DCF vs X-Pac for Ultralight Backpacks: Pros and Cons

DCF vs X-Pac Ultralight Backpacks Pros and Cons

Many waterproof and more durable ultralight backpacks are made with Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) or X-Pac, another high-tech laminate fabric similar to DCF but less expensive and easier to make backpacks with. Below, we explain the tradeoffs between these DCF and X-Pac in terms of durability, weight, cost, and water resistance so you can choose the backpack material that best suits your goals.

What is Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)?

Dyneema Composite Fabric or DCF, previously known as Cuben Fiber, is a laminate fabric consisting of crisscrossing strands of Dyneema or ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), sandwiched between thin polyester films. This is the material that DCF shelters such as the Zpacks Duplex Tent are made of. To make this material applicable to pack construction where more abrasion is expected, some sort of face fabric needs to be laminated to it. Typically this means adding either a 50d or 150d plain-weave polyester to make a DCF hybrid fabric.

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 makes a good off-trail hiking pack.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 (DCF) makes a good off-trail hiking pack.

The two most common DCF pack materials in the ultralight backpacking industry are a 2.92 oz/yd fabric and a 5.0 oz/yd fabric. The 2.92 oz/yd DCF hybrid is a two-layer fabric consisting of Dyneema Composite Fabric laminated to a 50d plain weave polyester. This fabric is used on the main body of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400, the Zpacks Arc Blast 55L Backpack, and the main body of the Mountain Laurel Designs DCF Exodus. The 5.0 oz/yd DCF is a two-layer fabric consisting of Dyneema Composite Fabric laminated to a 150 denier plain weave polyester. It is used on HMG’s larger capacity packs such as the Porter 4400 among others. It is also found on the back panel and bottom of the Mountain Laurel Designs DCF Exodus and the bottom of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400.

What is X-Pac?

X-Pac is a material made by sailmaker Dimension Polyant. It comes in all sorts of weights, but I will focus primarily on one of them here, VX21, as it is the one most commonly found in the backpacking industry. There are several other varieties including VX07 and VX42 which folks will probably discuss in the comments. X-Pac VX21 has a 210d nylon face laminated to a polyester x-ply, a 0.25 mil polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waterproof film, and a 50d taffeta backing. It weighs 6.0 oz/yd. This ubiquitous fabric can be found on the Six Moons Designs Minimalist 2.0, the Hanchor Marl, many of the packs made by Superior Wilderness Designs, the Seek Outside Divide, among many, many others.

Slightly fuzzy bottom of a well-used HMG Porter 4400.
Slightly fuzzy bottom of a well-used Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400 (DCF).

DCF vs X-Pac: Durability Comparison

X-Pac VX21 is one of the most common materials for pack bodies for several reasons. The 210d face fabric is pretty durable, resisting abrasion quite well. Recently I bushwhacked through a particularly dense part of the Sonoran Desert wearing the Yar Gear Mountain Drifter 38L which is made from a ripstop version of the VX21. I scraped through catclaw mesquite among other spikey plants for many miles, certain that the pack would show some residue of the experience by the end, but it did not, there’s virtually no evidence of the heinous bushwhack. I am very impressed, to say the least.

I wore the Six Moon Designs Minimalist 2.0 which is made from VX21 on a 35 mile Grand Canyon hike involving some bushwhacking and rock scraping and made the same observation, the fabric seems unchanged. While my Seek Outside Divide is made of X42 (420d face fabric) and not VX21, it has been through many years of bushwhacking and rock scraping and has some fuzziness to show for it but overall is still in excellent condition.

X-Pac is available in a wide range of colors making it nice for customizing backpacks.
X-Pac is available in a wide range of colors making it nice for customizing backpacks (Waymark Lite).

I used an HMG Porter 4400 (5.0 oz/yd fabric) for several years and never got a proper hole in it but it did start to become slightly “fuzzy” after a while. Moderate bushwhacking with my HMG Southwest 3400 (2.92 oz/yd fabric) resulted in some minor abrasion on the pack’s extension collar, but nothing too bad.

I hesitate to make any sweeping claims on durability because I’ve used both fabrics and both have held up quite well. Because of its 210d nylon face fabric, one might assume the VX21 would be more durable than either of the DCF hybrids. Some testers claim, however, that the raised X-Ply pattern increases wear in these areas. This has not been my experience, but I don’t want to rule it out either.

Because one of the main benefits of DCF is its incredible tear strength, DCF packs are likely stronger than VX21 packs in that regard. I don’t know that this matters all that much, however. I personally find abrasion resistance to be more important than tear strength when it comes to backpack materials.

The bottom line here is that cost and weight are better metrics for deciding between these DCF hybrids and VX21 fabrics. That said, it could be fairly safe to assume the much thicker X-Pac fabrics such as X42 and X50 will be substantially more abrasion resistant and substantially heavier than the DCF hybrids.

DCF vs X-Pac: Weight Comparison

The 2.92 oz/yd or 5.0 oz/yd DCF fabrics are both lighter than the 6.0 oz/yd VX21, but what does this mean in terms of actual final pack weight? Take the Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50 as an example. Their DCF version, made from the 3 oz/yd fabric with a 5.0 oz/yd bottom, weighs around 22 oz with all extras removed. The VX21 version, which they call their Long Haul 50 Rugged, comes in around 26.5 oz with all extras removed. So, for the same pack, you’re saving somewhere in the vicinity of 4.5 oz by going with DCF. I can certainly see making this choice if you want to save as much weight as possible.

Make / Model / VolumeMaterialWeightPrice
Chicken Tramper CTug 45LX-Pac30 oz / 850g$285
Elemental Horizons Kalais XT 60LX-Pac42.8 oz / 1213g$360
Elemental Horizons Aquilo XT 75LX-Pac46.8 oz/ 1327g$389
Hanchor Marl 55LX-Pac37. 1 oz / 1053g$282
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 (50L)DCF30.1 oz / 853g$320
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 (65L)DCF31.7 oz / 899g$355
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 4400 (80L)DCF39.2 oz / 1111g$390
Mountain Hardware Scrambler 35X-Pac32 oz / 907g$160
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn DCF 38LDCF16 oz / 403g$285
Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet DCF 48LDCF17 oz / 430g$285
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus DCF 55LDCF18 oz / 455g$290
Northern Ultralight Sundown 46X-Pac26.2 oz | 742g$280
Seek Outside Flight 2 (61L)X-Pac38 oz / 1080g$299
Seek Outside Divide 79LX-Pac44 oz / 1247g$359
Seek Outside Unaweep 79LX-Pac50 oz / 1417g$409
Seek Outside Gila 57LX-Pac48 oz / 1361g$349
Six Moon Designs Minimalist V2 (59L)X-Pac35 oz / 1002g$210
Six Moon Designs Flight 30 (31L)X-Pac26.2 oz / 743g$200
Six Moon Designs Swift X (49L)X-Pac36 oz / 1021g$270
Superior Wilderness Designs DCF Long Haul 50DCF22 oz / 624g$335
Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50X-Pac25.5 oz / 723g$265
Superior Wilderness Designs Rugged Long Haul 50X-Pac32 oz / 907g$269
Waymark Thru 40X-Pac24.5 oz / 695g$240
Waymark Lite 50X-Pac28 oz / 794g$275
Zpacks Arc Air 50DCF18.6 oz / 528g$325
Zpacks Arc Scout 50DCF19.2 oz / 544g$349
Zpacks Arc Blast 55DCF20.3 oz / 575g$349
Zpacks Arc Zip 57DCF23.2 oz / 658g$375
Zpacks Nero 38DCF10.6 oz / 301g$199
Zpacks Sub-Nero 30DCF8.7 oz / 248g$189

Note: Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Superior Wilderness Designs make many variants of the models listed above that only differ slightly, which is why we haven’t listed them all.

DCF vs X-Pac: Cost Comparison

In general, you can expect to pay more for DCF packs. To continue using Superior Wilderness Designs as an example, you will pay around $66 more for the DCF version of the Long Haul 50. $66 to save a quarter of a pound could be very worth it depending on your budget and the pack’s intended use.

While the seams can't be taped, VX21 is still a great pack material for soggy applications including packrafting because the fabric itself is fully waterproof
While the seams can’t be taped, (X-Pac) VX21 is still a great pack material for soggy applications including packrafting because the fabric itself is fully waterproof (Hanchor Marl).

DCF vs X-Pac: Water Resistance Comparison

Both fabrics are completely waterproof, the difference in the pack’s overall waterproofness coming down to the different ways these fabrics are sewn together. Because of the scrim on the inside of the VX21, it cannot be taped. DCF packs, on the other hand, can be taped resulting in fully waterproof bags.

For example, all of Mountain Laurel Designs DCF packs are completely waterproof, a pretty incredible feature for wetter trips. I love the idea of not having to deal with a pack cover or pack liner. Additionally, the polyester face fabric of the DCF hybrid tends to absorb less water than the nylon face fabric on the VX21. While I haven’t scientifically measured this, I have speculated that a sopping wet VX21 pack might weigh slightly more than a soggy DCF pack.

When is an X-Pac backpack better?

X-Pac VX21 is a popular pack material in the backpacking industry because it strikes a great balance between weight, durability, waterproofness, and cost. And colors – don’t forget colors!

Choose a pack made of this material if you want a very water-resistant but not completely waterproof pack with good abrasion resistance. Another great feature of VX21 is its white inner scrim, which makes finding dark items in your pack quite easy.

When is a DCF backpack better?

Choose a pack made of a DCF hybrid when a low pack weight and waterproofness are of utmost importance. If you don’t mind spending a bit more on these features, a DCF backpack could be for you.

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About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

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13 comments

  1. Any chance of a review on the 38L Yar Gear pack?

  2. Enjoyed the article on DCF vs X-Pac – both great products, depending on your needs, expectations and cash flow… I would also like to note that another option from Dimension Polyant for use in packs is LiteSkin, which I have found to be excellent in designing backpacks and field use… in fact, if you look at the spec sheet from DP, the abrasion numbers for LS21 are more than twice that of VX21, though it should also be noted the tear strength of LS21 is about half of VX21.

  3. I agree with the author that abrasion resistance in pack cloth is the most important feature. Tear strength is important but as long as the cloth holds up well to over-stuffing and strap attachment points I prefer abrasion resistance as the first quality.

    Now we’ll see how major pack makers such as Osprey, The North Face and Deuter decide if and how X-Pac cloth in various weights is utilized. Most of us by now recognize that this is just one more technological step toward light but durable backpacking gear. Much more to come.

  4. I just ordered the SO Flight 2 in X-Pac/Spectra for bigger trips out west when I need to be able to carry larger loads of food. It will also become my winter pack. It looks to be the best balanced pack I could find for what my demands are. I ordered extra gatekeepers per your Flight 1 review. Looking forward to not struggling with weight as my Arc Haul tends to do at about the 27 lb mark.

  5. Perfect timing on this article. I’m looking to purchase another pack in the near future. I haven’t had much experience with X-pac yet and have been very curious on how it compares to DCF. Thanks!

  6. What’s the best way to repair a tear or hole in XPAC?

    • If it’s a small hole. I just cover it with shoe goo. Larger, tenacious tape will work. Or you can send it to the manufacturer and they can sew a patch on. I’ve also used Gorilla tape.

  7. Correction: SWD Rugged Long Haul (VX21) 50 weighs 32 ounces. Their VX07 version of the Long Haul 50 weighs 26 ounces. So there is a more sizable weight increase when going from DCF to VX21than you eyeballed. It’s about a 50% increase.

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