The Depot

What Is Ripstop Fabric & Why Is It Important For Tactical Gear?

Camo uniform with Ripstop Fabric

What is ripstop fabric?
If you’ve served for even a few days in the U.S. military, odds are you’ve heard the word “ripstop.” Ripstop is a type of fabric with multiple applications in the military; it is used on everything from uniforms to parachutes and hovercraft skirts. Some field gear also uses ripstop fabrics.

But what is ripstop fabric? Ripstop is actually a fabric stitching method and not really a fabric type. For example, ripstop can come in various nylon fabrics and natural fibers like cotton too. What makes it ripstop is the interwoven reinforced threads that are used in a grid-like pattern. The ripstop weave integrates coarse fibers into the fabric in a grid pattern that reinforces the fabric while keeping it lightweight.

The key to increased durability is that the fabrics use heavier reinforcement yarns that are interwoven at set intervals in a boxed pattern. The woven fabric uses a reinforced weave pattern designed for strength and sturdiness and it is stitched with such granularity that the fabric is less susceptible to tears and if it does tear, the rip does not spread, or at least spread of the tear is minimized. Hence the name, ripstop.

Who invented ripstop?
We’ve answered the question, what is ripstop fabric? But who invented it? That history is a little murky. It is common knowledge that in the early days of airborne operations, the U.S. Army explored the use of other fabrics to replace silk parachutes. Ripstop weaving was introduced in a research capacity during the 1940s because it increased fabric durability without sacrificing the porosity of the fabric.

However, in April of 1960, inventors Louis Weiner and Harold H. Brandt filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office titling their filing as “Parachute Fabric Containing Stretch and Non-Stretch Type Ripstops.” Since, the weaving technique has been used globally by many militaries and also has commercial applications. Many hot air balloons, recreational camping tents and clothing use the ripstop weave.

Image of the patent filed in April of 1960 inventors Louis Weiner and Harold H. Brandt

Ripstop in the U.S. Military
There isn’t a person who’s served in the U.S. military that hasn’t outwardly asked, what is ripstop fabric? In fact, most veterans have memories of asking someone in basic training, what is ripstop fabric? Or maybe they reported to their first assignment and they asked the supply sergeant, what is ripstop fabric? If they didn’t ask someone, they were certainly thinking, what is ripstop fabric?

Ripstop, sometimes mistakenly called “rip stock” by the uninitiated for some unknown reason, is in a lot of things that U.S. military personnel use. Ripstop can be used in ponchos and in combat unforms for almost all branches of service. It’s been used in parachutes, tentage, on ships and in various other manners.

What is ripstop fabric nylon?
Ripstop nylon is a non-natural material that is lightweight and uses the ripstop weave to strengthen the nylon fabric. Most popularly, it is used in many military and paramilitary uniform applications. The density of ripstop nylons allow it to be used in heavy, medium and light manners designed to be fire resistant, water resistant or waterproof.

Nylon was created in 1939 by Wallace H. Carothers after roughly ten years of development. It is known as the world’s first synthetic textile fiber.

What is ripstop fabric cotton?
During the Cold War, cotton ripstop fabric was highly sought after by U.S. military personnel serving in hot weather environments because of its breathability and lightweight feel. Not to mention, starched cotton uniforms looked really sharp for inspections.

However, cotton uniforms, made of natural fibers, were prone to shrinkage, fading and wrinkling compared to synthetic fabric uniforms. Nonetheless, for comfort while on duty they were the go-to uniform for military men and women working in the heat and although they might need frequent replacement or reissue, for many service personnel it was worth it.

What is ripstop fabric NyCo?
Imagine if you had the flexibility and strength of nylon with the comfort of cotton? Say hello to NyCo, a fabric that is 50 percent nylon and 50 percent cotton, hence the term “NyCo.” The blended fabric is slightly heavier than cotton, but it is resistant to the fading, shrinking and wrinkling known to cotton uniforms.

If you’re on a budget and looking to get some mileage out of your uniforms, NyCo is a good option because they will last longer. If you work in climates that are more moderate, the NyCo fabric might be a good pick since it is a bit heavier than natural cotton uniforms.

What is ripstop fabric polyester?
In 1926, Carothers started learning that mixing certain chemicals could create synthetic fibers. That work was halted for several years and in 1946, the American company DuPont purchased legal rights to chemical work that had been done in Europe. In 1950, the company produced the first polyester in the United States. Polyester is a synthetic fiber created by using air, petroleum, water and coal. It is formed by a chemical reaction.

Polyester uniforms are more durable and they are less likely to fade and shrink. Because they are synthetic fibers, they are cooler to wear because of their breathability. In addition, they dry quicker which is a great feature for someone like an infantryman who might get wet while on an operation. And because they are synthetic, they last longer and can be more comfortable to wear.

Remember, ripstop is a fabric strengthening weave sewn onto various materials like nylon, cotton, polyester and others to make them stronger. Given the robust nature of military service, it is no wonder why ripstop is a large part of the military culture.