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Do Canvas Tents Leak? Waterproofing vs Seasoning Canvas

If you’ve never owned a canvas tent you’re probably wondering if it’s going to leak. Throughout the years I’ve heard some serious horror stories of water pouring through canvas. All you can do is nod and respond with some helpful tips about properly seasoning a canvas tent.

Why is My Canvas Tent Leaking?

Loads of people across the country complain that their canvas tents aren’t waterproof. After doing a little research it doesn’t take a scientist to see where everybody is going wrong. While I’m sure some of these claims are legitimate the vast majority of people skip one crucial step.

They go out in canvas that hasn’t been properly seasoned. Without thoroughly seasoning your tent it’s going to leak, there’s no avoiding it. Luckily seasoning a canvas tent is pretty easy if you follow this process.

Do Canvas Tents Leak?

Canvas tents can be downright expensive when compared to a traditional polyester/nylon blends. The last thing you want out of your brand new tent is a leaky roof and soaking wet gear. If your tent leaks Don’t Worry just yet! Most canvas tents can be fixed and made completely waterproof.

So do canvas tents leak(or is there something else going on)? Straight out of the box a canvas tent is going to leak. The only way to stop leaks is to thoroughly season your canvas before heading out.

Why Do Canvas Tents Leak?

Although canvas is naturally water resistant it doesn’t come that way straight from the factory. When you first buy your tent it’s going to leak, there’s no stopping it. It’s not that the quality of canvas is bad, all those leaks are caused by the sewing process.

When all those seams, pieces of canvas and finishing touches come together there’s going to be a lot of sewing. All that thread and needlework leaves millions of tiny pinholes that need to be filled up. You can either fill up those pinholes with waterproofing sprays(this is my favorite) or putting your tent through the seasoning process.

There’s no avoiding it, you need to put your canvas through the seasoning process. Or else you’ll end up with a soaking wet tent interior.

When Should You Season a Tent?

Most people are going to want to season their tent immediately after purchase or whenever the weather turns. You need 3-5 days of sunny weather to get through the seasoning process. Either way, you definitely need to get through the seasoning process before you use the tent(you don’t want to end up wet).

Don’t worry! Seasoning isn’t hard and it doesn’t cost anything. It’s just going to take a couple days to get through the soak/dry cycles.

How to Season a Canvas Tent?

Almost every canvas tent is going to need to be seasoned before use. Your best bet is going to be following the manufacturers directions, but seasoning is pretty straight forward. You can season your tent with these 5 easy steps.

  1. Setup Your Tent
  2. Use a Hose to Soak The Canvas
  3. Wait a Few Hours and Repeat the process 2 more times
  4. Hose out your tent and check for leaks(Seal the Seams if necessary)
  5. Allow your tent to dry and pack up

Check out my complete guide on seasoning a canvas tent!

What Does Seasoning Actually Do?

So all you have to do is soak your tent in water and magically it stops leaking. It really does sound too good to be true. What does the seasoning process actually accomplish?

Seasoning forces the canvas to soak in water forcing the fibers to expand. This forces the seams to seal and lock into one another tightening up around loose stitching. After the fibers start to dry they contract further tightening the bonds.

All those seams tighten together which usually forms a waterproof barrier. Repeat the seasoning process until the entire tent is water tight.

What if Your Tent Still Leaks?

If your tent still leaks after the seasoning process you need to call the manufacturer. They will normally replace the tent or point you in the right direction to further waterproof.

Should You Apply Waterproofing Sprays to Canvas?

Personally, I wouldn’t use a waterproofing spray on your canvas tent. After going through the seasoning process your tent should be more or less waterproof.

If you have an older tent, or the seasoning process doesn’t work, you might want to turn towards waterproofing sprays. On smaller areas you should use a spray on product(this is my favorite) along with a seam sealer(like this). It’s faster to cover larger areas with a roll on product(like this).

Waterproofing sprays and roll on products work really well, but there are some downsides to silicone/polymer based products. Waterproofing sprays seal the pores in your canvas, which works to keep out water, but it wreaks havoc on ventilation. Reduced ventilation will definitely cause condensation on hot summer days.

Since waterproofing sprays quickly wear away, you’ll have to reapply at the beginning of every season. That’s really not that big of a deal, but it quickly gets annoying.