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  1. #1
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    Which fabrics are more durable for rugged, rural, outdoor (aka dirty) lifestyle?

    I'm not very knowledgeable of TB fabrics and reading the materials glossary past the 4th paragraph makes me feel like I need a large shot of whiskey, so my terms won't be highly accurate but I can see a huge difference between my 4-year-old Bt Orange DLBP (still looks brand new even after massively heavy use) and my 1-year-old Olive TC (rather dirty and scuffed with light use).

    I know asking about durability is a loaded question because the term can be subjective. For example, some don't mind fabric that displays scuffs and dirt as long as it's bulletproof; some need a lighter duty bag but want it to repel dirt; and so on. But where I live and our lifestyle (pretty rugged outdoor work and adventures along with frequent town trips and occasional travel) demands both. However, I do take care of my bags so dirt repellent seems to be top of my list. A bit of rain/water protection would also be great, but we're accustomed to dealing with wet around here.

    Based on our lifestyle, for future TB purchases, new and used, any suggestions on which fabrics that I should be looking for?
    Last edited by Tonya; 10-20-2019 at 11:35 AM. Reason: fix typo

  2. #2
    TOM BIHN Crew (we work here) Darcy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tonya View Post
    I'm not very knowledgeable of TB fabrics and reading the materials glossary past the 4th paragraph makes me feel like I need a large shot of whiskey,
    Hehe! TOM BIHN Materials Glossary drinking game, anyone?

    Curious: with your TC, have you wiped it down with a wash cloth or soaked it in the sink with a little dish soap yet? Has that helped?

    Will be interested to hear of others experiences with each fabric!
    Current Carry: The Hero's Journey, Skookum Dog Citizen Canine, Founder's Briefcase, Synapse 19 (day hikes), Guide's Pack (longer day hikes), Yeoman Duffel (winter/emergency stuff for the car), Aeronaut 30 (travel), Night Flight Travel Duffel (camera bag), Moveable Feast + Shop Bags (food)

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darcy View Post
    Hehe! TOM BIHN Materials Glossary drinking game, anyone?

    Curious: with your TC, have you wiped it down with a wash cloth or soaked it in the sink with a little dish soap yet? Has that helped?

    Will be interested to hear of others experiences with each fabric!


    I just poured myself a new cup of hot chocolate and have been to the Materials page, many, many times, in the many years I have been a Tom Bihn Inc customer.

    Let the drinking game begin.

    1050 Ballistic is the strongest fabric, but it is many used in luggage type bags.
    Yeoman Duffelfs are, for me, staples of holding/carrying lots of stuff for example during a move. It is also the one luggage/fabric combo that I don't mind checking if necessary.


    525 Ballistic. Even though the yarns are one half the size (525 denier as opposed to 1050 denier), they are packed more closely together. As a result, the 525 fabric weighs about 70% of the weight of the 1050 fabric, not 50% as one might assume. Smaller yarns = tighter weave. This is what the Material page says.

    I use it in totes and other lightweight EDC's, the attraction is the beauty of the fabric, it is even smoother than 1050 and very lightweight. The Crew has decided to use it in big/luggage bags, because it shows that it is as tough as 1050 Ballistic.

    Another really strong fabric is Parapack, it is very soft and strong, but it only comes in Steel and Navy.


    I think that the best, most versatile and rugged backpack is the Brain Bag. It can be stuffed full with 2 full size laptops or books for a whole semesters, or clothes, accessories and tablet/e-reader for a week or two, it was my domestic (inside the U.S) travel bag for 6 years, it can accommodate many hobbies like photography, quilting...

    Or, you can cinch the side straps and make it really small for a day out, or daily activities.


    If you want a duffel, the Yeoman is the best and you can choose the capacity you need.
    Last edited by backpack; 10-20-2019 at 09:43 PM.

  4. #4
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    @tonya: I would agree with you. I got a new SideKick in the 525 Ballistic; and with some use it is showing far more scuffs, and looking a bit beat down already (2 years). I have not had that happen with the older ballistic or cordura nylon small cafe bag for instance. There was no Side Kick then! I have also noticed some whitening, or internal wear/tear in the Side Kick (I think it is the newer halycon) that would have been unheard of before. I do think that while the newer fabrics make it more lightweight, daily use does tend to show up differently. And i do not rough use my bags; just use them. And do take care of them.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darcy View Post
    Curious: with your TC, have you wiped it down with a wash cloth or soaked it in the sink with a little dish soap yet? Has that helped?
    Nah because it's really not enough of an issue to bother me. If it continues to get worse, I might do that at some point. I wonder if it could be the Olive color? I'm curious to see if my S22 in Nebulous (I think that's the same fabric???) does the same thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    @tonya: I would agree with you. I got a new SideKick in the 525 Ballistic; and with some use it is showing far more scuffs, and looking a bit beat down already (2 years). I have not had that happen with the older ballistic or cordura nylon small cafe bag for instance. There was no Side Kick then! I have also noticed some whitening, or internal wear/tear in the Side Kick (I think it is the newer halycon) that would have been unheard of before. I do think that while the newer fabrics make it more lightweight, daily use does tend to show up differently. And i do not rough use my bags; just use them. And do take care of them.
    Based on what @backpack so kindly summarized above, it seems that the tighter weave of the 525 produces a fabric that is a bit more slippery and has a slight sheen, especially when compared to my old Bt Orange DLBP. I wondered if it's the surface texture/sheen that allows scuffs and dirt to show more easily? Sort of how glossy paint will highlight every flaw in a wall surface. I'm curious to see how my S22 in Nebulous holds up over the next year or so.

  6. #6
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    I’m big on colors so I select the desired color most times and cross my fingers it’s the material I want. Most times, I end ip with ballistic 525.

    Do halcyon fabrics come in more colors? I’d love to see more options.
    Bags - S25 (Mars Red balistic/Northwest sky/halcyon), S19 (Deep blue balistic/Iberian/halcyon). S22 (Aubergine)SCB (Nordic)
    Accessories - including Nik's #4 wallets, ghost whales, Q-kits, pouches, stuff sacks, travel trays.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by KathyH View Post
    I’m big on colors so I select the desired color most times and cross my fingers it’s the material I want. Most times, I end ip with ballistic 525.
    Yes yes! In regards to fabric, I choose a TB bag solely based on color so when folks start posting about ballistic, it sometimes takes me a moment to realize they're not talking about missiles.

  8. #8
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    If you're wondering about durability for a rugged, rural, dirty, outdoor lifestyle, consider this ...

    Mystery Ranch, Hill People Gear, and other companies make backpacks for backcountry hunters -- people who do multi-day hikes in search of big game, which they dress in the field and carry out on their backs. Those companies typically use 500D Cordura for their packs. Their customers demand durability, and they deliver it. You're not likely to get more demanding uses unless you're making packs for the military or firefighting crews, and Mystery Ranch uses a mix of 500D and 1000D Cordura for those.
    Last edited by Buffalonian; 10-24-2019 at 08:29 AM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffalonian View Post
    Those companies typically use 500D Cordura for their packs.
    So it sounds like what you are saying is that my Olive 500D TC is about as durable as it gets for everyday use, so I should just ignore the dirt and stains? I just wish it was prettier for those occasional town trips, but as long as it holds up for the long haul, I'm okay with the well-loved look. Thanks for the input!

  10. #10
    Forum Member haraya's Avatar
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    I haven't sat down and formally compared, but I *have* handed my 11yo a couple of TB bags for regular use the last 2-3 years. His red (I can't recall if it's Cardinal or Crimson) Smart Alec - 1050 ballistic with black cordura sides, bought off eBay) was used as his baseball bag for a couple of years and then became his daily school bag last year. It was dragged on rough concrete, dropped in the mud, rained on, and generally used hard. It gets dusty but a quick soak and rinse brings it back to life.

    Same thing with his Indigo Cordura S19. It supplanted the Smart Alec this school year as the SA was too big for what he carries (they have lockers this year, so a lighter load to and from school). I bought it from someone else who also (I think) got it as a rehome, so we are at least the second if not third owners. Marks and stains mostly just rinse off. There are a couple which I think came with the bag when we got it; since they are dark they just blend in with the surface. I would say with both the SA and the S19 they are - if not quite "like new", they are in very, very excellent condition, just more 'mellow' than a brand-spankin' new bag.

    My Alphaviolet Luminary is 525 ballistic. It's been mostly used for sightseeing but has been on a hike or two where it got rained on and was set on muddy ground. It has a few marks on it - not damage - which are still there after a couple of light washes. Not sure what they are - I don't baby my bags but I also don't treat them as roughly as my son treats his bags. Perhaps some grease or asphalt marks from dropping it on the floor of my car. I have scrubbed the marks with mild soap and a toothbrush and they have gotten fainter but are still there.

    So anecdotally I would say the 525 (at least in the Alphaviolet) seems to show marks slightly faster than the 1050 or Cordura. No structural issues with any of them - all the zippers, straps etc. have held up very very well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Buffalonian View Post
    If you're wondering about durability for a rugged, rural, dirty, outdoor lifestyle, consider this ...

    Mystery Ranch, Hill People Gear, and other companies make backpacks for backcountry hunters -- people who do multi-day hikes in search of big game, which they dress in the field and carry out on their backs. Those companies typically use 500D Cordura for their packs. Their customers demand durability, and they deliver it. You're not likely to get more demanding uses unless you're making packs for the military or firefighting crews, and Mystery Ranch uses a mix of 500D and 1000D Cordura for those.
    Last edited by haraya; 10-27-2019 at 03:13 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    I haven't sat down and formally compared, but I *have* handed my 11yo a couple of TB bags for regular use the last 2-3 years. His red (I can't recall if it's Cardinal or Crimson) Smart Alec - 1050 ballistic with black cordura sides, bought off eBay) was used as his baseball bag for a couple of years and then became his daily school bag last year. It was dragged on rough concrete, dropped in the mud, rained on, and generally used hard. It gets dusty but a quick soak and rinse brings it back to life.

    Same thing with his Indigo Cordura S19. It supplanted the Smart Alec this school year as the SA was too big for what he carries (they have lockers this year, so a lighter load to and from school). I bought it from someone else who also (I think) got it as a rehome, so we are at least the second if not third owners. Marks and stains mostly just rinse off. There are a couple which I think came with the bag when we got it; since they are dark they just blend in with the surface. I would say with both the SA and the S19 they are - if not quite "like new", they are in very, very excellent condition, just more 'mellow' than a brand-spankin' new bag.

    My Alphaviolet Luminary is 525 ballistic. It's been mostly used for sightseeing but has been on a hike or two where it got rained on and was set on muddy ground. It has a few marks on it - not damage - which are still there after a couple of light washes. Not sure what they are - I don't baby my bags but I also don't treat them as roughly as my son treats his bags. Perhaps some grease or asphalt marks from dropping it on the floor of my car. I have scrubbed the marks with mild soap and a toothbrush and they have gotten fainter but are still there.

    So anecdotally I would say the 525 (at least in the Alphaviolet) seems to show marks slightly faster than the 1050 or Cordura. No structural issues with any of them - all the zippers, straps etc. have held up very very well.
    I agree totally about 525 and to an ever bigger degree, 210. My Dawn Travel Cubelet and Dawn Truck, as well as my Viridian Shop Bag and Deep Blue Pop Tote, all have mysterious marks despite a fairly gentle life. I swear even rain leaves marks on my Dawn TC and I can really notice it.

  12. #12
    Forum Member GrussGott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    So anecdotally I would say the 525 (at least in the Alphaviolet) seems to show marks slightly faster than the 1050 or Cordura. No structural issues with any of them - all the zippers, straps etc. have held up very very well.
    Agreed - if I had to gate check a 525 or a 400 Halcyon I'd immediately try to get comfortable that it'll never look the same and I'd be worried for the bag.

    If I had to gate check a 1050, I'd be worried about other people's bags.

    Long live the 1050!

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrussGott View Post
    Agreed - if I had to gate check a 525 or a 400 Halcyon I'd immediately try to get comfortable that it'll never look the same and I'd be worried for the bag.

    If I had to gate check a 1050, I'd be worried about other people's bags.

    Long live the 1050!
    haha this is awesome! And yep, I don't like worrying about my bags. The purpose of the bag is to protect what's inside; having to watch over the bag sort of defeats the purpose. I wouldn't say I worry about the marks and staining because we get dirty around here so often that I've gotten rather immune to it, but I would like for it to have stayed fresh looking for longer than a year, especially since my TC has mainly been carried inside a TB pack as an organizer or slip-out purse. My experience with TB bags says they should stay prettier for longer.

    Based on what everyone has said so far (thanks @Christina @haraya @Shiva !) it sounds as if the 525's surface wear might be rather common. I hope TB keeps the 1050 in high production even in the EDCs so I can look for that material in the future.

  14. #14
    Forum Member haraya's Avatar
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    Aww, now I feel bad for throwing shade on my beloved Alphaviolet! Which fabrics are more durable for rugged, rural, outdoor (aka dirty) lifestyle? To be clear - all of my TB bags hold up much better than my non-TB packs and duffles. I don’t tend to think of these marks as “wear” - it’s really hard to spot anything even at arm’s length, it’s only up close and with a lot of tilting the fabric back and forth that I can see these.

    Here are three (four) different fabrics: Alpha 525, Grass 210, and a Smart Alec with red (Cardinal?) ballistic, and black Cordura sides. Photographed from about a foot away I don't find any marks to be glaringly obvious.



    I just wanted to say explicitly for casual readers that the fabric has not changed, it isn’t scratched or weakened or fuzzy at all. All of them are quite tough, no cracks or creases, no change in the weather resistance. So it's an aesthetic choice rather than a functionality choice.

    Comparison with a non-TB bag: Both have had about the same amount of wear here (were each used for about two years as my son's school pack). The red/black Smart Alec also did double duty as my son's baseball bag - think, being dragged along rough benches, hung on fences with a full load, lots of dirt and carrying a batting helmet and bat. The blue one (other brand) is definitely more worn - grey dirt marks, padding on straps is now thinner/more compressed, feels more wrinkled, mesh is ripped. Both are well-constructed and durable (no ripping along seams, no tears in the main fabric, no abrasions) but the TB bag just looks better at this point.

    (The light blue will show more dirt than the red, but I feel like TB ballistic just repels dirt better in any colorway.)






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    Last edited by haraya; 10-29-2019 at 08:44 AM.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    Aww, now I feel bad for throwing shade on my beloved Alphaviolet! Which fabrics are more durable for rugged, rural, outdoor (aka dirty) lifestyle? To be clear - all of my TB bags hold up much better than my non-TB packs and duffles. I don’t tend to think of these marks as “wear” - it’s really hard to spot anything even at arm’s length, it’s only up close and with a lot of tilting the fabric back and forth that I can see these.
    Absolutely! That's why I tried to keep this post and comments only about surface marks & dirt, not about rips, tears, piling, fabric failure, etc because that's not an issue that I've ever run across in ANY of my TB bags. I don't think this post is negative one bit, at least I hope not! I agree with you that TB products are among the most hard-working bags on the market, and I'm a huge fan because of that. (And the fact that they keep things here in the U.S. I try to support my country's economy and workers.)

    I only asked about the various fabrics because we live a lifestyle that is much more rural and rugged than most, so I need a boost of durability and dirt repellant that would be overkill for most EDC bags. Btw your bags are lovely! I love them ALL!

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