During my last term in college I took a class called “product quality assurance.” While the class was much less interesting then it sounds the one good thing to come out of it was learning the basics of fabric testing, as it turns out the school has a pretty decent collection of very expensive fabric testing machines that one does not normally come across in day to day life. The three that interested me the most were the tensile strength tester, rip strength tester, and a Taber Abrador (see below)
I checked with the professor and got permission to come in after class one day a week and do some tests of my own so I set about collecting the proper sized samples of various fabrics. I will admit my main priority was to put 500d and 1000d in direct competition and see who came out on top but I knew I should test some other stuff while I had the chance. On my own I was able to get together 500d and 1000d Cordura, Multicam Litelok (one of Duro’s new lightweight pack fabrics) Nylon Supplex (hiking pant material) Multicam NYCO (non-FR ACU material), Silnylon, and Spandura (cordura spandex blend). Wanting to get some X-Pac in on the party I contacted DaveC. I have followed his blog for a while now (Bedrocks and Paradox) and had noted his liberal use of exotic fabrics in his many DIY backpack projects and hoped he had a bountiful scrap bin. As I predicted he did have some spare X-Pac scraps in various weights as well as a few other fabrics he was curious about.
Many thanks to Dave for providing the fabric and being patient with me. Since he was the only one I’d told about the testing he’s been the only one who’s had to wait several weeks longer then reasonable for the results.
He provide me with WK40, VX07 and VX42 X-Pac, a hybrid cuben fabric, diamond ripstop and dyneema grid stop for testing.
The rip and tensile strength testing was pretty disappointing as many of the fabrics were simply too strong and the machines couldn’t test to failure. Also some of the results were odd enough as to leave me suspicious of the results (no one knew the last time any of them had been calibrated) but the abrasion testing (which was what I was really after) was very consistent leaving human error the main deviation. Abrasion testing took several weeks longer then I predicted since the tougher fabrics took a few hours apiece and I only had a few hours a week in which to do the testing.
For my results Rip refers to tearing the fabric perpendicular to the plane of the fabric (like tearing a sheet of paper). The machine makes a small cut and then a weighted pendulum swings down and tears the fabric. Tear refers to a tensile strength test, were the machine clamps on either end of the fabric and does a tug of war contest with itself. Both of these tests include two numbers; ideally it is preformed in the warp and weft direction of the fabric but since I was working with scraps I couldn’t usually identify which was which and just made sure I had swatches that were perpendicular to each other. The abrasion test results refer to number of revolutions on the turntable the fabric makes under the abrader wheels before failing. I deemed a small whole completely through the fabric a minor failure and a large hole (such as what would snag itself and tear open wider) a major failure. Since all fabric wares differently this is open to interpretation so I tried to include pictures to illustrate my conclusions. Results in parentheses after my numbers are other testers data when available. Duro Textiles has some of the most comprehensive fabric testing listed on their site of any fabric supplier I can find. Asterisks denote something hinky happened during testing that could have skewed the numbers, since I was working with fairly small scraps I didn’t have duplicates for most of the testes.
The pictures holding the fabric up to the window exagerates the damage but was done to illustrate the relative thinness of the fabric after testing.
Remember this is an absurdly small sample size and is only useful as a reference point. I tend to be mistrustful of anecdotal information since few people are consistent in recording conditions or context of failures (the classic example being that expensive pants are more durable because you are more careful when you wear them) but pure lab data is nearly as useless when taken at face value.
Rip: N/A (55/51lbs)
Tear: N/A (621/580lbs)
Abrasion: 4000 to minor failure, 4500 to major failure. (3240)
100% nylon, PU coating
I knew I was in for a long day when I found out the rip and tear testers couldn’t do anything to the 1000d. I do know the tear tester maxes out at 400lbs, so it has to be stronger then that. Looking at Duro’s tests, my abrasion figure was well within the standard deviation for their numbers.
Rip: N/A (14/14lbs)
Tear: 390/340lbs (453/348lbs)
Abrasion: 1800 to minor failure, 3500 to major failure (1955)
100% nylon, PU coating
proof that care must be taken when recording data, I nearly posted this claiming that major failure occured at 1700 cycles (when my notes meant 1700 after minor failure). I should probably make some cool infographic comparing the 1000d/500d test results, but I will save that for later (if ever).
Rip: 9.7/13lbs (5.4/10.7lbs)
Tear: 340lb/290lb (154/199lbs)
Abrasion: 150 to minor failure, 200 to major failure, tested to 500. (1300)
100% nylon, uncoated, reverse ripstop
After what I considered promising results on the tear test I was shocked after the abrasion test. So shocked in fact that this is the only fabric I tested twice. It didn’t wear holes in the fabric so much as just eat all the filler threads leaving a network of tougher threads behind in a laughably thin lattice. Probably the most disappointing fabric of the whole test, I am changing my position from cautiously optimistic to openly disdainful. I’m not sure how Duro’s test resulted in such a high number (more in line with what I was expecting), it’s possible I got bum fabric but I wouldn’t buy any gear on that assumption.
it doesn't look so bad...
...till you get close
after 500, literally hanging on by a few threads.
Abrasion: 4600 to failure
150d nylon face laminated to an unknown weight of cuben fiber.
One of the most surprising fabrics in the mix. I’ve never played much with cuben fiber before so I was quite surprised during the tear test. Most other fabrics stretch by 30-50% before failing (or maxing out the machine) and a few were slippery enough that the grippers on the machine would slide off before the fabric could fail. The hybrid cuben did not stretch at all, so when it suddenly failed all at once with no warning I expected to see tissue-paper like tear resistance numbers on the screen but was greeted by a fairly healthy figure instead. Rip testing was similarly odd since the face fabric separated easily enough but the cuben would stay intact and simply delaminate from the face. This makes real-world results harder to extrapolate from the test, but I do have new respect for the stuff.
Abbrasion testing leads me to believe that the Tabor results are biased towards slippery fabrics, the face fabric was stripped away rather quickly (1000 cycles? I didn't record the exact number) and the cuben itself took a far more cycles to fail then what logic would suggest. Of course during the last few hundred cycles the cuben was thin enough you could have punctured it with a pinky finger, which reinforces why lab data should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
rip test delamination
probably somewere around the 3000 cycle mark
you can read the note I wrote on the BACK of the sample through the cuben, which is now quite thin and fragile.
Abrasion: failure occurred between 6 and 700.
140d nylon with a dyneema thread every .25” in a grid. Dyneema is 5% of fabric weight.
I would dub this the second most disappointing fabric in the test; with such an awesome fiber as Dyneema in the recipe I was really expecting more. As the pictures illustrate it seems that the Dyneema threads can’t really impart their impressive strength to the fabric itself, which merely fails around the dyneema. In the abrasion testing the lone dyneema threads were broken fairly quickly and the base fabric preformed like you’d expect a lighter weight pack cloth to. In all fairness its strength-to-weight ratio isn’t out of line of the other fabrics, but the price-to-durability (or hype-to-durability if you prefer) ratio is certainly a disappointment.
Rip and tear tests were the same story, dyneema threads held while the nylon underneath failed
early thread breakage
slightly more then minor failure, I was probably playing cards or browsing eBay when minor failure occured. Sue me.
Abrasion: failure between 4 and 500
Pretty “Meh” fabric. As you can see the rip test had some shenanigans in which the tear completely ignored the “ripstop” part of the fabric and just did it’s own thing, I expected the diamond pattern to deflect it at least a small bit, but apparently not. It is certainly more affordable then most of the other options, and is one of the softer and more flexible fabrics in the test. Gripper slipped off during the tear test, hence the *.
perhaps slightly more then minor as well, it did like the litelok and got threadbare before a true hole was punched through.
Abrasion: 2700 to failure
I couldn’t find the exact data on the WK40 fabric (feel free to chime in Dave) but it lacks the polyester backing of the VX fabrics. This makes for a fabric that is super slick on the inside. My estimate is a 500d face fabric.
since there is no backer once the face was worn away there was only the transparent PET film underneath.
Abrasion: 2200 till failure
70d Ripstop Nylon face fabric, Polyester X-Ply, laminated to a 0.25mm PET film, and backed with 50d Polyester Taffeta.
Similar to the hybrid cuben fabric, the slippery layers of the X-pack seems to skew the abrasion results as the Tabor has to systematically burn through each separate layer. All of the X-Pac fabrics were much more rigid then a traditional woven fabric, which I would estimate makes them more vulnerable to punctures then say 500d, which does have some give to it. Still a very cool fabric that I would like to work with, but the cost/benefit ratio is a little lacking when compared to boring old cordura.
The destruction process looked cool enough I'm posting the whole series:
200 cycles. the raised reinforcements caught a lot of stress early on
500 cycles. raised reinforcements worn off
700 cycles, face fabric wearing through
1000 cycles, face fabric trashed
Abrasion: 3360 till failure
400d Oxford Nylon face fabric, Polyester X-Ply, laminated to a 0.25mm PET film, and backed with 50d Polyester Taffeta.
See above, simply a beefier face fabric. Rip and Tear testers couldn’t get through it.
what a wimpy tear tester.
all three X-Pac farbics together
Abrasion: 160 till failure
30d nylon ripstop, silicon coating
I brought the last four fabrics on a later date after we had put away the tear and rip testers so I only have abrasion numbers for them. Silnylon was understandably flimsy on the abrader, but very useful as a point of reference.
Abrasion: 260 till minor failure, tested to 1000
600d Cordura Nylon/Spandex blend (couldn’t find the actual specs but I do remember nylon being over 60% of the content)
It’s much harder to test stretchy fabrics on the abrader, in this case a “bubble” managed to form in the fabric from the stretch, exposing the area to increased stress from the abrasive wheels. This caused a hole to form fairly early but it didn’t seem to expand much and the rest of the fabric seemed to hold up all right. Stretch seems to be a double-edged sword in durability, it can snag on stuff a stiff fabric can slide off of but it can also stretch away from pointy stuff that would puncture a rigid fabric. Also this is perhaps even less representative of real-world conditions then the other fabrics since very rarely is stretchy fabric held completely taught and then subjected to abrasion, in an apparel context it can give and take quite a bit.
Abrasion: 245 till failure
100% nylon with a DWR
I’ll admit, I was hoping for a miracle after reading several separated references to the durability of Supplex-style nylon (mostly in reference to Rail Riders pants, but a few about 80’s hiking clothes). What I got instead was a decently performing apparel fabric none-the-less. Many of the cotton twills we testing in class didn’t even make it into the triple digits.
Abrasion: 600 till minor failure
50% cotton, 50% nylon twill.
While I did not try any 100% cotton fabric during this test we did test a low-quality 9oz cotton duck in class that only made it to 300 cycles on the abrader, so I am inclined to give the nod to NYCO in this case for durability. I’d like to find some NYCO work pants to compare to my Carhartts but it’s a hard fabric to find in solid colors.
still got quite a bit of life in it
I'll save the rest of my conjectures for the discussion, just wanted to get this published since I've been sitting on the results while.