5 things you should know about tent fabrics

July 12, 2017

What you should know about tent fabric, and when you should know it


Imagine if you would, that you have pitched camp a good six hour hike from where you parked the truck; you’re in the Rocky Mountains, in September. You have your brand new cotton Baker’s Tent set up, a good fire going, and plenty of provisions to see you through your next several nights of being alone in the bush.   And then…

…A strong “Westy” comes a blowing around the side of the mountain, large clear drops of ice cold rain begin to plop heavily on and around you, peppering your campsite like a Marine Corp mortar barrage. Your fire starts to sputter and smoke as the wind picks up and the clouds open in earnest, dropping the rain in ever increasing sheets of cold clear water. No problem you say, dragging your pack basket into your tent and securing the front against the wind and rain, you have your very own shelter from the storm… and then you feel the first drop come seeping through the cotton weave as it drips onto the back of your neck, rolls down your spine, and settles in your crevasse awaiting the arrival of reinforcements in order to stage a further advance. There is no greater hell than being in a leaking tent in the middle of nowhere. Cotton canvas tents leak until they have been “weathered”. The tent gets wet, some drips will come through and all the cotton fibers in the weave will swell and nestle into each other. As a result, you will have a perfectly waterproof tent that will give years of good service.

However, if you don’t know your material, you will not know to “weather” your cotton canvas tent before depending on it for shelter. Therefore, we are going to discuss some options in tent fabric and try to eschew obfuscation on what is better for which scenario.

1. Cotton Canvas:

Not as common as they used to be, primarily because of cost and weight, these tents were excellent insulators and would remain cool on hot days and warm on cold nights. Cotton naturally breathes, so it is less prone to condensation than modern fabrics and therefore won’t stick to your face if you brush up against it in the night. The result of this “breathing” is that there is no need for inner tents in sleeping areas.

2. PVC Coated Cotton Canvas:

Mostly for larger framed tents or pull behind pop-up trailer tents, this material is coated PVC to strengthen and waterproof them. This process adds more weight and offers less flexibility of the material.

3. Polycotton canvas:

A blend of cotton and polyester, this material allows for the same strength as a cotton tent but allows for a lighter more versatile fabric.

4. Polyester:

Not as affected by sunlight as some of the other choices, polyester tent fabric comes with various coatings for different effects and environments. Some companies, OSMO for instance, have turned the enhancing of tent fabric into a science, creating ripstop fabrics as well as water and sun resistant coatings which has given tents an entire new market in terms of environment applicability.

5. Nylon:

Often used in smaller tents, nylon is naturally water resistant, is light, and is perfect for weaving ripstop patterns into and for coating with different types of sealant to provide both insulation and weatherproofing. The coating may be acrylic, polyurethane, or silicone; Nylon is susceptible to ultra violet light, so strong sunlight can shorten the life of your tent. Special light filter coatings reduce this effect but long exposure on bright summer days will still reduce the life of a nylon tent.

Many smaller tents also have floors made of treated, thus water-resistant nylon. However, a waterproof barrier of some type should be placed under nylon floor tents to act as a ground cloth and to protect the floor from damage. Many styles and fabrics are available from military surplus tents and army surplus tents. Before you buy your used military surplus tents and equipment, consider the environment you will be camping in. If in an environment that will be exposed to direct sunlight for example, consider your polyester choices of which there are several. The fact of the matter is that the military has a tent for every environment, the beauty is that you can own one too, often for a fraction of the price of a consumer 

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