To some, we might have started out our series on fabrics that are used in jackets and outdoor gear a bit upside down, as we first went through fabric technologies and compared several of the most popular ones to each other, and only recently turned to actual fabrics that make up jackets, outdoor gear and the fabric technologies used for them.
Not to worry, however, as we will cover all the bases, so that by the end of the fabric series those who are interested in learning more about the “hows” and “whys” of the different materials used in jackets and outdoor gear, can find that information on our site.
So far we have looked at Polyester and Elastane as two common materials that can be found in outdoor products, and it’s finally time to look at Nylon, which, along with Polyester, are the two staple fabrics used in jackets and many other outdoor gear and clothing.
Similarly to what we did for Elastane and Polyester, in this article we will be learning more about Nylon, how it came to be and the reasons why it is so widely used.
- 1. A Short History of Nylon
- 2. How is Nylon Made?
- 3. Characteristics of Nylon Fabric: Why Is It Used?
- 4. Why is Nylon Used in Jackets?
- 5. How is Nylon Used in Jackets?
- 6. Why and How Is It Used in Other Outdoor Gear?
- 7. Downsides of Using Nylon Fabrics
- 8. Frequently Asked Questions
- 9. Conclusion
1. A Short History of Nylon
Both Nylon and Polyester were created by the same company, DuPont. Nylon was the first of the two, first introduced in the 1930s, when scientists at DuPont were looking to create a fiber that resembled silk.
Nylon’s first major public debut was in nylon stockings, and then later in the 1940s the material was mainly used for military purposes, as part of tents and parachutes.
Because the nylon garments that were originally created had issues with ‘runs’, stiffness, being non-absorbing and weren’t too comfortable, the blend with other fibers happened.
Cotton and Polyester were the first and then, to reduce the stiffness of nylon and to make it more comfortable during movement, Elastane was combined with the fibers to improve it on those regards.
Nowadays nylon fibers (but not only!) can be found on all different types of clothes and garments, from socks and underwear, to shirts, jackets, parkas and many other outdoor and indoor products made out of fabric.
Related: Nylon vs Polyester – Differences and Comparison
2. How is Nylon Made?
Being a man-made product, nylon goes through a chemical reaction between two large molecules, which are the dicarboxylic acid and the diamine, resulting in a polymer.
While nylon is made into fibers by melting and spinning nylon chips by machines that pass the melted product through tiny holes placed on a wheel, those same chips also serve as raw material for plastic products.
It’s this versatility that makes nylon so widely used in our daily lives.
The nylon fabric itself is made by weaving nylon fibers together. These fibers can be in different lengths and sizes, depending on the spinning process they went through, and due to this it can result in fabrics of different weights and strengths, which is usually measured in deniers.
3. Characteristics of Nylon Fabric: Why Is It Used?
While Nylon as a material is very versatile and finds use in many different industries, the fabric itself exhibits certain characteristics and qualities that make it so widely popular.
First and foremost, nylon is considerably strong and durable as a fabric, making it more resistant to wear, meaning that it will last for a good amount of time. Due to it also being a bit flexible as a material, it further helps the fabric to return to its original shape without much loss to the look and feel of the garment.
Being a very lightweight material means that the resulting fabric will also be so, making it desirable for use in many different clothes.
Resistance to abrasion is important in fabrics that are made to be durable, especially those intended for outdoor wear, and nylon is quite abrasion-resistant.
Also, nylon is considerably resistant to heat and temperature, having a melting point of around 500°F (260°C), which is a temperature that it won’t happen to come across during casual regular wear.
In regards to weather-resistance, nylon is not very insulating, which works well for clothing that is more suited to milder and dry weather.
It is also highly water-resistant, exhibiting very low adsorption. This comes in handy when you are looking to create garments that will not cause you to get soaked at the slightest contact with rain. It’s for this reason that you can find it in umbrellas, for example.
Also, because of its moisture-resisting abilities and its synthetic composition, nylon is not prone to mold or mildew.
Another very important quality is its oleophobic nature, meaning that it does not mind oil stains or body odor.
Lastly, nylon is considerably resistant to common chemicals and substances that we use on our daily lives. However, in the presence of acids, phenols and other harsher chemicals it will dissolve.
4. Why is Nylon Used in Jackets?
The characteristics above already give a good indication as to why Nylon is so widely used in jackets.
Starting from the top, being mildly flexible, while at the same time very durable to wear and resistant to abrasions means that jackets made of nylon do not really mind contact with the outdoors. This allows for longer longevity of your jacket, as well as it makes it less prone to lose its appearance in its first season.
Next, being good at resisting water is another necessary quality in jackets, as you often happen to get caught in unstable weather, where things might change in an instant.
Being less insulating than Polyester, for example, it is more suitable to wear in warmer temperatures when you need proper coverage but not a stuffy jacket.
Last, but definitely not least, its oleophobic nature makes it very easy to care for as it does not really tend to hold on to stains that are oil-based, and also, considering that our body odor is accompanied by our natural skin oils, unlike polyester which holds onto this odor, Nylon does not.
All of that makes this fabric simple to clean and maintain.
5. How is Nylon Used in Jackets?
Typically, jackets that are made of nylon are windbreakers or rain jackets, which more often than not are also treated with DWR (water repellent) products, in order to help the fabric withstand moisture much better.
Jackets that rely on fabric insulation tend to not be made of nylon, as it is a bad insulator overall and, should it get wet, it stays so for a considerable amount of time, requiring more body heat to dry out. It’s for this reason that nylon is not really suited for jackets that are worn in low temperatures and high risk of rain.
However, you will come across heavily-insulated jackets, such as down ones, made of nylon. In those cases, the inner lining is usually polyester, which works well for insulating, and the jacket relies on retaining warmth on its filling, rather than the fabric.
In the case of windbreakers and rain jackets, nylon works perfectly as it is a sturdy fabric that reacts very well to DWR treatments, being quite long-lasting in its water-resistant ability.
6. Why and How Is It Used in Other Outdoor Gear (backpacks, pants, sleeping bags, tents)?
Now that you know more about nylon’s characteristics and how it is used in jackets, you might have a better idea of how it performs in other outdoor gear as well.
Regarding backpacks, nylon’s durability and reduced water adsorption makes it an ideal material for long-lasting and weather-resistant packs.
Many major brands rely on nylon for their high-performance designs as it can be weaved in different thicknesses and provides a variety of durability levels.
Seeing how nylon is not prone to oil-based stains, this is another characteristic that makes nylon a preferred fabric for backpacks as it helps them withstand stains better, thus requiring less washing.
Washing a backpack less frequently is a good thing because it makes them last longer and does not risk damaging, shrinking or melting parts of it due to inadequate temperatures or using harsh detergents.
In the case of pants, much like jackets, they are able to withstand the elements better, as well as stains and odors. Nylon pants are also suitable for milder temperatures, when insulation is not of the highest priority.
Sleeping bags and tents share the same features as backpacks in this regard, and they usually come with a coating that helps them withstand not only the elements but also last longer.
Ripstop nylon is the one most commonly used in high quality products, as it does not tear easily, nor does it rip through in case of tearing. Rather, rip stop nylon helps contain the tear in the place it happens, which means a better performing sleeping bag or tent and a longer lasting one.
7. Downsides of Using Nylon Fabrics
As with all man-made products, nylon does cause environmental impact. This is cause for concern for some, and sometimes brands look into recycling in order to minimize this impact.
In regards to its wear and overall behavior outdoors, while it is resistant to moisture, which in turn makes it quite resistant to mold and mildew, nylon tends to suffer under sunlight. This is most commonly observed in white nylon fabric, which gets a yellowish tint over time.
The most major risk is that, should it catch fire, it will melt. For this reason it is also recommended to stay away from high temperatures and to avoid ironing the fabric. Besides, as a fabric, nylon is naturally resistant to wrinkles, thus making the issue of ironing entirely unnecessary.
8. Frequently Asked Questions
Where does Nylon come from?
Nylon is a synthetic fabric that results from a series of chemical reactions and physical processing, which firstly create a polymer and then spin it through spinnerets that produce fibers of different lengths and thicknesses.
Is Nylon Polyamide?
In short, yes. As a material, Nylon is part of the Polyamides group. However, polyamides are a chemical macromolecule, which consist of several units linked by amide bonds that repeat throughout the structure. They are used in the process of making nylon, which is in itself a thermoplastic polymer.
Is Nylon a fabric?
Nylon can be made into fabric through the process of weaving nylon fibers together or in combination with other fibers, such as polyester or elastane.
It is a fabric, yes, but it is a highly versatile material that can be made into a number of different variations for numerous purposes.
Is Nylon man-made or natural?
As we mentioned in the first question and in the beginning of today’s piece, nylon is a synthetic material, which means that it does not occur naturally in nature or through the processing of natural materials.
It requires a chemical process to create the original polymer that will get processed further, for that reason it is a man-made material.
Is Polyamide the same as Nylon?
No. While nylon is part of the family of polyamides, not all polyamides are nylon.
Polyamides can be synthetic, which go on to be processed into nylon, but they can also occur naturally and do not or cannot be chemically processed or produced. Natural polyamide materials are silk and wool, for example.
Is Nylon strong?
Nylon is quite strong, in fact it is one of the strongest fibers used in fabrics and it can withstand pressure or any other handling to a greater extent than polyester. However, it is more prone to pilling, which is something to look out for.
As a fiber, depending on whether it is woven, knitted or spun, it will greatly affect the strength of the finished product.
Nylon is often used with other lesser durable fibers in order to increase their ability to retain the shape after wearing or being stretched.
Is Nylon stretchy?
As mentioned previously, the way nylon is processed into a fabric will affect its strength, but it will also affect its stretch.
In itself, nylon is not stretchy. However, in knitted garments it becomes considerably stretchy, which is due to the knitting and not the fibers themselves. Woven or tightly spun nylon, on the other hand, is quite stretch-resistant and far more durable.
Is Nylon a good insulator?
Nylon is not an insulating fabric, which is why it is reserved as part of the jacket’s shell material or the outermost part of other outdoor gear. It protects against rain and wind, but it cannot really retain much warmth.
What does Polyamide fabric feel like?
Polyamide fabric, or nylon, feels differently depending on its weaving or knitting and how it is processed. It can feel smooth and silk-like in some cases, whereas in others it is stiff and rough, such as in backpacks.
Being highly versatile, you will come across soft and flowy nylon dresses, as well as pulled tough and strong umbrella fabric.
Is Polyamide Nylon water resistant / waterproof?
As a fabric, nylon absorbs barely any water, which is why it is so widely used in weather-resistant jackets, such as rain ones, or in other outdoor gears, like tents or backpacks.
While it can withstand water to a basic level, it often requires some additional help to become truly water-resistant. These include either a coating or tight weaving.
Does Nylon keep you warm?
Being a poor insulator means that you are not adequately protected against the cold when relying on nylon to keep you warm. It does not really retain much warmth, which is why you should look into other materials and fabrics for that purpose.
What products are made from Nylon?
Nylon is highly versatile, meaning that it is not solely used as a fabric for jackets, outdoor gear or other clothing.
Because it is a thermoplastic, a variety of plastic products are made of nylon, namely machine parts, bolts, screws, or used in rotating mechanisms or other appliances due to its high resistance against abrasion.
Other products include kitchen cookware, especially those made for delicate and non-stick surfaces that require plastic spatulas, brushes or tongs to prevent damage.
Is Nylon comfortable?
This depends on the weave of the fabric. If it is made to fit smoothly and allows some stretch, nylon can be quite comfortable as a material, despite not being highly breathable.
Is Nylon good for winter?
This also depends. If it’s as a jacket shell or outer material of other gears, nylon is a good material to help with weather protection and durability of the garment. If it’s insulation you are looking for, it performs quite poorly in that regard.
How to get wrinkles out of a Nylon jacket?
To get wrinkles out of a nylon jacket, it is best to first wash it according to the care label and hanging it right after it has been taken out of the dryer. This will help reduce wrinkles that are already on the fabric and prevent new ones.
For wrinkles that persist, ironing the jacket in the lowest heat setting will help remove most, if not all, of the remaining wrinkles. Using low heat is a must as nylon is a thermoplastic that will melt under high temperatures.
How to identify Nylon fabric?
Usually, the label will show the materials that make up a particular garment or gear, but there are instances when this is not possible.
Looks alone cannot really help as nylon can look similar to polyester or other materials. Touching it can be a better indicator, as nylon feels smooth and silky and almost “oily”, meaning that fingers slide easily on the surface.
A nylon garment will also tend to have better stretch than polyester, for example.
If you must make sure, then using physical or chemical tests such as drying time, oil staining, burning of the fibers and so on can help.
As you saw, Nylon is one of the best materials to have ever been created by man, with a very versatile nature that finds use not solely in the textile industry but all of the others who utilize plastic.
As a fabric, it has qualities that make it quite useful for light garments, as well as jackets and outdoor gear, such as tents or umbrellas.
It’s no wonder it is so commonly used by the outdoor clothing companies as a staple in their product making.