A lot of people will buy gear without realizing or questioning the quality of the product they’re getting. And in a market saturated with retailers offering a variety material, it can be hard to recognize the difference. In this post, the first in a series called What Goes Into a Product, we will explore the differences between the most common material used in shooting equipment – Cordura.
Often with fabrics, the term “denier” (expressed as “D”) is seen as a measure of the woven fabric’s weight, not strength. This weight directly corresponds to a material’s resistance to impact abrasion. The true strength of fabric comes down to how it is made (woven or spun). But there’s a tradeoff. The heavier the denier, the thicker the fibers and tighter the weave becomes, thus the more resistance the material has. But as that resistance increases, the overall weight and rigidity also grows.
Developed just prior to WWII as a form of ryaon, cordura is a plain woven T420 Nylon 6,6 that is often chosen for its varying resistance levels. Often cordura is woven in a diamond or box pattern to improve the resistance in its lighter materials. Because of how the fibers are woven, cordura has a more natural cotton appearance. Today cordura is the most common type of fabric in recreational, professional and military gear and clothing. Some of the more common ratings for Cordura are:
- 500D – The thinnest of the nylon yarn, 500D still has a high degree of resistance, and is most commonly found in pistol and rifle bags due to its high degree of flexibility.
- 1000D – A yarn of material with high abrasion resistance, 1000D is thicker and has greater puncture or tear resistance than 500D, but is more expensive. Most “field” gear consists of 1000D cordura. The higher 1050D has less resistance but greater tear strength. At this point the fabric will outlast the associated belts, buckles or zippers.
- 1680D – At 1680, the nylon is considered “ballistic” because it literally was first used to line aircraft and body armor to deflect bullets or fragmentation. At 1680, ballistic nylon is woven from a larger yarn of material rather than two plies of 1050D. This type of material frequently frays in areas of high wear as opposed to 1050D.
Another way to use cordura or other nylons, is to make ripstop. In this approach, the fabric is woven in a pattern that stops a tear from spreading and further compromising the integrity of the gear. Some higher threads of ripstop nylon can be just as strong, or stronger, than steel.
When ran against an ATSM D 2261 strength test the results look like this:
There are naturally a number of other types of materials in which gear and clothing can be made (leather, polyester, blends, etc). But Cordura is by far the most common in today’s market. And while fabrication of the material is done here in the U.S. (by many reputable companies), most international retailers get a majority of their materials from places like China, India, or Pakistan where the textile industry is well established and infrastructure already built. This also has a direct correlation on price where domestic production of Cordura is higher for the same quality of product (despite what U.S. retailers insist).
In the end, the selection of your gear and its materials must reflect the best possible decision by you for the purpose you want it to achieve. It’s a careful balance between cost and longevity.