I’ve been asked many times what the difference is between Ballistic, 1000 Denier Cordura, and Ripstop Nylon. First off, understand that Denier has to do with the weight of the fabric, NOT it’s strength. The strength or tear resistance of a fabric comes from how it’s manufactured (woven, spun, etc.), which is why the source of manufacture for nylon is important when evaluating the quality of a pack. The most trusted brand is Cordura Brand nylon made by Invista.
Some bag companies have switched to 1680D Ballistic nylon which is woven from a larger yarn versus two plies of 1050 yarn. This is why 1680D “fuzzes out” in high wear areas faster than 1050D Ballistic. You’ll commonly see 1680D used in cheap luggage. Again, the method of manufacture and quality of materials matter.
The weight of a fabric does impact abrasion resistance. All other things being equal, 500D will be less abrasion resistant than 1000D. However, there is a weight trade-off. When ounces count, like in hiking packs, you commonly see lighter denier fabrics being used. To reinforce those much lighter fabrics and give them better tear and abrasion resistance, fibers are woven into the fabric in a diamond or box pattern. This is Ripstop Nylon. The fibers will stop a rip from spreading and ultimately compromising the integrity of the pack. The strength of the fiber used in Ripstop Nylon can matter. For instance, Dyneema thread is 15 times stronger than steel.
In the heavier fabrics, if you really want to split hairs, then 1050D Ballistic has a higher tear strength and 1000D Cordura has higher abrasion resistance. Both will hold up against anything that a typical user will throw at them. In most high end packs, seams and zippers will fail before the fabric will (which is why zipper quality is important too).
The most obvious difference between the three is their appearance and how they ultimately impact the look of a pack. I love the texture of 1050D ballistic nylon. Cordura has more of a natural/cotton like appearance to it. Ripstop nylon can come in different design and color combinations. Which is better looking is purely subjective.
I hope this helps. If there are additional questions then please leave them in the comments.