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Ripstop fabric, sometimes called a sports fabric, is a woven, lightweight, nylon-threaded material that resists tearing and ripping. It can be water resistant and is commonly used for camping equipment such as tents and the outer shells of sleeping bags. This material is also used to make hang glider and parasail wings, parachutes, hot air balloons, sails, kites, flags, and sports clothes. The tough beating the fabric can take makes it ideal for any application that requires material that won't fail under stress.
While many people assume ripstop fabric is made of nylon, this is only partially true. It's made by weaving nylon threads throughout a base material in interlocking patterns. Many base materials can be used to make it, including cotton, silk, polyester, or polypropylene, with the nylon content limited to the crosshatched threads that make the material tear-resistant. Nylon material itself does not stop rips unless it is reinforced with crosshatched threading.
Ripstop fabric is easy to identify because of the obvious interlocking nylon threaded patterns in the material. For example, a plastic tarp made of this material has a slightly raised box pattern throughout, while others have a diamond pattern. People can look closely at any tent bag, car or motorcycle cover, umbrella, diaper bag or shopping bag, and see the telltale pattern.
The versatility and toughness of the fabric allow it to be used widely outside the private sector as well. Ripstop fabric made from fireproof Nomex® is used for firefighters, while the military uses the fabric for camouflage clothing, packs, gear bags, canvas equipment covers, and much more.
Anyone who has ever tried to tear ripstop fabric knows that it's impossible to get anywhere. The interlocking thread patterns stop any tear from spreading, yet for all of its durability, the material can be thin enough to see through. Breathable versions are ideal for clothing and can be found in running shorts, tank tops, and jerseys. Sports uniforms are also often made of this fabric.