The best kayaks for camping on our list are designed to carry all gear you need on a camping trip, as well as keep you comfortable on the water.
When you go camping, one of the first items you think about or pack is your trustworthy tent. And a tent needs to be trustworthy. It should protect you and your fellow campers from the elements (the sun, wind, rain, or snow).
The fabric a tent is made from is one of the main elements that makes a tent, and not all fabrics share the same qualities or features. That’s why it’s important to know what tents are made of – the tent fabric and the poles.
So before you buy your next tent (or maybe you’re a camping newbie looking for their first tent), this is a must-read guide so you don’t make questionable choices – you should buy the best tent to suit your camping needs.
What Are Tents Made Of?
Tents are commonly made from canvas, cotton, nylon, polyester, PVC, PE, poly cotton, or DCF (cuben fiber or dyneema). Tents can also be made from satin or proprietary fabrics. If the tent has a mesh roof, this part is typically made from nylon or polyester mesh. The poles of tents are usually constructed from aluminum, steel, fiberglass, or carbon fiber.
Tent Fabric Explained
Tents are made from various fabrics, and you need to know about the different tent materials so you can buy the best tent for your camping needs. After all, some fabrics may share similarities, but they are fundamentally different.
Did you know? The first tents were made from canvas, and like today, these tents were durable, heavy, and sturdy.
These days, however, most tents are made from nylon or polyester, which are lighter synthetic fibers.
So let’s get into the different tent fabrics.
Canvas or Cotton Tents
Canvas tents are made from cotton fibers, or to be more precise, 1×1 cotton duck weave or plain cotton weave. To make the weave, manufacturers twist two-ply threads together, and this is why cotton tents are usually so heavy.
A tent made from cotton offers campers better insulation than some other tent materials. It’s breathable, so the tent interior won’t be stuffy. The tent will also help keep you cool when you camp during the warm months and warm when camping during the cold months.
You’ll commonly find these tents at glamping or luxury camping sites. They are also used for car camping, camping at established campsites, temporary offsite living, or longer camping trips. But since these tents are bulky and heavy, they aren’t suitable for backpacking or when you need to carry a tent for quite a distance.
- Naturally waterproof since cotton absorbs water and the fibers expand
- Breathable and low heat retention properties to keep you cool during summer and spring
- High insulation qualities to keep you warm during fall and winter
- Durable; the tent will last for years (10-15 at least) if you take care of it
- Better at resisting tears and abrasions
- Looks more luxurious than other more typical camping tents
- Easy to repair if there are nicks or cuts
- Difficult to transport or carry because of the tent’s weight
- More expensive that nylon, polyester, and other types of tents
- Need to weather the tent or fully waterproof it
- Need extra care since cotton is a natural material, so mold and mildew can easily set up shop
Nylon fabric was created in the 1930, and it’s a byproduct of petroleum.
Nylon is a popular fabric for tents, and nylon 66 (also written as nylon 6.6, nylon 6:6, or nylon 6/6) is most commonly used to make tents. This synthetic thermoplastic polymer material is lightweight and easy to maintain. However, it doesn’t have great breathability or insulation qualities.
Since nylon is so lightweight (even more so than polyester), it’s a common choice among backpackers when they choose a tent. But that’s not to say other campers don’t prefer nylon tents. You’ll find tents made from nylon at established campsites too.
The fabric shares quite a number of similarities with polyester. This material, especially when it comes to ripstop nylon, is also stronger than polyester, so it endures wear and tear better because it has a stretch to it. But nylon isn’t as abrasion-resistant as canvas or cotton. It’s also usually more expensive than polyester tents.
Nylon tents aren’t waterproof, but if it’s impregnated or mixed with silicon to form SilNylon, the tent is stronger and highly waterproof. These tents can also be coated with polyurethane (PE) or acrylic to protect the material and make it waterproof.
- Lightweight and portable
- Durable because of its stretch quality and resistance to punctures and tearing
- Has a good strength to weight ratio (it’s strong and lightweight)
- Low maintenance; nylon tents are easy to wash
- Can degrade when exposed to lots of UV light
- Not breathable, so your tent needs ventilation features
- Not waterproof since nylon absorbs water – only waterproof when specially treated with PE, silicone, or similar materials
Polyester is also a synthetic material made from petroleum byproducts.
Alongside nylon, polyester is the other popular tent fabric, and it’s easy to see why. It’s also lightweight, just like nylon, which makes polyester tents easy to carry or transport. These tents are also easy to maintain and it’s quite durable, depending on the denier of the fabric.
The denier rating indicates how dense or thick the material is, so the higher the rating, the stronger the fabric. For example, a polyester tent with a rating of 150D (D denotes the denier) will be stronger and more durable than a 75D polyester tent.
Polyester tents aren’t breathable, so if the tent doesn’t have adequate ventilation, condensation will build up. The tent will also trap heat, so it could feel like an oven inside. You will also not stay warm when camping in winter with a polyester tent, unless you use other methods of heating or insulating your tent.
Tents that are 100% polyester are not fully waterproof; when it rains, the water will seep through the fiber gaps. A polyester tent does become more water-resistant when a polyurethane (PU) coating is applied. The bad news is that the water-resistant coating can degrade over time if your tent is exposed to a lot of sunlight.
- Durable, especially with a high denier rating
- Maintains shape better during rain and wind because it’s not as stretchable as nylon
- Has some water-repelling qualities since the fabric doesn’t absorb water (so the tent doesn’t become saggy and heavy)
- Mildew and mold-resistant
- Not breathable or well-insulated
- Lower resistance to abrasions compared to cotton or nylon
- Not naturally waterproof, but can be highly water-resistant or waterproof with a PU coating
Poly vinyl chloride (PVC) laminated fabric – a kind of plastic – is another material used to make tents. Most 100% PVC tents are commercial and event tents, and thus, won’t generally be found at ordinary campsites. Instead, event organizers would hire these kinds of tents to host VIPs, sponsors, and more at mass or corporate events or festivals.
Other PVC camping tents are cotton or polyester tents that have been treated with PVC to make the tent almost completely waterproof. PVC tents are not breathable because of how heavy the material is, so air can’t travel through the tent. The tent will feel stuffy and get hot, unless it has proper ventilation vents and windows you can open.
These kinds of tents are durable, strong, tear-resistant, mold and mildew-proof, and UV resistant.
- Looks slick and professional because of the high gloss finish
- Durable and strong, so it’ll hold up for a long time with proper care and maintenance
- Fully waterproof and UV-resistant
- Resistant to mildew and mold
- Bulky and heavy
- Not breathable unless there’s sufficient ventilation features
Poly Cotton Tents
Poly cotton (or poly-canvas) tents are made from cotton and polyester, so you get the best of both worlds that these two fabrics have to offer. These tents are more breathable and insulated than regular polyester tents. Because of the polyester blend, they are lighter and less bulky than a 100% canvas tent.
You’ll find these tents at campsites, but they aren’t popular amongst backpackers and hikers because they are too heavy (and lighter weight tent options are available).
A poly cotton tent isn’t fully waterproof, so it needs to be coated with silicone or PVC to increase the waterproof rating.
Poly Cotton Pros
- Durable tent
- Reasonably breathable
- Lighter than a 100% cotton or canvas tent
Poly Cotton Cons
- Heavier than nylon or polyester camping tents
- Not a common tent material
Cuben Fiber (Dyneema or DCF) Tents
If you are looking for tents that are made from advanced materials, then cuber fiber (DCF or Dyneema) tents are it. Cuben fiber tents are constructed from composite fiber, so it has a great weight to strength ratio. It’s extremely lightweight and has a high tensile strength, meaning these tents are super durable and tough.
A cuben fiber tent is also highly waterproof so you can go camping with this baby in various weather conditions.
Cuben Fiber Pros
- Highly durable
- Highly waterproof
- Very lightweight
Cuben Fiber Cons
- Needs a lot of maintenance (needs to be folded, not stuffed into a camping bag for storage)
- Doesn’t stretch, making pitching the tent a tad bit difficult
- Not heat-resistant
Polyethylene (PE) Tents
Tents made from polyethylene (PE) are common. These tents have plastic coats on the inside and outside, making them highly waterproof. They don’t fare well in the breathability department, so make sure your tent has ventilation features so you can breathe while in the tent.
While there are various camping tents made from PE, some PE tents are teepees and gazebos (canopies), and others are mainly used in the commercial and events space.
These kinds of tents are durable, so you can use the tent over and over again for a long time. PE tents are also heavy, so hikers and backpackers won’t generally consider a PE tent as an option.
Did you know? Because it is highly waterproof, most tent floors are made from polyethylene.
- Tough and durable
- Very heavy, so not suited if you can’t carry heavy tents or for mountaineers, backpackers, or hikers
- Not very breathable
Other Tent Materials
Cotton, nylon, and polyester are the most common tent fabrics you’ll find when buying a tent. PE, PVC, poly cotton, and cuben fiber are some of the other materials used to make camping and commercial-use tents. However, those aren’t the only fabrics on the market.
Some brands have proprietary or other materials they use to make tents. Some of these tent fabrics are:
Most 2 and 3-season tents feature mesh, which improves ventilation, breathability, and comfort, especially when you camp during warm springs and summers. Tent mesh is typically made from polyester or nylon.
Tent Poles Explained
When looking at tent materials, it’s essential to consider the material tent poles are made from. Poles hold the tent up, unless you have an airframe tent.
While you need to weigh up the tent fabric properties when purchasing a tent suited for your camping, backpacking, or hiking needs, you also need to factor in the tent poles.
Fiberglass Tent Poles
Fiberglass tent poles are suitable if you go camping in mild weather conditions. These poles will likely splinter if it gets too cold. Splintered poles make pitching or taking down the tent tough as the splinters can penetrate your skin (#ouchy). Plus, sliding damaged poles through tent pole sleeves isn’t fun.
These poles are also not the best option for camping in windy conditions because they can snap under pressure. The reason fiberglass poles can snap is because they aren’t very flexible (like aluminum poles, for example).
Fiberglass Poles Pros
- Relatively lightweight (lighter than steel, but heavier than aluminum)
- Durable, when handled correctly
- Don’t conduct electricity so safe in storms with low winds
- Don’t corrode
Fiberglass Poles Cons
- Low strength to weight ratio and low flexibility
- Not suited for adverse weather conditions; can snap under pressure and splinter in cold weather
Aluminum Tent Poles
Aluminum tent poles are commonly found in backpacking tents and higher priced camping tents. These poles are lightweight and strong; they’ll hold up well in windy and cold weather conditions. Aluminum poles are flexible, so in high wind, they’ll bend and not break.
Aluminum Poles Pros
- More durable in adverse weather conditions than fiberglass poles
- Relatively affordable
Aluminum Poles Cons
- Corrodes even though manufacturers anodize the poles
- Conducts electricity, so a no-no when camping during thunderstorms
Steel Tent Poles
Steel tent poles are almost primarily used for large car-camping tents or those made from canvas. These poles are heavy and strong to support larger tent structures.
Steel Poles Pros
- Ideal for adverse weather
Steel Poles Cons
- Prone to rusting
- Can be pretty pricey
Carbon Fiber Tent Poles
Carbon fiber tent poles are usually used in lightweight backpacking tents because these poles aren’t heavy. Unfortunately, these poles are about 50% more expensive than other tent poles, so the tents that come with carbon fiber tents cost a couple hundred (or more) dollars.
Carbon Fiber Poles Pros
- Extremely lightweight
- Won’t corrode
Carbon Fiber Poles Cons
- Typically quite pricey
- Inflexible, so not suitable for use in strong winds
Characteristics of Tent Materials
We’ve looked at the different types of materials that tents can be made from. Here are the fabric characteristics to keep in mind:
Breathability and Ventilation
Most breathable tent fabric(s): Cotton/canvas
Least breathable tent fabric(s): Nylon, polyester, PVC, PE, and cuben fiber
A tent needs to be breathable. No one wants to feel cramped and like they can’t breathe when chilling or sleeping in a tent. Plus, good ventilation helps keep you and your fellow campers cool during spring and summer, and it decreases condensation, which is a must for winter camping.
Some tent materials rank higher in the breathability department than others, but even if you choose a tent material that isn’t naturally very breathable, look at what the tent offers to improve ventilation.
Are there wall, ground, or ceiling vents? What about doors and windows?
If the tent offers sufficient ventilation features, then the fabric isn’t your main concern.
Most durable tent fabric(s): Canvas/cotton, PE, PVC, and poly cotton
Least durable tent fabric(s): Nylon, cuben fiber, and polyester
Buying a tent can be a costly investment, and the more you pay, the more durable the tent should be. But that’s not to say that a cheap tent should only last one weekend either.
You need to balance cost with durability, and know that you’ll pay more for tents that are more abrasion-resistant, strong, and durable than others.
Most waterproof tent fabric(s): PVC or PE coated, and cuben fiber
Least waterproof tent fabric(s): Polyester, nylon, poly cotton, and unseasoned canvas
If you go camping in mild weather where rain or strong winds don’t regularly make their appearance, you need a tent that’s somewhat water-resistant for those freak spring or summer rains. Or you can simply carry a tarp with you to ensure the tent interior, you, and your gear stay dry.
If you camp during winter or adverse weather, the tent needs a high waterproof rating (and your tent poles need to stand up to these weather conditions too).
Weight and Portability
Heaviest tent fabric(s): Canvas, PVC, and PE
Lightest tent fabric(s): Polyester, nylon, poly cotton, and cuben fiber
Weight and portability is a significant factor when you go camping. If you go car camping, camp at established campgrounds and don’t need to carry your tent to hell and high heaven (or if it doesn’t feel that far), a heavier tent is okay.
If you backpack, hike, or can’t carry a heavy tent far, your only option is to look for lightweight tent options.
What’s the Right Tent Material for You
Aside from keeping the tent material characteristics in mind, here’s a quick guide to choosing the right tent (based on fabric) for you and your friends or family:
- Camp recreationaly in the summer months? Get a decent priced polyester or nylon tent with fiberglass poles.
- Backpack or hike? Get a nylon or cuben-fiber tent with carbon fiber poles.
- Into glamping or luxury camping, or temporarily living at a campsite? Get a canvas tent with steel poles.
- Camping in unpredictable weather conditions? Choose a nylon or polyester tent that’s coated with PVC or PE and aluminum poles.
- Winter camping? Choose between a canvas tent with steel poles, or nylon or polyester tents with aluminum poles and add a tent heater (or insulate your tent).
Tips to Take Care of Your Tent
When you’ve bought a tent, it’s critical to look after it properly so it can last you longer than just a short while.
Here are some top tips to take care of your tent:
- Clean your tent yearly or when it’s dirty.
- Clean polyester or nylon tents with a mild detergent and a damp cloth. Let it air dry, and then store it safely.
- Clean cotton or canvas tents with the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner. Then clean any dirty spots with a wet cloth and a vinegar, water, and lemon juice solution. Use rubbing alcohol for any stubborn dirty spots. Let the tent dry, and then store it.
- Don’t use harsh chemicals (such as bleach) to clean the tent as it can break down the fiber, causing extensive damage.
- Store your tent in a cool and dark area away from direct sunlight since this can damage the tent fabric.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when cleaning, pitching, taking down, and storing the tent.
Tent Materials FAQs
The most common materials used to make tents are canvas (or cotton), polyester, and nylon. Other tent materials include cuben fiber (DCF or Dyneema), PVC, PE, and poly cotton. Tent poles are generally made from aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, or fiberglass.
The best material for a tent depends on your needs. If you camp during summer in good weather, an affordable nylon or polyester tent with fiberglass or aluminum poles will do. If you camp during the cold seasons, you need a canvas tent with extra insulation features and steel poles.
When a tent is coated with PVC (poly vinyl chloride), PE (polyethylene), PU (polyurethane), or a silicone-based material, the tent becomes waterproof as rain can’t seep through the tent fabric fibers. Tent materials like cuben fiber are naturally waterproof and don’t need to be coated.