Parachute Tarps: The Fuzzy History of Ripstop Nylon

Sometimes, knowing the history of a product helps us to utilize it to its fullest potential. As such, we tried to figure out the history of ripstop nylon as it relates to the parachute tarps we sell. Unfortunately, that history is somewhat fuzzy. What we do know tells us just what makes ripstop nylon such a great material for truck tarps.

For the record, ripstop fabric does not have to nylon. You can buy ripstop fabric as canvas, polyester, and even silk. Nylon is the preferred choice for ripstop fabric because of its unique properties relating to weatherproofing and weight. With all that said, let us talk a little bit about history.

Ripstop and WWII

As best as we can tell from our research, the idea behind ripstop fabric was first proposed during World War II. Those in charge of making combat uniforms and parachutes wanted a material that would be more resistant to rips and tears on the battlefield. They also wanted a material that was lighter.

A year before the start of the war, DuPont introduced a revolutionary synthetic thread it called nylon. This revolutionary thread turned out to be the first commercially successful synthetic thread despite its predecessor, rayon, having been pushed as a replacement for expensive silk.

DuPont’s original plan for nylon did not involve military applications. Instead, it was thought that nylon revolutionized the fashion industry. That didn’t stop the military from looking at it as an option for parachutes.

Parachutes but Not Uniforms

Nylon did end up taking off as material for parachutes during the war. Parachute designers came up with a new ripstop weave that became the precursor of modern ripstop, but nylon fabric would largely disappear from the fashion scene following World War II. It was never seriously considered as a material for uniforms.

At the same time, DuPont really wanted nylon thread to be its mainstay for women’s hosiery. That was their original plan for nylon. So they began pitching the thread, eventually deciding to license it to third-party producers in 1951. Although it enjoyed fairly good success in the hosiery market, nylon thread wasn’t seen as practical or attractive for the rest of the fashion industry.

Nylon’s use as an industrial material continued through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, until the outdoor industry brought it back to front and center as a material for all sorts of camping gear. By the late 1970s, nylon was everywhere.

Parachutes, hang glider wings, etc. were dominated by ripstop nylon. And by the 1980s, ripstop weaves had been perfected. The same weaves preventing rips and tears in parachutes were making tents, backpacks, lean-tos, and camping chairs lightweight and strong. It was only a matter of time before ripstop nylon became a favorite material for tarps.

Modern Ripstop Nylon

Fast-forward to 2019 and the modern ripstop nylon we use today is the best iteration of the product ever. Not only is ripstop nylon still the material of choice for parachutes, it is also used heavily throughout multiple industries, ranging from outdoor gear to logistics.

Ripstop nylon is changing the way we do things in the trucking industry as well. For the longest time, truck drivers have been looking for a tarp material that is lighter and easier to deploy under a variety of weather conditions. Ripstop nylon is that material. It is more durable than vinyl and significantly lighter than canvas. It offers the best of both worlds.

How fascinating that a thread originally intended for the fashion world evolved to become a fabric used in parachutes and truck tarps. And now you know.

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