Trick question. They’re the same thing. Last year, Dyneema acquired the Cubic Tech Corporation, the primary manufacturer of cuben fiber, and rebranded the material as Dyneema Composite Fabrics.
So if you’re interested in shelling out for the very lightest weight fabric currently being used for outdoor gear—and have been confused by this name change on gear specs listings over the past year—no need to worry. The same leading gear manufacturers that have been using this high-tech fabric in their equipment over the past few years are still using the same stuff. Here’s a quick round-up.
I first wrote about this material back in 2012 when it was first starting to make inroads into the outdoor gear market. The simplified basics remain the same: It’s a non-woven fabric that sandwiches Dyneema fibers between two layers of composite laminate material. (With a strength up to 15 times that of steel, Dyneema is dubbed “the world’s strongest fiber.”) The resulting fabric is extremely strong, waterproof, and highly tear-resistant (though, importantly, not puncture resistant).
Today the fabric is available in a range of thicknesses and weights—the very lightest version weighs a mere half ounce per square yard—as well as a variety of colors. Compared to silnylon—the slippery fabric so common in today’s lightweight shelters—Dyneema Composite Fabrics are notably lighter weight. They also don’t stretch when they get cold or wet. This means you don’t have to get up in the middle of a cold, rainy night to retension your shelter. It also means that shelters must be cut and sewn with great precision—there’s little margin for error without any stretch to the material.
One thing that hasn’t changed with the new name, however, is the price. The stuff is very expensive and easily doubles the price of the same shelter design made from silnylon, with many cuben fiber shelters running well north of $500.
Still interested? Here are the brands to check out, plus one just-on-the-market tent from Japan. Notably, all of them are smaller outfits that are able to keep the prices out of the uber-stratosphere by selling direct to consumers without a middleman jacking the price further. Also of note is the fact that Dyneema Composite Fabrics are nearly all made in the United States, at plants in North Carolina and Arizona, and that these small companies create and stitch most of their products in the U.S. as well.
Based in Roanoke, Va., Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) produces a range of cutting-edge ultralight shelters, including the Duomid, an ultralight one- to two-person shelter that sets up with a single trekking pole. The rectangular footprint measures 110 x 66 inches, with a variable peak height of around 56 inches. The standard silnylon version ($265) weighs in at a scant 18 ounces, not including stakes or guylines.
For an additional $175, you can also select from three different weights of Dyneema Composite Fabrics, which tip the scales at a scant 12 to 15.5 ounces, depending on the material ($440). For more, check out this entertaining and thorough review.
Mountain Laurel Designs offers a range of other pyramid tents and accessories as well in both silnylon and Dyneema Composite Fabrics, including the roomier Duomid XL (24 ounces, $365, in silnylon; add $325 for Dyneema Composite Fabrics).
Based in West Melbourne, Fla., ZPacks offers a range of ultralight shelters, including my (tall person’s) pick of the lot, the Hexamid Solo-Plus.
For $450, this pyramid design comes with a complete package that includes an inner net, bathtub floor, and guy lines. The whole package weighs in at 18 ounces per the company’s specs, though that doesn’t include stakes or the center pole (it’s designed to work with a trekking pole for set-up, though you can also purchase a separate carbon fiber pole).
You can also purchase just the tent body for $350, which weighs in at a paltry seven ounces. Note that these weights use the lightest weight (0.51 ounce/square yard) DCF fabric—upgrading to the more durable .74 ounce option adds an extra ounce and a half.
While I covet their Ultamid 2 pyramid tent (19 ounces, $715), I’m actually much more intrigued by the company’s recently released rain shell. Made from a hybrid fabric of DCF and eVENT, one of the most breathable waterproof materials on the market, the product—known simply as The Shell—weighs a minuscule 5 to 6 ounces, runs $450, and (per the product description) “is unprecedentedly breathable, waterproof, and tough as _ _ _ _ for its weight.”
Will this be a new direction for DCF-based fabrics in the future? I’ll keep you posted!