Do you know what your clothes are made of?

Manufacturers use all kinds of fabrics and materials to create the garments we wear and the stuff we use.

From blouses to bags, shirts to socks, pants to ponchos, the components used vary wildly.

But when it comes to making tactical gear, one particular textile stands head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s even used for making hot air balloons, sleeping bags, flags and banners, yacht sails, hammocks, kites, and more.

But what is ripstop fabric, exactly, and why is it so good for tactical, outdoor, and heavy-duty use?

Let’s find out.

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What is Ripstop? In a Few Words!

Here at Riflepal, we recognize that life moves fast, so for anyone without the time to read our full article, here’s the answer upfront:

Ripstop isn’t actually material itself. It’s most commonly made from nylon and is a specially woven fabric that is created using a weaving technique that makes it highly resistant to rips, tears, and other damage.

And that, as you might expect, is why it’s so good for tactical and outdoor gear (such as these awesome pants with knee pads) as well as a whole host of other uses where a super-tough, reliable fabric is required.

ripstop fabric with water drops

But there’s much more to it! So, stick around if you can, as we explore the history of ripstop in more detail.

How Ripstop is Made

Ripstop isn’t material at all, but more to do with the technique of how the fabric is created.

It uses thicker threads of strong material (such as cotton or polyester) that are then woven into nylon (or other fabrics) at regular intervals, creating a tightly-knit, cross-hatch pattern.

Look closely at these tactical pants for women, and you’ll see some great examples of that easily-identifiable box-check weave.

This thicker yarn reinforces the fabric at regular intervals, commonly five to eight millimeters apart. The closer this weave, the stronger the material, but the trade-off is increased weight.

Pay attention to the “Denier” number – which is a unit of measurement designed to indicate how thick a piece of fabric has been woven.

Once created, ripstop fabrics are often treated with various coatings to increase strength, durability, and water resistance – the latter known as DWR (Durable Water Repellent).

For more information, take a look at the video below, which explores ripstop as a suitable backpack fabric.

Ripstop Nylon Properties

When it comes to the properties of ripstop nylon – it’s a no-brainer as to why it’s used so extensively in outdoor and tactical gear and apparel.

Nylon is a thick, strong material to begin with, and when you introduce the ripstop weave technique, you create a very practical, versatile new fabric.

Ripstop nylon is water-resistant (with treatment), fire-resistant (with treatment), breathable, highly durable, can be produced in multiple colors, and, of course, it’s rip and tear-resistant.

A common misconception is that it’s waterproof – it isn’t, but with special coatings, it can increase its water-resistant properties.

It can be made in a variety of weights but is commonly a lightweight material used where durability is required, without sacrificing comfort, and mobility.

However, it is a mistake to believe that ripstop is impervious to rips and tears – which, like most fabrics, it isn’t. There hasn’t been a fabric invented that can’t be punctured or torn, depending on the circumstances.

What it does do, is to stop the tear from spreading, the fibers around the stressed area staying tightly woven should the fabric be compromised, such as a snag on a tree branch, a knife cut, or catching on any number of objects and hazards.

Which makes it the ideal fabric for use in clothing like these awesome paintball pants, where you’re potentially throwing yourself around challenging terrain.

Of course, if the tear is big enough, there isn’t going to be anything to stop it from opening up even further.

Aside from its obvious practical uses, ripstop simply looks and feels good, too. You most likely own something made from this technique already, and you’ll understand its level of quality.

Wearing ripstop pants, for example, instills you with confidence that you know it’s not going to let you down. The same can’t be said of lesser materials and fabrics.

In general, ripstop fabrics lend themselves to products made for the great outdoors – it’s what the technology was born to do.

And it’s extremely useful if you happen to puncture a hole in your parachute…

The History of Ripstop Fabric

Like many of today’s modern fabrics, ripstop can thank WW2 for its existence.

At a time when scientists were working around the clock to improve the gear for the men on the front line, someone had to come up with something to replace fragile silk parachutes.

Silk rips and tears with ease, which can be something of a problem when flinging yourself out of an aircraft at 10,000 feet. Not only that, but it was expensive, and governments like to keep their costs down.

multicolored tactical military backpacks and messenger bags

An alternative had to be introduced – and fast.

The ripstop fabric was the answer.

And it was the DuPont Chemical Company who found it, introducing this new weave technology in the creation of nylon parachute canopies.

The lead scientist for Dupont, Wallace Hume Carothers, is previously credited with inventing nylon in 1935, (and neoprene in 1930).

From there, it was a matter of time before the boffins at Dupont discovered the ripstop weave technique, and silk parachutes became a thing of the past.

The initial job is done, ripstop development was put on the shelf, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that its potential was to be further explored.

In the 1970s, for example, pioneering inventor Bob Gore and his father Wilbert patented a new fabric that could potentially take ripstop to the next level.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the father and son team invented GORE-TEX fabric technology in 1969, applying for a patent in 1976.

Today, the fusion of ripstop and GORE-TEX technology is widely regarded as the crème de la crème of the outdoor clothing industry.

And ripstop itself just keeps getting better and better. It’s certainly an exciting time to be interested in tactical and outdoor products, and we can’t wait to see where it leads.

Ripstop Applications

The outdoor gear industry rejoiced when the ripstop technique was discovered, and if you’ve ever been camping, climbing, and/or hiking – you’ll understand why.

That’s because it’s one of the most durable, and versatile fabrics around. And you will most likely have something close to hand that it’s made from.

Ripstop is used in making things like tactical backpacks, hiking pants, shirts, lightweight tents, protective covers, and luggage bags.

man holding a military backpack and wearing tactical gloves

It’s regularly incorporated with heavier fabrics in order to improve strength and durability, most commonly in military BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) as well as with the NOMEX protective material firefighters wear.

The backpack I personally use to travel the world is made from ripstop fabric – and it’s not let me down once.

And let me tell you – that thing has taken a beating.

When it comes to the military, law enforcement, and security purposes, utilizing ripstop technology is just one of the things that set tactical gear apart from ordinary clothing. Follow that link to find out more.

Tactical Use

We’ve sung the praises of ripstop fabric in outdoor gear, but it’s also extremely effective for tactical use – not least in the clothing and apparel worn by military and law enforcement personnel worldwide.

It’s also used in the creation of combat sports gear, which is often difficult to tell apart from the real thing. Take a look at this article on real steel vs airsoft gear for more information.

Just about all the best tactical brands on the market employ the fabric in their products in some form or another.

Ripstop fabrics can also offer excellent flexibility when stretch materials are incorporated –  which is essential for promoting freedom of movement in combat or emergency situations.

For more insight into ripstop’s use in BDU, and an informative description of how it’s constructed, check out the video below.

Ripstop Rivals and Alternatives

There are several other fabric technologies that can rival ripstop for the creation of outdoor and tactical gear. This list isn’t exhaustive.

Cotton canvas is an older ripstop alternative, most commonly found in vintage, military-style duffel bags. Take a look at this review of the best tactical duffels, and you’ll see the first product there uses canvas.

While it’s arguably more durable than ripstop, it’s also much heavier, and not so good when it gets soaking wet.

It’s certainly not as popular as it once was, and has been replaced by more modern fabrics and techniques, although still prized for that vintage look and feel.

Ballistic nylon also has a history rooted in military use and was also originally designed by chemical company DuPont (what have they not invented?) for flak jackets in WW2. It was later replaced by Kevlar.

Super-tough, and highly durable, today ballistic nylon is more commonly found in luggage, belts, and straps, backpacks, jackets, and even in the construction of the outer fabric of some framed kayaks.

But its resistance to dye means it nearly always comes in black, which means it’s not so practical for modern clothing aesthetics – but still useful for some tactical purposes.

Cordura is another DuPont creation, invented back in 1929. A blend of synthetic fibers, it shares a lot in common with ripstop and is also used in the creation of backpacks, luggage, and other items where durability is key.

Dyneema is the new kid on the block, a composite material with multiple uses, regularly favored by today’s armed forces, and popular for sails in yachting and windsurfing.

Not to be confused with carbon fiber, it’s lighter than nylon and polyester, abrasion and tear-resistant, up to 15 times stronger than steel (weight for weight), and fully waterproof.

Take a guess what the downside is? Yup, it’s exorbitantly expensive. Still, you can expect to see more of this high-performance material in the future.

soldier putting on multicam camouflage tactical jacket

FAQs

How strong is ripstop nylon?

Depending on the coating, and the Denier number (the unit of measurement used to determine fiber thickness) ripstop nylon has a tear strength of 7-10 lbs.

What is ripstop made out of?

While nylon is the most common material that ripstop fabric is constructed from, other materials can be used, such as polyester, cotton, silk, polypropylene, or combinations thereof.

Who invented ripstop?

Unfortunately, we don’t actually know the genius(es) behind this fabric technology.

However, in 1962, inventors Louis Weiner and Harold H. Brandt were the first to apply for a patent with the US government, so they are, at least in part, responsible for it.

Summary

What is ripstop fabric? Only one of the best inventions ever for outdoor and tactical gear, that’s what!

Thanks to the science boffins who invented it, we can enjoy quality clothing and products that won’t let us down in the field.

What do you own that uses ripstop technology? Let us know in the comments, below, or if you have any negative experiences from the fabric – it’s all welcome here.

Keep yourself protected out there – wearing some ripstop fabric is a great way to do that!