The Best Duct Tape

If you’re looking for the best roll of duct tape to have around the house, we recommend Duck Max Strength. It has a strong adhesive that sticks well to wood, masonry, plastic and glass. It tears in a nice straight line and has good flexibility so it’s easy to wrap around odd shapes and curved surfaces.

Last Updated: May 8, 2014
We stuck our test tape samples to plywood and left them outdoors from September through May to see how our recommendation for exterior use would hold up in extreme heat and cold, rain, and snow. The samples endured everything from 90+-degree temperatures to one of the most grueling New England winters in two decades, and in the end showed that our original pick for outdoor use, Sticky Ass Tape, was indeed the only one to stay completely intact. See the long-term test notes section for details and photos of the test samples.

But if you want a tape to use exclusively outdoors, we recommend Sticky Ass Tape. Of all the tapes we looked at, it had the best overall performance when it came to longterm durability outdoors. It’s overkill for smaller indoor tasks, since it’s a heavy-duty tape with a big, thick adhesive, but it can really take a beating outdoors.

I came to these conclusions after almost 40 hours of research, which included multiple conversations with five different duct tape companies, an email exchange with one of The Duct Tape Guys (a performance duo dedicated to everything duct tape) and my own extensive hands-on testing where I personally unspooled over 900 feet of tape during indoor and outdoor testing.

Who should own duct tape?

In a word, everyone. Duct tape is the essential fill-in-the-cracks patching, sealing and hanging item.
In a word, everyone. Duct tape is the essential fill-in-the-cracks patching, sealing and hanging item. It has so many uses that when I asked a few duct tape companies to list some common ones, they really didn’t have an answer. With such a wide range of uses it’s difficult to pin down any one of them as standard. It can be used for small things like repairing the back cover of a nearly-destroyed paperback or for something more critical like wrapping a leaky pipe in the middle of the night until the plumber can get there the next morning.

Currently at my own house, I have duct tape in the following places: holding together the blown-out corner of a Monopoly box, covering the exposed end of an exterior electrical conduit, wrapped around an opened bag of tile grout, covering the crack at the bottom of a plastic storage bin, patching a tarp, concealing a hole in a rusted-out truck bumper, covering the split in the finger of a torn work glove, creating some padding on the handle of a 5-gallon bucket and reinforcing the bottoms of a few reused cardboard boxes.

Duct tape is so useful and versatile that every space mission leaves earth with a good supply of it. On at least two occasions, it became a crucial part of a mission’s success.1

So: duct tape is the all-purpose interior/exterior tape for both big jobs and small ones.2

What makes a good roll of duct tape?

Long story short, a good general use tape should be about 11 milli-inches thick, use a natural rubber-based adhesive, and be made using a co-extrusion process. Now for the long story.

Duct tape consists of three parts: a polyethylene sheet backing, a cloth grid and an adhesive.

The polyethylene backing fulfills two main functions: serving as a bonding area for the other two ingredients and creating a waterproof backing. It really doesn’t provide any notable material strength or give value to the adhesion.

The middle layer (also known as the cloth grid or scrim) is what decides the material strength, flexibility and tearability of the tape. Scrims are typically made of polyester or a cotton/polyester blend. The threads in each direction serve different purposes.

…a good general use tape should be about 11 milli-inches thick, use a natural rubber-based adhesive, and be made using a co-extrusion process.
The threads that run the length of the tape are what give it its material strength—how much weight the tape can hold before breaking. More threads generally indicate a stronger tape, as Tim Nyberg, one of the Duct Tape Guys, told me: “you used to judge a good tape by the thread count, the closer the threads in the middle layer between the plastic and rubber-based adhesive, the better.” But he went on to say that as duct tape manufacturing has changed, thread count is no longer a reliable way to discern quality.

The threads that run across the tape are what give it its tearability. Because duct tape tears along the thread line, the smaller the space between threads, the cleaner the tear. If the threads are far apart, getting a straight tear is difficult. It’s like holding one edge of a piece of paper while trying to rip it down the center.

All true duct tape has a rubber-based adhesive. The more natural rubber that it has, the better it’s going to perform.

Each tape has its own adhesive recipe. Some adhesives are thicker and flow better in order to stick to rough surfaces. Others are stiffer, making them stable and good for extreme temperatures but less-than-ideal for concrete and masonry because they don’t ooze into the porous surfaces. As we found out in our testing, some adhesives are also prone to melting after time spent in the hot sun.

There are also tapes available that are made with a hot melt adhesive, but those aren’t as versatile as rubber-based adhesives. There is less reliability in extreme temperatures and they don’t have the shear strength of the rubber-based glues.

For the most part, higher-quality (and higher-priced) tapes have better ingredients, but the manufacturing process also plays a role in how a tape performs. There are two ways that these three ingredients are combined; co-extrusion and lamination. We (and most manufacturers) prefer co-extruded tapes, which tend to be more stable because the scrim is melted directly into the backing, forming a unified material. Adhesive is then applied to one side.

Laminated tapes are simpler to make—the backing, scrim and adhesive are simply pressed together—but should generally be avoided because air bubbles form between the laminates which can lead to separation3. Once the tape has been stuck to something for a while, particularly during exterior use, the poly and scrim can come apart. If you’ve ever pulled off a piece of duct tape and the cloth grid remained stuck in a crusty bed of adhesive, you know what I’m talking about. With a co-extruded tape, the scrim practically becomes an internal component of the poly, so this kind of separation is nearly impossible.

Two examples of delamination. The smaller pieces are an unknown tape that had been on the ends of two electrical conduits for the past three months. The larger piece is the tested Scotch All-Weather after two weeks on a plywood sample board.

Two examples of delamination. The smaller pieces are an unknown tape that had been on the ends of two electrical conduits for the past three months. The larger piece is the tested Scotch All-Weather after two weeks on a plywood sample board.

There are visual ways to distinguish a laminated tape from a co-extruded one. The most telling is that co-extruded tapes have very small, clearly defined dimples on the exterior of the roll. These correspond with gaps in the cloth grid and represent all of the places where potential air bubbles could form if the tape were laminated. It’s harder to see on high-end tapes because as the tape quality increases, the grid gets smaller and dimples become difficult for the eye to pick up.

Another way to visually tell the difference is that laminated tapes (at least the two that I tested) have a wrinkled texture. On one tape, the ridges were so extreme that I was unable to get it to sit flat against any surface for more than a day or so. Co-extruded tapes have a nice smooth finish.

Notice the small dimples along the exterior of the co-extruded Duck Advanced (top). Also the adhesive side of the laminated Scotch All-Weather (bottom) has an uneven adhesive coating and the scrim doesn’t appear to sit flat against the poly backing.

Notice the small dimples along the exterior of the co-extruded Duck Advanced (top). Also, the adhesive side of the laminated Scotch All-Weather (bottom) has an uneven adhesive coating and the scrim doesn’t appear to sit flat against the poly backing.

The three ingredients combined with the manufacturing process determine the overall performance of the tape, but other factors contribute as well. 

Thickness is measured in “mils” (or milli-inches, roughly .0254 millimeters) and vary from as thin as 3 mils to as thick as 17 mils. Thinner tapes were too floppy to handle and as you go thicker, tapes quickly lose flex and conformability. As a rule of thumb, thicker means stronger. But stronger is not necessarily better. Steve Wagner, Category Manager at Duck Tape brought up a good point, saying that while thicker tapes offer greater strength and better adhesion, they’re also more difficult to tear and they can lack flexibility. He pointed out that this flexibility is needed when wrapping an uneven or oddly-shaped surface. Examples of this might be a floppy sole on an old work boot or the 90-degree elbow of a copper water pipe with a slow leak. This flexibility also helps if you’re bundling something together with the tape. It’s much better if you can give the tape a strong pull and add a little stretch as you’re adhering it. This little bit of flex actually tensions the whole bundle together.

Wagner also told us that thinner tapes have the ability to reach the material strength of the larger tapes (not the adhesive strength, but the material strength) if you just layer. I confirmed this concept during testing. The 9-mil Duck Advanced was among the thinnest tapes I tested and held 38 pounds per strip. When doubled up, it was able to hold 80.6 pounds. When tripled, it went to 116 pounds.

But, on the other hand, you can’t get too thin, because those tapes have their problems too. A thin tape will more easily bend and flop back on itself while you’re working with it. I found that the one thing that duct tape loves to stick to more than anything else is itself. Once this happens, especially if it’s adhesive to adhesive, it’s pretty much a permanent bond, so you have to discard the piece and start over.

Throughout the course of my testing, I found that 11-mil tapes offered the best compromise between strength and maneuverability.

Handling characteristics are also important. Hillary DuMoulin, Communications Manager at Berry Plastics (parent company to Nashua and Polyken) said that tearability, “finger tack” and unwind are all important to contractors and DIYers in varying degrees. So we have to consider more than just raw strength and adhesion.

What’s not as important are width and length. The standard roll of duct tape is 2 inches wide (it actually measures around 1.88 inches, but is always referred to as 2). Other sizes are available, but they’re not very prevalent and unless you’re doing something that specifically needs a wider roll, they’re unnecessary4.  The lengths of the rolls are also standardized. The rolls I looked at were a variety of 35, 40, 45 and 60 yards. (45 and 60 are the most common.)

Good, high-quality tapes designed for general purpose sit in the $8 to $13 range. You can get cheap and poorly-made stuff for fewer dollars, but it’s not worth saving the couple bucks unless it’s for a really simple and temporary job like sealing garbage bags or something. You can also get more aggressive tapes loaded with turbo strength and crazy adhesive that can cost over $20, but you probably don’t need that strength and you definitely don’t need the frustration that comes with working with tape that’s too thick and too sticky.

How we picked

After some research, I isolated the major manufacturers. The list consists of Intertape Polymer Group, Duck (owned by Shurtape), Scotch, Nashua and Polyken (both owned by Berry Plastics).5

Because they each have such large lines of duct tape, with varying thicknesses and characteristics (Nashua alone sells 30 different types of duct tape), I asked each company to suggest their best product for general all-around use. To give them a sense of what I had in mind, I gave the examples of patching a bike seat, repairing a backpack and fixing a leak in a hose. Each company came back to me with a tape that was in the 9 to 11 mil range.

They were:

Duck Professional Grade (9 mils)

Scotch Heavy-Duty All-Weather (9 mils)

Nashua 398 (11 mils)

Intertape AC36 (11 mils)

Duck’s sample package also included their 11.5-mil Max Strength tape. Because it was within the range of the other tapes, both in cost and thickness, I tested it alongside the others. This left Scotch as the only company without an 11-mil tape. I did not contact them to see if they also had a thicker one, because even though their tape proved to be quite strong, they use the lamination process and once I handled their tape for a bit, I discovered enough usability issues connected with the manufacturing that it was clear the recommendation would go to a co-extruded tape.

In addition to these tapes were a number of other ones that I kept hearing about over and over during my research. They either had fervent reviews at Amazon or were repeatedly discussed at various message boards. For lack of a better term, I’ll refer to these as the cult tapes. So I also tested these to see where they stood in relation to the others. They were:

Polyken 231 Military Grade (12 mils)

Nashua 357 (13 mils)

Sticky Ass Tape (13 mils)

T-Rex Tape (17 mils)

Gorilla (17 mils)

In all, I tested a total of 10 tapes.

How we tested

The tested tapes.

The test subjects.

We designed a battery of tests to measure adhesive and material strength, heat resistance, longterm durability, weather resistance, ease of use and just about every other aspect we could think of.

For all adhesive and material strength tests, I used the American Weigh Heavy Duty Hanging Scale set to the peak setting, so it recorded the highest weight per test. I did each test at least three times per tape to eliminate the human factor. Each test was run during a single day continuously until completion, so humidity and temperature were constant throughout.

To test the material strength of the tapes, I started with an 18-inch piece and wrapped one end around a piece of wood. I connected the other side to a come-along attached to a hanging scale. For the actual test, I stood on the piece of wood and cranked the come-along until the tape broke. I experimented with a number of other ways to do this, but the come-along allowed me to exert nice and even pressure on the tape. Of all the ways I investigated, this one gave the most consistent results.

I did something similar when I tested the adhesive strength, but instead of wrapping the piece around a piece of wood, I adhered the final 2 inches of it to a piece of poplar. For the masonry test, I did the same, but attached the 2 inches to a cinder block.

Testing Polyken’s adherence to masonry

Testing Polyken’s adherence to masonry.

I also ran a test to determine each tape’s adhesion to itself. It ended up being a moot point. In every case, the adhesion level surpasses that of the material strength and the tape broke before peeling away.

I attached tape strips to glass and heated them with a heat gun to a temperature of 150 degrees and then pulled them off. This gave me a sense of adhesion to glass as well as residue.

Along similar lines, I took a painted piece of wood, applied tape samples to it, waited a day, and tore them off to see which tapes took paint with them.

I also put four sample boards in a south-facing field and left them there to bake in the sun. On one of them, identical-length pieces of each tape are holding up squares of 6-mil poly on a sheet of OSB plywood. On another board, they were holding blocks of wood. The final two sample boards are just strips of duct tape adhered directly to plywood and poly. In the six weeks that they’ve been in the field, there has been significant rain, wind, and heat (two days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit). At night it has been getting down into the 40s.6

To look at the conformability of each tape, I used the tapes to wrap the end of a pine cone, as if you were patching the finger on a glove.

Finally, I spent a good deal of time just playing around with each roll; tearing off a bunch of small pieces, spooling off a long length, ripping it down the center line and sticking each to just about anything I could find.

A few of the sample boards that have been cooking in the sun for the past six weeks.

A few of the sample boards that have been cooking in the sun for the past six weeks.

Once I started testing, it didn’t take long to realize that the cult tapes (Gorilla, Nashua 357, Sticky Ass, T-Rex, and Polyken 231) operate in an entirely different realm from the others. In many cases, the numbers I was getting from those tapes were double of what the others were (adhesive strength, material strength, etc). So I broke the results out into two groups, the regular tapes and the cult tapes.

Here are the results of the strength tests (this is just one data point in making our overall picks though; remember that strength is not everything):

Brand

Thickness

Material Strength

Adhesion (Wood)

Adhesion (Masonry)

Duck Advanced

9 mils

38 lbs

38 lbs

28 lbs

Scotch All-Weather

9 mils

51 lbs

47 lbs

38 lbs

Intertape AC36

11 mils

45 lbs

45 lbs

35 lbs

Nashua 398

11 mils

46 lbs

46 lbs

46 lbs

Duck Max Strength

11.5

62 lbs

50 lbs

56 lbs

Polyken 231

12 mils

85 lbs

85 lbs

66 lbs

Sticky Ass Tape

13 mils

80 lbs

80 lbs

50 lbs

Nashua 357

13 mils

88 lbs

88 lbs

77 lbs

T-Rex

17 mils

80 lbs

64 lbs

74 lbs

Gorilla

17 mils

101 lbs

89 lbs

82 lbs

Our pick for general use: Duck Max Strength

The Duck Max Strength is best overall because of its strong adhesive and high material strength. Though it still manages to be flexible enough to wrap around corners and is easy to tear in a clean, straight line.
After all of the research and testing, I found that Duck Max Strength is the best of the general-use tapes because of its balanced attributes. The tape has a very strong adhesive and a high material strength. Yet at 11.5 mils, it still has a lot of flexibility so it’s easy to wrap around uneven objects. It tightly forms against sharp corners and edges. It’s also still thick enough that it doesn’t easily fall over on itself when you’re using a piece to wrap something. It adheres well to a variety of surfaces, including wood, glass, poly and concrete. It unwinds easily from the roll and tears in a nice, clean, straight line with no annoying strands unwinding along the outer edge.

The tape is manufactured with co-extrusion, and during all of our testing, the tape did not show any signs of delamination or other structural failings. It lays nice and flat and it’s easy to get a good seal along the edges.

…the Duck consistently got the highest marks in strength testing, especially in material strength and adhesion to masonry.
Of the general-use tapes, the Duck consistently got the highest marks in strength testing, especially in material strength and adhesion to masonry. In those categories, it was at least 10 pounds stronger than the next tape. Adhesion to wood was a closer competition, but Duck still won out.

Duck has a material strength of 62 pounds, so a doubled-up piece should be able to hold upwards of 120 pounds (and a tripled piece, 180 pounds). That’s a lot of weight.

When I removed the Duck from the piece of glass, it had the best stick of the general use tapes. The trade-off is that it left the most residue of all the tapes. This is a small price to pay for a tape that’s as strong as it is. The other general use tapes had very poor tack on the glass but left no residue at all. It’s better to be able to stick and have something to clean up then to not be able to stick at all.

The sample boards out in the field show Duck to be durable in the elements, but only on a temporary basis. Like most of the other tapes, the Duck is still holding the poly and the block of wood, but after a few weeks started showing signs of coming undone, whether it’s a corner that is beginning to release its hold or an edge that is beginning to peel away.

Note: At Amazon, Duck Max Strength is mislabeled as “Industrial Grade.” It is also listed as having a hot melt adhesive instead of a rubber-based adhesive. We confirmed with both Duck and Amazon that the tape that we’re linking to is the correct one.

Our pick for exterior use: Sticky Ass Tape

Also Great
The Sticky Ass Tape is harder to rip and isn't as flexible, but it's very effective for outdoor uses like temporarily fixing a hole in your gutter.
Duct tape should generally be looked at as a temporary fix. But if you’re someone who tends to use it for longterm solutions, particularly outdoors, we recommend picking up a roll of Sticky Ass Tape. Among the tapes, this one did the best in all of the exterior testing. It’s the tape to grab if you’re looking for a semi-permanent patch for the hole in your gutter or the rusted-out spot in the truck bed. It’ll also be good to hold the busted lawn rake together until the end of the season or repair the crack in the the recycling bin.

Sticky Ass didn’t have the raw strength of some of the other tapes that we looked at, but on the exterior sample boards it had no parallel. After six weeks, the piece of Sticky Ass on the plywood is still 100% adhered. All of the other tapes have at least one corner or edge coming loose. The same goes for the pieces holding up the poly square. Here, the Sticky Ass hasn’t moved, while the others have all either fallen, shifted, or had at least one area loosen.

The trade-offs for all of this extreme weather durability are handling issues. The 13-mil Sticky Ass is tough to tear, and once a piece is torn off it’s extremely difficult to rip it again into two smaller pieces. It’s also doesn’t conform to uneven surfaces as well as thinner tapes.

Long-term test notes

For the past seven months, we’ve been keeping an eye on the sample boards out in the field. From September to May, they’ve endured blistering heat (above 90 degrees) as well as a punishing New England winter (“one of the coldest winters in 20 years,” according to Accuweather). The sample boards confirm that Sticky Ass Tape is the best and most versatile for long-term exterior use.

The tested tapes seven months later (in the order that they appear on the vertical piece of plywood, top to bottom): Nashua 398, Duck Max, Scotch All-Weather, Duck Advanced (gone), Sticky Ass, Intertape, Polyken, T-Rex, Gorilla, Nashua 357.

The tested tapes seven months later (in the order that they appear on the vertical piece of plywood, top to bottom): Nashua 398, Duck Max, Scotch All-Weather, Duck Advanced (gone), Sticky Ass, Intertape, Polyken, T-Rex, Gorilla, Nashua 357.

All of the tapes are still firmly attached to the piece of poly and most are still holding the blocks of wood (Nashua 357 and Duck Advanced are not), but the other two boards show some more dramatic results.

Of the 10 tapes, the only two still holding the poly squares to the sheet of OSB plywood are Sticky Ass and T-Rex. The adhesive on the Sticky Ass has melted some and the poly has slid about a ¼ inch, but it still holds firm. Most of the other tapes lost their hold during the winter, with Scotch All-Weather holding on until just a couple weeks ago.

Top to bottom: Nashua 398, Duck Max, Scotch, Duck Advanced (missing), Sticky Ass. Note the full adhesion of the Sticky Ass, the wrinkles of the Scotch, and the curling of the other two. The poly of the 398 has also started cracking (you can barely see it in the upper right corner).

Top to bottom: Nashua 398, Duck Max, Scotch, Duck Advanced (missing), Sticky Ass. Note the full adhesion of the Sticky Ass, the wrinkles of the Scotch, and the curling of the other two. The poly of the 398 has also started cracking (you can barely see it in the upper right corner).

The most telling sample board is the one with strips of tape adhered fully to plywood. On this board Sticky Ass and Gorilla are still fully adhered, while the others are either gone or show dramatic curling, usually along the top edge. While the curling in the Duck Max is not as severe as in some of the other tapes, it still shows the limitations that the tape has with exposure to the abuses of long-term weather.

Sticky Ass, on the other hand, is the one tape that has performed well in all of our exterior testing and remains our choice for outdoor use.

The other general-use tapes

Nashua’s 398 is a nice tape. It scored very well in our tests, consistently coming close to the strength of the Duck Max Strength (but never surpassing it). It appears to be hampered by its own structural strength. In both of the adhesion tests, the tape broke before pulling away from the material. On the plus side, the 398 tears well and wraps well. It also holds up to heat and wind almost as well as the Duck. It was the most like the recommended tape, but it just didn’t have the same strength.

Intertape AC36, an 11-mil laminated tape, worked fine, but didn’t excel in any of the tests, coming in behind both Duck Max Strength, Nashua 398, and the 9-mil Scotch every time. It did not show any signs of delamination, even when I ripped the piece off the sample board after two weeks in the sun, rain and wind. It comes off the roll smoothly, but it was difficult to get a nice crisp tear. Instead the tape would wrinkle, stretch, and pucker at the rip line, leaving a ragged edge. What’s more, the strips of AC36 that are holding the poly square to the plywood are showing advanced signs of coming off. They’re still there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell within the next week or two.

Scotch’s 9-mil All-Weather is the other laminated tape that I looked at. Despite its relative thinness, it proved to be stronger than some of the 11-mil tapes, but it has too many other issues to recommend. Fresh off the roll, the air pockets in the adhesive are visible. After two weeks, when I removed the tape samples from one of the plywood boards, the Scotch was fully in the process of coming apart, with a significant amount of the mesh separating from the poly backing and adhesive. Also, the tape came off the roll heavily wrinkled; no matter what I tried, I could not get it to sit flat for any length of time or get a nice seal along the edge. Not only do these wrinkles lead to handling problems, they also create little pockets where wind or rain can penetrate into the tape. At one point, I hit one of the sample boards with a hose at medium pressure and the Scotch came right off because the water got under the poly. All of the other tapes remained on the board.

The Scotch also had the most occurrences of stringy tears. It was very similar to the way that the Intertape tore, leading me to believe that the puckering of the ripped edge is another characteristic of a laminated tape.

Duck Advanced is also a 9-mil tape, but it felt much thinner than the Scotch, possibly because of the lack of wrinkles. This one wasn’t nearly as strong as the others and it wasn’t that durable outdoors. After about a week and a half, the strips holding the poly square let go. Also present were the good and bad qualities of the thinner tapes. The upside is that it is extremely flexible and was by far the easiest to wrap around uneven surfaces. But there was also increased floppiness, so as I was trying to work with a piece, the tape often folded over on itself and I had to start over.

The other cult tapes

There’s no question that Gorilla Tape has the strongest adhesive layered on top of the strongest mesh. It took the top spot in every single strength test (except for glass). It blew away the competition when it came to material strength, scoring almost 15 pounds higher than the next and being the only tape to break the hundred pound mark. But the fact is that a 17-mil tape isn’t very malleable at all. Gorilla is so thick that wrapping the pine cone and getting a perfect seal was almost impossible. It is also too stiff to wrap tight around a corner.

The 17-mil tapes are also not that easy to tear. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but once you’ve ripped as much tape as I have, you’ll understand just how much more difficult the 17-mil tapes were. If you have limited hand strength, you would be better off with a thinner tape. 

After about five weeks in the field, the piece Gorilla strips holding up the poly square came undone and fell.

But if you’re looking for strong tape bragging rights, the first and last tape to look at is Gorilla.

T-Rex Tape, made by Shurtape (also the parent company of Duck) is positioned as a direct competitor to Gorilla. Along with being another 17-mil tape, it too has a terrifying and deadly animal mascot to go along with it. The T-Rex tears easier than Gorilla, but that’s about the only category where it gets the edge. In every strength test, Gorilla was stronger. Between the two, we would take Gorilla over T-Rex every time.

Nashua 357 is the tape that the Mythbusters used to build a bridge and lift a car. In our tests, it proved itself to be nearly as strong as Gorilla, but with the added handling of a 13-mil tape. Nashua described the 357 as having a thick adhesive with a viscosity that allows it to easily ‘flow’ over uneven surfaces. We thought this tape was a sure winner. But during our third week of exterior testing, there was a three-day heat wave with two days in the low 90s and a final day in the high 80s. During that time, the piece of 357 that was holding the block of wood began to shift and slide downward. Then the wood block also began to slide. This continued after the heat broke. Two days later, when the temperature was back in the 70s, the block of wood finally disengaged from the tape and fell. During this time, none of the other tapes moved at all. Only the 357 was affected by the heat.

In all other regards, it’s a phenomenal tape that combines superior strength with very nice handling, but the fact that the rubber adhesive melts when none of the others do took it out of the running.

Polyken 231 Military Grade7 has the most distinctive adhesive of the tested tapes. It isn’t necessarily the strongest, but there is an incredible tack to it. It was the only tape that actually started to hurt my fingers after prolonged use.

I spoke to Polyken about the product and they described it as having a very stiff adhesive that performs well in extreme temperatures and excels on flat surfaces. They also said that it is not ideal on rough surfaces because there is no ‘looseness’ to the glue and it wouldn’t be able to ooze into the uneven surfaces.

The test results fell in line with this. The Polyken was by far the stickiest on glass (even more than Gorilla), but it started losing its tack on the OSB plywood sooner than the rest and fell off during the fifth week. The stiffness of the adhesive was also evident when I pulled the sample off the painted board. The Polyken was the only tape that pulled any paint off, and it pulled it all off. Every last bit.

Crafting

If you’re looking for a good tape for making wallets, clothing, or roses, we recommend Duck for their wide array of patterns and overall quality. We didn’t focus very much on this usage, but we did discover that Duck’s patterned tapes are made from their 9-mil Advanced Strength tape, the same one that we tested. So it’s not just some low-grade tape they’re off-loading to the crafters. The 9-mil isn’t as strong as the 11-mil tapes we looked at, but it is still a decent tape, certainly strong enough for crafting. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to use it in an emergency.

Duck also has a huge selection of patterns and colors, including some bizarre choices like moustaches and NFL logos.

Wrapping it up

For general use, you don’t need the world’s strongest tape. Instead you need something that has good adhesion, nice flexibility and the strength to not come apart over time. For that, we recommend the Duck Max Strength. If you want something with exceptional longterm exterior durability, we suggest Sticky Ass Tape. It’s not the easiest tape to tear, but it can handle the elements.

Footnotes:

1. In 1972, duct tape was used to make an emergency fix to the fender of the Apollo 17 moon buggy…while on the moon. The astronauts had been loading up the moon buggy when one of them accidentally hooked a hammer on the rear fender and tore it off (you’d think they’d make them stronger than that). Without the fender, the abrasive moondust would get kicked up and potentially cover the equipment (and more significantly, the astronauts themselves). The black dust could then overheat in the “fierce lunar sun” and potentially cook the astronauts in their suits.

It took them two tries, but they managed to get the fender back on with duct tape. The patch was enough to give them four hours of joyriding time on the moon, most likely ripping donuts in on their newly fixed buggy. The whole story, including some really cool pictures and an animated gif of a guy in a spacesuit ripping off pieces of duct tape is here. This short youtube video has a firsthand account of the event and more footage.

Duct tape also played a life-saving role on the Apollo 13 mission.  The three astronauts stuck in the capsule had an issue with the CO2 filters and managed to cobble together a solution with the help of duct tape. More information on that episode (with pictures of the jury-rigged patch) is hereJump back.

2. Oddly enough, the one place that duct tape shouldn’t be used is on duct work. Duct tape is not designed for high heat situations, really anything over 180°F or so. In a home setting, this means things like chimney piping and dryer vents. Every HVAC guy I’ve ever met uses the foil-faced tape for these situations. They’re designed for high heat and conform very easily and make a nice seal over the uneven surfaces at duct connections. Jump back.

3. Hillary DuMoulin of Berry Plastics, parent company of both Nashua and Polyken, has more specifics: “in laminating, you start with a finished “sheet” of polyethylene film and a finished cloth. You bond the cloth to the polyethylene with a fourth component called the “laminating adhesive” and then apply your “working” adhesive (the adhesive that you bond to your surface) to that cloth/film combination. You can also use your working adhesive to bring the whole structure together in the “squish-through” method whereby your cloth has to have large enough openings to allow the working adhesive to go through and make contact with the film.” Jump back.

4. Some brands, like Gorilla, sell 3-inch rolls, but they’re more of a special purpose item for when you know you’ll be needing something large. If you need a 1-inch strip, you can tear one off a 2-inch roll easy enough. Many tape retailers like findtape.com will cut rolls to custom widths, but again, this is unnecessary for a roll that you’re going to keep hanging from the peg board in the garage. Even after 10 years of being in the construction industry, I’ve never felt the need to jump up to a 3-inch roll. I only looked at 2-inch rolls for this piece. Jump back.

5. I also spoke with Tesa, but soon discovered that their products are not available in the US. They are apparently a big player in Europe though. I’m curious to hear if anyone has any experience with their tapes. Jump back.

6. Over the course of the winter, we will continue to monitor the sample boards that are still outside in the field, updating this article when necessary. Jump back.

7. The tape gets its Military Grade name because it is manufactured to the specifications outlined by the government in this document: PPP-T-60E, Type IV, Class I, which covers, “requirements for waterproof tape used in the closure and sealing of fiberboard containers, covering external labels, and general packaging applications.” Jump back.

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  • tom hartnett

    Nice and informative article, but all the links go to Amazon and the recommended duct tape.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thanks for catching that! Fixing.

      -tony

  • http://jonathan-peterson.com/ Jonathan Peterson

    Would have been interesting for you to include gaffer’s tape in your cult tape selection. While ridonculously expensive, it has some unique features, incredible linear strength (often twisted to make a tie-down cord), but very easily torn, great adhesion in the direction taped, but relatively easily removed by lifting with no residue, but sticks to itself better than anything else.

    Gaffer does things nothing else can do. I have a friend who shot a scene with a handheld camera, while gaffertaped to the hood of a car driving across the Brookly bridge.

    Between gaffer and gorilla I have almost all my tape needs covered (some self-adhesive silicon, stainless steel for ductwork and a special plastic tarp adhesive tape round it out).

    • Doug Mahoney

      Jonathan, I ran across gaffer’s tape quite a bit in my research, but because we were looking for the best one-stop, all-around roll, we stuck with duct tape. Gaffer’s tape does have its benefits, but the adhesive doesn’t have the long term aggression of duct tape.

      If you’re a Gorilla fan, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on one of the thinner 11 or 13 mil tapes. I really found them much easier to handle than the thick Gorilla and some of them (notably Nashua’s 357) have similar strength levels.

      • http://jonathan-peterson.com/ Jonathan Peterson

        the gorilla is a bit much for a lot of things. I will probably try out one of the others you mentioned. If I was trying to tape a bumper back on a car, or anything super high abrasion resistant, the gorilla would be the way to go. But the thickness means big ridges and folds when I have to wrap it around things, the thinner would likely be useful more often.

  • Jeff Lorber

    the store near where i live has a million types of Scotch and they all seem to be horrible

  • Bryan Sarauer

    For sea kayak repairs, I have had great success with Gorilla Tape. I have damaged my fiberglass kayak on rocks in a couple of different rivers and the Gorilla Tape patch held up very well, so well that I was able to put off doing the actual fiberglass and gelcoat repairs for over a year. For that type of use, strength, adhesion, weatherproofness, and abrasion resistance are paramount; somewhat different from your general use criteria.

    • Doug Mahoney

      I wonder how the Polyken 231 would hold up in your situation. Like I said in the piece, it’s a total monster on smooth surfaces. It was the only tape that bested Gorilla in a test (adhesion to glass). It’s a durable tape too.

      • Bryan Sarauer

        Yeah, I wondered that too. I was very satisfied with the Gorilla tape, would I be even happier with the Polyken, Nashua or Sticky Ass tapes? But, availability is an issue oftentimes and in Canada with 1/10 of the population of our neighbours, we tend not to get as many choices. Until my roll of Gorilla runs out, I’m satisfied.