Whether you’re biking down a mountain, hiking through the backcountry, or scaling a granite rock face, how well you’re protected from the elements can make or break an expedition. The kind of fabric you use to shelter your body is a critical decision historically equated with a heavy weight tag. Now, an ultralight revolution is on the horizon, set to change the outdoor industry forever — and a fabric called Dyneema is leading the way.
Dyneema, formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is the strongest fabric in the world. Technically identified as a ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, at one thousandth of an inch in thickness, Dyneema has an extraordinarily high strength-to-weight ratio and is 15 times tougher than steel.
On top of its toughness, the fact that Dyneema is also completely waterproof, lightweight, and durable makes it perfect for the outdoor industry. It also boasts excellent UV resistance, making it a literal wonder fabric.
Dyneema is already used in military body armor, fishing line, high-performance sails, and suspension lines, but it remains relatively new to the outdoor industry. Silicon-impregnated or “silnylon” has long been the go-to product for ultralight tents, tarps, and rain gear but the fabric always suffered from a lack of durability, lack of breathability, and loss of waterproofing over time. Many companies are beginning to recognize the appeal of Dyneema.
Changing the experience
The ultralight revolution is altering the perception of the outdoor experience, allowing participants to travel further, faster, and reach higher objectives. A new generation of cottage companies are springing up around the country, offering the benefits of Dyneema in well-designed outdoor gear including backpacks, tarps, tents, and apparel. These companies are helping to redefine what is possible in the outdoors by building the lightest and most durable products ever seen.
“We’re making products that are extremely lightweight and much stronger than they’ve ever been.“
Digital Trends got on the phone with Mike St. Pierre, the founder and CEO of Hyperlite Mountain Gear to discuss the impact of the burgeoning Dyneema revolution. Based out of Biddeford, Maine, Hyperlite Mountain Gear utilizes Dyneema in its wide offering of packs, shelters, and accessories designed for ultralight backpackers and alpinists.
“The idea of lightweight equipment is not a new one, but started back in the 70s with alpinists,” St. Pierre told Digital Trends. “Companies were building lightweight products that were falling apart — they just weren’t durable — until Dyneema, originally Cuben Fiber, came onto the scene. Now we’re making products that are extremely lightweight and much stronger than they’ve ever been, instilling confidence back into the consumer.”
As an avid outdoor enthusiast, he was frustrated with the limited fabric options on the market and couldn’t find what he was looking for in big box stores — everything was overdesigned and too heavy. After discovering Dyneema, he brought his family’s sewing machines into the confines of his apartment in New York City and designed the first prototypes. St. Pierre quickly knew he was onto something big.
“On a trip in the Adirondacks, I got stopped by a ranger,” he added. “Right at the trailhead she looked at my pack, told me I didn’t have enough equipment and literally made me empty it out to show her I had everything I needed. She was blown away. That was a big turning point for me. But why carry all the weight if you don’t have to? The driving force behind my idea was that I felt there was a need for a better mousetrap and then I simultaneously found these Dyneema fabrics.”
Unlike manufacturing traditional woven products, designing any product with this kind of material presents its own set of unique challenges. The fiber and composite face fabrics require a level of precision and accuracy that demands skilled labor. The “slippery” fabric is tailored using a combination of precision stitching and bonding techniques and, as opposed to using an interface such as a sewing machine, tailors work directly with the material.
St. Pierre revealed his model to Digital Trends, saying, “I think the best thing to do is build a prototype, use it, and see what happens to it, then adjust accordingly. This shows us potential failure points — we want to see all that ahead of time before we release the product to the public.”
At the same time, Dyneema upholds its hype and the failure points are minimal.
“We’ve never had a catastrophic failure of any of our products ever,” he said. “Because they’re lightweight products, people think they’re just not durable and we’re here to change that. The Dyneema fabrics really help us do that.”
Nothing stands in the way
Hyperlite Mountain Gear began as a way to provide consumers with the most streamlined outdoor products — in other words, void of any bells and whistles. It began with stuff sacks and now encompasses a huge range of accessories, tents, shelters, and backpacks. The most impressive part? This small, hands-on company is based completely out of the United States, ships products directly to customers, and the CEO tests all of the products himself.
Something this groundbreaking could never stay a secret for long.
“We’re more of a just-in-time manufacturer,” St. Pierre added. “We keep a small inventory of finished goods and that allows us to make changes to the product in real time. We refine our products in-line, allowing us to keep making better and better products.”
When asked about where the company was headed next, he said he feels certain Hyperlite Mountain Gear will retain its integrity and focus on innovating minimalist, high performance gear. He did reveal that there’s a new product in development he’s particularly excited about.
“We do have a Dyneema jacket in the works, something we’re looking to launch in the next month or two.”
As the ultralight revolution gets underway, more and more companies are looking to incorporate Dyneema into their product lines. Something this groundbreaking could never stay a secret for long — ultralight hikers, alpinists, and adventure lovers of all kinds have tapped into the staying power of this remarkable fabric and the outdoor industry will surely be changed forever.