Monday, July 21, 2014

DIY Stove Hanging Kit For A Remote Canister Stove

Hanging a stove is a practice with which I imagine not many people are familiar. It is common with climbers, but hasn’t seen much use in the general outdoor community. The concept is to use a device to hang the pot and stove above the ground while you are cooking with it. Why? Well, there are several reasons you may want to or have to do that. If you find yourself on terrain where there simply is no space to set up a stove on the ground, you may have to hang it. Alternatively, if you are trapped by a storm inside your tent, you may have to use a stove hanging kit so you can use the stove inside the tent.

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Above picture is from Markhor Climbing.

These days stove hanging is done primarily with integrated stove/pot systems like Jetboil or the MSR Reactor. The companies even make their own stove hanging kits. In the past though, just about any stove has been modified for hanging.

Well, as you know lately I have been using a Kovea Spider remote canister stove. I’ve also been testing out the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent, which unlike my GoLite Shangri-La 3, does not have an open floor. That makes using the stove inside the tent difficult. One of the solutions has been to suspend the stove within the tent. To that end, I tired to make a hanging kit for it.

Why not just get a Jetboil stove? Well, upright canister stoves like Jetboil have serious limitations in the cold. I would much rather stick with a remote cansiter stove that allows for inverted canister use. That way I can run the stove in liquid fuel mode at much lower temperatures than I could with a standard Jetboil or a MSR Reactor stove. 

My initial attempt was to use an existing stove hanging kit produced by Jetboil. It’s a very nice design, and I figured it would make my job easier. Here is the result:

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Now, those of you who are familiar with the Jetboil hanging kits know there is more to it than that. One step at a time.

The Jetboil hanging kit consists of a folding triangle with wires that connect at a central hook above the stove. The triangle is designed to grab and hold the base of the Jetboil stove. What I’ve done is to thread it under the legs of the Kovea Spider, which worked out very well and made for a stable fit.

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That was the easy part. With an integrated stove/pot system like the Jetboil, that is all you need because the fuel is attached to the stove. With a remote canister stove like the Kovea Spider however, the fuel canister is left hanging by the fuel hose. In all honesty, that is not a huge problem. If I am in my tiny tent cooking with a suspended stove, I can easily keep the canister on my lap, but I wanted to make a complete system. So, the next part of the project was to find a way to easily connect the fuel canister to the body of the stove.

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First, I took a regular paperclip, straightened it out, and folded it into a triangle. One end of the paperclip I bent into a hook, so that the other end can catch under it. I played around with it until the triangle was tight enough so that it can securely catch under the lip around the opening of the canister.

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I then made some hooks from another paperclip and attached them to this triangle with short pieces of wire. The hooks connect to the legs of the stove.

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And that’s all there is to it… sort of. Happy with the result, I put a pot of water on the stove, and lit it up. By the time I pulled back to take a picture, this was the result:

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Apparently the Jetboil Hanging kit is not made from metal. I thought it was aluminum, but it’s not. Within seconds of making contact with the flame, it melted. Not good, and back to the drawing board.

The solution, and a lazy one at that, was to remove the wires from the kit and slide them directly onto the legs of the stove. You lose a bit of clearance by doing that, but it works fine none the less. Oh, yeah, and it works when lit.

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The only minor difficulty was that the loops in the wire from the Jetboil hanging kit that were attached to the triangle were a bit too small to slide onto the legs. However I noticed that the loops which attached to the central hook were larger. The solution was to just turn the cables around and slide the small loops onto the central hook and then use the larger ones on the stove legs.

All of the components of the final stove hanging kit weigh 0.6oz. I’m sure there are better and more creative ways to do all this, but this is what I came up with. I prefer to keep the canister upright when hanging a stove in a tent and I find that the heat of the stove inside the tent keeps the canister warm enough to operate, but if you want it inverted, you can certainly modify the above design so that the hooks catch the canister’s lower lip when inverted. Here is a much more polished design by David Kreindler that he calls Cryophilio. He actually designed his own legs to they can grip the canister without added parts (beyond my skill level).

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It makes my design look rather pathetic, but I hope it gives you some ideas.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ferro Rod vs. BIC Lighter

The other day I read an article by Alan Halcon from Dirttime titles Ferro Rod vs. BIC Lighter. I thought it made some excellent points, and provided actual data on what many of us have suspected for a while. I encourage you to read the article in full here.

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The article goes through and largely debunks many of the reasons provided in favor of the ferro rod being the superior emergency fire starting tool, whether the emergency be short or long term. Alan goes through several of the reasons and demonstrates his research. Here I want to touch on some of the reasons and offer my input on the subject as well.

I prefer the BIC lighter as a fire starting tool in emergencies. This goes both for short term emergencies such as pulling yourself out from a freezing river in the middle of winter and having to immediately start a fire, as well as long term emergencies such as being stranded in the woods for a prolonged period of time with minimal tools. That is why I have not carried a ferro rod for many years. My primary fire starter is a BIC lighter. My back up fire starter is a set of waterproof matches and a second BIC lighter.

My choices go against common survival wisdom these days. For many the ferro rod is the superior fire starting tool. I will attempt to go through some of the reason usually given in support of the ferro rod over the lighter that Alan provided, and give you my thoughts on them, in part relying on my own experiences and in part using Alan’s research.

  • A ferro rod will not run out of fuel like a lighter will. You can start thousands of fires with a ferro rod, while your lighter will quickly run out of fuel.

At first look that seems like a reasonable assertion. A lighter will indeed run out of fuel. The reality however is that so will the ferro rod. A ferro rod works by the removal of small pieces of the rod by a sharp object. Those pieces oxidize and produce the sparks. Each time you strike it, you remove part of the rod. Even so though, it does seem like the ferro rod will last a lot longer.

Well, Alan actually did the math. According to his research, a full size BIC lighter will create approximately 3000 flames. Of course, here we are counting only short flame bursts. That being said, when we are talking about ferro rods and the number of fires they can start, we are counting one fire per strike/spark, so the comparison seems more than fair.

So, a BIC lighter will start 3000 fires (under ideal conditions). A standard size ferro rod on the other hand is rated to spark or start 15000 fires (under ideal conditions). Clearly the ferro rod will start more fires than the lighter under ideal conditions, assuming that each spark results in a fire and that each time the lighter makes a flame, it results in a fire.

There is an additional consideration however. A BIC lighter weighs about 1oz according to my measurements. A standard ferro rod on the other hand weighs 3.7oz. Now, at this point Alan’s math confuses me, so I did my own. For the weight of a 3.7oz ferro rod, you can bring about 3 lighters. Even being conservative, with 3000 per lighter, times 3 lighters, we get about 9000 fires. So, for the same weight, you can either start 15000 fires using a ferro rod, or 9000 fires using the equivalent weight of BIC lighters. I bet that is much closer than you thought. This of course assumes that you are using only natural tinder with your ferro rod. If you carry tinder so you can quickly start fires with the ferro rod, then the numbers very quickly move in favor of the lighter.

Now let’s move away from the numbers and look at it practically. Even assuming you only have one lighter, how long will it take you to use up the 3000 fires it provides? Considering there are 365 days in a year, and assuming you start a new fire each day, that would give you approximately eight (8) years and two (2) months worth of fires. I would venture a guess that if you have not found your way out of the woods by then, you have much bigger problems than the lack of fire starting equipment. Three or four lighters can probably last you the rest of your lifetime.

Let’s get even more practical. We all know that you can’t always start a fire the moment the lighter makes a flame, nor can you always start a fire with a single spark from the ferro rod. I propose to you that it is easier to start a fire with the flame of a lighter than the spark of a ferro rod. That would mean that you will use up those 15000 strikes from the ferro rod faster than you would use up the 9000 flames from the lighter to make your fires. If it takes you two scrapes of the ferro rod to start a fire, then you will get 7500 fires, less than the 9000 fires the equivalent weight of lighters would provide. Food for thought.

  • A ferro rod is not effected by altitude like a lighter.

It’s funny how things written on the internet take on a life of their own. It is simply not true that BIC lighters leak at high altitude. The pressurized gas within a BIC lighter is held there by a valve which does not in any way rely on the outside atmospheric pressure to keep the gas inside. Simply said, unless you accidentally press the gas release button on your lighter, it will not leak at high altitude. The same way canister stoves work well at high altitude, so do lighters. A ferro rod will work fine at high altitude as well. Neither has an advantage based on that factor alone.

  • A ferro rod is not susceptible to a very cold temperature like a lighter is.

There are two parts to this assertion. The first is that lighters are effected by cold temperature; the second is that ferro rods are not effected by cold temperatures. Neither of those statements is exactly true, although I understand how they came about.

A BIC lighter will work just fine in any temperature where a person can survive. People who have never used one in cold weather tend to have problems with them because they do not make the appropriate preparations. BIC lighters use butane gas as fuel. That gas is pressurized inside the lighter until it turns from a gas into a liquid. The moment the valve is opened, the liquid gasifies and escapes. Once ignited it gives us the flame. The problem is that at about 40F (4C), butane stops vaporizing and remains a liquid. If the gas does not vaporize, it will not escape from the valve when it is opened, and we get no flame. That is the problem that people encounter at low temperatures. The solution is a very simple one. Your body maintains a temperature of about 98.6F (37C). If you just hold the lighter in your hand for a few seconds, or put it in your pocket, the butane inside will warm up enough to start vaporizing again.

As far as the ferro rod goes, it is in fact effected by cold weather. The ferro rod uses shaved off sparks to light a tinder. The sparks start to cool off the moment they come off of the rod. The colder the outside temperature, the faster the sparks will cool down, and the harder it will be to ignite your tinder.

Neither of the above issue is a particular concern to me. You simply have to know your tool and use it appropriately. Both a BIC lighter and a ferro for will work in cold weather. Each will have a more difficult time lighting a fire in the cold, but that is true with most things in the cold.

  • A ferro rod uses gross motor skills while a lighter requires finer motions.

The statement may be true if your goal was to make some sparks to impress your girlfriend while your fingers were frost bitten. That would indeed require less fine motions than using a lighter. If however you are interested in starting a fire, the motions are just as fine. Try scraping some birch bark into fine shavings, or pulling apart jute twine, or making fine feather sticks. Tell me if those motions are less fine that using a lighter.  

  • A ferro rod has no moving parts, unlike a lighter.

I suppose that implies that when you have moving parts the tool is more likely to brake. That’s true in theory. How many lighters have you broken? I’ve never had a BIC lighter brake on me through regular use. However, if that is a big issue for you, I suppose the ferro rod holds an advantage.

  • A ferro rod will work even after it has been wet.

So will a lighter. A BIC lighter will not actually get damaged by being submerged under water, even for a prolonged period of time. The reason why you may have a hard time using it after getting it wet is because the wheel is wet and there is water trapped in the mechanism. Take a minute to blow out the water, dry the wheel, and you are good to go. If you want to speed up the process, remove the metal guard on the front of the lighter. Once dry the lighter will work as well as before.

Now, speaking of ferro rods and water, the ferro rod will make sparks after getting wet, but that a fire does not make. Is your tinder dry? If not, then a ferro rod does not give you a fire when you get wet. If your tinder is dry, then how did it stay dry. Perhaps it’s because you had it in a ziplock bag? Put the lighter in there and you will not have to bother getting it dry at all.

  • A ferro rod is a good back up fire starter.

I am not convinced that it is. For the same reason why I prefer a lighter for my main fire started, I would rather have a second lighter as my backup fire starter than a ferro rod. Or, some storm matches will do the job as well. In many cases if you need to resort to your backup fire starter, things have gone wrong. What you need during those times is a fire starting method that is even easier to use than your primary method. A ferro rod is not that. With an additional 3000 fires from a backup BIC lighter, and the ability to light just about anything, I would much rather have a second lighter with me than a ferro rod. It’s lighter weight too.

 

So, in summary, both BIC lighters and ferro rods work when wet, in the cold, and at high altitude. They each give you a comparable number of fires for the weight (both of which are way more than you will ever need), and they both require some fine motor movement to operate. I much prefer a lighter to a ferro rod because it is easier to use, it allows me to start a fire with less preparation, it lets me carry less tinder, and under difficult conditions it is easier to use. If on the other hand you have a tendency to somehow brake BIC lighters, then a ferro rod may work better for you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5 Stove Review

The Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5  is a white gas (petrol) stove designed to burn multiple types of petroleum based fuels including white gas, gasoline, kerosene, naphtha, etc. In this post I want to give you a quick overview of the stove and show you some of the features. I haven’t used the stove for a prolonged period of time, so I can’t give you an in dept review, but I haven’t seen much information on the stove on the internet, so i figured this may be of some use to people who may be interested.

Fire-Maple is a Chinese company. Your initial reaction is probably one of doubt about the stove’s quality, and rightfully so. We are accustomed to seeing Chinese outdoor products of very low quality. Fire-Maple however has already distinguished itself as a manufacturer of quality stoves, best known for its ultralight canister mounted stoves, such as the FMS-300t, which I believe holds the current record for the lightest canister mounted gas stove at 1.6oz (45g). The Turbo FMS-F5 is not easy to find in the US. It is certainly not being distributed by major stores like REI. I was able to get one here, but you can find it on other places online including the Fire-Maple Amazon store here

In recent times white gas or petrol stoves have gone out of popularity. There was a time when they were synonymous with “camping stoves”, but their heavy weight and relative difficulty of operation has made them less popular as time has passed. As you know I currently use a remote feed canister stove, the Kovea Spider, with which I have been very happy. White gas stoves however continue to be dominant is several specific applications. If you have to cook for large numbers of people, or need reliable cold weather performance for extended use, then white gas stoves are still the leading choice. I think the Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5 can be a solid contender in this category.

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The Turbo FMS-F5 utilizes a simple roarer jet, which is a proven design, and is successfully used on expedition style white gas stoves like the MSR Dragonfly and XGK. The Turbo FMS-F5 is distinguished from the Dragonfly however in that it doesn’t utilize a secondary control valve near the burner and utilizes a vaporization tube like the XGK. In that respect it is more similar to shaker jet stoves like the MSR Whisperlite International, to which I will do a more close comparison later in the post.

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The stove has been stripped down just to the essentials. I spent some time looking at the burner to see if I can remove or grind down any elements, but I couldn’t find much. The design feels very solid and stable. The fold in a clever way which makes the stove very compact when folded, but can be opened and set in place with ease.

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I was much less impressed with the stove pump. Generally, it is very similar to the MSR pumps. It is largely made of plastic, and operates similarly. So far so good, except that the connection between the pump and the hose is a plastic nut and thread. The connector on the hose is metal, but the slot into which it is inserted on the mump is also plastic. I am used to the MSR pumps which have more metal components in this area, so the plastic connection felt a bit flimsy to me. It performed well, but I wouldn’t play around too much with it in –20F (-29C). It would be to easy to cross-thread the connector when the plastic is brittle from the cold. That being said, during cold weather use you usually don’t disconnect the components, so that should mitigate any risk.

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The pump has an offset fuel intake (the curved tube you see in the above picture. That allows you to turn off the stove just by turning the fuel bottle upside around. When the intake tube is pointing up like in the picture, fuel will not get to the stove. It is a good feature to have in case on an emergency.

I tested the stove with white gas (Coleman Fuel) and it performed without any issues. Something interesting that I noticed, which you may consider a good or a bad thing is that after you turn off the stove, it takes about two minutes for all of the fuel to drain out of the line and for the stove to go completely out. During that time you are left with a small, candle0like flame inside the burner cup. I found that useful because it lets you restart the stove without having to light it again, just by opening up the fuel valve.

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You should keep in mind that this is a roarer jet stove, so it will be noticeably louder than stoves like the Whisperlite. Some fid the noise annoying, but when you really need a white gas stove, it can be very reassuring.

Here you can see the stove with a 2L Open Country pot. I think the legs are a bit wider than necessary, but considering that the stove may need to be used with a larger pot for melting snow, it is not a bad way to go.

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Now, let’s look at some of the details and numbers related to the stove.

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I paid $71 for the stove, which included shipping. It is noticeably cheaper than similar stoves like the MSR Whisperlite International, which run about $100. For that money I received the stove with pump, a 11oz (0.33L) fuel bottle, a stuff sack, printed instructions in both Chinese and English, a disc which I have not tried to view yet, and a repair kit which includes some tools, replacement spring and gaskets for the pump, and three additional jets.

The weight of the relevant components is as follows:

  • Stove: 6.8oz (193g)
  • Pump: 1.7oz (48g)
  • Bottle (11oz/0.33L): 3.2oz (91g)

For white gas stoves, the weight of the stove usually includes the pump, so for comparison purposes, the weight of the stove would be 8.5oz (241g). So, a functional set up for the stove using the 11oz (0.33L) fuel bottle will give you a weight of about 11.7oz (332g).

Now, let me give you a comparison to the MSR Whisperlite International. Keep in mind that the one I have is very old (over 10 years), although it hasn’t changed much since then. First, the weights:

  Fire-Maple FMS-F5 MSR Whisperlite International
Stove

6.8oz (193g)

9.7oz (275g)

Pump

1.7oz (48g)

2.3oz (65g)

Bottle (11oz/0.33L)

3.2oz (91g)

3.0oz (85g)

So, if we are talking about stove weight, meaning the combined burner and pump, the Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5 weighs 8.5oz (241g), while the MSR Whisperlite International weighs 12.0oz (340g). Those are considerable savings of 3.5oz (99g). In fact, the Fire-Maple is the same weight as the now discontinued MSR Simmerlite, which I never really liked. As you can see above, the weight saving are achieved both in the burner as well as the pump. The fuel bottle for the Fire-Maple is slightly heavier than the MSR equivalent even though they are the same volume.

Speaking of fuel bottles, it should be noted that the MSR, Primus, etc stoves do not come with a fuel bottle. The Fire-Maple does. You may however be wondering where you are going to find different sizes of bottles for the stove. Well, you can get them online, but also, it turns out the MSR and Fire-Maple fuel bottles are interchangeable. You can just get the desired size MSR fuel bottle and used it with the Fire-Maple stove. In the above chart, if you use the MSR bottle with the Fire-Maple stove, you can shave off another 0.2oz.

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Here you can see the two stoves next to each other.

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Here are the two pumps as well.

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So, in terms of comparing the two stoves, the Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5 is significantly lighter and cheaper than the MSR Whisperlite International. It is also more compact, and I like the legs much better. The flat surface on the bottom of the legs on the Fire-Maple stove however can be an issue when used outdoors because you are always on uneven terrain. That of course is an extremely minor issue. A more noticeable distinction between the two stoves is that the Fire-Maple uses a roarer jet while the MSR Whisperlite International uses a shaker jet. That makes the MSR stove much easier to clean, which can be done just by shaking the stove (there is a needle inside the jet which moves up and down cleaning it. With the Fire-Maple you have to remove the cap from the burner and then use a needle or wire to clean the jet if it gets clogged. That however is a fairly simple operation, and considering that the MSR expedition stoves like the Dragonfly and XGK use similar roarer jet set ups, it’s not something I would lose sleep over. My main concern with the Fire-Maple stove continues to be the connection between the fuel hose and the pump. Time will tell if it holds up.

Overall, my first impressions of the Fire-Maple Turbo FMS-F5 white gas stove are very positive. It is a well thought out design and is simple to use (for a white gas stove). At 8.5oz (241g), it may also be the lightest white gas stove currently on the market. In fact, it is so light that it is starting to breach the gap between white gas stoves and remote canister stoves. One of the lightest remote canister stoves, the MSR Windpro II weighs 6.6oz (187g). That is only 1.9oz (54g) less than the Fire-Maple FMS-F5.

If you have been looking for different options for a white gas/petrol stove, or have been wondering about the FMS-F5, hopefully this overview has been of some help.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fabric Strength and Durability – Reality vs. Perception

In this post I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you that were prompted by some questions I got from readers. In particular, people seem concerned about the strength and durability of backpacks and clothing. We hear a lot online about how people bushwhack a lot so they need such and such material for their pack or clothing so that it can stand up to the use.

That is certainly a good idea, but what I’ve noticed is that people often make their choices based on feel and perception rather than actual research. More specifically, we often confuse the thickness of a material, or how robust it feels to us when we hold it, with the material’s actual strength.

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You have probably seen that a lot when it comes to tarps, backpacks and outer clothing. Very often people try to explain how they are using a canvas pack or a canvas jacket because it is much stronger and more durable than the nylon (synthetic) counterpart, or how they carry a waxed canvas tarp because it will last them forever. This assertion with respect to a specific jacket or pack may or may not be true depending on the thicknesses of the two materials being compared. An extremely thick canvas jacket may very well be stronger than a very thin nylon jacket, but that does not tell us much about the strength of the materials themselves.

The reality is that, just to continue with the above example, nylon is quite a bit stronger than cotton canvas. The tenacity (load per linear density) of cotton canvas is 3.0 to 4.9 grams/denier. Type 66 nylon on the other hand, which is commonly used in backpacks, tarps, etc, has a tenacity of 6.0 to 9.5 grams/denier. As a rough rule of thumb, nylon is about twice as strong as cotton canvas for the same density of material. That would mean that a nylon tarp can be half the thickness of a canvas tarp, and still be just as strong. Of course, if you take cotton canvas that is three times as thick as its nylon counterpart, it will be stronger as a whole.

When it comes to abrasion resistance, cotton canvas is rated as low, while nylon cordura is rated as good.

Or, maybe you have heard people speak about the durability and strength of their wool clothing. The tenacity of wool is about 1.6 grams/denier, weaker than cotton, and much weaker than nylon derivatives. In fact, wool is notoriously easy to wear out. That is why until recently you would mainly see it as a mix with synthetic threads.

The above differences however can not be detected by our senses, so too often we will just hold a material in our hands, and conclude that the one that is thicker and “feels more solid” is in fact the stronger one. That is not necessarily true. In the above example, if you got two tarps of the same thickness, one made from cotton canvas while the other made from nylon cordura, the nylon one would likely be twice as strong as the cotton one. Alternatively, you can get the two tarps with equal strength, but the nylon one would be half the thickness, with the corresponding weight and volume savings.

A further wrinkle in all this is that sometimes people compare the strength of materials that are not the actual material. Most often you can see that in claims about how GoreTex is not very strong. It is usually in the context of how a person does a lot of bushwhacking and they don’t want a weak GoreTex jacket, so they carry a waxed canvas one. The comparisons are quite absurd, as GoreTex is not the actual fabric at all. It is simply a microscopic membrane. The material that we see as a final product is the GoreTex membrane bonded to some other material. That other material can be anything from extremely thin to extremely robust and durable. How well a GoreTex jacket holds up to use will depend on the type of material to which the membrane is bonded. That material may very well be much stronger than the cotton canvas alternative. 

Anyway, this is just some food for thought. Thicker materials always seem stronger to us, but it’s not necessarily the case. If you are concerned with strength, look at the strength of the individual materials, select the strongest one, and then get it in the desired thickness. Don’t just go by whatever seems the strongest to you.