Ever thought about getting a tent made from canvas? While most people use tents made out of synthetics, like nylon, there are other alternatives. Synthetics may be light and easily available, but they’re also easy to damage, don’t last long, and get hot and stuffy in the sun. They also tend to be low to the ground and don’t offer much space for storing your stuff. For backpackers who need a light tent, or people without much space in their vehicles, these tents may make sense. For everyone else, they can be annoying and uncomfortable.
Canvas is an option that most people have heard of, but haven’t thought seriously about. After all, canvas tents seem old fashioned. However, there are plenty of advantages to this less glamorous tent alternative. Natural fibers breathe more easily than synthetics. This means that you don’t have to worry about coming back to a tent like an oven, even if you’re camped in an open field. You’ll get a lot more space with most canvas tent designs, too. They’re often made with plenty of headroom, preventing you from feeling like you have to stoop inside.
One thing that’s often a worry when talking about canvas as a tent material is fire. However, it’s not the problem that many people think it is. While cotton does burn, under the right conditions, it’s less dangerous than a synthetic. This is because tightly woven natural fiber fabrics tent to snuff themselves out, while nylon and similar fabrics melt. If you’re very worried about flammability, tents made from Sunforger fabric have been treated to resist fire. This can reduce breathability, but will make sure your tent never catches on fire.
Another concern people frequently have about canvas tents is the possibility of leaks. Since canvas is a porous fabric, and water soaks right into cotton, this makes sense, intellectually. However, a tightly stretched canvas surface, like a tent, actually keeps things under it quite dry. This is because the water only soaks into the canvas at first. Then the threads swell up, shutting it out. Just don’t put any items right against the walls or ceiling of your tent, and avoid sagging areas that can puddle, and you’ll stay nicely dry.
You can find plenty of canvas tent styles. One of the most popular is the wall tent, shaped a lot like a house. These tents have angled roofs and straight or slightly slanted walls that give plenty of standing and storage space. However, there are also wedge tents (the classic triangle, but larger), round and oval pavilions, and bells (like a wedge, but with semi-circular ends). You can get these from hunting suppliers and companies that offer goods to historical reenactors. They often cost more than a conventional tent, but they’ll last longer and be more comfortable.
The downsides of using canvas for tents are weight and bulk. Tents made from sturdier fabric last longer, but they also take up more space and weigh more. This means that they’re not ideal for people who like long hiking trips. They are great if you’re going to be driving up to your campsite in a vehicle, and for camping trips that last more than just a day or so. Regular synthetic tents can feel hot and cramped after a few days.
Remember that any tent needs to be cared for. In the case of models made out of canvas, this means avoiding mildew. Never put your tent away wet. If you must (breaking camp in a downpour is no fun), take it out as soon as you get home and set it up to air out and dry. Mildew not only looks and smells bad, but can weaken the fabric of your tent. Bleaching to deal with old mildew also weakens fibers. Don’t be tempted to apply a commercial waterproofer or deck sealer to your tent, either. Some people do this, because they doubt the ability of canvas to keep them dry. However, this adds a non-breathable layer to your tent, making it hot, heavy, and not much better at keeping water out. With the right care, your canvas tent could last you a decade or more, and add lots of fun to your camping experience.