If you’ve been keeping up on the latest and greatest in outdoor gear, you’ve probably heard of Dyneema, formerly known as Cuben Fiber. This bio-based ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene is used in a wide variety of outdoor products, including some of our hammock tarp shelters, because of the performance benefits it offers with regard to strength, weight, waterproofness, and durability. Now made from bio-based renewable resources, this sustainably awesome material has a lot to offer! In this article, we’ll cover each of those benefits in depth, and how products made with Dyneema Composite Fiber (the specific Dyneema variant used in outdoor shelters) are superior to similar alternatives, like sil-nylon or sil-poly, in virtually every way.
Tensile strength is Dyneema’s biggest claim to fame, offering 15x the resistance to tension compared with similar alternatives. What this means for outdoor shelters is that you can achieve a VERY taught pitch, without worrying about ripping. For tarps, trekking pole shelters, and even traditional tents, this is a huge benefit. It means less flapping, more wind and snow-loading resistance, and the peace of mind that a big gust won’t blow through and collapse or put a hole in your sidewall. Another benefit to all of this strength - no stretch. Dyneema has no give whatsoever, which means that it won’t loosen up or sag over the course of a night, or over the course of the product’s lifespan.
Another huge benefit of Dyneema, compared to the competition, is weight. Of course, an ounce of Dyneema still weighs the same as an ounce of nylon. But because of its phenomenal strength-to-weight ratio, you can create thinner shelters using half as much material. Yet the Dyneema version will still offer as much, or more, protection and sturdiness. For example, our Dyneema Fiber Standard Tarp With Doors weighs only 7.27 ozs, compared to the similar Journey Tarp in sil-poly, that weighs 16.46 oz. Very similar chassis, yet the Dyneema version weighs less than half as much. Is the Journey still an excellent and highly functional shelter? Heck yes! Dyneema is an improvement over sil-poly, and sil-poly is already an excellent option.
Dyneema is 100% waterproof, just like sil-nylon or sil-poly, so what’s the advantage here? Zero absorbance. Dyneema does not hold any water (other than via surface tension), so it won’t ever soak through or become saturated. In practice, this means it won’t sag, even in a prolonged state of wetness. Most other fabrics tend to loosen up as they become saturated on the outside from rain or on the inside from condensation. With sil-nylon or sily-poly, you may even have to periodically re-tension when wet. Not so with Dyneema.
Durability is another standout trait of this miracle fabric. It’s almost as tough as it is strong. It holds up well to age and is extremely long lasting. High denier Dyneema fabrics, like those used in ground sheets or tent floors are virtually invincible to scrapes, scuffs, and miscellaneous pokes. However, because Dyneema is so strong, outdoor gear designers often use very thin layers of it for tarps and rain flies, which can create a weakness to puncturing. Note, this is not a Dyneema problem, it’s a thin fabric problem, and any other material would face the same issues with the same fabric denier (thickness). Luckily, Dyneema is much more responsive to patch or tape style repairs than sil-nylon or sil-poly. Because it doesn’t stretch, patches stay on better creating a simple, effective, and lifelong repair at very low cost and effort.
Is there any downside at all? Cost. Dyneema is a premium, patented material, so manufacturers have to pay extra to buy the raw materials. Those supply chain costs get eventually passed down to the end consumer. It’s also challenging to work with, and sewing it requires specialized equipment and techniques. But is it worth it? We think so. We believe our Dyneema tarps are the best hammock shelters money can buy. Are they expensive up front? Sure. But when evaluated over the lifespan of the product, we think Dyneema offers a very compelling value proposition. Pick out your next shelter in Dyneema and we promise you’ll be impressed. Happy camping!