Tent Fabrics – Which is Best?

If you are looking at buying a family tent you will have come across a confusing mix of different tent fabrics, from polyester to poly-cotton, and a whole collection of different brand names. It’s hard to know which is best. We try to clear things up…


Which tent fabric is best

There are lots if different tent fabrics, with some being a lot more expensive than others. But are they worth it?

Each tent fabric has its good and bad points.

Which tent material is the best will depend on your needs. For example, do you need a tent that’s easy to transport, or are you looking for a tent to be your holiday home for a week or more?

Man Made Nylon and Polyester

The vast majority of tents are made out of man-made fabrics, either polyester or nylon based.

For family tents, you will typically find Polyester. Nylon is used for lightweight backpacking tents.

Why is Nylon or Polyester the best material for tents

  • Cheaper – you can get a lot more affordable tents with man-made fabrics (the exception is, of course, some of the tents for extreme expeditions, such as those used when trekking the South Pole).
  • Lighter – from smaller backpacking tents to even larger family tents, these man-made fabrics are a lot lighter and less bulky than natural based fabrics, making tents made from this material a lot easier to get to the campsite.
  • Quick to dry out.
  • Less maintenance. Can be more resistant to mildew and rips.

Why is Nylon or Polyester not so good for tents

  • Compared to cotton, they are not good insulators. This means that tents can get very hot when it is warm, and chilly when it gets cold.
  • The material is not naturally breathable. Condensation can build up on the inside of the tent – sometimes enough to cause puddles.
  • They can deteriorate and lose colour over time through exposure to the sun’s rays.
  • The lightweight material means they flap around a bit more in the breeze…which can be a bit noisy if you are trying to sleep.

Man Made Fabric Coatings and Water Resistance

The man made fabrics will be made or covered with coatings to increase water and UV resistance.

The quality of these coatings can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and tent to tent.

Man-made fabrics are graded by how water resistant they are, known as the Hydrostatic Head. Some tents will have more water resistant fabrics than others.

You can read here to understand more about Hydrostatic Head and what makes a good leak-proof tent.

Cotton and Canvas Tent Fabrics

Canvas is the traditional tent fabric, and it has lots of great properties for a tent.

In days gone by, Canvas was made from Hemp, but these days canvas for tents is made from cotton. So, tents advertised as ‘canvas’ or ‘cotton’ are actually made from the same thing.

Why Canvas or Cotton is the best material for tents

  • Compared to man-made tent fabrics, cotton insulates extremely well. You won’t get as hot on a warm day, nor as cold when it is chilly.
  • Cotton is a breathable fabric and can absorb water. This means that you are unlikely to have an issue with condensation.
  • Due to its weight and insulation properties, canvas/cotton tents can be quieter, and not so noisy if there’s a breeze.
  • The fabric can last a long time and is more resistant to harmful UV rays.
  • (Personally, a new canvas tent can smell a lot nicer than the chemical smell you sometimes get with man-made tents).

The problems with canvas and cotton as a tent material

  • Cotton and Canvas is very heavy and bulky. This means transporting a large tent to a campsite can be problematic – possibly enough for you to no longer fit it in the boot of your car. It can also make pitching a bit more work.
  • You normally need to ‘weather’ the canvas before using it. This involves leaving a new tent out in the rain (or under the garden hose) so that the canvas expands and fills in the holes in the stitching and fabric. Without doing this, your new canvas tent could leak.
  • Cotton and Canvas requires more maintenance. As it absorbs water, you need to dry the material out before putting the tent away, and this can take a lot longer than man-made materials. Without doing so, you will get mildew in your tent.
  • It can be easier to snag and cause a tear, which can turn into a big tear.
  • Cost – cotton or canvas are a lot more expensive than man-made fabrics.

Coatings and Treatments on Cotton Tents

Cotton tents shouldn’t be coated with a waterproof membrane as polyester tents have since the cotton needs to remain breathable and are already UV and water resistant.

However, some manufacturers have applied a light waterproofing treatment to the cotton. The cotton still retains its breathability, but the treatment means that water will bead off the tent if there is a light shower or morning dew.  Innovations like this make cotton more practical for family camping as it helps reduce the drying out time. (Especially important for campsites that insist you leave your pitch by 10 am!).

What about Poly-Cotton Tents?

Poly-cotton is a hybrid between man-made polyester and cotton. Essentially a poly-cotton fabric is a cotton fabric with some polyester weaved into it.

All the good qualities of cotton (or canvas) can be found in poly-cotton tents. They have some of the bad points too (such as cost, weight, and maintenance), but the polyester in the weave makes them slightly more resistant to mildew than pure cotton or canvas, and the polyester also helps reduce the risk of large rips.

So which is the best tent fabric?

As you can see, each fabric has a lot of good properties, but also some not-so-good points.

For me, the feel and insulating properties of canvas (or poly-cotton) make for a great family tent, especially if you are having a camping holiday.

If you get a chance to visit a camping show, tent display, or even have a chat to campers with a canvas or poly-cotton tent on a campsite, I urge you to compare it to a polyester tent.

Wait until the sun comes out for a few minutes. Go into a canvas or poly-cotton tent and it will feel pleasantly cool (not cold). Then walk into a polyester tent and you’ll immediately feel and breath the baking air.

If it is cold and a bit breezy, do the same test again. The canvas or poly-cotton tent will feel a lot warmer and quieter than the polyester tent. It will feel like a comfortable refuge.

So for family holiday tents, if you can afford, transport, and pitch it, go for canvas, cotton, or poly-cotton is my recommendation.

However, for quick weekend camping (and definitely backpacking!) then man-made fabrics are the way to go…though some air-framed tents can make pitching a cotton or polycotton tent a lot easier and more practical, making them work for the weekend camp too.

Polyester fabrics can work really well for holiday tents as well. Just remember to open the vents, and if your tent’s doors and windows allow for a through-draft of air, then use that when it gets hot.

If you are camping outside of the summer months then the insulating properties of canvas/cotton/polycotton are definitely worth it.

For campsites with an electric hook-up, you can use a tent heater and the fabric will retain more of that heat than a polyester tent. (See keeping warm and this Heater for more details).

Some canvas tents also have an outlet for a wood burning stove flue. This can make the tent very warm indeed. (Click here to read about our experience of using a wood-burning stove in a polycotton tent).

Brand specific fabrics

Some tent companies brand their mix of tent fabrics, treatments, and coatings. This can make it a little confusing to understand just what each is.

The table below doesn’t list every tent brand fabric, but there’s quite a few here. Note that each brand will have slightly different qualities and care instructions, but the table will give you a guide to if the manufacturer is referring to a man-made or cotton based fabric.

Coleman WeatherTec™ 4000 mm

The Coleman WeatherTec™ 4000 mm provides a Hydrostatic Head of 4000 mm, it is fire-retardant and provides UV protection to SPF50.

Read more about Coleman WeatherTec™ 4000 mm

Coleman WeatherTec™ 4500 mm

The Coleman WeatherTec™ 4500 mm provides a Hydrostatic Head of 4500 mm, it is fire-retardant and provides UV protection to SPF50.

Read more about Coleman WeatherTec™ 4500 mm

Coleman WeatherTec™ 6000 mm

The Coleman WeatherTec™ 6000 mm has 6000 mm hydrostatic head and is a 75D polyester tent fabric.

Read more about Coleman WeatherTec™ 6000 mm

Outwell Outtex 4000 Select

A 100% Polyester tent material with a hydrostatic head of 4000 mm. Outtex 4000 Select

Read more about Outwell Outtex 4000 Select

Outwell Outtex® 3000 Select

The Outtex® 3000 Select is Outwell's starting level of tent fabrics. Although this is their entry-level tent fabric, it isn't a basic "cheap and cheerful" tent fabric. The fabric is coated with a waterproof PU-coating and comes in with a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm.  It also has a UPF 30+ rating to help prevent the sun from breaking down the tent fabric, plus it has a CPAI-84 fire-retardant rating.
The Outtex® 3000 Select Tent Fabric

The Outtex® 3000 Select Tent Fabric with a HH of 3000 mm. Ideal for shorter camping trips. (Image credit: Outwell)

Read more about Outwell Outtex® 3000 Select

Outwell Outtex® 6000 Pro

A 100% polyester tent fabric with a hydrostatic head of 6000 mm.
Outtex 6000 Pro

Details of the Outtex 6000 Pro material that this tent uses (Image credit: Outwell)

Read more about Outwell Outtex® 6000 Pro

Outwell Outtex® Airtech

The Outtex® Airtech is a polycotton tent fabric. This is a mix of polyester and fabric, providing you with the benefits of both classic canvas and modern technologies. This is a breathable material, which gets more water-resistant the wetter it gets. It is also treated with both a water-repellant and UPF50+ coating.
Outtex AirTech

The Outtex AirTech tent fabric (Image credit: Outwell)

Being polycotton has the following advantages over normal polyester tents:
  • Warmer than polyester when the weather gets cold. It will retain more heat inside your tent.
  • Cooler than polyester when the weather gets hot. Polyester tents soon get very hot. Your Polycotton tent will stay cooler.
  • Quieter. Less noise from the campsite to disturb a great night's sleep.
To get your tent ready for camping, you will need to "weather it". The naturally breathable fabric has small airholes. These seal up when the fabric gets wet, and then dry in their new position. The Outtex Airtech has a water-repellent coating, but to make extra sure your tent is ready for the campsite, pitch it at home and wet it with the hose and then dry out a few times.

Read more about Outwell Outtex® Airtech

Regatta Waterproof Hydrofort 70D flysheet with 3000mm hydrostatic head

Read more about Regatta Waterproof Hydrofort 70D flysheet with 3000mm hydrostatic head

Robens HydroTex Polycotton RS

The Robens HydroTex Polycotton RS is a ripstop fabric with a mix of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. This gives that canvas-feel to the tent with many of the same properties of canvas:
  • Breathability
  • Better insulation: cooler when it's hot, warmer when it's cold.
However, with the polyester, the material will be lighter than the thick traditional canvas, which is ideal for tents that you want to take to different campsites. Robens HydroTex Polycotton RS contains UV-inhibitors and a DWR coating finish to add longevity to the fabric.
Hydrotext Polycotton RS

Robens HydroTex Polycotton RS (Image credit: Robens)

Read more about Robens HydroTex Polycotton RS

Robens HydroTex® CORE

The Robens HydroTex® CORE is a fire-retardant 75 denier polyester tent fabric with a PU-coating for waterproofness and a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm. This fabric is designed for less-demanding trips. If you want tents with a more durable fabric for your adventures, look at the Robens HydroTex® HD RS fabric.
HydroTex CORE Tent Fabric

Robens HydroTex® CORE tent fabric. 3000 mm HH (Image Credit: Robens)

Read more about Robens HydroTex® CORE

Robens HydroTex® HD

The Robens HydroTex® HD is designed for tents that are going to be used a lot. It strong but lightweight, and uses a 75-denier high-density, PU-coated polyester. The hydrostatic head comes in at 5000 mm. The fabric is also fire-retardant and treated with UV inhibitors.
Robens HydroTex HT Tent Fabric

Robens HydroTex HT Tent Fabric (Image credit: Robens)

Read more about Robens HydroTex® HD

Robens HydroTex® HD RS

Robens HydroTex® HD RS fabric is strong and light. It uses a 75-denier high-density ripstop polyester, which is PU-coated for waterproofness with UV-inhibitors and fire retardant coating. It has a hydrostatic head of 5000 mm.
HydroTex® HD RS

Robens HydroTex® HD RS tent fabric (Image credit: Robens)

Read more about Robens HydroTex® HD RS

Robens HydroTex® Polycotton

Most tents are made from 100% polyester.  This material is highly waterproof, which helps keep your tent dry. Unfortunately, a tight-weave 100% polyester material isn't breathable. That's the differents with a tent made from Robens HydroTex® Polycotton, a modern twist on the traditional canvas tent material. It's made with a tight-weave fabric that's treated with a water repellant and UV-inhibitor. Unlike polyester, the weave isn't 100% waterproof.  Wait! Doesn't that mean my tent will leak!?!  Well, no - not after weathering at least. As the fibres get wet, they naturally expand to fill the holes and then dry back into their new shape.  When you get a new tent with Robens HydroTex® Polycotton, it's important to spray the hose on it or leave it out in the rain and let it dry. You will then have a tent that feels traditional (but not as heavy as traditional canvas), that helps keep the tent cooler in the summer months and warmer in the winter months compared to a 100% polyester tent.
Robens Hydrotex Polycotton

Robens HydroTex® Polycotton (Image credit: Robens)

Read more about Robens HydroTex® Polycotton

Vango ProTex ® 70.SRN

The Vango ProTex ® 70.SRN is one of the strongest tent fabrics in their range, built for the rigours of more extreme adventures. This is nylon fabric, not polyester.
Vango ProTex ® 70.SRN Tent Fabric

The Vango ProTex ® 70.SRN has a Hydrostatic Head of 5000 mm (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. ripstop weave added strength and durability
  2. fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  4. 5000mm HH one of our highest waterproof ratings in the technical ranges
  5. siliconised/PU coating finish adds water repellency, elasticity, stability and strength
  6. high-quality Korean dye retains colour in extended UV exposure
  7. 70d nylon 6.6 fabric incredibly high quality with additional strength and wear resistance

Read more about Vango ProTex ® 70.SRN

Vango ProTex® 15 SRN

The Vango ProTex® 15.SRN is made from 15-denier ripstop nylon fabric, which is both lightweight and strong. This fabric has a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm.
Vango ProTex® 15.SRN

The ProTex® 15.SRN nylon tent material. (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. 15D nylon fabric* incredibly light yet strong
  2. Fully factory taped seam* for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. Fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  4. 3000mmHH highly waterproof while retaining a low weight
  5. PU coating* ensures fabric is water-tight and allows seams to be sealed
  6. Siliconised water repellent allows rain and dirt to run off
  7. High-quality Korean dye retains colour in extended UV exposure
Do you need a tent with an even stronger nylon material? Then have a look at the Vango ProTex 70 SRN.

Read more about Vango ProTex® 15 SRN

Vango ProTex® Haven

The Vango ProTex® Haven is a 5000 mm hydrostatic head polyester tent fabric.
ProTex® Haven

The Vango ProTex® Haven tent material (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. 70d polyester fabric lightweight and strong
  2. fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  4. 5000mm HH one of the highest waterproof ratings in the Vango technical ranges

Read more about Vango ProTex® Haven

Vango ProTex® RS

The Vango ProTex® RS is a tough yet lightweight tent fabric for tough camping adventures. The 70-denier polyester fabric is fire-retardant coated and has a hydrostatic head of 5000 mm.
Vango Protex RS Fabric

Vango Protex RS Fabric with 5000 mm HH (Image credit: Vango)

  1. Ripstop weave added strength and durability
  2. Fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 70D polyester fabric lightweight and strong
  4. 5000mmHH our highest waterproof rating in the technical ranges
  5. Fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards

Read more about Vango ProTex® RS

Vango Sentinel Active

Vango Sentinel Active is a waterproof tent fabric with a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm.
Sentinel Active

The Sentinel Active has a HH of 3000 mm (Image credit: Vango)

 
  1. 3000mm HH waterproof and easily cleaned
  2. fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 70D polyester fabric - Highly waterproof, durable and reliable fabric.
  4. fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  5. UPF30 UV protection factor

Read more about Vango Sentinel Active

Vango Sentinel Active Plus

Vango's Sentinel Active Plus tent material is a lightweight polyester with a hydrostatic head rating of 4000 mm.
Sentinel Active Plus

Vango's Sentinel Active Plus has a HH of 4000 mm (Image credit: Vango)

  1. 4000mm HH waterproof and easily cleaned
  2. fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 70D polyester fabric - Highly waterproof, durable and reliable fabric.
  4. fire retardant meets ISO5912* standards
  5. UPF30 ** UV protection factor

Read more about Vango Sentinel Active Plus

Vango Sentinel Dura

Vango's Sentinel Dura tent fabric has a Hydrostatic Head of 4000 mm.
Sentinel Dura Tent Fabric

Vango's Sentinel Dura tent material has 4000 mm HH (Image credit: Vango)

  1. 4000mm HH waterproof and easily cleaned
  2. Fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 75D polyester fabric - Highly waterproof, durable and reliable fabric
  4. Durable strong weather resistant fabric
  5. Fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  6. UPF30 UV protection factor
  7. ColourLok™ - aids colour retention from UV light

Read more about Vango Sentinel Dura

Vango Sentinel ECO

The Vango Sentinel Eco is made from recycled single-use fabrics, to provide a tent fabric with a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm.
Vango Sentinel Eco

The Vango Sentinel Eco is made out of recycled single-use fabrics. (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. 3,000mm HH – Waterproof and easily cleaned
  2. Fully Factory Taped Seam – For complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 70D Recycled Polyester – Highly waterproof, durable and reliable, with low weight
  4. Fire Retardant – Meets ISO5912 standards
  5. UPF30 - UV protection factor
  6. Durable – Strong weather resistant fabric
  7. ColourLOK ™ - Aids colour retention from UV light
 

Read more about Vango Sentinel ECO

Vango Sentinel Exclusive

The Sentinel Exclusive is a 5000 mm hydrostatic head tent fabric, typically found on Vango's higher-end family tents.
Sentinel Exclusive Tent Fabric

The Vango Sentinel Exclusive has a HH of 5000 mm (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. 5000mm HH waterproof and easily cleaned
  2. Fully factory taped seam for complete peace of mind from weather ingress
  3. 150DD polyester fabric
  4. Fire retardant meets ISO5912 standards
  5. UPF50 UV protection factor
  6. ColourLok™ - aids colour retention from UV light

Read more about Vango Sentinel Exclusive

Vango Sentinel Signature

The Vango Sentinel Signature is a mix of cotton and polyester to create that traditional canvas feel, but with modern technology. This breathable material will make your tent more insulated than tents with just polyester tent fabric.
Vango Sentinel Signature tent fabric

Vango Sentinel Signature breathable tent fabric (Image Credit: Vango)

  1. Water-resistant treated to repel water
  2. Climate control breathable and adjusts the temperature to suit the environment
  3. Soft handle premium luxury feel
  4. Technical lightweight polycotton - Lightweight, durable fabric.
  5. UPF50 UV protection factor
  6. ColourLok™ - aids colour retention from UV light

Read more about Vango Sentinel Signature

Get the Family Camping Planner

Enter your name and email address and we'll send you the family camping planner.

We won't send you SPAM. You can easily unsubscribe at anytime. Powered by ConvertKit
Get Out With The Kids
Logo
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Compare