canvas vs polyester tents

Cotton Canvas Tents vs Polyester Tents: Comparing the Pros and Cons to Determine the Best Tent for Your Needs.


When it comes to choosing the right tent for camping or outdoor activities, there are many factors to consider. One of the most important is the type of material the tent is made of. Cotton canvas and polyester are two popular materials used in tent construction, and each has its pros and cons. In this article, we will compare canvas tents and polyester tents and determine which one comes out on top.

Cotton Canvas Tents

Cotton canvas has been used for centuries to make tents and is a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts. Cotton canvas tents are made from woven cotton, which is a natural and breathable material. Canvas is also durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions, making it a popular choice for camping in extreme conditions.

Advantages of Canvas Tents over Polyester

Honestly, with the advances in modern technology, there really isn’t much of a gap between these two anymore. In fact, in many ways polyester is the super choice, so let’s just look at just two ways in which cotton canvas has some advantages:

  1. Breathability. This one depends entirely on manufactoring. Some polyester is like a thick plastic and traps everything in. Other kinds of polyester canvas is no different from cotton canvas in terms of breathability, so you will want to read reviews and see what customers are saying about condensation. However, cotton will always have that natural breathability no matter what.
  2. Accessories: Most products for rain, sun, and mold treatments are designed for cotton canvas. This isn’t to say you can find all the same great things for your polyester canvas tent but it may take a little extra effort on your part, or you may have to reach out to your tent manufacturer for help rather than just head down to Cabela’s.

Disadvantages of Canvas Tents

  1. Mold and Rot: Natural breathability mixed with organic fibers means that it’s easy for mold to grow from the inside out and destry your tent. If it isn’t 100% dry when you put it away, you can anticipate that nature will do its best to break your tent down.
  2. Shrinkage: Cotton shrinks over time. Usually about 5% but depending on the manufacturing potentially as much as 10%. This is natural, and it’s even part of the weathering process that makes your tent more water-resistant, but it can also be annoying when hooks and loops on your tent don’t seem to align quite right with your frame.
  3. Cost: All sturdy canvas will be expensive, whether it is cotton or polyester, but cotton is always going to be more expensive especially when you factor in the additional treatments required to keep it in excellent condition.

Polyester Tents

Polyester is a synthetic material that is commonly used in tent construction. It can very drastically from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it could be not much better than thin nylon or much, much better than cotton canvas. Therefore, the advantages below are based on the kinds of heavy duty polyester canvas used by companies like Elk Mountain Tents.

Advantages of High Quality Polyester Tents

  1. A Little Lighter: You would think that being synthetic it would be infinitely lighter but that’s not the case. People who want a canvas tent want something that is sturdy and will last, and there’s not a great shortcut to getting there, so the material will always be on the heavy side. That said, you can expect polyester canvas to be about 10-15% lighter.
  2. A Little Stronger: This will always depend on how thick your cotton canvas is (8 oz, 10 oz, 12 oz, 14oz, etc) and how thick your polyester canvas is, but if you take a cotton canvas and a polyester canvas of the exact same weight, the polyester will likely have the higher strength. Manufacturing is important here, but just for example, the polyester canvas used by Elk Mountain Tents is only 11 oz per yard in weight but has a strength comparable to 13 or 14 oz cotton canvas.
  3. More Water-Resistant: Polyester is naturally waterproof. How it is put together will determine whether your tent is waterproof or water-resistant, but in either case, it will be more so than cotton canvas.
  4. No rot: Although mold can grow on any surface, rot only ocurs when natural fibers are getting eaten up by mother nature. Polyester is synthetic so there’s nothing for little critters to survive on. I’m not suggesting that you store your polyester tent in a swamp for a year as an experiment, but if you threw a traditional cotton canvas tent in a swamp it would break down and become part of the swamp for sure.
  5. Cheaper: The tents themselves are comparable in price, but it’s the treatments that highlight the biggest cost difference. Cotton takes a lot of fancy chemicals to maintain while polyester is very low-maintenance.

Disadvantages of Polyester Tents

  1. Breathability: This depends on how the canvas was manufactured, but breathability can be an issue for some tents. However, if you are concerned about this, just make sure you get a model that has screened windows and ventilation along the ridge.
  2. Appearance: Polyester canvas tents are usually white, like a brand new t-shirt. They don’t have that aged, tan, natural look you expect from a canvas tent.
  3. Accesories: Products like water treatment sprays and fire retardant are usually designed with canvas tent owners in mind. This means you’ll have to do a little extra research to find the right products for your tent.

Elk Mountain Tents

Our goal was to have the best tents at the lowest prices. I know everyone says that, but our tents are the best because we use a unique canvas material that is far superior to traditional cotton canvas. It really is the best. And we strive to include as many extra features as possible for the lowest price possible. We do this by not maintaining a brick and mortar store, by keeping the business family-run, and by focusing on just a handful of models rather than getting bogged down with custom orders. And we can have your tent in the mail tomorrow.

Canvas vs polyester tents


Q: Are cotton canvas tents more expensive than polyester tents?

A: Slightly, but they are about the same. Any canvas material is expensive to produce regardless of whether it is cotton or polyester. c

Q: Can polyester tents withstand harsh weather conditions?

A: Yes, and depending on the manufacturing, they may be better at it too.

Q: Are cotton canvas tents more breathable than polyester tents?

A: It depends on the manufacturing process used in the polyester canvas, but cotton canvas is always breathable.

Q: Are polyester canvas tents easier to transport than canvas tents?

A: No, all canvas tents, regardless of their material, are heavy and difficult to transport.

Which Tent Comes Out On Top?

Unless you are a die-hard traditionalist who loves the classic tan canvas look, go with polyester. Of course, you’ll want to do a little investigating because not just any polyester will do; show the tent manufacturer that you’re a serious shopper by asking for the specific break and tear strengths of the canvas. These numbers should be different for the warp and fill direction. But strenght aside, just knowing that your tent won’t rot away during the off season is a huge perk.