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Fabric Denier Explained

Fabric Denier Explained Video

So, what does this term “denier” mean when we’re talking about fabrics used in outdoor gear and clothing? In simple terms, denier is a unit of measurement that expresses fiber thickness of individual threads or filaments in fabric or textiles, but it’s also a little more specific than that. In this Expert Advice video, Backcountry Edge Gear Specialist Becky offers a closer look at fabric denier related to the construction of various pieces of outdoor clothing and equipment to explain why it matters.

Denier defined

A denier as a unit of measurement equals one gram of mass per 9,000 meters of length. Wait, what? In other words, if you were to gather up 9 kilometers (9,000 meters) in length of a given thread to weigh, that weight (in grams) would equal the denier of that thread. Denier is usually abbreviated with a lowercase letter “d,” so a fabric with a 50-denier thread will be listed as “50d” in a list of specifications about a piece of gear or clothing.

For reference, it’s helpful to know that denier is based on a natural source: a single strand of silk is approximately one denier; a 9,000-meter strand of silk weighs about one gram.

Fabric types

With the definition of denier in mind, it makes sense that fabrics with higher denier threads tend to be thick, sturdy and durable (for example, “ballistic” nylon can tip the scales at anywhere from 100d to 600d or more) and fabrics with lower denier measurements are going to be more sheer, soft and silky.

“Microfiber” fabrics must be made with thread that is less than one denier, which is extremely fine (remember again that a single strand of silk is about one denier).

Closeup of lightweight fabric
Low-denier fabrics, such as 10d to 20d, enable ultralight outerwear pieces to achieve their light weight.

Ultralight fabrics, which are often used in technically advanced down jackets, tents and even some shell jackets are usually made with 10d – 20d thread. (For reference, a strand of human hair is typically about 20d).

Standard weight fabrics are usually between 40d and 80d. These will comprise most standard outerwear pieces.

Super heavy duty fabrics might weigh in at 100d to 600d or more (as mentioned above), and those would be found in gear like backpacks and duffel bags, as they are more abrasion and tear-resistant.

Why does this even matter?

Consider your intended use for any gear or clothing item when thinking about the stated fabric denier. Lower denier fabric might be lightweight and great for technical outerwear pieces that aren’t going to be subjected to snags and scrapes but may not be ideal for high-abrasion activities like rock climbing or off-route backcountry trailblazing. Layering pieces that can be protected under a thicker shell or ultralight tents that aren’t likely to experience abrasion are the best examples of appropriate low denier fabric applications.