I'm thinking about taking the plunge and buying a cuben fiber tarp. My only question is, what sort of life expectancy should I expect? It would be used several times a week for 3 seasons, and occasionally in the winter as a roof over my hammock. Thanks.
Life expectancy of cuben fiber tarp?
The trick is avoiding abrasion. Cuben is not good at taking abrasion. Some folks posted reviews of mountaineering sacks that were well beat up from scraping rocks after only one excursion. They are waterproof but that means condensation is another problem. Otherwise they are strong, UV resistant and don't stretch out. I imagine a cautious user will get whatever the life expectancy of the seam tape is, regarding a tarp.
In a word- forever.
As Ed said, the only thing Cuben Fiber is bad at is handling is abrasion. A tarp is the perfect piece of equipment to make out of it.
Even if you should get a hole in it, it is super easy to repair. A little repair patch over it and its as good as new. The tear strength of the stuff in incredible, any small hole won't get any bigger.
It is very easy to puncture cuben fiber. When I was stuffing my tent into its stuff sack with its fold-up carbon poles, I managed to push too hard against the bag (also cuben fiber), punching a hole in the bag. Yes, the supplied repair tape did cover the hole. I have been a lot more careful since doing that. I have been told by friends who are super ULers that when pitched taut, if you somehow get a sharp edge against the taut cuben, it can produce a rip. Haven't tried that, don't intend to try it.
Cuben fiber is pretty nice, but I find myself preferring silnylon still. Mainly due to the abrasion issue. Yes its easily repaired, but I would rather not have to patch my tarp all the time. The other thing that drives me bat sh*t crazy is the noise, the noise a cuben fiber tarp makes practically drives me insane.
Cuben fiber does have a great tear strength, however that is only in the direction of the weave. Try to push something through the weave and its very weak. Kind of like carbon fiber, very strong in its intended direction but apply force in the opposite and it can easily break or shatter.
I had poor results with cuben tarps and made the switch back to silnylon. The weight savings just wasn't worth it to me. I don't abuse my gear but I don't baby it either. I don't want to have to worry about accidentally putting a hole in my expensive cuben tarp. I don't want to be bothered by the crinkly/noisy nature of the fabric. And if I manage to get a hole in silnylon I don't feel bad about it really, and its also easy to patch.
I would guestimate that at the frequency of use you state that I would not count on the tarp lasting more than three years, but you might be about to extend that to 5-7, its really a hard thing to say. I wouldn't bank on the tarp making it much past the 7 year mark with use 3/week. Doesn't really matter what the tarp is made of, they all have around a 5-10 year service life with moderate use. If you maintain it and patch it as required it will theoretically last forever.
Couple more thoughts-
Cuben is, at minimum, equal to, if not better than, silnylon in puncture resistance. So anything you punctured made out of Cuben would have done the same to silnylon.
The other thing to keep in mind when purchasing a cuben tarp is the weight. Many manufacturers make tarps out of varying weight. You could get a (relatively) heavyweight cuben tarp for the very same weight as a silnylon (your pockets will also be lighter though!).
The noise is a good point, especially hail against cuben can be LOUD. I can generally sleep through anything but it can be annoying even for me.
Cuben tarps are also much harder to set up, it's a steeper learning curve. Because it doesn't stretch (which can become a positive once you know how to set it up properly) a cuben tarp doesn't have the initial give that a silnylon would.
Last point that no one has mentioned is the UV degradation. If using it extensively in the sun the silnylon can dry out and crack much faster. To be honest you could buy three silnylon tarps that last three years each for the same price that one cuben that would last you nine years. It's all a matter of personal preference.
I agree it's all a matter of personal preference.
To me the only real advantage cuben fiber has is the weight savings and letting light through/partially transparent.
Abrasion: In regards to puncture I agree both materials are the same. But from actual abrasion I think silnylon has the edge. I had several holes develop in my cuben tarp from abrasion over a year. One was where a tarp door was rubbing on a tree, the other where my hammock suspension carabiner was rubbing against it when rigged low during some bad wind/rain storms. And by hole I don't mean an actual gaping hole, I just mean a spot in the fabric that got worn enough to allow water through.
I have never had a hole develop in my silnylon tarps from that kind of use, and they have had a lot more use than that one cuben tarp. Maybe it's because it does stretch a little, and is a little slippier of a fabric....or maybe its just voodoo magic. I don't really care that a hole developed in those two situations because it was my own fault for having it touching, I was just surprised, especially from the carabiner/suspension rubbing. Easy enough to fix though.
Maybe it was just too thin of a cuben material, I don't really know. It was my first cuben tarp and I wasn't overly impressed so I havn't had the bug to try a different one just yet. Lot's of people use them and seem perfectly happy with them though.
Hmmm... All good information. Durrability is the big concern that I have. My current tarp (Kelty Noah's Tarp 9x9) has withstood some heavy abrasion and hits over the years, and I question how the cuben fiber would take it. Would chunks of frozen snow & ice falling from high branches be enough to puncture through? Or small pieces of branches durring high wind storms?
I've also heard that silnylon "sweats" or "leaks". Is this true, and if so, to what extent? I've been rained on through saturated/leaking rainflies before, and it can kill a night of sleep. Also, would silnylon stand up to the falling ice & branches when pulled taut, or will it always have a sort of stretch to it?
Thanks for all of the input!
Another thought, how does either material handle creases? On real windy nights when the tarp is constantly being pushed and pulled with a good amount of force, eventually it will loosen up somewhere slightly, and will fold over its self on the ridgeline. It looks like little wrinkles from far away, but they're little creases. After a few uses, most materials wear thin in these places. Which would have a better resistance to this sort of thing?
Cannot comment on the type of creases you describe happening with your current tarp, but can say that cuben packs away smaller when it is folded, versus randomly stuffed into a storage bag. But as long as you pitch taut, the cuben should not crease as you describe.
As for things getting loose on windy nights, I find all pitched structures will lose tautness as they cool. Hence I go back and readjust the guy lines if the slackness annoys me. I find I usually only have to do this once nightly.
If wind alone causes your rig to go slack it may be due three factors:
- Using shock cord that isn't sufficiently strong or is losing it's elasticity. Replace shock cords with this issue.
- Using (non-stretch) cord that has a bit of stretch in it (yes most cords and rope will stretch a wee bit). A one time readjusting of the cord should address this.
- Your knots or quick adjust gizmo may be slipping. Sometimes this is due to using cords that don't hold the standard knots well, or a mismatch of cord size and gizmo utilized, or worn out gizmos. Resort to different knots, or use properly paired cord and gizmo, or replace worn gizmos.
I use the thinnest "zing-it" i could find as a ridge line, and use the same material for prussic knots on each end to secure the tarp. I had to loop the knot around 4 times instead of the normal 3 because the rope kept sliding on its self. Perhaps the 4th wrap isn't as efficient as I thought.
That being said, it has gone through some very intense winds, and only ever loosens enough to create those "wrinkles", and never anything more. If I want to pull it taut again, I have to pull the stakes to relieve tension, then fix the issue. That just isn't possible during a storm (when this happens).
I thought the material that I use is common for ridge lines, but perhaps my set up needs to be refined a little more some how? The "zing-it" is made of "dynema" I believe. It's very strong, very light, has minimal stretch, holds no water, and sort of has a plastic or waxy feel to it.
I have some of that cordage! I've had problems at times with taut and hitch knots on the line you describe, but that doesn't sound like your issue, when knots slip they slip significantly enough to know. That kind of cord also is slightly elastic, not due to the dynema, rather the slack the braid pattern wants to accumulate when at rest. Thus this line definitely needs an initial tensioning, and a tune up sometime before bed.
A flying stick or something punched a hole in my cuben fiber tarp the very first time I used it. I was a bit peeved but put some patches over it, problem solved. I felt better later learning that a tornado warning had been issued for the area, and so it had survived a pretty severe thunderstorm generally intact. Since then, I haven't had any other mishaps. What I like most about cuben is that it doesn't absorb any water and the condensation that does collect on the surface can be wiped away or dries very fast. It also doesn't stretch much, if at all.
I second Lah's comment about Cuben not absorbing as much moisture as sil-nylon as Cuben's most impacting feature (almost no stretch and dry in your bag...so good!) The weight savings are silly given the difference in cost...if you say you bought Cuben for weight savings everyone secretly laughs at you a little as you likely could have saved weight in several pieces of gear if you used the money elsewhere. Cuben does make noise when things are falling on it...the sound it makes is not so much the irritation as the volume...but I don't mind it as Sil makes quite a bit of noise in the same situations. For myself personally I have a large Cuben tarp that I bring when I expect rain or snow and several Sil tarps of different shapes that I use in drier and windy conditions.
Cuben was designed originally to make sails for competitive yacht racing, so it does not absorb water, does not stretch/sag, is super-lightweight and has great tear strength/resistance.
Abrasion isn't much of a factor for yacht racing so true that cuben is not the most abrasion resistant, but it isn't fragile either. How long it can last depends on the particular version of cuben you are using (some is thicker and has more dyneema threads than others) and what you subject it to.
Typically shelters and packs made from cuben are expected to last at least the distance of one long thru hike (so minimum ~2500 miles). It's subjective if that represents wearing out too quickly, but for many the trade-off in lighter weight to carry for that many miles is worth the expense of having to replace it more quickly. For many that represents many years of using the gear and enjoying the weight savings.
I respectfully disagree that people will laugh at you for buying cuben for weight savings -- you can save a pound in your shelter, half a pound in your pack, half a pound in rain gear, that adds up to serious weight. Certainly look to culling things from your kit to save weight as well, but those who buy cuben backpacking gear do so mainly for the weight savings.
I respectfully disagree (partially) with your respectful disagreement :-) If you have the money to purchase a Cuben shelter/pack/rain gear you should also have a 900 fill sleeping bag + a Ti pot and esbit "kitchen" + the leanest "small items" sack + Neo-Air X-lite (or something lighter like a Gossamer pad) + etc...or I am secretly laughing at you because you didn't use your budget well in terms of overall weight savings. I might also secretly chuckle (or worry) a little bit if you are using Cuben for rain gear if the weather is not warm...because Cuben doesn't breath very well (if at all?) which makes its use in cooler weather poor if not suspect.
I would also respectfully disagree with your math...an 8x10 sil tarp weighs in the neighborhood of 14 oz https://www.rei.com/product/721102/equinox-ul-tarp-10-x-8 which means to save a pound an equally sized Cuben tarp would have to break the rules of reality and weigh -2oz!?! A quick check over at Zpacks website reveals an 8.5x10 tarp weighs 7.5oz. http://www.zpacks.com/shelter/tarps.shtml
I think the weight savings of Cuben get even more dubious in regards to packs where abrasion makes the use of Cuben limited...and coupled with the fact that the amount of fabric used to construct a pack is relatively small and a tiny fraction of the total weight of a pack there isn't a lot of weight savings to be had with choosing Cuben (though in wet conditions it could save a lot of weight due to low absorption). To put it simply...if given the choice between a Cuben pack and a Robic pack I would choose the Cuben pack only where I expected really wet conditions as the weight savings are minimal until my pack is soaked...and I certainly think fit and comfort are far more important considerations when choosing a pack than the marginal weight savings of Cuben.
To your point about most people choosing Cuben for the weight savings that might be true (though I would like to see the data)...but the fact that people choose Cuben for weight savings does not mean that weight savings is the best reason to choose it (people do things for a lot of terrible reasons). If you have no other way to save weight then by all means buy Cuben as long as it is well suited for the task ahead...but I would argue that people should start to think of Cuben not so much for its weight savings as they should a technology that works AMAZING in wet conditions.
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