finished products. The Project will be focused on early adopters, i.e. trailblazers who are looking to disrupt their industry segment.

The best applications of Dyneema fiber are situations where extra strength and durability are desirable, while keeping weight and bulk at a minimum. Backpacking shelters are a perfect example, but the applications go far beyond the typical Cuben Fiber of criss-crossed Dyneema fibers sandwiched between two thin sheets of Mylar plastic. Adding Dyneema to denim fabric could double or triple the tear and abrasion resistance. Same for backpacks, which has already been accomplished, but can be taken many steps further. And think about the possibilities in the footwear industry – how about running and hiking shoes made of bomber fabric that is also very breathable? Then there are medical, military, aerospace, aviation, and automotive applications – Dyneema could find its way into anything that needs to be lightweight, strong, and durable.

Why the Name Change from Cuben Fiber to Dyneema Composite Fabrics?

I asked that question to DSM representatives at OR, and their response was twofold: 1) name recognition – they wanted their fiber Dyneema in the name to differentiate it from competing fibers like Spectra, Vectran, Carbon, Kevlar, etc; and 2) they want to broaden the potential scope of its applications, as described above.

What’s in it for Us?

Unfortunately, the first disruption from Dyneema will be the name change, which will cascade through the system and require updating throughout the verbal, printed, and digital media. That’s an inconvenience that we are willing to accept if it means better fabrics and gear are in our future. When you think about it, new fabric technologies to a large extent drive the outdoor industry. Fabrics get better and better, and most gear contains fabric (or materials that Dyneema could strengthen), so new fabrics are continuously incorporated into new products in an unending evolution. Gear keeps getting better and better, and that’s what makes the outdoor industry so dynamic and exciting.

Article by Will Rietveld

10 Responses to Cuben Fiber is now Dyneema Composite Fabrics

  1. Marco January 12, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    Thanks for the notes, Will! I think I have to disagree on the durability issue. DCF is not more durable than other fabrics. Tarps, for example, pack a bit larger than the older silnylon assuming .78 vs 1.1 weights unless folded tightly, which will contribute to edge abrasion, too. Generally, because it is a laminate, there are problems with tight folds and creases delaminating the material. Smaller gear generally means lighter gear just because it allows you to carry more, or, use a smaller pack which weighs less. Dyneema fibers may indeed add to abrasion resistance if used to supplement denim material.

  2. Bill January 12, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

    This article told us everything but what we really wanted to know. Namely, will this change in company and nomenclature make this fabric any more common in the marketplace, and more importantly, will prices for consumer goods come down?

  3. Doug Prosser January 12, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    Thanks for the article Will. Very informative. Keep hiking.

  4. Basti January 13, 2016 at 3:12 am #

    Thanks for this info about Cuben fiber/Dyneema Composite Fabrics. From my point of view a bigger company behind this fabric is probably an improvement as availability of this stuff may be more reliable than before. Unfortunately the price for this fabric will more than likely increase. From what I’ve seen a lot of ultralight gear companies have already increased prices for equipment made out of CF/ DCF. It’s now a way harder decision to make when choosing a shelter. Sticking with the good ‘ol silnylon or pay nearly double for the better performance and a few oz less when investing into DCF? But maybe with a broader range of application for this stuff prices will drop again in the long run.

  5. Philip Werner January 13, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    It’s simpler than that Will. When Dyneema bought out Cubic Tech they didn’t get the rights to the “cuben fiber” trademark. Another entity owns it. Rather than paying a royalty to the trademark user, they did what most big companies do, which is rename the existing product. Less expensive and they don’t have to pay blackmail money for the name into the future.

  6. togetherinparis January 14, 2016 at 2:40 am #

    Incompetence. Keep Cuben. Jeez.

  7. Beardoh! January 14, 2016 at 7:49 am #

    Good stuff Will. Looking forward to seeing this material become more accessible in the future.

  8. Roby January 14, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Boo!! Cuben Fiber sounds better and rolls of the tongue more easily. It’s made out of “Cuben Fiber” vs It’s made out of “Dynema Comoposite Fabrics” — Just doesn’t sound the same. Maybe the acronym is the way to go. DCF.

  9. Michael Smith-Petersen June 9, 2016 at 5:00 am #

    when will you have the Q-Twinn Tarp back in stock ?

    Michael, Denmark

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