A Quick Guide To Tent Fabric
If you’re in the market for a new tent, then you may be slightly bewildered at all of the different choices available to you. There are any number of different styles and sizes for you to choose from – and they come in a wide range of different fabrics as well.
Hopefully size will sort itself out based on your intended occupancy, and style is a mixture of personal taste and how you intend to use your new tent. However, if you choose a tent made of the wrong material, it could put a damper, quite literally in many cases, on your enjoyment.
The main materials available are canvas, cotton, PVC coated cotton, polycotton, polyester and nylon. You will find that most tents use one or more of these materials.
Here’s a quick guide to help you choose a tent which is made of just the right material for you.
Canvas/Cotton Tent Material
Canvas is pretty much the traditional material for tent manufacture. In the past, canvas was woven from hemp, but these days, it’s made from cotton – so canvas and cotton tents are one and the same.
Despite the fact that it’s “old school”, canvas tents have quite a few good points in comparison with more modern, man-made fabrics. For a start, it’s a better insulator – so you’ll be warmer when it’s cold and cooler when it’s hot.
Because it’s a breathable fabric, you’re unlikely to have a problem with condensation, and it’s extra weight and insulating properties will mean that it’s quieter when things get a bit breezy.
On the downside, it is heavy and bulky and it needs to be weathered before first use – you need to leave it out in the rain or turn a hose on it so that the fibers expand and become waterproof. You also need to take care to dry it out thoroughly before storing it – otherwise you will wind up with mildew on your tent.
PVC coated canvas tents
Larger tents, canopies and trailer/caravan tents will often be made from cotton with a PVC (PolyVinylChloride) coating on the roof for added strength and waterproofing.
This has obvious advantages, but the main drawback is added weight. Condensation can also form on the PVC coated fabric – but this can be dealt with by ensuring adequate ventilation.
Poly-Cotton Tent Fabric
Just as manufacturers have chosen to mix natural cotton with polyester in the clothing industry, you can get poly-cotton tent fabric. The good points of canvas/cotton tents are retained and the polyester which is woven in makes the material somewhat more resistant to snags and tears. Poly-cotton tents are also slightly less prone to mildew, so can be packed away more quickly in damp conditions.
However, some of the not so good points are also retained, such as relatively high cost, weight and additional maintenance.
Polyester Tent Fabric
Polyester is one of the most commonly used fabrics for modern tents. It does not shrink or sag when wet and is generally more durable than nylon. It’s also less affected by UV light than nylon.
Usually polyester tent fabric is coated by the tent manufacturer – and you may find that some manufacturers have their own proprietary names for their coating. The ideal coating will keep moisture out but allow air to pass through for ventilation.
Nylon Tent Fabric
Nylon fibers do not absorb water, which means that the fabric can be a little thinner and the overall tent can be lighter and less bulky. You’ll find that a lot of small, backpacking tents use nylon material.
Although nylon can be used untreated, it’s more normal for a coating to be applied. Acrylic, polyurethane and silicone are widely used coatings, with acrylic being the cheapest and silicone being the most expensive (and the most effective).
Nylon can be prone to snags and ladders, so the fabric will often be reinforced with thicker threads woven in in a “rip-stop” pattern.
Nylon is susceptible to damage if it is exposed to UV light for prolonged periods – so using a nylon tent for long periods of time may result in accelerated ageing of your tent.
A Summary Of The Different Types of Tent Materials
Here’s a brief summary of the benefits and disadvantages of some of the most commonly used tent materials:
Commonly Used Tent Materials Compared
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