What Material to Look For In Your Next Tent
Gone are the days of triangle tents made from simple fabrics. These days if you’re in the market for a new tent, you’re likely to come across a myriad of confusing technical spec’s when it comes to the materials used to make tents. If you’re wondering what tents are made of, and which one would be best for you then read on… we break down the pro’s and con’s of the most popular tent fabrics.
Cotton Canvas Tents
While this isn’t the go-to tent fabric that it used to be, some high-quality tents still have 100% cotton in the walls and roofs. The main reason this fabric fell out of use in tent manufacturing is because of its weight. As new, lighter materials were developed, they were chosen over heavy cotton.
- Durable – Cotton can last a long time and can withstand heavy winds and UV rays.
- Insulating – This fabric is one of the most insulating. A cotton tent will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
- Breathable – Cotton naturally absorbs water, so you won’t have to worry about condensation.
- Smell – Many synthetic tent fabrics smell bad, and it takes a while to get the smell to go away. You won’t have that problem with a cotton tent.
- Heavy – This is one of the main reasons you don’t see many cotton tents these days. Their weight makes them harder to carry and harder to pitch.
- Bulky – These tents can’t pack up nearly as small as tents made from other materials, which makes them less portable and less suitable as a tent for backpacking.
- Leaky – If you’re not familiar with cotton tents, you might not know that they need to be weathered. They will leak the first time they get wet, so you have to leave them out in the rain a few times before you can use them. Some cotton tents come with a weather-proof coating, but the coating takes away the fabric’s breathability.
- Mildew – Because the fabric is so absorbent, it takes a long time for it to dry. If it’s not dried properly, you could end up with unsightly and smelly mildew.
- Cost – Some of the high quality cotton tents are more expensive than tents made with man-made fabrics.
Poly-cotton is a cross between cotton and man-made fabrics. It’s a cotton with polyester weaved through it. These tents have all the advantages of a cotton tent, while also being less perceptible to mildew and rips.
- Durable – Like cotton, poly-cotton can withstand extreme temperatures and harmful UV rays. Additionally, however, this fabric is less prone to small rips that can lead to bigger tears in a pure cotton tent.
- Insulating – These tents can keep their temperature much better than synthetic fabrics can.
- Breathable – Condensation is not a problem for this fabric.
- Heavy – While not as heavy as cotton tents, poly-cotton tents are still not as light as synthetic ones.
- Cost – Poly-cotton tents are usually more expensive than tents made with synthetic fabrics.
- Leaking – These tents also require some time in the rain before you take them out on a camping trip.
Nylon is a man-made material that has become a popular fabric for small backpacking tents. You can find tents of any caliber that are made with this material. Usually you’ll find nylon tents coated in different materials like acrylic, polyurethane, and silicone. The quality and durability of a nylon tent will depend on the quality of its coating.
- Cost – Nylon tents are generally much less expensive than cotton or poly-cotton. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find high-quality, expensive nylon tents.
- Lighter – Nylon is much lighter than natural fabrics, which makes it an ideal material for ultra light-weight backpacking tents.
- Non-absorbent – Tents made from this material don’t soak up water, which means you won’t have to wait long for a wet tent to dry out before you can pack it up. This also means you won’t have the mildew problems that you might with natural fabrics.
- Rip-stop – Most nylon tents have a rip-stop pattered weave, which allows the fabric to remain thin and light-weight without being prone to rips.
- UV rays – Most nylon tents are extremely susceptible to UV rays, which can fade the color and shorten the life-span of your tent.
- Insulation – Compared to cotton and poly-cotton, nylon will not keep you as well insulated. Step into a nylon tent on a July day, and it will be as hot, if not hotter, than outside. If you end up deciding on this fabric, you should make sure the tent is well ventilated.
- Breathability – Because this fabric does not naturally breathe, you will likely get condensation through the night.
- Sagging – Nylon tents have been known to lose their shape and start to sag over time.
Polyester is probably the most popular tent fabric these days. They have many of the same pros and cons of Nylon tents, but they tend to be more durable. These fabrics also come with different coatings that can determine the quality of the fabric.
- Cost – Polyester tents are usually less expensive that tents made with natural fabrics but more expensive than nylon tents.
- Light-weight – Like nylon, this man-made fabric will make for a much lighter and easier to carry tent than one made with natural fabrics.
- Non-absorbent – Polyester tents are usually even more non-absorbent than nylon tents.
- Rip-stop – Many polyester tents are also made with a rip-stop woven pattern that helps keep it durable.
- Durability – Polyester’s ability to withstand UV rays better, and generally be more durable than, nylon is the reason it is the most preferred fabric on the tent market.
- Insulation – While polyester stands up to extreme weather slightly better than nylon, it still can’t compete with the natural fibers.
- Breathability – Condensation is also an issue with this material.
- UV rays – Although polyester is more resistant to UV rays than nylon, it’s still susceptible to them, and a polyester tent will eventually fade after continued use in the sun.
It sounds like a simple thing to say, but the best tent fabric for you is going to depend on the style of camping you have planned. If you’re a backpacker looking for a small, light-weight tent, you’re going to want either a nylon or polyester tent. If you’re in the market for a quality tent to take the whole family camping at the local camp grounds, a cotton or poly-cotton tent might suit you best.