The Best Tent Material

With the hundreds of different tents available on the market and the variety of materials they are made of, it is difficult to determine which one to buy. The most common and popular materials for tents to made of are cotton and polyester. Both materials are excellent and make for some high-quality tents, but which is better? It is up for interpretation. Cotton has some significant advantages over polyester and vice versa. This article is meant to be a guide to help you decide which tent material is best suited for you and your needs.


Let’s start with polyester. One major advantage that polyester has over cotton is that it is usually less expensive. Polyester and other man-made fabrics are also typically less bulky and easier to carry than cotton and other natural-based materials. This makes polyester a very attractive option for those who must trek to a campsite or those going backpacking. As well as being lighter, polyester can dry out much quicker than cotton when it gets wet, making polyester the ideal material for a quick weekend camping trip. It is also a lot easier to maintain than most cotton, as it doesn’t accumulate mildew or rot and it doesn’t tear as easily. Polyester tents are often coated to be resistant to water and UV rays, as the material itself isn’t resistant. These tents are often the best ones to use for a quick and easy weekend camping trip and are the best option for backpacking adventures.

Polyester isn’t without its downsides, however. It cannot insulate quite as well as cotton, meaning it can’t keep out heat or cold as effectively. Therefore, if you do use a polyester tent for a summer reunion, make sure you allow for ventilation wherever possible by opening windows, doors, and screens. It also isn’t naturally breathable, and therefore can often have condensation issues which can lead to puddles building up on the bottom of the tent. However, you can look for a coating that will be able to let air in while keeping out moisture. Enough exposure to the sun can cause the material to weaken and lose its color. The downside to polyester being so lightweight means that it will flap around more in the wind, which can create a lot of annoying noise.

Cotton Tents

Cotton tents (often referred to as canvas tents) have their advantages and disadvantages. It has stood the test of time, as the oldest tents were made from cotton, and it is still quite popular today. One major upside to cotton is that it insulates much better than polyester, keeping extreme heat or extreme cold from getting inside the tent. It is also breathable and can absorb water, which keeps it from having the condensation issues common in polyester tents. Its insulation, as well as its heaviness, keeps it from flapping and making noise in the wind. It typically lasts much longer than polyester, partially because it is more naturally resistant to UV rays. Cotton tents usually smell better than polyester, since the man-made material can sometimes carry a chemical smell, while cotton retains a fresh smell for quite a while. These tents shouldn’t be coated the same way that polyester tents often are, but some manufacturers treat the tents to be somewhat waterproof. This can help light rainfall and morning dew to just bead off the tent, rather than being absorbed, which in turn helps the material to dry faster. Cotton tents are often the best tents to use for campouts in large groups, summer reunions, and fun get-togethers, or when you anticipate extreme weather.

One major downside to cotton tents is the price. The natural material is usually a lot more expensive than polyester. Cotton is also much heavier and bulkier than polyester, which makes it difficult to carry from place to place if you must hike to your campsite, and can make the tent much harder to set up. Another thing that can be a drawback to cotton is that it often requires weathering. This means that you need to leave it out in the rain to allow the material to expand and fill itself in. It wouldn’t hurt to do this a few times to make sure all the fibers have nestled into each other sufficiently. If it isn’t going to rain anytime soon you can also run water over it with a hose. If you don’t do this there could be leaking when you first use it. There are cotton tents that have a weatherproof coating, which does not require weathering. Some larger frame cotton tents are treated heavily with Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) to make them more water-resistant as well as a lot tougher, but they also have added weight and can be more at risk of condensation. These treated tents are usually not as breathable as typical cotton tents. In that regard, there is also more that you must do to maintain the material, such as allowing it to dry after it has absorbed water. Failing to do that can cause the tent to start accumulating mildew. Because cotton is so firm it can tear more easily than polyester, and one small tear can quickly evolve into a larger one.

Tent Material Blends

While these are the two most common tent materials, there are other options as well. One of these is a blend of polyester and cotton blend, appropriately called poly-cotton. It has all the advantages of cotton as well as several good qualities more commonly found in polyester, such as being more resistant to ripping or tearing as well as being less likely to acquire mildew. Be aware that it also features a few of the downsides of cotton, particularly regarding weight, price, and maintenance.

Nylon Tents

Another common material is nylon, which has a lot of similar qualities to polyester. Like polyester, it is man-made. It doesn’t absorb water which allows it to stay light and easy to carry. Nylon material is often found in the cheaper tents that you find, but you will sometimes find a more expensive tent made of nylon, which usually means that it is coated with something to make it a higher quality, usually silicone. Cheaper tents are typically coated with acrylic. Nylon tents are usually made in a fine weave with a “rip-stop” pattern, which allows for thin and lightweight parts of the fabric as well as thicker areas that will prevent a tear from laddering across the material. The fabric does lose shape when it gets wet, so when you pitch your tent, make sure the guy lines are tight to prevent this from happening. The biggest disadvantage of nylon tents is that UV rays will damage the material relatively quickly, and the tent may not last a long time. There are certain coatings you can get to filter the light and increase the tent’s life span a little longer, but you shouldn’t count on being able to use a nylon tent in the long-term.

Most major brands use some form of polyester, cotton, nylon, or poly-cotton, while many have their unique qualities. A lot of brands that use polyester treat it to make it more resistant to water, such as Kampa, Coleman, and Outwell. Robens has several different options for material, including breathable poly-cotton that is given treatment for water resistance.

Elk Mountain Tents

Elk Mountain Tents has a unique material they use for their canvas wall tents. It is polyester-based, but they have used scientific advancements to make it the best it can be and avoid many of the downsides of polyester. This material is made to be much more breathable so that you won’t have any problems with condensation building up. It is made to be lightweight but strong (the 13 x 16 option only weighs 60 lbs.) and it won’t accumulate mold or mildew like traditional canvas will. The fabric is waterproof and has sealed seams, so there is no need for a rainfly like there is with a lot of other polyester tents. It is also made to be much more durable than most canvas, as it will last longer, will not shrink, and is even better at withstanding UV rays. Its tear strength is 40 lbs. (fill direction) and 67 lbs. (warp direction), which is about twice as strong as the popular Sunforger canvas. Its breaking strength is also significantly higher than other types of canvas, with a strength of 449 lbs. (warp) and 382 lbs. (fill), compared to traditional canvas’ strength of 382 lbs. (warp) and 241 lbs. (fill).

There are many great options out there for tent material, all with different upsides and downsides. It is up to you what kind of tent would work best in your situation. Maybe you want something cheap that you can take camping occasionally or maybe you are in the market to invest in something a little more expensive that you can use for years to come. Hopefully, this article has helped you to get an idea of what direction you are looking to go into purchasing a tent.