Knowing How To Choose The Best Tent Fabric
Tents have been made from everything from natural fabrics to very advanced polyester or nylon textiles with specialized coatings. As you may imagine, some options will cost considerably more than others.
Each material comes with some specific benefits and some serious setbacks. But, it will be your specific needs as a camper that will decide the best tent material for you. Someone looking for a lightweight option for heading deep into the wilderness will need something a little different from a tent for setting up over the holidays as a guest bedroom.
Man-Made Nylon & Polyester
Most tents these days are made of synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester or their derivatives. Polyester is a tougher material suited to family tents and nylon is much lighter and used frequently for backpacking.
Why are Nylon or Polyester the Best Tent Materials?
- Cost-Effective – a good tent won’t cost much made from synthetic materials.
- Lightweight – tents have to be picked up and moved around plenty, this is much easier when using light-weight fabrics. This is an important point in both family camping as well as wilderness adventuring.
- Fast to dry – moisture is the enemy and these materials are less affected by it.
- Less-maintenance –– these materials can be less resistant to rips and moisture damage.
Some of the Setbacks of Polyester and Nylon Materials
- In comparison with a cotton tent, neither nylon nor polyester offers much insulation. This means that your tent will be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
- These materials aren’t especially breathable and this means that your tent may collect moisture on the inside if you don’t allow it to dry. This can happen in especially rainy weather.
- Being plastic materials, nylon and polyester degrade in the UV light and will soon show visible sun-bleaching.
- Because they are especially lightweight, these materials are especially noisy in a high wind, which may rob you of sleep.
Man-Made Fabric Coatings & Water Resistance
Synthetic, or manmade fabrics will have a special coating that increases their resistance to solar degradation and also improves their capacity to keep out water.
The specifics of this coating will be very different depending on the type of tent and the manufacturer’s design.
These man-made tents will be graded on how well they keep our water. This is called their Hydrostatic Head. Some tents have a better Hydrostatic Head than others.
Cotton & Canvas Tent Fabrics
Canvas has been used to make tents for many hundreds of years and has great suitability as a tent fabric.
The word “canvas” actually comes from a Latin word for cannabis and alludes to its original construction from hemp. But, most canvas tents these days will be made from cotton. So, if you see a canvas tent today, you can assume it is made from cotton –– unless the material labels indicate otherwise.
Why Canvas or Cotton is the best material for tents
- Compared to synthetic fabrics, cotton is a very good insulator. This means you will be warmer in the cold weather and cooler in the heat.
- Cotton is also breathable and absorbs water. This means that moisture on the inside of the tent will be absorbed into the fabrics and wicked away where it will be dried.
- Because of its composition, canvas or cotton tents will not flap around in the wind. This makes them quieter on a windy night.
- Natural fabrics are more resistant to the rays of the sun and will not deteriorate.
A Few Problems with Canvas Tent Materials
- Cotton and canvas tents are heavy. If you will be carrying your canvas tent to a campsite, better hope it’s not a tough climb. Furthermore, it might not fit in the trunk of the car and will likely take some practice to set up effectively.
- Canvas tents may need to be “weather” before they can be used in a camping situation. This means that they need to b pitched and allowed to absorb the rain, this allows the canvas fabrics to expand and seal up the holes –– without this important process the tent could leak.
- Cotton and canvas tents require more maintenance. Because they will absorb the fluids and water to a certain degree, it is important to allow your canvas tent to dry completely before storing it. This can take significantly longer with some tents and much longer than with synthetic materials. If this step is not taken, the tent material could deteriorate.
- A small tear or rip could turn into a major problem.
- A cotton tent will cost you many times what a nylon or polyester tent will cost.
Coatings & Treatments On Cotton Tents
Your cotton tent will not need a waterproof treatment as you will find on a nylon or polyester tent. This is because cotton is already resistant to UV rays and very water-resistant.
Nevertheless, you will find that many manufacturers will treat their canvas tents with a light sealant that improves the water-resistant capacity. This allows very light amounts of moisture, like morning dew to bead off the surface of the tent rather than soak in. Small details like this are what make the canvas tent a superior item for family use.
What about Poly-cotton Tents?
Then there are Poly-Cotton blends that combine natural and synthetic fabrics. Basically, you are looking at regular canvas or cotton with polyester weaved in.
The poly-cotton blend has many of the advantages of a canvas tent but also has a few setbacks. For one, the polyester blend makes the fabric more inclined to mildew than a regular cotton tent. But, the polyester content does help to reduce some of the risks of snagging and tearing.
So which is the best tent fabric?
This question comes down to what your priorities in a tent are. But, the comfort and feel of a canvas tent are far more suited to camping holidays.
If you ever find yourself at a camping show on a hot day, you have the perfect opportunity to test the differences for yourself. After the sun comes out, step into a canvas tent and you will notice a cooler atmosphere than the weather outside. Stepping into a polyester or nylon tent will be like stepping into a mini-greenhouse. In the cooler winter, the same is true, a polyester tent will stay warm and cozy as the temperatures drop.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for something a bit more lightweight and practical you can hardly beat the nylon or polyester tent. They are light and practical and this makes them ideal for a weekend vacation.