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Carry Geeking | Cordura Fabric

by , September 7, 2011

Carry Geeking | Cordura Fabric

Years ago I asked a major bag maker what his single best tip was for making a great backpack. His answer? Good fabric. He said good fabric meant everything goes together better, with fewer tricks and cover-ups needed.

So when the folks from CORDURA® started to drop comments on one of our posts, we figured we should ask a little more about what makes a good fabric. Enter Allen Mortimer, global product manager for Cordura brand…

Carryology: Do you have tips on choosing good bag fabrics versus bad?

The key to choosing the right fabric for a bag is to simply try and match the requirement to the offering – so keep the end use in mind. Will it be for hiking, climbing, or something less intense? Weight is not a major concern for day-to-day usage such as visiting the mall, going to school or the grocery store, so a CORDURA Classic (80-1000 Denier Nylons) or CORDURA HP (300-530 Denier Polyesters) fabric construction would offer a versatile and durable solution. However, for technical bags, such as those used for long hiking treks in the outdoors, it’s critical to have a lightweight construction for comfort, load control and durability. For example, many technical packs use CORDURA Lite (210-630 Denier) fabrics or CORDURA UltraLite (30-100 Denier) fabrics, which can be constructed of lightweight nylon pack cloths, rip-stops and dobby weaves that offer stylish durability and optimal strength-to-weight ratio. This fabric is resistant to tears, scuffs and abrasions.

2. Could you provide some information about the industry shift away from PVC backings and how new options stack up?

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is rarely, if ever used except for in the cheapest, lowest grade backpacks [Ed’s note: There are still way too many bags in this category]. Currently, you would not see that type of backing in any reasonably priced daypacks, technical packs or even luggage. PVC backings are very heavy and typically a lamination that is heat-sealed. PVC in Europe is highly regulated due to environmental concerns in making and applying the PVC.

An alternative, and more commonly used back coating is polyurethane (PU). PU is a lighter weight backing and provides optimal durability in fabric. [Ed’s note: PU backings are sprayed on rather than laminated like PVC’s. The more coats of PU you make, the thicker and more structured the fabric feels].

3. How does the often overlooked tightness of weave affect strength and durability with bag fabrics?

The denser the fabric weave, the heavier it’s going to be. The optimum blend construction depends on strength-to-weight, durability and water resistance. Tear resistance can be adversely affected when stiffening the fabric. The more ends and picks in the fabric, the more abrasion resistant. However, if the fabric is woven too tightly with too many ends and picks, a cross over happens and the fabrics begin to decay. (Picks are the yarn ends that go across the fabric. Ends go down the length of the fabric. The number of ends by the number of picks helps classify the fabric construction. Ex: 60 ends by 60 picks per inch is a square cloth.)

For example, when fabric is torn, the ends tend to bunch. The ends and picks try and resist the tear. Fabrics can become too stiff when a heavy coating is applied or weaving is so dense that the fibers cannot move. Either of these constructions may cause fibers to resist and prevent them from bunching in groups, therefore resisting the tear in singular fashion, which tends to reduce the tear resistance.

So there you go, a bit of a dive in to fabric geeking care of the good folks at Cordura.

Were there other questions that you guys wanted to ask? Things that will help you design or select the best bags in the world? We’ll be able to follow these questions up with more in the future, so drop some comments with the juice you’d like to discover.

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    Just a note: Cordura is owned by Invista which is owned by Koch Industries.

    I love Cordura fabric but I’m trying to avoid products produced by Koch-owned companies.

    The Koch brothers fund right wing think tanks and various Tea Party organizations and have been involved in the anti-union activity in Wisconsin and other states.

    • GP

      Thanks for the heads up. Did a quick search on Koch Industries and I’m glad you brought this up.

      • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

        GP: This is the article that brought the Koch brothers’ politics to my attention:


        Jane Mayer is an excellent investigative journalist and the piece is well researched.

        At the same time that I’m attempting to buy more products made in the USA I’d like to do business with companies who, when they do donate money to political causes donate to causes that I support. This isn’t always possible but we can try in small ways to do what we can.

        • GP

          Again, thanks for the info and for following up.

    • Dean

      Gotta say, avoiding a material because it’s made by a company that doesn’t support your political views is pretty sad.

      • Gankiy

        I would be inclined to disagree. A growing movement is responsible consumerism – i.e. backing up your talk with your purchasing decisions. I’d be inclined not to buy something made by a company that does things with which I disagree.

        • The People

          the people talking about politics.. so fucking annoying! avoid conversations or topics about politics on the internet, or don’t ever bring it up on some forum.. it’s just, it’s not a topic to be discussed on the internet.. if you hate your government or some company, keep it to yourself or don’t bring it up where other people are bound to hear or see it.. it makes you like the douchebag of the underground movement.. keep it under! thanks a lot 🙂

      • Christopher Citty

        Dean, I disagree. We’re human. We come up with all sorts of reasons for not liking this product or that singer or some band or TV show. Yes, some of it is political. Some of it is something else. It happens. We assign values and views real or perceived to anyone, and this can easily dip into our feelings about whether we will finance their business goals or choose not to. Really doubt you don’t have some product you would rather not buy due to how you feel. For instance, would you finance Jared Fogle knowing his recent criminal conviction? That could be argued to be a political motive, too.

    • Kelly

      Score! I’m a massachusetts republican (OMG!) and huge Cordura fan. Win win on this one for me boys.

  • Taylor

    1000 denier Cordua nylon fabric (ballistic and non) are perhaps my two favorite synthetic materials in the softgoods world.

    Allen, if you’re reading… do you have any other suggestions for Cordura fabrics if weight is not a concern but maximum durability is? Basically anything better than 1000D out there? I am interested in potentially spec’ing some 1000D Cordura square ripstop for a military pack project I am working on at the moment, but I’d like to hear about any more options that would give the edge on the competition. I have your most recent sample books from Outdoor Retailer, so I can use these for reference, but they do not list technical specifications on the info sheet.

    • Ando

      we’re hoping to round up a bunch of the comments over the next few weeks, and run a follow up series of questions. If the Cordura guys have trouble getting back to you before then, we’ll try in that future post.

    • http://www.cordura.com Allen Mortimer

      Taylor, 1000 denier CORDURA® classic is one of our our most durable fabrics. It is a plain weave fabric and is a good blend of abrasion and tear strength with weight of about 10.5-11 oz/yd2. Our 1050 denier CORDURA® ballistic fabric is woven in the ballistic or basket weave pattern using 1050d high tenacity non-textured yarn and is about 35% heavier vs the 1000d. This CORDURA® ballistic fabric is our most durable fabric in both abrasion and tear strength. The trade off is weight and hand. The 1050 is very densely woven and tends to feel a little “boardy” compared to 1000d and has primary end use for luggage. Considering weight and stiffness, I believe that 1000d is still your best bet for packs and bags. You can buy it in commercial and military grade the latter being slightly heavier and a little more durable…..

      Yea, guess those pictures also give me a little satisfaction too!

  • Taylor

    One more note… the 1st and 4th image make my salivary glands automatically react as if I were looking at a T-bone steak hot off the grill.

    Now that’s love for softgoods and Cordura fabrics.

  • http://www.cordura.com Tina Ingle

    So glad we help you with this information – looking forward to hearing your reader’s questions! Stay durable!
    Tina Ingle
    CORDURA(R) brand Account Manager

    • Taylor

      Greetings Tina,

      Did you catch my question above?

  • http://www.majid.info/ Fazal Majid

    I generally shy away from Cordura because some variants are very abrasive and harsh on your clothes, and generally prefer ballistic nylon, canvas or leather.

    • Ando

      Thanks Fazal.
      I’m guessing you’re talking about woven polyester variants of Cordura. Polyester feels a touch more ‘grippy’ than woven nylons, looking more matte and dull. The nylons are generally shinier and more slippery. Cordura make both woven polyesters and woven nylons, so you can get those high denier ballistic nylons you prefer from Cordura as well.
      Yeah, it’s a touch confusing having the one brand name producing such different fabrics, but so long as you see which type of Cordura it is, you can work it out.

  • Bill

    Since it’s true that the Koch brothers company makes this product, and in a free country we can vote with our wallets and business, I suggest that anyone who feels as I do (that they don’t need any of my money and I don’t want my coins to go into their coffers), let’s just be smart here. Please identify other brands/products they make so we can avoid fueling their selfish greed. Warren Buffet seems to have an enlightened view on our country and he’s capitalist numero uno. Warren, buy Cordura when the Koch’s sales tank.

    • MikeSwag

      Well put. Not everyone will agree with this, and that’s fine and fully appropriate. But in a complex world it’s useful for us all to be aware of who profits off of our purchase. If, for example, Arianna Huffington purchased Lulumon, and this was known, some conservative yoga fans might decide seek out a competitor. Others would keep buying it, just like other progressives will keep buying Cordura even knowing who owns Invista. But if we don’t know this, none of us can make these choices. Chicago school economists and social justice types alike can agree that’s not good. I love Cordura and I’m appreciative of the engineering behind the product.. I have two Chrome bags and Chrome shoes made of the stuff and the fabric is simply great. I had no idea who the parent company of this ($$) precursor material was until recently. But now that I do, I’ll choose to vote with my wallet and buy some Macbeths for my next bike commuter shoes, and shop around next time I need luggage. And keep tabs on the company in the hope that it’s sold to a less odious plutocrat.

      • Christopher Citty

        I suspect that’s the reason for so many conglomerates in business. They don’t want us to be able to choose. They want a monopoly, which was an illegal situation not too many years ago. They split a phone company into AT&T and BellSouth for that reason. Think they did it with some other company but can’t recall which. But, point is, consumers should be able to know who owns the brand and products so we can decide who to support with our money.

        Such an environment would enable consumers to make sure that any brand who did things we don’t like would not have as much profits, and they may even go bankrupt in the right circumstances.

    • Chris De La Fuente

      Do you know of any alternatives to Cordura. I am sewing/making bags and would love to support a company that does honest work.


    It’s a shame that actual ‘Cordura brand’ cordura seems to be so difficult to get here in the UK.
    I tried various routes with no real success. Any idea on where to source it by the roll in the UK?

  • http://www.bergans.com Joey

    Hi Allen,
    Please, oh please bring back the black Invista yarn that Don Jin used in their N.210 Dobby Cordura before Invista discontinued the yarn.
    The fabric is pure magic, and I’ve been using it as a main fabric for almost all my designs the past 3 years. I think that a lot of the outdoors industry are moving away from the heavy denier fabrics and over to fabrics that are lower in denier, but premium quality.

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  • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

    An informative read with a good range of comments. Please allow me to add my .02; cordura is made by “air texturizing” the filaments at extrusion prior to twisted thenm into a yarn and weaving them into fabrics. This creates what could best be described as a “fuzz” on the surface of the yarn which gives a pleasing feel and drape. The downside to this is that this fuzzy surface area is ripe for picking up water and dirt; treatments can minimize this and a coating or laminate of PU on the flip side also greatly reduces leakage but the reality is that these fabrics can become heavy sponges in full conditions.
    If the end product is going to be used out of doors in non desert environments, I prefer to work with flat filament yards that are not air texturized; for my money they simply perform better.

    • Taylor

      Very interesting Greg, thanks for your comment.

      What alternatives would you suggest? I personally am a fan of the VX fabrics, but they are quite pricey.

      Also- what about 1-3X PU coating on the Cordura, essentially filling in these gaps?

      Keep the conversation going, very cool.

  • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

    Glad i can contribute in my own small way… Please understand I am by no means anti-cordura, rather I am pro-appropriate fabric selection. So in terms of fav’s the nut really comes down to intended use aligned with targeted user (to state the obvious) . You’ve made a good suggestion for a face treatment and in a situation where the desired “hand” and look of an air-texturized yarn is desirable then I reckon this is a good option. If however the desire is no moisture pickup or a spare, lean finish to the fabric then I’m all for a flat filament or even in some cases a two sided dull finish pu laminate (spendy though and not needed if not RF welded)

    • http://www.taylorwelden.com taylorwelden

      Great points Greg. What fabrics would you suggest for military/tactical/outdoor/adventure gear that takes serious abuse? Perhaps a few options? Affordable, pricey, and expensive options?

      I too, am 100% all for “pro-appropriate fabric selection” whenever I spec out a design for manufacturing. It truly all depends on the intended use. The thing is, Cordura provides a great product for most situations and most products within this niche.

      Love the conversation, great information for readers here.

  • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

    Rats! I had just typed a detailed response but hit close on the tab button in error, this is an abbreviated repost.
    Good questions. For the criteria you note, I would make sure I spec’d nylon 66 for the yarn, ensure it had a high pick-count balanced weave and depending on weather conditions anticipated by end users, I would spec an appropriate PU coating weight or for durable performance, laminate backing. Along with this of course is the face treatment; If conditions will not be full-tilt by end users or there is no RF welding or glued seam construction planned then a nice DWR skim coat is fine but the former is pretty key if needed. This is course can really crank up the cost, so a durable yet affordable fabric package to me for what you described would be a high count 450-630 D flat filament with a 60-80 G M2 coating on rear and 50 wash dwr front side coating.
    I must confess that lately I have been more obsessed with RF welding 30-75D laminated fabrics along with recycled PU films for a line of travel storage products -lately we’ve also been messing with double sided 450D fabrics for weatherproof storage of smartphones etc. As I type this I’m in Saigon on a mission to work on a tablet case tomorrow. If folks are interested I can post up a shot or two of stuff that is in the public domain.


    • http://www.taylorwelden.com taylorwelden

      Hahah, I know how that goes (with the typing a giant response and then accidentally clicking ‘back’).

      Excellent suggestions for the fabric (and thread too). Any brands you gravitate towards specifically?

      I’m sure folks, myself included, would be interested to see some photos of the stuff you’re working on. Hell, maybe we can do a mini writeup on your process/material selection/experience with RF welding.

  • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

    While I applaud the good folks at Cordura for creating a trusted identifiable brand name for their family of fabrics I tend to focus more on the “right tool for the job” when it comes to selecting fabrics for a specific project. I function is not a prime driver, which is unlikely since carrying devices by virtue of what they do demand this, then things get more fun. It would be great to do a piece on rf welding, I’m pretty busy next few weeks but in early June could likely find some time.

    • Ando

      Yep, while it’s great to have a recognisable brand name, even the basics of having Nylons and Polyesters living under the Cordura banner gets confusing for lots of people. I’ve lost count of the number of brands calling their polyesters nylons, because they think that’s what Cordura fabrics are.

    • http://www.taylorwelden.com taylorwelden

      Very cool, Greg. Drop me / us a line in early June. We’ll set up a Q&A for a bit on ultrasonic welding… one of my favorite processes in the softgoods world, that I personally wish I knew more about and had more experience with. Really looking forward to it.

      • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

        Great! Hey let me know how i can post pictures direct into the reply field -it would be fun to share a few photos in advance of what we are up to with regard to repurposing scrap fabric.

        • Taylor

          Greetings Greg,

          Unfortunately you cannot post photos directly in this comment field due to the current coding in WordPress (to my knowledge and research I did on the matter).

          However, if you upload the photos to any photo sharing/storing website (flickr, facebook, whatever), you can then post the links to the photos here. Otherwise you can save up the photos for the article you/we do in the near future.

          What do you think?

  • http://www.innate-gear.com Greg

    Thanks for the heads up and the info. I need to communicate with my colleague, Wah Poon who is doing some great design work with us. It would be fun to share working examples of some of the Innate guiding principle of clean designs for active travel as part of a broader piece on our approach to fabric selection and manufacture. I’ll get started on this next week.

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  • The People

    the people talking about politics.. so fucking annoying! avoid conversations or topics about politics on the internet, or don’t ever bring it up on some forum.. it’s just, it’s not a topic to be discussed on the internet.. if you hate your government or some company, keep it to yourself or don’t bring it up where other people are bound to hear or see it.. it makes you like a douchebag of the underground movement.. keep it under! thanks:)

    • Ando

      Quite the response 🙂

      For what it’s worth, Paul Graham has some excellent thoughts on why politics and religion are such tricky conversation topics. Essentially, any time people’s beliefs become part of their identity, conversation becomes difficult.


    • Christopher Citty

      Did you seriously just copy/paste your little anti-politics rant to several comments? That’s something I’d call ‘fucking annoying’. If it’s worth giving some sort of comment, it’s worth typing it out, not copy/pasta.

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  • Sparehead

    Oh noes!, the Koch brothers. The political parties are corrupted to the core…both of them. Perhaps that’s fine with many of you. Who knows, maybe socialism will work out one of these times and won’t end in death and misery. It’s not like power corrupts. I think I’ll go buy another gun.

  • Christopher Citty

    I have to say, I prefer 500D and 1000D Cordura above all other bag materials. I know there are others available, and some do as good as the two, and there are even claims and studies suggesting some do better than they do. But, I like simplicity and consistent results. Most of my bags are 500D or 1000D. I know what I can expect from them as far as durability and flex. I know if I’m going to need a dry bag if it’s going to rain or not, without having to go online and look up bag material specs. That’s what matters most to me about Cordura. I know if it comes from the one place, it performs to specs I can be familiar with. It’s not Kodra or any of 1 or more other names trying to copy them. I prefer knowing what my gear can do, before I need it to do that.

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