The next frontier for cuben fiber? Apparel. Long used in the sailing world, this lightweight yet strong non-woven fabric found its way into the outdoor realm via hardware such as tents, climbing slings, and more recently backpacks. Now apparel makers are turning to this miracle fabric to create waterproof yet breathable garments at ultralight weights.
Cuben fiber is made by sandwiching Spectra or Dyneema polyethylene fiber filaments a thousandth of an inch thick in various arrangements between thin outer layers of polyester film. This sandwich is then melded together in a high-pressure autoclave.
Cuben fiber is lightweight, highly durable, and is 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and allows flex without losing strength. It is also less than half the weight of silnylon, floats on water, has high chemical resistance, excellent UV resistance, and is 100% waterproof.
Both Peak Performance and Adidas showcased their cuben fiber apparel at the OutDoor Show in Friedrichshafen last week. Swedish company Peak Performance took Dyneema, claimed to be the strongest fiber in the world, and turned it into an extremely light 49 gr/m2 cuben fiber fabric to construct not just a 3-layer waterproof breathable jacket but also a pant.
Meant for technical mountaineering pursuits, the Black Light Cuben Pants (€550) use full side zips for easy on and off over boots and under a harness. The pants are split below the knee into separate removable gaiters complete with bootlace hook.
The Black Light Cuben Jacket (€450) features a minimalistic hem with fixed flat elastic and silicon dots to keep it in place. Perforated pockets aid in ventilation, while the use of darts enables the jacket to avoid any full length seams.
The Adidas Terrex All Alpine Jacket uses a combination of straight up Dyneema and cuben fiber (66 g/m2) to create a 3-layer jacket with a durable waterproof membrane. With minimalist seams, this jackets delivers the same protection as a high-end 3-layer waterproof jacket but at half the weight.
Both the Peak Performance and Adidas cuben fiber apparel will be available starting February 2015.
Depending on the performance of these jackets and adoption by consumers, I would expect to see cuben fiber used more often in apparel going forward. Breathability here is going to be key.