When picturing a tent most people think of nylon or polyester. That’s because most camping tents are made from plastics, either nylon or polyester. Forget about those cheap polyester tents and make the switch to canvas. So why are canvas tents so much better?
Why are Canvas Tents Better?
Canvas tents made out of a cotton based canvas are going to be breathable, waterproof, highly durable and offer better insulation on cold/hot nights. To top it all off canvas is environmentally friendly when compared to plastics.
There are Downsides to Canvas(Weight and Cost)
So why doesn’t everybody choose canvas? The main reason is going to be cost. Canvas tents are both harder to manufacture and use more expensive material. It will cost more, but the tent should last at least 25 years if properly cared for.
Another major downside to canvas is weight. Since canvas tents are designed to be extremely durable, they typically weigh much more than nylon/polyester.
Considering the canvas cabin tent that I use weighs close to 100lbs(check it out) it’s definitely not for backpacking. Honestly, I don’t even like carrying it more than 100 feet from my car.
If neither cost nor weight bothers you definitely switch over to canvas.
Why Canvas Tents are Better
Canvas tents are better ventilated, more durable, waterproof and offer better insulation in the cold. If you’re camping close to the car you should definitely go with canvas.
1) Canvas Tents are Better in Cold Weather
Canvas tents are going to be easier to heat in the cold winter months. You can safely use a wood-burning stove or propane heater in a canvas tent. Cotton further works as an insulator to further combat the cold.
Plastic on the other hand will easily melt when it comes in contact with heat. Plus most plastic tents will not allow carbon monoxide to escape. Nylon tenths are better at keeping you cool then warm.
2) Canvas is Breathable
When it comes to breathability there’s no debate. Canvas tents are made out of natural cotton without any synthetic material. You’re left with a breathable material and a well ventilated tent.
Moisture will be repelled while air and water vapor is going to pass right on through. Your tent will be breezy in the summer which helps prevent condensation on chilly mornings. This means that you won’t get hot on warm days or cool on cold days.
3) Built in UV Protection
Quality canvas is going to offer a built-in protective treatment to withstand damage from the sun. You can even use products like Nikwax for additional UV protection.
Cotton is also going to be thicker and much more durable than synthetic blends. It’s going to resist fading and cracking over time.
4) Quieter in Noisy Environments
Even the most expensive tent is going to be noisy in bad weather. In a traditional tent wind blowing and rain beating down will keep you up all night.
To avoid noise you basically have two choices. Jam out with handphones in(might miss your alarm) or switch to canvas. With a heavier design and thicker material canvas tents offer a quieter sleeping environment.
5) You can Use a Wood Burning Stove
Your heating options are fairly limited with a synthetic tent. You’re basically limited to small propane heaters (like this one) or you can throw on a few extra layers and increase the insulation in your sleeping gear.
Personally, I avoid using a propane heater in my tent. Relying on a cheap 5 cent part to save me from carbon monoxide poisoning seems ridiculous.
Canvas tents allow you to bring in a small wood-burning stove and really heat up your tent. Cotton is a poor conductor that increases canvas’s insulation properties. With a wood-burning stove, you can extend your camping season throughout the winter.
6) Seasoning and Waterproofing Your Tent is Easy
Waterproofing a canvas tent aka seasoning is about as easy as you can get. Check out my post on seasoning canvas. All you really need to do is completely soak your tent with water.
When properly seasoned, fibers expand and completely seal the canvas. After repeated soakings the fibers will continue to swell further tightening the fabric weaves.
7) Canvas Tents are Better Insulated
Nylon and synthetic materials are designed to be lightweight. They’re made primarily out of plastic fibers which melts at low temperatures. Unless you plan on spending a small fortune synthetic tents are geared more towards keeping you cool than warm.
Canvas, on the other hand, is designed to trap heat. The material is thick, durable and it’s great at keeping in the warmth. Since cotton is naturally breathable, manufacturers can focus more on insulation than ventilation.
8) Canvas is Better in Bad Weather
Synthetic tents are awesome during warm weather. They’re lightweight, breathable and easy to setup. In perfect conditions they are amazing. Problems start to arise when you get a little bit of bad weather.
Lightweight designs are great for backpackers, but they don’t stand up in adverse conditions. Tent poles aren’t designed to be sturdy. With a little bit of wind, they collapse in on themselves.
9) Durable and Rip Resistant
Tents made from cotton are extremely durable. They are designed to be completely rip-resistant and easy to repair. A canvas tent will likely last the rest of your life.
The only time a canvas tent will rip is if a branch rips through it. That really isn’t a big deal! To repair a tear all you need is a needle, thread, and basic sewing skills.
With a synthetic tent fabric is almost impossible to tear. Yes you can use repair tape(this stuff is seriously cheap). The only problem is tape is a short-term fix. It has to be applied in dry weather and it won’t last long. Nylon tents are cheap and more or less disposable.
11) Great For The Environment
Canvas fabric is made out of cotton which is easy to grow and abundant in the south. Cotton is seriously hardy and will withstand even the worst drought.
Quality canvas can be repaired, retreated and will most likely last a lifetime when properly taken care of. Mildew is the only thing that can really take down canvas. If it does start to break down cotton is completely biodegrable. It’s going to breakdown into the earth rather than leach chemicals into a landfill.
Nylon Tents Have Some Advantages
Even though I love canvas tents they aren’t for everybody. Serious backpackers will never choose canvas over synthetic. Here are a few of the advantages of Nylon Tents.
- Lightweight: Weight is by far the biggest advantage synthetic tents have. Nylon tents are way lighter than comparably sized canvas. That makes synthetics way better for backpackers and hikers that need to limit their pack weight.
- Cost: Nylon is extremely cheap to make. If your budget is limited nylon is your only option. Check out these tents on amazon some of them are downright affordable.
- Low Maintenance: You really don’t have to do much to take care of nylon tents. They’re more or less disposable and come from the factory completely waterproof. If the tent’s dry when you put it away you’re good to go.
- Quick-Dry: Canvas takes forever to dry. Nylon, on the other hand, will dry within a few hours. You won’t get everything in your pack wet.
- Don’t Have to Season: Most nylon tents are waterproof straight out of the factory. Although seasoning canvas is fairly easy it does take a couple weeks.
Just remember that there’s a time and place for both canvas and synthetic tents. What suits my needs won’t necessarily fit yours. Canvas tents weren’t designed to be carried over long distances due to their weight.
Backpackers/hikers should definitely pass on canvas and choose synthetic tents. Synthetic 3-Season tents are cheap, lightweight and easy to use.