Is Ultra the Fabric of the Future? UL Gear Makers Say They're Impressed!

Trail TalkAli Becker
Ultra Fabric cottage made ul pack


Perhaps you’ve noticed the buzz around ECOPAK™ UltraWeave, or Ultra, as it’s more commonly known. Cottage-made packs with the word
Ultra attached to it are popping up in social feeds right and left. 

Now being used by a range of progressive pack makers, like Pa’lante Packs and LiteAF, all the way through to Superior Wilderness Designs, Zpacks and Bonfus (coming soon to GGG!), we decided to find out what all the hype is about.  

Ultra is a two-layer laminated fabric that boasts a wide range of technical properties beneficial to the outdoor gear community. The fabric is lightweight, highly water resistant, abrasion resistant, tear resistant, UV resistant and extremely durable.

“The lightweight community gained a fabric innovation that gave us durability and strength without giving us any real weight penalty,” said Matt Favero from Zpacks. 

Zpacks released the 60L Arc Haul Ultra in January 2022. It’s been their best-selling bag since launch. “People are really excited about this new fabric, and so am I,” Favero said. “In fact, I haven’t been so excited about anything in ultralight backpacking for a really long time.”

 

What is Ultra? 

Ultra UltraWeave Fabric Ultralight Backpacking Cottage Packs Gear



The UltraWeave (Ultra) fabric line was released in February of 2021 by Connecticut-based Challenge Sailcloth. Beyond all the great performance properties of Ultra, one of its greatest assets is its availability. 

“All we ever used in the past was Dyneema, which is a great fabric, but it's hard to get your hands on currently,” said Chris Millard, owner of LiteAF. “So fortunately for all us cottage vendors, Ultra came in at the perfect time, which has helped push the fabric to where it is.”

LiteAF built two packs with Ultra 200 fabric that have been out and about for thousands of miles of hiking and testing. “Everything else on the packs are starting to fail, like the mesh, which is really not made to last that many miles,” Chris said. “But the Ultra fabric is holding up really, really well.”

 

Ultra UltraWeave Fabric Ultralight Backpacking Cottage Packs Gear


LiteAF is going exclusively with Ultra as soon as it sells out of Dyneema-made gear. “Probably another six months and LiteAF will be 100% exclusive to the Ultra fabrics,” Chris said. “Personally, I think it’s the future of ultralight backpack fabrics.”



Where Did Ultra Come From?


The Ultra line was dreamed up by long-time sail maker and innovative product developer, Hale Walcoff, a few years back. When pandemic problems with another company led to layoffs, Hale was welcomed to take his fabric technologies elsewhere. 

“I took the summer off to hike, bike, paddle and sail,” said Hale, who believes that innovations come from moments of quiet inspiration and spontaneous conversations. “During this time I thought a lot about the outdoors, and what could be done to help preserve it. The idea came to me to develop new materials using recycled polyester.”

Ultra Challenge UL Ultralight Cottage Pack Gear Fabric


Hale decided to align himself with a company who shared a similar mindset. He joined forces with Challenge Sailcloth, and helped launch their new company, Challenge Outdoor, in July 2020. 

Hale now oversees Challenge Outdoor as Managing Director and is a key player in fabric development and product innovations. In just twelve months, the company has been able to merge modern technologies with Hale’s progressive visions and create over 100 new products. 

The ECOPAK Laminates (EPL) Ultra line is currently available in four different weights, Ultra 100, Ultra 200, Ultra 400 and Ultra 800, which are part of a larger, diverse line of 18 unique ECOPAK fabrics offered by Challenge Outdoor.

Ultra UltraWeave Fabric Ultralight Backpacking Cottage Packs Gear


Similar to Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCFs) and Hybrids (DCHs), Ultra is made with high-density molecular-weight polyethylene fibers, or UHMWPE. Where the Ultra fabric line differs from DCFs and DCHs is a few fold: 

  • DCFs and DCHs use trademarked Dyneema® fibers, whereas the fibers used in Ultra are unbranded.
  • Ultra is also a laminate, like DCFs and DCHs; but the UHMWPE fibers in Ultra are woven together with polyester fibers, while Dyneema fabrics are non-woven and are sandwiched in between two layers of film.
  • Ultra fabric is marginally more expensive than DCFs and DCHs. 

  • Ultra is backed with a 100% recycled polyester film and the glue that's used is solvent-free. 

“In 2019, the quality of recycled polyester had improved so that the abrasion and tear strength was equal to or better than the virgin nylon used in most packs,” Hale said. “And the recycled fiber components were more readily available.” 

When it comes to comparing the line of ECOPAK Ultra offerings to competitor fabrics, Hale is quick to note, “I can't say if it's better or if it's worse – this is up to the designers and hikers to decide. But we did approach the use of Ultra fiber differently, by placing the woven UHMWPE on the outside, instead of the inside of the composite fabric."



Where is UltraWeave (Ultra) Manufactured? 

Ultra and its ECOPAK sister line are manufactured in one of Challenge’s factories in China. While many people see overseas production as a potential downside, Hale explains that it lessens the environmental footprint of the fabric, seeing as virtually all recycled yarns, fabrics and films are produced in Asia.

“The lamination process is also more cost effective in China, and saves the carbon emission of shipping raw materials to the USA, and finished fabric goes back to Asia factories,” said Hale, adding that lowering the carbon footprint of fabric travel is a priority for Challenge.


 

What Does The Future Hold For Ultra?

Ultra UltraWeave Fabric Ultralight Backpacking Cottage Packs Gear


With over a hundred innovations in just twelve months, it's impressive that Hale has any new ideas left in his head. He admits that many of his innovations come from listening to customer feedback and trying to make their dreams a reality.

“Initially, I met with Chris Millard at LiteAF to get his feedback on the Ultra 400, which he liked, but he asked for a lighter fabric,” Hale said. “We sent him some of the Ultra 200 to test, and got rave reviews. Then designers started asking for a sub-three ounce fabric, which was the impetus for Ultra 100.” 

The Ultra 100 is the lightest of the line, weighing in at 2.92oz. Hale thinks it might be the lightest the line will go for now, as the next iteration would have a significant price increase and the weight savings wouldn’t be huge.


What is Ultra TNT?

Ultra UltraWeave Fabric Ultralight Backpacking Cottage Packs Gear


Perhaps the most exciting new ultralight offering the company is currently working on is their first iteration of Ultra TNT (tent and tarp) fabric which currently weighs in at 0.95oz. 

Chris and the team at LiteAF have been mocking up some early prototypes and sending in feedback.

“It definitely has some flaws right now,” Chris said. “But it's the first 60 yards that have ever been manufactured, so I think that's to be expected. I think there's still a lot that needs to go into it to get it to where it's something that is usable, but there is definitely something there.”

Based on LiteAF and other designers’ feedback, the updated version of Ultra TNT will be available May 1, 2022. 

Beyond the Ultra TNT fabric, Challenge Outdoor is also set to release their own seam tape, dubbed the Ultra Tape, as well as Ultra Grid, the world’s first Grid fabric made from 90% recycled Nylon and 10% Ultra ripstop. 



Final Thoughts

Pa’lante Packs Founder Andrew Bentz was an early adopter of the Ultra 400 fabrics for his Desert pack. Through trial and error, he was able to help give Hale valuable feedback.

“Ultra is really helpful for the ultralight community, because we want to develop all these fabrics and we want new things to happen,” said Andrew at Pa’lante. “We want to be heard, rather than just being like an afterthought, and this is one of the first times this is happening.”

 

 

Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker or at her blog thisisalibecker.com.

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14 comments

drytool

drytool

Ukraine is a puppet state of NATO whose goal is to force a regime change in Russia. Ukraine has been killing it’s own people for years and that’s what those Nazis are doing now, while the western world believes their lies. If you don’t like a country’s business practices and the way they treat their workers you shouldn’t be doing business with them, period.

Wabl

Wabl

China is a significant global polluter… tends to happen when much of the world outsources their production there to capitalise on cheaper production costs, demanding lower prices. Maybe if we all agreed to renegotiate with China and other low-cost countries for the goods we purchased… maybe agree to pay double the price for said goods…. that extra return generated by locals could be reinvested into safer works conditions for the locals and greater adherence to green standards.

Chris

Chris

What a bunch of irrational logic. Refuse to buy eco friendly products made in China because the country as a whole has a pollution problem? Maybe you didn’t get the memo but the US is much worse per capita than China for CO2 at 15 tons/person vs 7 tons/person. Also, not sure if you’ve noticed but we also have some major human rights violations going on right here as well. How about if we embrace good products and companies that are eco friendly and treat their employees well no matter where they are from instead of blindly saying all stuff from one country is bad, all things from other country is good.

Wolf

Wolf

Not really intending this to become a discussion forum but… Regarding China, they push out 2 times atmospheric pollution the US does. I never stop hearing about “Human caused” climate change from outdoor related groups and businesses. Sorry but the science doesn’t show humans have any effect on the climate so I really don’t care about this but, if businesses that throw their lot into this pool are to be taken seriously they can not manufacture their products in China for this reason alone. Don’t even get me started on human rights. Its really not a complicated issue. Businesses use China made products to increase their profit because its cheaper to buy product from China. That’s the only reason.

999

999

Most of the gear we all use is made with components of Chinese origin. The CCP definitely has dangerous ambitions but it’s worth noting that much of the world peace, post WWII, is held together by economic entanglement. I don’t think decoupling from China would make the world a safer place. We need to push for human rights everywhere and learn to work together to actually save this planet. Having worked in manufacturing, it’s soul sucking work and tends to be polluting. How does the quality of life compare for U.S. textile workers vs. Asian textile workers? It’s a complicated issue…

Ramdino

Ramdino

You lost me at CHINA!!. Largest polluters of the world. Aiding Russia in killing children, women, displacing millions, leveling a country in Ukraine. WTH. Threatening the sovernty of Taiwan. Not to mention what they are doing to their own people. Makes me think twice about GGG. Matter fact, I’m done with GGG.

8-Track

8-Track

Lets just make everything in China. With no jobs here, everyone will get to live in the woods. A win-win. Count me out.

Wolf

Wolf

Going to set aside for a minute this fabric is made in China. Isnt this essentially a better form of Dyneema? Basically the same stuff, just woven and not infringing on the copyright of the name Dyneema?
Now the China thing, yeah I get it…cheeper. But we cant support China in any way.

Nacho

Nacho

You lost me with the fabric being made in China, an autocratic nation that imprisons and murders its citizens at will. They crushed freedom in Hong Kong, support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and are threatening democratic Taiwan. Move the manufacturing to a free country, better yet – America, and I will be interested. Boo!

Jason

Jason

Ridiculous they are partnering with China and the New World Order. Boo! Shame on you. Do you not realize what is going on with the rise of technocracy?

Grizzly Adams

Grizzly Adams

Great innovation but AGAIN the source is China. So no thanks. Single handedly destroying the planet and still companies invest in its demise… Shocking.

Richard

Richard

SWD Superior Wilderness Designs has been producing ultra 200,400 packs for some time, I think they might be the OGs. Their ultralight long haul is perhaps the one pack to rule them all. Even get my packraft on it and it’s still comfortable.

Eric B.

Eric B.

This is good news, especially if Ultra has little to no stretch when wet (or dry).
TNT begs to be colored so it is opaque for shade and some privacy.

Arthur Gardener

Arthur Gardener

Any motorcycle clothing in the works? Current material seems heavy, bulky.

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