What Are Tents Made Of: Which is the Best

Tent Fabircs

Tents are made from a variety of materials, from polyester to good old cotton. Tent fabric determines how heavy, tear-resistant and waterproof the tent is. Some fabrics are much more expensive than others. Are they worth the extra cost?

Let’s see what are tents made of (different types of materials) and their main features.

Polyester

Polyester (PES) is made from plastic granules that are melted and then spun into fibers. Polyester fibers are 3 times finer than silk. Most family tents and camping tents, shade sails and tarps are made of polyester. The good reason is that polyester is the “egg-laying woolly milk pig” among tent materials.

Properties

Synthetic fiber polyester is light, robust and easy to process. Therefore, tents made of Synthetic fiber polyester are often available at a very attractive price.

Polyester has a high tear and abrasion resistance. This is important when the wind pulls on the tent: tent material does not tear, even with strong gusts. Thanks to its high abrasion resistance, the tent floor resists dust and fine sand for a long time.

However, polyester does not absorb much moisture so the tent dries quickly after a downpour. When dismantling and packing your tent, you should dry as well as possible so that the material is not attacked by permanent moisture and mold.

The high tear resistance has another advantage: you can use a thin tent fabric for the tent. A polyester tent is still a little heavier than a nylon one, but significantly lighter than a cotton tent. The pack size of Polyester tents is also small and they can easily find a place in your hiking backpack.

However, the thin fabric hardly insulates against the heat of the sun or cold. Thicker fabrics such as cotton fabrics can do this better. Polyester is quite stiff and not very stretchable. And the result: the tent looks a bit crumpled in the first few hours after unpacking. That will change over time.

Polyester tent fabric rustles comparatively strongly in the wind. However, this can be a bit noisy when you want to sleep. Also, polyester does not stretch when wet. This is a good thing that polyester does not sag when it rains, and the outer tent does not sag. So users don’t have to tighten the tent when it rains.

Coating

To make the polyester tent fabric waterproof, it is provided with a coating. This coating almost always consists of polyurethane (PU). Polyurethane is a light and flexible plastic. It insulates well and remains flexible even in the cold – important properties for tent fabric.

Thanks to the polyurethane coating, the tent material is completely waterproof. High water columns of 5,000 mm and more are not uncommon. However, PU-coated polyester is not breathable. To avoid the formation of condensation, the tent should have ventilation flaps.

Because polyurethane is sensitive to heat and UV radiation, only the inside of the tent material is usually coated. Outside of the tent is protected by impregnation.

Maintenance

Polyester tent fabric is very easy to care for. Unlike cotton, polyester does not rot when exposed to moisture and is mildew resistant. So it’s not so bad if you pack the tent when it’s damp. Nevertheless, you should unpack the tent again after a few days at the latest to dry. Otherwise ugly mold stains can form on the tent material.

Also, the polyurethane coating of the tents is susceptible to hydrolysis. During hydrolysis, water penetrates the coating. The protective layer slowly dissolves and eventually peels off. This only happens after a few months, the wetter and warmer it is, the faster the hydrolysis progresses.

If the polyester canvas gets dirty, you can often clean it with warm water and a cloth. For stubborn dirt, you can use a little washing-up liquid or a tent cleaner suitable for coated fabrics. However, strong detergents, hard brushes and washing machines are taboo!

It makes sense to re-impregnate the outside of the tent fabric about every 2 years (or after cleaning with detergents) using our guide. This prevents dirt from penetrating the fabric and increases the lifespan of your beloved tent.

Lifespan

Polyester tent fabric has a limited lifespan. Common causes of this are abrasion from sand, aggressive soiling with bird droppings or sunscreen, hydrolysis, and above all UV radiation. If the tent is left in the sun, the tent material ages due to UV radiation. The first sign: the colors are getting pale. This is a purely visual problem and does not affect functionality.

At some point, the polyurethane coating will become brittle and brittle. Then water can seep into the tent through small cracks.

Finally, the tent material feels like paper and tears very easily. This usually happens when there is a strong gust of wind or when you close a zipper. At this point at the latest, the time has come for a new tent.

  • Lightweight polyester fabric for regular tents has a lifespan of about 80 to 200 days.
  • Medium-weight polyester tent material for expedition tents and gazebos lasts about 150 to 300 days.
  • Heavy polyester awning and awning fabric can last 500-1500 days.

Only the days on which the tent fabric is exposed to the sun and weather count. A tent that is stored dry and protected from light lasts much longer.

  • Tip: If you impregnate the tent fabric regularly, you can increase its lifespan.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Polyester has a high tear and abrasion resistance.​
  • The tent fabric is easy to care for. It does not rot and is mildew resistant.​
  • The material does not stretch when wet, no re-tensioning is required.​
  • Polyester is lighter than cotton, and tents pack small.​
  • Polyester tents are inexpensive.​
  • With coating, the fabric is completely waterproof.​
  • Polyester dries quickly after rain and is easy to clean.​

Disadvantages:

  • Polyester is slightly heavier than nylon.
  • Because it is comparatively thin, it insulates only slightly against heat and cold. It is hot in the tent when the sun is shining, cold at night.​
  • When the wind is strong, polyester produces flapping noises, which can be a little noisy when sleeping.​
  • The polyurethane coating is sensitive to UV radiation.​

Because of their low price and easy maintenance, polyester tents are ideal for occasional campers who only want to set up their tent a few days a year and want little effort.

Nylon

Nylon is a polyamide (PA) that is synthetically produced from air, water and carbon. It is extremely light but still stable in extreme weather. That is why high-quality trekking and expedition tents are often made of nylon.

What Are Tents Made Of: Nylon Tent Fabric

Properties

If we can decide on a tent fabric, we prefer to use nylon. Nylon is more elastic, stronger, lighter and more durable than PU-coated polyester.

The tent material copes excellently with moisture: nylon does not rot or mold. Because nylon tents are even lighter than polyester tents and have an even smaller pack size, practically all high-quality trekking tents are made of nylon. In high winds, nylon can stretch better than polyester. That’s why nylon tents are particularly good at surviving a storm.

Unfortunately, nylon also stretches when wet. That’s why tents occasionally have to be tightened after a downpour so that the tent fabric doesn’t sag.

Nylon tent fabric manufactured using the ripstop process is extremely tear-resistant. In most cases, the manufacturer also applies a silicone coating to the tent material. The cloth is then absolutely waterproof.

Coating

The nylon tent fabric is often coated with silicone. Thanks to silicone, the material is absolutely waterproof, very elastic and well protected against UV radiation. Good UV protection is an important advantage compared to PU-coated polyester.

Silicone-coated nylon is very smooth. This is ideal in winter – snow slides off the tent easily. However, a silicone tent floor is also quite slippery.

Unfortunately, a silicone coating is more expensive and complex than a PU coating. And because silicone is so smooth, tent seams cannot be glued with seam tape. Each seam must be sealed with a silicone-based seam sealer. Because silicone-coated nylon is so light and strong, you will find this tent material in high-quality trekking or backpacking tents.

Maintenance

The nylon tent fabric is even easier to care for than the easy-care polyester tent material. Silicone-coated nylon will not rot when wet and is highly mold resistant.

Unlike polyurethane, the silicone coating is resistant to hydrolysis. If you packed your nylon tent when it was damp, you should still unpack it after a few days at the latest to dry it to avoid bad smells.

The smooth nylon canvas repels dirt very well. You can easily clean most dirt with warm water and a cloth. For stubborn stains, you can use a little washing-up liquid or a tent cleaner suitable for coated fabrics.

However, strong detergents, hard brushes and washing machines are taboo! So that you can enjoy your tent for a long time, you should re-impregnate it about every 2 years. Because nylon is more stretchy and often more tear-resistant than polyester, the tent fabric forgives many mistakes when tensioning the tent.

Lifespan

The lifespan of a nylon tent depends on how you use the tent. Basically, the same applies to polyester tent fabric: Abrasion from sand, soiling from bird droppings or sunscreen and UV radiation reduces the lifespan of your tent.

In our experience, silicone-coated nylon lasts longer than polyester. The silicone coating protects the tent from UV radiation and is not at risk of hydrolysis.

Great: you can renew the silicone coating yourself at any time with a silicone-based impregnation agent! It is even possible to reseal small damages in the tent fabric with silicone. With good care, you can enjoy your tent for many years.

  • Lightweight nylon tent fabric with a coating on one side has a lifespan of around 100 to 300 days.
  • Nylon coated on both sides with silicone, as used in very high-quality tents, has a service life of around 150 to 500 days.

Only the days on which the tent fabric is exposed to the sun and weather count. A tent that is stored dry and protected from light lasts much longer.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Nylon has high abrasion resistance and good tear resistance.
  • The tent fabric does not rot and is mildew resistant.
  • Nylon is even lighter than polyester.
  • Tents have a very small pack size.​
  • Coated nylon is totally waterproof.​
  • Good protection against UV radiation thanks to the silicone coating.​
  • The material is easy to care for and easy to clean.​

Disadvantages:

  • Nylon absorbs some moisture and stretches in the process, so the tent occasionally needs to be tightened when it gets wet.
  • Because it is so thin, the tent material hardly insulates against heat and cold.​
  • Nylon with silicone coating is more expensive than polyester tent fabric.​

Its lightweight and stability make nylon tent material the first choice for high-quality trekking tents. To improve wet stretch and tear resistance, nylon tent fabrics are often sewn into a grid pattern of extra-strong threads (ripstop).

Ripstop nylon

A grid made of particularly strong threads is woven into this tent fabric (ripstop technique). This increases the tensile strength of nylon and reduces stretch because of moisture.

Just like nylon tights, this material is extremely thin and tends to “run” when you make a small hole in it. The thicker ripstop threads prevent a tear from spreading. Because most of the tent material is still very thin but stable. Ripstop nylon has a pleasantly low weight and pack size.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Ripstop nylon is significantly more tear-resistant than nylon.
  • Ripstop nylon has much less stretch when wet than nylon.

Disadvantage:

  • Slightly more expensive than regular nylon.

The ripstop technique greatly improves the properties of nylon. That’s why, with the exception of a few cheap ones, virtually every nylon tent is made from ripstop nylon

Cotton

Cotton is a natural fiber that is got from the seed hair of the cotton plant. It is also breathable. This makes the climate in the tent pleasant when it is hot.

Because cotton is heavy, cotton is mainly used in tents that are left in one place for long periods of time. For example, family tents, caravan awnings and pavilions.

What Are Tents Made Of: Cotton Tent

Properties

Natural fiber cotton has a big advantage over tent fabrics made of synthetic fibers. For example, cotton tent fabric is breathable. That is why the climate in the tent is pleasantly fresh when it is hot.

But even in cold weather, it is pleasant in the cotton tent. Because the cotton fabric is comparatively thick and insulates well. It is noticeably warmer in the tent than in lightweight tents made of synthetic fiber tents. In damp weather, no condensation forms on the inside of the tent material. That’s why cotton tents don’t have an inner tent – they just don’t need one.

As a natural fiber, cotton has excellent protection against UV radiation. However, the tent fabric will fade over time. Unlike synthetic fibers, it does not become brittle and fragile. That is why cotton tents have a particularly long lifespan.

High weight and sensitivity to moisture are among the disadvantages of cotton. Cotton tents are significantly heavier than tents made of synthetic fiber and have a larger pack size.

  • Lightweight cotton tent fabric for small tents weighs 120 – 200 g / m² (grams per square meter).
  • Medium-weight cotton tent fabric for large tents weighs 200 – 260 g / m².
  • Heavy tent material for group tents and awnings weighs 260 – 400 g / m².

Cotton tents dry comparatively slowly after a downpour. If you have packed the tent while it is damp, you have to unpack it to dry after a few days at the latest. Otherwise, mold stains and mold will form in the fabric. Your tent also needs regular maintenance to ensure it lasts in wet weather.

Because the tent material is so massive, cotton tents are relatively more expensive. In return, a cotton tent can accompany you on your tours for a very long time.

One last advantage should not go unmentioned: The thick cotton cloth does not rustle in the wind. This promotes restful sleep.

Coating

Cotton doesn’t need a coating. If cotton tent fabric gets wet when it rains, fibers swell and fabric naturally seals itself. The tent is then waterproof. However, it can happen that with the first raindrops a small amount of water sprays through the tent cloth as a fine mist before the fabric has sealed itself.

Because the cotton fabric soaks up with water, you should also make sure that no water-sensitive objects touch inside of the tent material. The cotton tent is impregnated so that it is protected against mould, mold stains and UV radiation.

Maintenance

The cotton tent fabric must be absolutely dry when you pack your tent. Because the tent material dries comparatively slowly, this is not always possible.

If you were still damp when packing the tent, you must unpack it to dry after a few days at the latest. Otherwise, mold stains and mold will form in the tent material. You can no longer remove the black spots and the musty smell. In severe cases, the tent fabric will rot and need to be replaced.

So that this doesn’t happen so easily, the manufacturer impregnates the tent fabric with a water-repellent impregnation agent. The protection is retained if you regularly re-impregnate the cotton tent according to our instructions. To further minimize the risk of mold, it is important to keep the tent clean. Regularly remove stains and dirt with a soft brush and some water.

Some tents are not yet waterproof when delivered. Before they can be used for the first time, they have to be “soaked in water”. The cotton swells up and “remembers” this condition. You can easily do this at home with the garden hose.

Cotton therefore needs more care than tent material made of synthetic fibers. On the other hand, a well-maintained cotton tent can accompany you for many years.

Lifespan

Cotton tent fabric has a longer service life than synthetic fiber fabric. There are two reasons for this: cotton tent cloth is comparatively solid and resistant to UV radiation.

In order for your tent to grow old, you need to take good care of it. If the wool rots or becomes moldy due to moisture, the tent material is ruined. Fortunately, cotton tents are relatively easy to repair.

Other measures to extend the lifespan are: If possible, set up the tent in a shady spot and remove dirt regularly.

  • Light cotton fabric (small cotton tents) will last about 100-300 days.
  • Medium-weight cotton fabric (large cotton tents) has a lifespan of about 150-350 days.
  • Heavy cotton fabric (group tents and awnings) can last a good 200-500 days.

Only the days on which the tent fabric is exposed to the sun and weather count. A tent that is stored dry and protected from light lasts much longer.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Cotton is breathable – there is no condensation in the tent.
  • Good insulation: it is cool in the tent when it is hot and warm when it is cold.
  • Long service life thanks to natural UV protection.
  • Cotton doesn’t rustle in the wind.
  • A cotton tent does not need an inner tent.
  • Waterproof with good care.

Disadvantages:

  • Cotton is comparatively heavy and has a large pack size.
  • May stain and mold when wet.
  • Regular care (cleaning, impregnation) is required.
  • Cotton tents are expensive.

The heavy cotton tent fabric offers an incomparably high level of comfort in both heat and cold. Cotton is therefore ideal for tents that are left in one place for a long time and for camping in warm regions.

Poly-cotton (blended fabric)

Poly-cotton is a mixture of cotton and polyester. This blended fabric is lighter and more stable than cotton. This tent fabric dries faster and is more tear-resistant than cotton. Also, poly-cotton is breathable and has a longer lifespan than polyester.

The mixing ratio of the individual materials determines the properties of the mixed fabric. Poly-cotton often consists of 70% cotton and 30% polyester.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Poly-cotton is more tear-resistant and dries faster than cotton.
  • The tent fabric is lighter than pure cotton.
  • Good climate inside the tent because poly-cotton is breathable.
  • Longer service life than PU-coated polyester.

Disadvantages:

  • Must be well cared for
  • Comparatively high price

Poly cotton is often used for large, stable tents that stay in one place for a long time. For example group tents, caravan awnings and folding motorhomes.

Cuben Fiber (Dyneema)

Cuben fiber is an ultra-strong polyethylene fiber, using a patented gel rotation process. It was originally developed for the sails on racing yachts, but its unique characteristics have made it ideal for lightweight tents. It is windproof, waterproof, and has a high energy absorption capacity with very low elongation.

Cuben Fibe or Dyneema fabric is got incredible tensile strength for its weight. This synthetic composite fabric is also extremely resistant to abrasion, humidity, UV rays and chemicals. We need to say, Dyneema ropes are currently the strongest in the world.

However, cuben fiber is a lot more expensive than other tent fabrics. That’s why Dyneema tent is more expensive than others, even the can reach double sometimes. However, this type of tent is easy to puncture with a buckle or hiking pole or whatever.

Also, cuben fiber tents are not always very comfortable and often don’t have a groundsheet. These designs may pack down to the size for comfortable carrying but might not keep you as warm and dry as other shelters.

Which tent material is the best for me?

It entirely depends on the intended use. You know every tent fabric has good and bad properties. And you have to decide which qualities are most important to you. However, for short camping trips on commercial campsites or at festivals, a cheaply made polyester tent is worth it. For hiking, the high-end polyester or silnylon model should be fine.

We recommend nylon for tents that are frequently set up and dismantled or carried over longer distances. The tent fabric is much lighter than cotton, so you can pitch the tent more easily and quickly on a weekend trip.

Cotton and poly-cotton tents can be ideal if you need to stand in the same place for a long time. The reason is: Cotton has good thermal properties and is very comfortable in a tent. However, this material is quite heavy. But that’s not a problem if you don’t have to carry the tent over long distances.

Cuben fiber fabric ten canvas could be a wise choice for backpackers and long-distance runners. But keep in mind that its fragility can make it a riskier option for longer, more remote trips.

If you still have questions, we will be happy to answer them.

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