There are many areas for consideration when buying a new tent, material comparison being one. Often overlooked, the type of material used for your tent can have a significant difference on your tent performance and your experience of camping. Tents are typically made of four different types of materials; canvas, nylon, polyester and poly-cotton. Each of these materials, though some more similar than others, perform differently in the following areas.
- Life Duration
- Ventilation and Insulation
- Weathering and Water Resistance
Below I have created a small tent material comparison for each of these four points.
As mention in previous posts, it is imperative that you know the area and weather conditions to make the most informative purchase with your new tent.
Life Duration- Canvas tents are traditionally known for their ability to out live their rivals. Canvas material is also less likely to be damaged by the sun in contrast to other materials. However, like most things in life, the higher level of care you take, the longer life you can expect to achieve from your tent. Never leave a tent wet, dirty or near the ground. Make sure it is dry before storing to prevent mould and rot. Lightly brush off any dirt to prevent damage from acidity and store your tent off the ground away from rodents (who may find your tent delicious). As a bonus peace of advice, place rodent baits and traps near the area you plan to store your tent. A positive point is that, if holes do develop in your tent, they can be patched up, however unlike polyester or nylon, cotton will tear easier.
Ventilation and Insulation- Cotton is often considered the best material for ventilation and breathing. Cotton often heats up significantly slower then other materials and when compared to other tent materials is the champion of insulation. Canvas is also likely to keep the cold outside and the warmth longer on the inside,
plus lets not forget cotton can naturally protect itself from UV rays.
Weathering and Water Resistance– Because cotton can expand and shrink with the application and removal of water, it allows any small stitch holes to tighten and close, creating an excellent waterproof material, however, keep in mind this is only once it has been weathered twice or so. If you don’t pre soak and dry your tent before your camping trip, the material is more likely to leak. Some manufacturers do apply a light water resistant coat to allow for morning dew to bead off whilst allowing the tent to maintain its superior ventilation.
Weight- Cotton in comparison to other materials is weak. The weakness of the material often results in a thicker heavier material to compensate. This results in a heavier tent to carry overall. If your tent is pure cotton without any added properties such as nylon of exterior water proofing agents, the cotton can absorb a lot of water, which will also make the tent very heavy. Because canvas thickness increases its weight when wet, this may mean thicker, larger poles and ropes are required to hold up the structure, which of course means a heaver load to carry.
A Positive note to its added weight is its wind resistance, your tent wont flap around as much as other tents.
Life Duration- nylon tents are more likely to deteriorate faster then canvas due to the material’s weakness to sun damage, however they are less likely to rot if left wet for long periods of time. It will however develop mildew. Holes and tears can be repaired rather easily with a patch as the material is designed to stop further tearing. This material is know as Ripstop fabric.
Ventilation and Insulation- Nylon tents heat up quicker than canvas and lack ventilation. Nylon is a poor insulator and will lose its internal heat faster in cold climates. Nylon also struggles to keep the colder weather outside.
Weathering and Water Resistance- Nylon is by itself, good at being water resistant. Tents made of nylon often come with an added water protection. Unlike cotton, nylon doesn’t need to be weathered and can be used straight away. Tents made of this material also dry quicker.
Weight– Nylon is a light material and can be used thinly whilst maintaining strength. This means that the tent won’t need bigger heavier poles to hold it up, and an overall lighter tent package to carry. However in contrast to canvas, a tent made of light weight nylon will flap around much greater in the wind.
Life Duration- Like nylon, polyester is sensitive to the sun. Long exposure will eventually result in your tent losing its colour and deteriorating. On a positive note however, like nylon, polyester can dry quickly and won’t rot from water. A polyester tent can still develop mildew if not dried and stored properly. Unlike cotton, polyester tents have similar tear resistance fabric as nylon, which prevents further tearing and can be easily repaired with a patch etc.
Ventilation and Insulation- Polyester does not naturally breathe very well and like nylon is very quick to heat up. Because the heat cannot escape moisture can build and cause puddles, wetting your belongings. In terms of insulation polyester is very poor at it. It will heat up fast when you want to be cool and will lose heat when you wish to remain warm.
Weathering- Polyester by itself can be rather water resistant, however it can sag after being wet. Polyester tents are often provided with an added water resistant and UV protective coating. For more details on what to look for in water proofing etc please visit (other post).
Weight- Like nylon, polyester is a light weight material. On the positive side, this means that the total tent weight will be lighter and easier to move around then a canvas tent. The material will be thinner and the tent poles will be thinner. This all adds up to a lighter tent package. However, because the material is thinner and lighter, it will flap around a lot more in the wind then a canvas tent.
Life Duration- Poly-cotton is a hybrid made of both cotton and polyester. The polyester sown into the cotton means your tent will have all of the strengths of a cotton tent but also potentially last longer due to a higher resistance to mould and large tears. By adding the poly to the cotton, tear residence is greatly improved for your tent. However it’s best to treat your poly-cotton tent as a canvas tent. Maintain the previously mentioned rules for its longevity, keep it high and dry when in storage etc.
Ventilation and Insulation- Because poly-cotton is mostly cotton with added polyester, the tent will still have good ventilation and insulating properties, not quite a good as pure cotton but significantly better than the non-breathable materials of polyester and nylon tents.
Weathering and Water Resistance- As you can imagine, being of both cotton and polyester, poly-cotton tents comes with the weathering requirements, (pre-soak and dry) and the water resistance of both materials, often with a small water resistant coating added. Be sure to allow your tent to completely dry before storing away. The added weight of the cotton to the polyester will mean a higher wind resistance and less flapping around at night while trying to sleep.
Weight– As mentioned earlier, regarding canvas tents, the weight of the materials and poles etc required to hold up the tent will be much heavier than the polyester or nylon tents. However with the added polyester sown into the cotton, the fabric isn’t required to be as thick as a pure cotton tent. So while it is lighter than a canvas tent, a poly-cotton tent will still be significantly heavier than a polyester or nylon tent.
Like most of my previous posts, I have made this list as an attempt to help or guide you towards a knowledgeable purchase. With this information in consideration there is only one thing left. My number one general rule before considering this information is to know the area you plan to camp. All of these previously mentioned materials have different strengths and weaknesses when considering the weather. Know you weather, then know your desired tent material. If you are like me and you can be a little lazy and go off camping on the impulse, then I would strongly advise a tent that is made of poly-cotton. Sometimes an all-rounder is the best solution for unknown camping trips.
As always stay safe and make some fantastic memories.