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What’s The Difference: Cordura vs. Ballistic Nylon

When it comes to outfitting yourself with the best possible gear, the materials out of which things are made can make or break their overall value in the field. For instance, the best looking glass water bottle in the world wont do you any good in the great outdoors if it shatters the first time you drop it. Rather, if you’re going hiking, you’ll probably want to opt for a container made from plastic or metal.

But, while most people have a pretty good grasp over which materials work and which don’t, sometimes things can get a bit granular and harder to define. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in regards to nylon fabrics. There are a lot of terms that apply to the synthetic material, which can get very confusing very fast. To help you make better choices in regards to the gear you choose to carry, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to pick apart and examine one of the more common discrepancies: the difference between Cordura and ballistic nylon. If you’ve ever wondered what, exactly, separates them, you’ll find your answer in the guide below.

What Is Ballistic Nylon?

General Term, Specific Meaning

When it was created by DuPont, ballistic nylon was used exclusively in military applications. And that’s because it was originally developed as a protective fabric for soldiers during World War II – specifically to be used in flak jackets. In fact, that’s where the term ‘ballistic nylon’ comes from: it was, at first, created as a means by which to protect the wearer from ballistic impact. As it turns out, however, the stuff was pretty good at deflecting minor shrapnel and debris, but wasn’t so great at deflecting actual gunfire – It was, at first, created as a means by which to protect the wearer from ballistic impact.eventually being replaced by more protective fabrics, such as kevlar.

Still, despite its shortcomings, ballistic nylon was an incredibly durable, water-resistant, and tough material that survived being beaten out by more bulletproof fabrics – as it was cheaper, more available, and very easy to work with by comparison. It also benefitted from shifting from strict military application into the civilian field, eventually going on to be one of the most coveted materials in the outdoor and fashion industries for the same toughness and durability for which it was originally designed.

At first, ‘ballistic nylon’ referred to a specific version of fabric: an 18-ounce fabric made from 1080D 2×2 basketwoven nylon. As time has gone by, the term has become a lot more generalized, referring only to nylon fabrics made with a 2×2 or 2×3 basketweave. Still, ballistic nylons most often still feature a high-denier fabric. It’s also worth noting that ballistic nylon features a filament-like fiber, making the end material take on a smooth and almost shiny appearance and an excellent tear-resistance – almost like a tarp or parachute (parachutes are also traditionally made from nylon weaves).

Flowfold Vanguard Bifold Wallet

Made from a revolutionary X-Pac fabric – that’s absurdly lightweight and water-resistant – and reinforced with a ballistic nylon webbing, this is one of the toughest, lightest, and thinnest bifold wallets ever created. It’s also got a capacity of up to 14 cards and cash, comes with a lifetime warranty, and was made right here in the USA.

Purchase: $30

Nomad Rugged Battery Cable

Tested to withstand over 10,000 flexions, this hardcore travel cable from Nomad is the perfect companion for the iPhone user who likes to go on intense adventures. As well as featuring a ballistic nylon woven exterior, this cable also comes with a kevlar core, RF shield, and is equipped with a secondary battery that can give your phone a full charge even without access to a USB port.

Purchase: $40

Aer Duffel Pack

One of the greatest everyday carry backpacks ever created, Aer’s Duffel Pack features a durable and water-resistant 1680D ballistic nylon exterior, 24.6 liters of internal volume across a multitude of external and internal pockets and pouches (including a laptop pouch and a separate ventilated compartment for your stinky workout gear or shoes), and looks pretty snappy, all things said.

Purchase: $170

What Is Cordura?

Brand Name Material

Cordura is slightly more complicated than ballistic nylon, in that it is not just a specific type of fabric, but rather a brand name, as well. Originally created back in 1929 by DuPont (yes, the same company that originally created ballistic nylon), Cordura was actually a type of rayon – a cellulose-based textile – that was eventually used in the construction of military tires. However, in 1966, nylon fabrics were developed further and proved to be a superior material. Rather than ditching the Cordura name, however, DuPont instead applied it to a new line of nylon fabric that differed slightly from that of ballistic nylon.Unlike ballistic nylon, Cordura is composed of a series of textured fibers. Eventually, the Cordura sub-brand was sold to its current parent company, Invista – a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Nowadays, Cordura fabrics are found in everything from outdoor gear like camping tents and backpacks, to apparel, luggage, and more. And while its base is still a nylon weave, it’s not limited strictly to that textile. In fact, there are Cordura fabrics that incorporate denim, wool, canvas, and more. Still, for any of them to be considered Cordura, they still have to have the brand’s nylon base woven into them. As a side note: Cordura, the brand, actually does make a ballistic nylon weave – though it is built to the original military standards, unlike their more typical offerings.

The primary thing that makes Cordura stand apart from other types of nylon, especially standard ballistic, is the condition of the fabric on a nearly microscopic level. Unlike ballistic nylon, Cordura is composed of a series of textured fibers – mimicking those found in natural fabrics, like cotton. This slightly fuzzy texture is what gives it greater abrasion resistance, because the incongruous fibers reduce the friction caused by rubbing the fabric against another surface.

What About 'Denier?'

You may have seen terms like ‘1000D’ or ‘1000 denier’ applied to both ballistic and Cordura nylon. It’s a common misconception that this has something to do with the type of fabric when, in truth, ‘denier’ actually only refers to the thickness of a particular thread. The higher the number, the thicker the individual threads of a fabric are. So, higher denier count materials tend to be tougher and more rigid, whereas lower numbers are often softer and more pliable. This can most often be seen when comparing the outside of a backpack (usually a high denier) with the bag’s interior liner (often lower).

MIS Mesh Toiletry Bag

Made in a factory on machines that were once used to make gear for the military, this Cordura nylon toiletry travel bag features a water-resistant urethane coating, comes with a heavy-duty self-repairing YKK zipper, is ventilated for quick drying, and was made in the USA.

Purchase: $38

Aer Cable Kit

Everybody carries electronics around nowadays. And, often, that means we have to carry power and connector cables to keep everything in proper working order. Rather than stash it all haphazardly in your pack, organize it all nicely inside Aer’s Cable Kit. This modular pack is tough, durable, lightweight, and can keep everything in place on the go.

Purchase: $45

Mystery Ranch Urban Assault Backpack

Inspired by tactical style backpacks, but with a modern urban styling touch, this unique 3-zip pack offers a tremendous amount of durability, a quick-access format that makes getting to any necessary gear a snap, and – with 21 liters of volume – has plenty of room for you to stash all of your everyday carry gear, even if that means slipping a laptop computer into it.

Purchase: $139

Which Material Is Best?

A Matter Of Opinion & Use

These materials perform so well in both departments that the average user isn’t really going to notice a difference.Both ballistic nylon and Cordura fabrics are amazing materials and have their benefits and drawbacks, so it’s hard to say that there’s a clearcut winner – even when they are pitted against one another in similar circumstances. The truth is, it’s going to come down to your specific usage and personal predilection. Some people prefer ballistic nylon for its resistance to tearing, whereas others prefer Cordura’s abrasion resistance.

The truth is, however, that these materials are so similar and perform so well in both departments that the average user isn’t really going to notice a difference. Truly, you’d likely require lab testing to tell their performance apart. And that’s made even more confusing when you take into consideration that Cordura, the brand, also makes a ballistic weave. Still, even the slightest discrepancy is enough to make some folks pick one over the other, and that’s fine. Put your faith in whichever one you more greatly covet. Just know that, in the end, your choice is less about capability and more about personal preference.

Ultimate Guide To Mil-Spec Outdoor Gear

Both of these materials are seen extensively alongside the term ‘mil-spec.’ If you want to know what, exactly, that means, then check out our Ultimate Guide To Mil-Spec Outdoor Gear.