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Which material should I use for my backpack?
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Dion Dixon

Locale: Blue Ridge Mtns.
Which material should I use for my backpack? on 12/08/2011 13:08:53 MST Print View

So... been lurking here for over a month and am finally ready to make my own backpack. But, for two weeks, I've been combing forums and websites to find the right answer to this final question.

I've built a model of the backpack I intend to make, but am a little ambivalent about choice of material for the body of the pack. I already have some 1000 Denier Cordura I'll be using for the back and bottom of the pack, so the material I want doesn't have to be quite as tough, but I don't want something that is going to last me just one thru-hike, either.

I think I've narrowed it down to these four materials and would love some advice from you DIY-ers out there with practical knowledge of them.
Here's what I'm considering, in order of current preference.

Grey VX-21 XPAC (from Rockywoods)
White Widow Spectra (from Seattle Fabrics)
300x400 Diamond Ripstop (from Rockywoods or Seattle Fabrics)
Dyneema X (from Thru-hiker)

The weights for all for of these are about 6oz/sq. yd. (except the Dyneema X, which is about 4oz/sq.yd.), so I can't really weed any of these out due to weight.

The VX-21 and Dyneema X are about 200 denier, while the 400x300 Diamond ripstop and White Widow are 300/400 and 500 denier respectively. But is denier actually helpful in ascertaining abrasion resistance? Or is it really only useful in gauging actual thickness of the material?

And then there's also the discussion of ripstop vs. smooth-faced cloth.
If the Dyneema X is only 200 denier and possesses raised threads comprising the ripstop "grid", does that make the difference in durability even greater than the difference in denier would suggest in comparison with the smoother 500 denier White Widow?
Not sure this question really vexes me anymore, though. All four of these materials are some sort of ripstop fabric, so the answer may me be moot for me.

It seems that the VX-21 definitely wins out in regards to waterproofing, but reading about the dangers of sewing mistakes being problematic with the laminate structure of the material makes me a little wary of it.

I'm really leaning towards VX-21 because of its stiffness and waterproofness. Plus, the packs I've seen in these forums made from XPAC look amazing. But, its lower 200 denier makes me wonder how rugged it really is. Plus, I am certainly not an experienced sewer. I don't want to buy this fabric and then promptly destroy it's ability to shed water with repeated mistakes, ya know? I'm not silly enough to believe I am not going to make mistakes in this project.
I love the look of the White Widow Spectra, and with its higher denier,I think it would likely be a good material. But I've found almost no info on this material, so I'm not quite sold on it. Especially considering its price is 70% more than the VX-21.

As for the other two possibilities... the Dyneema X seems to be used often in many quality packs. And honestly, it comes up in nearly every discussion like this, so I thought it prudent to consider it. But, is it really so amazing? Or has it just been used so much that it's used reflexively for it's distinct appearance and because it's instantly recognizable?
The 300x400 Diamond Ripstop, I think, looks pretty interesting (plus I had an old Kelty pack that was comprised of something similar that really held up well). But, as with the White Widow, I can't seem to find any real info on this material. Anyone have any practical experience with this material?

I'm looking to make a sub 2.5lb pack that's about 40-50L (at least, that's what volume my model ended up being). I want something that is lightweight (which, to me, all these qualify as), but holds up well to constant use. Waterproof would be awesome, but it ain't a deal breaker. Mostly, I just want it to work well and last more than a year.

Sorry about the long post... I feel like searching the internet for answers has only complicated matters for me. I think my brain's full.

So, any advice at all would be very helpful.
Thank you.


Locale: Northwest Mass
Well on 12/08/2011 14:39:18 MST Print View

One thing to note is that rocky woods is out of stock on the grey xpac. That said, I am planning a xpac pack, and I will just use one of the other colors.

I have made 4 packs so far, and the materials I have used have been spinnaker, 1.4 silnylon and 1.9 (actually more like 2.3) silnylon. So I can't really comment on any of the fabrics you have there. However, When you say you "made a model" do you mean you sewed a complete pack in a cheap fabric? because otherwise I wouldn't jump right in with these fabrics, especially not expensive ones like dyneema. As I said, I am designing pack number 5, all the others have been with cheap materials because i knew they were essentially prototypes. If you are using someone else's designs, then i guess it is different.

Moral of the story, make sure you are happy with your design before shelling out money on expensive fabrics, and spending all that time painstakingly sewing.

Also, although i have never used dyneema, I can put in a word as to why people like it. It is more durable than other fabrics in its weight class.


Dion Dixon

Locale: Blue Ridge Mtns.
The model I made on 12/08/2011 23:12:26 MST Print View

The model I am referring to was made of grocery bag paper and packing tape. I actually drew out the pack in 1/4" scale. Then I made a 1/4" scale drawing of each piece of the pattern I would use. Then I cut the pieces just as I would for the actual cloth pieces. Well, minus the seam allowances, that is. But I constructed the model in actual size and actually stuffed it with my pad, sleeping bag, and tarp and wore it around the house to figure out the right dimensions for the pack body, shoulder straps, and waist belt. It has all the straps, and webbing, but they, too, are made out of paper and tape. I made two of these models, and on the second, I altered it and re-did it twice. So a total 3-4 models, in essence. The final one was quite a bit better than the first one.

I know it sounds crazy, I guess, but it actually was quite informative and fun to make the model. And I think I have exactly what I want. I just need the right material.

Shame about the Grey XPAC being out of stock. The Blue is the VX-21 as well, right? That would be ok with me... if that's what I go with.

Two Questions, though...

Is it really necessary to make a prototype out of cloth? Because, if need be, I have 2 yards of the 1000 denier nylon, I can use for it. It'll be heavy and ugly as it's all blaze orange (Seattle Fabrics or Rockywoods was having a sale and I thought it would be great for a bicycle pack or dog pack), but I guess it'll probably last forever.

What is it, exactly, that makes the Dyneema X stuff so good? When you say it out performs everything in its class, what do you mean? Is it lighter? More durable?

Anyhoo, thanks for the feedback, Adie.

Daniel Sandström
Version 0.1 on 12/09/2011 03:06:41 MST Print View

Do get some cheap fabric and make atleast two prototypes before going for the expensive fabric. I haven't done this, and thus "wasted" money on packs I'm not yet happy with.
When I do make my new pack, I'll go for VX07, actually have the fabric already. I tested pieces of the fabric, piercing and then ripping it with an awl and in my opinion, I was satisfied with the results. I rarely poke packs with that kind of force in real life.
On the waterproofness, as discussed with Dave earlier this week. Holes from screwed up sewing isn't the worst thing that can happen, you'll have more leakage at the fabric seams. Do you need it to be submerging proof? And get a tube of seamgrip while your at it, seamseal it all up, that's what I'm aiming for. :)

Shane Bailey
(Shane112510) - F
Re: Which material should I use for my backpack? on 12/09/2011 07:14:22 MST Print View

I have some experience with Dyneema X, VX21, and 400x300, but not the White Widow.

Dyneema X really is good stuff, and the gridstop, I think, does help a lot with its durability. You can tell when you cut the fabric with scissors. Those white Dyneema fibers can be a pain to cut through. It's easy to work with and sew, and it performs great in the field. Pretty waterproof but not as much as VX21.

The only experience I have with 400x300 is when I used it to make my girlfriend's backpack. I did take a scrap piece and tried to poke holes in it and tear through it, and it was pretty tough stuff. I was barely able to poke a hole in it with a pen, and I could not tear through it. Unfortunately, that pack hasn't been used much, so I have no idea how waterproof it is or how well it holds up long term. Seemed like pretty good material when I sewed with it, though. However, I'd choose Dyneema X or VX21 over the 400x300.

VX21 is my favorite. It's just about as abrasion resistant as Dyneema X. Dyneema X may be slightly better because of the Dyneema gridstop, but not by much. However, VX21 is definitely the most waterproof, and it doesn't really matter if you mess up too much, because you're going to have to create all those sewing holes anyway. Just get some seam tape or seamgrip for when you're done. Also, VX21 is a joy (for me) to work with. It's very dimensionally stable, easy to mark patterns, and easy to cut. It's also grey colored on the inside, making it easy to see things inside the pack. It's also the best material for loading and unloading a pack, because it doesn't collapse like other fabrics do.

With all that said, definitely make a prototype or two out of cheap fabric from Walmart, so you can go ahead and make plenty of mistakes and learn on fabric that isn't so costly. Most of my first packs have all been cannibalized. I wasn't really satisfied with the quality and design of my packs until maybe pack #5 or so. I don't know how much sewing experience you have, but I would also learn about different types of threads and seams before you start. I now use #69 bonded nylon thread with VX21 for my backpacks, and I would roll it down a hill if I had to.

Dion Dixon

Locale: Blue Ridge Mtns.
Sewing a prototype... on 12/09/2011 09:53:03 MST Print View

So... or should I say, sew...

When sewing up my prototype, should I do everything, like the shoulder straps and waist belt, webbing straps, and compression cords? Because all that webbing, foam, mesh, and stuff is gonna get expensive.

However, thanks for the replies. You are all right, of course, in regards to sewing up a prototype. I just get a little impatient and want to start on the pack immediately. But, how mad would I be if I screw it up right outta the gate?

Daniel, thanks for the feedback on the XPAC. I think I'll go with the sturdier VX-21 if I go with the XPAC, though. My brain has an issue right now with holding the samples in my hand believing that the thin VX-07 is as tough as people say it is. I can be pretty rough on my equipment.

Shane, good to know about the VX-21 being stiff enough to stand up. Do you orient the diamonds vertically to achieve this? Or horizontally? I could see how vertically it would resist sagging down, but a horizontal orientation might keep the circumference of the "tube" of the pack more rigid. I dunno, just thoughts, I may have no idea what I'm talking about.
I do like that the light-colored coating on the back of the material helps with seeing things inside the pack. Remembering digging through my old, black backpack; being able to see your stuff a nice feature.

Also... More fodder for thought. Last night I found a something I previously missed over at Rockywoods.

"500 denier Cordura with Dyneema reinforcement".
It's 7.2oz/sq.yd. and only $17/yd. Maybe a better deal than the Dyneema X over at Thru-Hiker?
It seems like it would be tougher than the 200 denier Dyneema X. Although, it is heavier at 7.2oz/sq.yd., rather than 4oz/sq.yd. But, it's also only $17/yd instead of Thru-hiker's $23.95/yd.
Of course, this may just be a heavier version of the White Widow. I have no idea if it has the second "grid" added to it like in the Dyneema X.

Hmmm, might be getting more samples.

And as to weight, am I fixating on that too much? I mean, a 7.2oz/yd fabric is 15% heavier than the VX-21 and 45% heavier than the Dyneema X.
But honestly, for the making of the whole pack, It looks like I'll use less than a yard of fabric for this one material. Will 1-3oz make a huge difference to me? In a 2.5lb pack, maybe not.

Shane Bailey
(Shane112510) - F
Re: Sewing a prototype... on 12/09/2011 11:51:28 MST Print View

"When sewing up my prototype, should I do everything, like the shoulder straps and waist belt, webbing straps, and compression cords? Because all that webbing, foam, mesh, and stuff is gonna get expensive."

No. You can use cheap fabric for just about everything. The goal would be to practice sewing, learn how to construct everything, and get some mistakes out of the way. No need to waste expensive fabric on a prototype, unless you're confident that it will turn out really good. Otherwise, you'll end up cutting it up when it's done to reuse some fabric and hardware, but a lot of it will be scraps.

"But, how mad would I be if I screw it up right outta the gate?"

Been there, done that. It can be pretty frustrating. You'll end up spending a substantial amount of time with a seam ripper, and make sure you have one.

"Shane, good to know about the VX-21 being stiff enough to stand up. Do you orient the diamonds vertically to achieve this? Or horizontally?"

Don't think it matters. I've done both, and it stays dimensionally stable either way.

I can't really comment on the 500 denier Cordura with Dyneema reinforcement, because I've never used it, but I'd imagine it's pretty bomber stuff.

If you're shooting for a durable pack around 2.5 lbs., I wouldn't worry about the weight difference between the fabrics.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
thru-hiker dynmee-x supply? on 12/09/2011 11:56:52 MST Print View

Thru-hiker currently only has black dyneema x, and it appears they are not using this in their own gear, having moved on to the latest fad, cuben for packs.

Is this just temporary, or are there other suppliers for dynmeex type fabric.

I have a dyneema pack and I really like the material, though I don't know if it's durable enough on the bottom, only time will tell.

Does anyone know of alternate sources for dyneema enforced nylon fabrics? One possibly slightly less prone to fashion and fad?

Dion Dixon

Locale: Blue Ridge Mtns.
Re: thru-hiker dynmee-x supply? on 12/09/2011 12:20:58 MST Print View

Rockywoods has some 500 denier Dyneema fabric.

But, I don't know if it's the same structure as the gridstop Dyneema X that Thru-Hiker has. It looks like it's heavier, but it's also cheaper and has a higher denier.

And thanks, Shane, I'll stop obsessing about the weight. I think you're right. Anything I'm looking at has a little enough difference in weight, that they'll all be fine in that department.

The dimensional stability of he XPAC is super intriguing. I realized, upon recollection, that loading up my paper/tape model was really easy due to the stiffness of the material. loading my girlfriend's REI Flash is a bit of a hassle. Score a point for the XPAC!

As to sewing up a prototype, I actually found a whole mess of muslin in the closet. So I have cloth to practice on. Looks like I got myself a project next week!

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
xpack looks interesting too on 12/09/2011 12:53:54 MST Print View

thanks for the info, xpac is cheaper, looks interesting.

I did some backpack hipbelt pockets to practice, and I agree with the other posters, it pays to do a real sewed mockup, certain things just aren't the same when you pin or tape stuff together.

I think, personally, that since I get frustrated spending time on something I am not actually going to use, making the practice pack/item with decent but not great materials will at least end you up with something that is of some utility.

I tried muslin for mockups for silnylon but found it to be just too different in terms of how it handled when sewn, but heavier nylons are probably more similar in terms of working out the stitching problems and issues.

I'm leaning towards a smallish backpack myself as my next project, good luck on yours.

I thought the thru-hiker light backpack project had some useful tips, although I wouldn't want that exact design, but it does show some areas you might not have considered re the final design. Maybe that can save you a pack or two in the process of finding something you really like.

Edited by hhope on 12/09/2011 12:54:43 MST.

Paul Nanian
(PaulNanian) - F
fashionista on 12/09/2011 14:14:16 MST Print View

"Thru-hiker currently only has black dyneema x, and it appears they are not using this in their own gear, having moved on to the latest fad, cuben for packs.
Is this just temporary, or are there other suppliers for dynmeex type fabric.
I have a dyneema pack and I really like the material, though I don't know if it's durable enough on the bottom, only time will tell.
Does anyone know of alternate sources for dyneema enforced nylon fabrics? One possibly slightly less prone to fashion and fad?

Apparently I'm so prone to fashion and fad that I'm making and selling cuben packs without realizing it. Thanks for pointing that out Harald.



Locale: Northwest Mass
re;fashionista on 12/09/2011 14:51:27 MST Print View

Paul, you sell cuben packs?

Paul Nanian
(PaulNanian) - F
RE on 12/09/2011 15:23:06 MST Print View

Hi Adie,

No, it was a sarcastic comment in response to Harald's misdirected flame of; I have never sold cuben and have nothing to do with cuben and packs.


Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
wasn't a flame on 12/09/2011 18:29:05 MST Print View

That wasn't a flame, wasn't even remotely close to flame, just a comment on how fast these fabrics come and go into and from fashion, for no apparent good reason, ie, I'd like to get a sense of what is actually going to be around, and what is going to be gone before a project is even ready to go. There has clearly been a fairly serious faddism that is self-evident when you look back over the last 10 years at what has been recommended and used, and what is used and recommended today, vs even last year, that was more a general comment than anything pointed anywhere specific.

Cuben for tents strikes me as interesting, but not proven, seems far too early to say yet on backpacks. If anything it was more a sad comment, since thru-hiker seems to do very good work in terms of sourcing and quality control, that's in fact who I was looking forwards to ordering materials from since there's at least an effort made to ensure the quality, if I made some real projects, still is the source I think I'd use for some fabrics, as long as the fabrics don't vanish before I'm ready to start sewing.

Oh, wait, I see, sorry, I had in fact assumed you'd moved on to cuben, my mistake, maybe an indication of why materials aren't available anymore on the materials page instead of just removing them? Might be helpful for some people who might have been planning on buying them from you only to find them gone without explanation. Is dyneema x not being made anymore?

Edited by hhope on 12/09/2011 18:53:47 MST.

Mike D.
(mpd1690) - F
Right were it has always been on 12/09/2011 18:50:20 MST Print View

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
only one color on 12/09/2011 19:01:57 MST Print View

Yes, that's the page, minus some materials and selections, nobody said it was gone, just slimmer. It's not big deal, sourcing is alway hard I guess, and I definitely don't want to pull this thread off topic. My actual question was where is the non-black color selection of dyneema x that thru-hiker had sourced previously? Is that fabric now gone, not being made anymore? Or is it just a temporary supply glitch? That was my personal pick for a backpack project, and for what are hopefully very obvious reasons, an all black backpack is not something I'd want to use, especially in summer (that's the only color stocked at the moment there).

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Which material should I use for my backpack? on 12/09/2011 20:10:32 MST Print View

Spun Gold. Heard its cheap and lightweight...

Sorry, couldn't resist. Sure seems like some materials are made from spun gold though.

Christopher Zimmer
(czimmer) - F

Locale: Ohio
Dyneema x on 12/09/2011 21:05:58 MST Print View

Harald, maybe try and email Paul/thru-hiker and inquire about the status of the color of dyneema seek. I emailed Paul about the grey dyneema and got a reply in a matter of minutes. Paul has great materials and has always been great to work with.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
good idea on 12/09/2011 22:31:33 MST Print View

good to know, most of these cottage guys seem to have good customer service reputations.

I'll wait til that project looks more likely to happen, just hoping that particular material doesn't go away for unknown reasons, just got a start to see the stuff gone when it was just there and listed a month or less ago. It's a bit too expensive to just buy on speculation that I might use it though.

Edited by hhope on 12/09/2011 22:33:29 MST.