Polyester Canvas Tents Vs Cotton Canvas Tents—Which is better?

When you invest in a canvas tent, you are looking for a tent that is durable, spacious and inside your price range. You want a tent that you can rely on, one that you can use year after year in any condition— rain or shine. But which wall tent is going to be ‘the one’? Which one will be durable enough, spacious enough, and priced just right? The answer is simple: the Elk Mountain Tent with its unique breathable polyester fabric.

Most wall tents on the market are made of cotton, but if you really want the most bang for your buck, be sure to buy a polyester canvas tent because it will require less work and will last longer. We’ll go into this in detail below, but for those who just want a summary, here it is:

Polyester Canvas Tent Pros:

  • Incapable of Rot
  • More Durable
  • Waterproof
  • Better UV Protection

Polyester Canvas Tent Cons:

  • Quality and Breathability vary drastically from company to company

Cotton Tent Pros:

  • Rustic Look and Softer Touch
  • Biodegradable

Cotton Tent Cons:

  • Shrinks
  • Rots
  • Requires Treatments (rain, sun, mold, etc)
  • More combustible
  • Heavy

Ok, let’s dissect this information now by first examining the pros and cons of a polyester wall tent.

Polyester Canvas Wall Tents

As listed above, the pros of a polyester wall tent include their durability and waterproof capabilities, their inability to succumb to rot, and the fact that they don’t shrink.

Polyester Tents can be Stronger

Polyester is a tough material for its light weight. It can take a beating, which is something you want when you are out and about in the great outdoors. But not all polyester is the same. How the fibers are woven together and its thickness greatly affect its durability. This is similar to how a 10 oz cotton canvas will not be a strong as a 14 oz cotton canvas. However, the difference is much larger with polyester because nobody makes a 2 oz cotton canvas and yet you see very flimy polyester tents all the time.

Our unique polyester canvas is an 11 oz canvas with a breaking strength of 449 lbs (warp direction) and 382 lbs (fill direction), making it significantly tougher than traditional canvas which has a breaking strength of 382 (warp) and 241 (fill) for 12 oz canvas and about 210 (warp) and 140 (fill) for 10 oz canvas. The tear strength is 67 lbs (warp) and 40 lbs (fill); this is roughly double that of the Sunforger canvas material used by other tent companies.

Polyester Canvas Tents are More Waterproof

As mentioned before, polyester wall tents are made of synthetic material that is naturally waterproof. People often ask if they need a rain fly. The short answer is no. However, a rain fly will give you that extra protection from the elements that can wear anything down over time.

Polyester Canvas Tents Don’t Shrink

Cotton canvas will shrink after getting wet and then drying. On the one hand, this tightens the gaps between the fibers and improves its water resistance, but on the other hand, it means your tent will get smaller over time. Luckily, polyester tents don’t need to be weathered and won’t shrink over time which means you can rest assured that it will fit its frame every time.

Polyester Canvas Tents cannot Rot

This is another thing that sprouts from a con of the cotton wall tent list, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. If tents made of organic material are stored with any moisture they can be subject to mold and rot. Bacteria and microorganism will enjoy gobbling up the natural fibers of cotton but have zero interest in the synthetic polyester. We found rot to be the number one reason someone is looking to replace their tent.  However, with a polyester wall tent, you won’t have to worry about that.

Not all Polyester is Created Equal

Breathability, touch and feel, and thickness (and by extension, strength) vary depending on the manufacturing process. Saying that you have a tent made of polyester is like saying you have a water bottle made of plastic – it could be thick or thin, strong or weak, etc. Some polyester feels like plastic while others feel like a cotton-poly blend. Some polyester tents have zero breathability while others have the same breathability as cotton canvas. The difference lies in the manufacturing. The best way to know you are getting premium-grade polyester canvas is the do a little investigating:

  • Ask for the oz per yard. This is a good starting point as a higher weight generally means greater strength. It also gives you something to easily compare with cotton canvas.
  • Ask for the break and tear strength. You should get two different numbers for each of these representing warp and fill. If a tent company can’t provide you with that information or are only willing to give you one number for each, avoid them.
  • Ask about the material’s breathability. Unfortunately, most people will say whatever you want to hear when it comes to breathability, so a helpful work around is to search reviews online including the word “condensation.”
  • Request a sample. Not everybody is willing to do this, but it’s one thing to get an email with some numbers and something entirely different to feel it for yourself.

Cotton Canvas Wall Tents

Cotton Tents all Breathe

While polyester’s breathability depends entirely on its manufacturing, cotton canvas is naturally breathable with its organic fibers. The material is usually a looser weave and lets more air through its walls than some synthetic materials. This doesn’t mean that they expose you to the elements, but rather that they allow for a healthy airflow. But what about water? The breathable holes aren’t so much an issue because the water is more likely to get absorbed into the fibers than pour through. Of course, this means your tent can be soggy and very heavy but more breathability means a more moderate temperature on the inside and less condensation trouble.

Cotton Tents are Softer and More Natural

It is said that cotton wall tents are softer than polyester. Cotton is the same stuff your t-shirt is made out of. Even though it’s thicker it still has a more pleasant touch than synthetic fibers because it is familiar. That’s not to say it can’t be very rough but the feel will be natural. It takes a very sensitive touch for a person to be able to tell the difference between the two but some people swear by the natural and more rustic touch of cotton canvas.

Cotton Tents Shrink

As mentioned above, cotton wall tents can shrink over time and especially after the first time it comes in contact with water. Just like a cotton shirt will shrink in the wash, it is possible for a cotton wall tent to also shrink. This is something that happens because the fibers are flexible and malleable while the fibers in polyester are not. There have been many an outdoorsman or woman that have gone to set up their tent after a few months or years in storage to find that it is too small for its frame.  Cutting a frame to fit while you are trying to set up camp is no fun.

Cotton Tents Can Rot

This is by far the biggest down side to cotton canvas. Cotton is an organic substance it is susceptible to rot. Bugs like it. Microorganisms like it. Nature wants to return your cotton canvas to Mother Earth and it will take a concerted effort on your part to see to it that that doesn’t happen. This means that if a cotton canvas tent is stored in a moist environment or doesn’t dry completely before being put away it will rot and fall apart over time. But the annoying thing is that the canvas is so thick it takes quite a while to dry fully. Anyway, to combat mold and mildew, you have to pay for special treatments for the canvas for mold and mildew. While you are at it, it’s recommended that you also have it treated with a waterproof coating. Did I mention that it’s best to also apply a UV protection?

Cotton Tent Combustability

Cotton will burn quickly and easily if not also treated for fire. So, if you’re doing the math, that’s now 4 different recommended treatments to ensure your cotton tent doesn’t fall apart. But, back to the combustability, polyester canvas will burn as well but not as well. You can treat a polyester canvas with a fire-retardant designed for polyester but most campers prefer instead to just use a stove mat and heat shield.

Choosing the right tent is of vital importance for those who love the great outdoors, so it is best to know what you are getting yourself into. If you are a die-hard traditionalist who prefers the softer touch and natural look of a cotton canvas tents, then there are lots of good options (our pick being Big Sky Canvas). But if you want to take advantage of the technological advances of the modern era and get a canvas tent with a higher break and tear strength, that doesn’t require expensive sun, rain, or mold treatments throughout the years, then I’d recommend you take a look at what we offer at Elk Mountain Tents.

If you want to know more be sure to email us at [email protected] or check out our FAQ page.