Robic (also called Robic Nylon) is an improved type of nylon, called high tenacity nylon, which is more tear and abrasion-resistant than the previous forms of nylon used to make backpacks, luggage, and other outdoor gear. While its early adopters included smaller backpack makers like Gossamer Gear and ULA, larger backpack companies like Gregory, Granite Gear, and Osprey have also adopted it.
What is High Tenacity Nylon?
Nylon gets a bad rap, but it’s been used forever by companies to make backpacks and luggage and is still widely in use today. Robic Nylon is an improved form of high tenacity nylon, meaning that it is more tear and abrasion-resistant. While tear resistance is important, backpacks are particularly prone to abrasion which can wear down nylon over time and weaken it. This occurs imperceptibly whenever your pack comes in contact with rough surfaces like rocks, brushy vegetation, or the ground. Do this a couple of thousand times and you’re likely to wear a hole in your pack, especially on the bottom.
How Much Stronger and Durable is Robic Nylon?
There are several commonly used grades of nylon yarn: Nylon 6, Robic Nylon 6, and Nylon 6,6. Nylon 6,6 is considered the strongest, next Robic Nylon 6, and then Nylon 6, which has been widely used to make backpacks in the past. New fabrics and materials built with Robic nylon 6 are up to 50% stronger (resistance to breakage) with up to 2.5 times the tear strength and abrasion resistance compared to standard nylon 6 fabrics. In other words, they’re hard to break and tough to rip. These are laboratory measurements published by the manufacturer, for what they’re worth. Time will tell how backpacks and outdoor gear made with Robic fabrics perform in the field.
What about Fabric Thickness (Denier)?
While the molecular structure of different types of nylon is important, so is its thickness. Denier is a unit of measurement that describes the thickness of individual threads in nylon fabrics. The denier number of a fabric (100d, 210d, 420d, etc.) is an approximation of thickness. In general, the larger the threads, the thicker and more durable the fabric will be, and the higher the denier, the heavier the fabric will be.
For example, the ULA Circuit Backpack made with 400d Robic and is going to be tougher and more durable than the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 Backpack made with 70d and 100d Robic. Given that difference, I wouldn’t think twice about taking the ULA Circuit off-trail for bushwhacking, while I’d probably want to stick to well-maintained trails with the Gossamer Gear Gorilla.
What is Ripstop?
To increase tear strength, many nylons are constructed with thicker yarns interwoven in a grid pattern. This is referred to as a ripstop. If a ripstop fabric gets a hole it usually doesn’t spread because the reinforcement fibers stop it. Constructing a fabric as a ripstop gives it a better strength to weight ratio than a fabric without. Most of the backpack manufacturers using Robic, use Robic ripstop to make their packs.
Is Robic Waterproof?
Robic fabrics have a polyurethane (PU) coating that is claimed to be waterproof, but if you’re familiar with waterproof gear, you know that some waterproof fabrics are more waterproof than others. There’s actually a measurement for this called hydrostatic head, often abbreviated in product specs as “mm”, which measures the amount of pressure required to force water through a waterproof fabric. The greater the number the more waterproof the fabric is. For a deeper dive on hydrostatic head, see our FAQ: How Waterproof is Silnylon?
PU coatings are sprayed onto Robic fabric at the mill and can eventually fail by delamination due to extreme exposure to moisture or heat. This is a bigger issue with tents, but less of a concern when it comes to the inside of a backpack. While most PU coatings weaken a fabric, Robic is also available with a new PU coating called UTS, for Ultra Tear Strength, which offers the waterproofing benefits of a PU coating, while increasing its tear strength.
Are Backpacks made with Robic Nylon Waterproof?
No. While Robic does have a PU coating on one side, it is likely to absorb some water on the side that is uncoated. While this might add at most a few ounces of weight to a pack if it gets wet, the shoulder pads and hip belt will probably absorb even more. Packs made with Robic are also sewn, creating many tiny needly holes that can leak water in rain. Your best defense against rain is to use a pack liner or a rain cover.
Packs made with X-Pac fabric will also absorb a small amount of moisture, but again the bigger concern is leakage through the needle holes. Most X-Pac backpacks are also not seam taped which prevents water from leaking through the needle holes. One exception to this is ULA, which tapes the seams on the X-Pac versions of all of their backpacks including the Catalyst, Circuit, Ohm 2.0, etc.
Packs made with Dyneema DCF (which isn’t a fabric at all) will absorb very little water. Most manufacturers including Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Zpacks also seam tape the sewn seams on their Dyneema Backpacks, but still recommend that you line their packs with a pack liner or rain cover.
Do Robic backpacks cost less than Dyneema or X-Pac Packs?
Yes, Robic backpacks tend to cost less than Dyneema (DCF) because the fabric/material is less expensive and easier to sew. X-Pac is much less expensive than Dyneema and slightly more difficult to work with than Robic with, so the price difference should be smaller.
Are Robic backpacks more abrasion resistant than Packs made with Dyneema DCF hybrids (Dyneema with a Polyester Facing Fabric)?
Zpacks claims that the Robic is more abrasion resistant than their DCF hybrid, a claim that is probably true since polyester tends to be less abrasion resistant than nylon. While the polyester face fabric on DCF Hybrids will become fuzzy after a few years, it’s still relatively fairly abrasion-resistant. The inside of the fabric is a different story. The mylar film that holds the Dyneema fibers in place eventually breaks apart allowing the fibers to escape. In my experience, the mylar film inside DCF Hybrid fabrics starts to fall apart in four to seven years, depending on the amount of use.
What other advantages does Robic have?
The main advantages of Robic are its low cost and low weight for moderate abrasion resistance.
Robic, and nylon packs in general, have more stretch in them than packs made with X-Pac or Dyneema DCF which maintain a fairly rigid shape even when empty. Some people find that stretch makes them easier to pack because the nylon conforms better to the shape of your load.
While it is durable than regular nylon 6, it only costs a little more for manufacturers to purchase. Another nice thing is that Robic, like all nylons, can be dyed any color.
Should you pay extra for a Robic backpack over one made with regular nylon?
I would say no. Although Robic is a little tougher than standard nylon, it still isn’t an expensive fabric for companies to buy. If a company is charging an arm and a leg for a backpack made with Robic, they’re probably just trying to increase their profit on that pack. Furthermore, when choosing a pack, it’s also important to consider many factors besides fabric including weight, fit, functionality, durability, and price.
What other factors besides materials should you consider when shopping for a durable backpack?
There are many other important factors when choosing a backpack. Don’t just focus on materials!
- You will also want to consider backpack volume. Ask yourself how large your pack needs to be for your intended use; you may want a smaller pack for thru-hiking and a larger pack for winter adventures or packrafting.
- Determine if your pack should have a frame. Many people carrying lighter loads may find a frame to be unnecessary, while packrafting with a frameless pack would be excruciating.
- How much do pockets, storage, and organization matter to you? Maybe you like to have a place for everything, or maybe you like to fill a single compartment pack haphazardly like a junk drawer.
- Sizing may be the most important factor of all. A pack’s fit is arguably far more important than whether it’s made of generic nylon, X-Pac, DCF, or Robic.