What is Cuben Fiber and How it’s Used for Ultralight Backpacking Gear

what is cuben fiberPictured: Cuben Fiber Zpacks™ Duplex Ultralight Two Person Tent

Cuben fiber fabric, now called Dyneema Composite Fabrics, was originally used for sails on the winner of the 1992 America’s Cup held May 9-16 in San Diego, California. Skippered by billionaire Bill Koch, the winning yacht was America3 or America “cubed.” hence the name “Cuben.”

The fabric is now officially known as Dyneema® Composite Fabrics, although most manufacturers and retailers of ultralight backpacking gear continue to refer to it as cuben fiber.

Cuben fibers are the strongest fibers in the world, up to 15 times stronger than high-quality steel on a weight for weight basis, yet they still float on water, are extremely durable, don’t stretch, are waterproof, and resistant to ultraviolet light and chemicals. The material has been successfully adapted for manufacturing outdoor backpacking gear including backpacks, tents, tarps, stuff sacks and backpack rain covers.

Cuben Fiber Facts

  • WEIGHT REDUCTION Cuben Fiber can reduce the weight of a specific piece of backing gear by 25 to 50%
  • WATER RESISTANCE. Cuben fiber is waterproof and doesn’t absorb water.
  • STRETCH It doesn’t stretch. Tents and tarps won’t sag
  • TRANSLUCENCE Cuben fiber is translucent. That means it lets in light which some people may like and others may not. It reduces privacy, showing silhouettes on tent occupants.
  • DURABILITY It is tear and puncture resistant.
  • REPAIR Cuben Fiber gear can be easily repaired with Duct tape or Cuben Fiber Tape. The tape can also be used to strengthen or seal seams on backpacks, stuff sacks and tarps.
  • COLORS Cuben Fiber Comes in light green, light blue and white.
  • COST. Cuben Fiber gear is generally two-to-three times more expensive than outdoor backpacking gear made with other fabrics. Sewing is more difficult. Light cuben fiber material will crimp. Heavy cuben fiber is stiff and drags at the sewing machine.

Cuben Fiber Backpacking Gear Manufacturers

Here are the three largest manufacturers of cuben fiber ultralight backpacking gear along with a few examples of their products. A list of smaller manufacturers with links to their websites is included at the end.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Based in Biddeford, Maine, Hyperlite Mountain Gear has made cuben fiber the foundational technology for its products. Hyperlite produces a line of products that includes packs, tents, stuff sacks and accessories. Hyperlite’s 2400 Southwest is a 40 liter pack that weighs less than two pounds. It’s ideal for weekend hikes or section hiking or could be used on thru hikes where frequent resupply points are available. Features include three external pockets, removable aluminum stays, shoulder straps with closed cell foam padding, foam back panel, compression straps for vertical and horizontal compression, hip belt with zippered pockets, an adjustable sternum strap, and an ice ax loop, among other features.

Mountain Laurel Designs

Based in Roanoke,Virginia, Mountain Laurel Designs was founded in 2002. The small company uses cuben fiber as well as other lightweight materials in its gear. Its cuben fiber MLD Supermid weighs just 19 ounces. It’s easy to set up and protects from wind from all directions. It has 70 + feet of floor space, enough room for four, and plenty of room for two or three. The oversized peak vent can be closed to eliminate wind or blowing rain or snow. There’s room to stand up inside the tent. Steep side walls shed snow well. Both doors open and tie back. 

Founded in 2005, and located in West Melborne, Florida, ZPacks makes tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, clothing and accessories. All of the gear is manufactured in the Melborne workshop. The ZPacks Duplex Ultralight Two Person Tent can accommodate two people or one person can spread out with plenty of gear. The tent sets up with two trekking poles and eight stakes. Each of the four storm doors can be opened or closed independently. The tent comes with a bathtub floor rather than a detachable groundsheet. A flat cuben fiber groundsheet can be added if desired.

Thru hiker Will Woods spent seven months on the Appalachian Trail sleeping virtually every night in a ZPacks Duplex and has an entertaining and informative video about it:

Six smaller manufacturers of outdoor camping gear that use cuben fiber material in some of their products.

Bear Paw Wilderness Designs –  Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, Bear Paw Wilderness Designs makes tents, tarps and other outdoor gear.

Cilo Gear – With a factory in Portland, Oregon, Cilo Gear makes backpacks that use cuben fiber.

Locus Gear – Located in Japan, Locus Gear products include shelters and tarps, bivy bags and quilts.

Six Moons Designs – Located in Beaverton, Oregon, Six Moon Designs manufacturers packs and shelters, some which incorporate cuben fiber material. 

Yame Mountain Gear –  Located in Waynesboro, Virginia, Yame Mountain Gear make tents from cuben fiber material.

Zimmerbuilt –  Based in Doylestown, Ohio, the company custom builds ultralight packs.