Polyester, Silnylon, DCF or Cuben fiber, Polycotton canvas and PE? Understanding more about tent fabrics will help you make the right choice when looking at tents for sale. It can be confusing with so many different fabrics, coatings and specs. Below are some pros and cons of the most common tent fabrics and what they are most suitable for. Or check out our article for more on tent fabric specs and coatings
- Pros – good strength, stretch, and tear resistance, easily maintained, reasonable weight, reasonable cost, good pack size, good mildew resistance, waterproof with applied coatings
- Cons – not great UV resistance or heat resistance, low breathability leads to condensation, has a limited lifespan
- Great for – small and large dome tents, family camping tents and shelters, camping tarps
Polyester is the most common fabric used in tents. It’s a popular choice as it does well in various weather conditions and is affordable. Polyester doesn’t change shape when wet, is waterproof when coated, performs ok in sunlight, is more durable than nylon, is of a reasonable weight and can pack down fairly small.
- Pros – very light weight, good strength, waterproof with applied coatings, easily maintained, low packed volume
- Cons – higher cost, stretches when wet, susceptible to UV damage, not breathable, can tear
- Great for – ultralight and light weight tents, tarps
Nylon is generally stronger and lighter than polyester but can also tear easily (be sure to get Ripstop fabric) so suitable for smaller ultralight and light weight tents and not bigger family sized tents. The fabric must be coated with Silicone (hence silnylon) and/or PU to make nylon waterproof. Nylon can be weakened by UV exposure so limit time in direct sunlight if possible.
Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF) / formerly Cuben Fiber
- Pros – extremely light, extremely strong, waterproof, great UV, tear and chemical resistance
- Cons – very expensive, doesn’t stuff (needs to be folded), does not stretch, low heat resistance
- Great for - ultralight tents, tarps
DCF is the ultimate light weight tent fabric, Dyneema fibres (15x stronger than steel of same weight) enclosed in a polyester film. It’s the lightest, strongest, and most durable material but unfortunately also by far the most expensive. Weighs less than half of silnylon but costs four times as much, is waterproof and doesn’t absorb water. But there is no ‘give’ in DCF and care is needed when pitching as it won’t stretch into shape and may puncture. Not heat resistant so don’t cook under it. The ‘miracle fabric’ of ultralight lovers – at a price.
- Pros – breathable, moisture absorbent, less condensation, good insulation - cool in summer, warm in winter, long lasting, high UV resistance
- Cons – expensive, heavy, bulky, mildew susceptibility, needs to be weathered first, requires maintenance
- Great for – cabin family style tents, glamping, bell tents, longer term camping, swags
Cotton canvas is the original tent fabric your grandad probably used - thick, durable, breathable, expands and swells when wet to seal off any holes. May leak the first time in rain as the swelling process takes place so needs to be weathered/seasoned before being used. Canvas is heavy and bulky and requires a lot of effort pitching and transporting.
- Pros – better strength and mildew resistance than cotton canvas, better resistance to UV and heat than polyester, breathable – less moisture and condensation, longer lifespan and better weight than cotton canvas
- Cons – high cost, care needed for maintenance, mildew susceptibility, bulky
- Great for – family tents, cabins, roof top tents, swags, glamping tents
Polycotton is a blend of cotton canvas and polyester that makes a lighter, stronger canvas. It can be uncoated but is usually treated with coatings to repel water and improve mould and mildew resistance. Its durability, breathability and weather resistance make it great for family camping tents, swags and roof top tents.
- Pros – tough, durable, waterproof, inexpensive
- Cons – bulky, noisy, non-breathable
- Great for – dome and family tent floors, tarps.
Usually black or grey, a thick, tough, durable plastic-like material used for tarps and tent floors. Ideal for floors as its affordable, hard-wearing, waterproof and easily cleaned.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
- Pros – strong and durable, good UV resistance
- Cons – heavy and bulky
- Great for – heavy duty tent floors, heavy duty tarps, awnings and tent roof covers
Heavy duty PVC is used to meet the most rugged demands of the elements and environment with people constantly walking on it. Tough and durable but heavy and bulky. Commonly used in conjunction with canvas tents.
Mesh netting of varying strengths, thicknesses for inner tent walls to keep insects out. Windows and doors often have a mesh layer that is light weight and offers protection from bugs, better ventilation and reduces internal condensation.
Be aware that performance and quality of these fabrics can vary depending on the specifications and coatings applied. If you have any questions then just contact us at Intents Outdoors and we’ll do our best help out.