If you’ve been thinking about purchasing a canvas tent you’ve come to the right place.
First off, let me start out by saying – good for you. Canvas tents are hidden gems that tend to be low on the popularity scale – which is a shame.
In our current throwaway society, we overvalue the cheap stuff and undervalue the high quality – long lasting. And canvas tents fit into that second category.
Because it’s difficult to be popular when the alternative seems so much more affordable. But those who take time to research and learn will find canvas tents are often the better investment.
So today we are going to cover the following canvas tent topics:
- What Is Canvas
- Why Canvas Tents Are Better (pros/cons)
- Best Canvas Tents For Survival
- Who Are Canvas Tents For
What Is Canvas
To compare canvas tents to other tents we first must understand what canvas is.
Canvas is an extremely durable plain-woven fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, backpacks, and other items for which sturdiness is required.
Modern canvas is usually made from cotton or linen, although in the past it was made from hemp and now there are some polyester versions as well.
The root of the word canvas originated from the Greek word cannabis meaning “made of hemp”. Which makes sense since the earliest versions of canvas were made with hemp.
Fast forward to today’s canvas tent industry and you’ll find two main canvas fabric variations used – (however there are more):
1 – Cotton Canvas
Today, cotton is the most common fabric used for canvas tents.
It’s a medium-strength fabric that’s between 10 to 20 times stronger wet vs. dry. New cotton canvas will absorb some water on the first contact and then the cotton fibers will swell.
Cotton canvas is slower to dry and is somewhat susceptible to mildew or mold if not allowed to fully dry before storage. Cotton fabric is also flammable.
Additional chemicals and coatings are often used with cotton canvas tents to improve water resistance and reduce flammability.
2 – Synthetic Fibers
A brand new type of canvas is now being used for canvas tents – namely polyester canvas.
Polyester canvas reduces the initial water absorption, reduces the overall weight of the material, increases the strength, and lowers the mildew concerns.
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Why Canvas Tents Are Better
To understand why a canvas tent might be better for your needs, you first need to understand what all the tent fabric options available to you.
Common tent fabric includes canvas, nylon, and polyester (plus many unique variations of these 3 options).
Now, nylon and polyesters are essential variations of plastic polymers. It’s the basic material you find in all the cheapest, lightweight tents on the market.
There are some differences between nylon and polyester but for this article’s purpose, they are essentially the same – thin, lightweight, plastic fabrics.
Canvas, on the other hand, is a heavy, plain-woven fabric typically made from cotton, hemp or a blend (again, some newer canvas tents are polyester based).
So, you can break your tent material options into two categories: cotton vs. plastic.
So, let’s compare these two types of tents carefully, to fully understand the pros and cons of each.
Canvas Tents Vs “Plastic” Tents
Let’s begin with a few of the benefits of choosing a canvas tent over other types of tents.
Canvas tents are more breathable than man-made nylon or polyester tents. Remember canvas is most often cotton based and this cotton woven pattern, by design, has tiny holes in it.
Nylon is a man-made fabric based on polymers and thus provides essentially no natural air transfer through the material.
This leads the canvas tents to trap less moisture and to have less condensation build up inside the tent. With a canvas tent, you avoid the stuffy humidity you can get with plastic tents.
Due to the properties of cotton, and the thickness and weight of canvas, a canvas tent walls create a better sound barrier compared to other types of fabrics. It naturally dampens outside sounds and the canvas walls won’t flap as much in the breeze and when they do, the flaps are quieter.
So, you’re more likely to sleep through windy conditions and hear less of your noisy neighbors in a busy campsite (especially in the early morning).
Canvas is a much better insulator than nylon or polyester.
So canvas tents remain cooler for longer in the hot direct sunlight vs. man-made tent fabric. They also stay warmer longer in the cooler evenings.
Polymer tents don’t retain warmth or stay cool very well, so you end up with much larger, quicker temperatures swings.
Have you ever tried taking an afternoon nap in a nylon or polyester tent? It can be sweltering with the sun beating down and the warmth getting trapped in the tent.
A canvas tent’s temperature swings are much smaller making for a more comfortable camping experience.
There are two major durability advantages with canvas tents; UV rays and punctures.
First, man-made fabrics deteriorate in harmful UV rays. So, leaving your nylon or polyester tent in the direct sunlight day after day will reduce its useful life.
This process weakens the fabric which creates more sagging and it becomes more susceptible to rips and tears.
Canvas can handle those harmful UV rays. Yes, over time the sun’s rays will cause some slight discoloration of canvas, but it won’t affect the durability and useful life of your tent compared to “plastic” tents.
While both canvas and nylon/polyester fabric will rip if met with a sharp object, a canvas tent won’t rip or tear as easily.
This is where a canvas tent excels, if properly cared for, a canvas tent can be a one-time, lifetime, purchase.
I’ve never met anyone at a campsite who’s still using the same cheap plastic tent from 30 years ago…
Can Add A Heat Source
Many large canvas tents are designed to include a heating stove. This is due to the larger size of most canvas tents and the materials used allow this setup.
You’ll find these large canvas tents include a stove jack vent flap in the roof of the tent. This allows you to generate and trap this heat in your canvas tent.
Of course, you must always follow the manufacturer’s specs carefully to avoid any mishaps but it’s a nice bonus for those who like to camp, hunt, or fish in the winter.
You can even live comfortably in a canvas tent with a stove in the dead of winter, the same cannot be said for nylon or polyester tents.
Like most things, there’s pluses and minuses, so let’s cover the minus.
Brand new cotton canvas tents usually need to be weathered before they are completely leak proof. This is because of the small holes in the cotton weave pattern in new “unweathered” canvas.
But this is normal and just a one time concern.
You just need to set it up in the rain (or hit it with a water hose) before you take it on its first adventure. This process will force the cotton to absorb a small amount of the water swelling the cotton fibers. This weathering process makes your new canvas tent watertight going forward.
It only needs to be weathered once and you’ll be good to go from there.
On a pound per square inch basis, canvas is much heavier than plastic fabrics. And this weight difference gets more noticeable the bigger the tent.
For camping, as long as you can fit the canvas tent in your car or truck, it’s no big deal. Yes, canvas tents can take a bit more time to setup but it’s worth it for the benefits we discussed previously.
Mold / Mildew
Canvas is more susceptible to mold and mildew if not properly cared for.
This means you must take care and set it in the sunlight to dry before stuffing it back into its carrying case and into your gear storage closet at home.
If you do this, you won’t have any mildew, mold, or rot problems.
Canvas tents do cost more upfront. The manufacturing process and material costs that go into a canvas tent are greater, thus the tent itself costs more.
But if you take care of your canvas tent it can last a lifetime, often many decades longer than a cheaper plastic counterpart.
So if you’re looking for a tent you can enjoy for decades to come, invest in a high quality, durable canvas tent!
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Best Canvas Tents For Survival and Recreation
Now that you understand what makes a canvas tent so great, it’s time to focus in on the best canvas tents on the market.
We’ll start with a couple of smaller single person options and then move up to larger canvas tent options (cabin style).
Smaller Canvas Tents (single to 8 person)
The following canvas tents are portable options that are relatively easy to setup, takedown, but also give you all the benefits of canvas as opposed to plastic fabrics.
Kodiak 1-Person Canvas Swag Tent
This is a very spacious 1 person canvas tent. It’s 6 feet 8 inches long and nearly 3 feet wide.
The Kodiak Canvas Swag Tent has a zip open window at the head and foot of the canvas tent to allow for ultimate airflow and temperature management.
Its made with 100% Hydrashield cotton duck canvas for maximum breathability but also watertight protection.
The Kodiak Canvas Swag Tent also comes with a nice 2-inch foam pad with a cover.
Here’s an excellent overview video of this impressive single person canvas tent.
Kodiak Canvas Truck Bed Tent
If you have a full-size pickup truck and want the ability to camp anywhere you can take your truck, then the Kodiak Canvas Truck Bed Tent is for you.
The tent is also made with Hydra-Shield, 100% cotton duck canvas. So you know it’s durable, breathable, and watertight.
Here’s a list of the compatible truck models for the Kodiak Truck Tent:
- Ford F Series
- Chevy Silverado
- GMC Sierra
- Dodge Ram
- Toyota Tundra
- Nissan Titan
And just when you think this setup would be too small, the design maximizes interior space with a tall 5-foot high ceiling!
It includes 5 windows to provide excellent ventilation and a feeling of openness. One of the windows faces the cab access window so you’ll still have access to the interior of your truck if your truck’s rear window opens up.
Here’s a promo video showing you the details of this portable truck canvas tent.
Again, another excellent series of canvas tents made by Kodiak Canvas.
The Flex-Bow Canvas Tents are well made, high-quality tents using the same Hydra-Shield cotton duck material as the previous 2 tents.
For example, the 4 person tent is 9 ft by 8 ft and includes a nice tall ceiling at 6 foot 1 inch. The 6 person tent sports a 10 ft by 10 ft dimension with an impressive 6 foot 6 inches ceiling height. The 8 person tent is 10 ft by 14 ft with also a 6-foot 6-inch ceiling.
The Kodiak Bow Flex series includes 2 large D shaped doors in both the front and back and 4 windows.
It also includes 2 vent flaps to help control airflow and temperature management.
If your family’s serious about the outdoors, this is a seriously good canvas tent.
Kodiak Canvas Tents Rating Chart
Large Cabin Canvas Tents
The next tents are the best options for larger excursions, adventures, events, or temporary housing.
These very large canvas tents tend to be in the shape of a cabin and are big, strong, and durable. They are perfect for hunting outfitters, large group excursions in the cold outdoors.
Elk Mountain’s Canvas Tents
Elk Mountain Tents makes excellent large sized canvas tents.
They sell three sizes of their classic rectangular cabin style canvas tent are (13 X 13), (13 X 16), and (13 X 20).
You can fit a lot of people and gear in these tents. For example, you can comfortably fit 10 people in the 13 x 20 tent (without a wood stove).
These Elk Mountain Canvas Tents are well crafted and use a synthetic canvas made with polyester to reduce the negative issues that are associated with cotton canvas (such as the need to weather it and mildew problems).
This polyester canvas also makes Elk Mountain Tents stronger than the competition.
For example, Elk Mountain Tents use 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.
These large cabin sized canvas tents include 6 windows provide as much openness or privacy as you desire. These tents also have vent flaps at both ends of the tent to provide temperature and airflow control.
Each tent also has a build in stove jack flap. This allows you to add a wood stove to the corner of your Elk Mountain Tent and providing a nice warm cabin feel even in the dead of winter.
I really like the quality construction of the materials for the Elk Mountain Tents.
They use steel poles for a strong internal frame that will withstand the most brutal wind and snow. And the canvas is both strong and durable polyester canvas which is stronger and water resistance compared to cotton canvas.
Plus, Elk Mountain you also get the best value for three reasons:
1) They don’t have retailers who take a cut of the profits so there is no retail markup on their tents.
2) They don’t need to maintain a storefront (rent, utilities, displays, repairs, etc.) so they can lower prices.
3) They’ve streamlined the process – all three tent sizes include all the best features. This efficiency saves time and expenses so they can focus on making more tents at affordable prices.
Simply put, low overhead = low prices.
So if you’re looking for a single room, cabin style canvas tent, we highly recommend Elk Mountain Tents.
Who Are Canvas Tents For?
If you camp often or plan to in the future, you should upgrade to a canvas tent. For all the reasons stated above, it just makes more sense. It’s quieter, more durable, a better insulator compared to cheap plastic tents.
It’s better to buy a high-quality canvas tent once and use it for a lifetime than buy a cheap nylon tent every 2 or 3 years.
One of the great features of most canvas tents is their height.
With most canvas tents, you can stand up straight in them meaning you can store your fishing poles in the tent without having to break them down or store them outside.
Plus, canvas tents are the ideal shelter for ice fishing excursions. Canvas walls do a much better job of keeping you and your fishing mates warm while out on the lake.
Serious hunters know multiday hunting excursions takes a lot of gear and food and supplies.
So, if you want to enjoy your down time in camp after a long day of hunting, you’ll want a canvas tent. It provides more room for all your gear and supplies, and you can add a stove for heat during cold weather hunts.
Expeditions / Rescue Operations
Canvas tents make the ideal home base for expeditions and rescue operations. Similar to military operations outside the battlefield, canvas tents are portable structures that can easily become remote command posts.
Street fairs, farmers market, backyard weddings, small concerts are all great uses for a large canvas tent. They will help keep guest warmer in the colder months and cooler in the hot months.
Most events only last for a short period of time (day, week or month) – then once the event is over, you need to take down the structure. This is where a canvas tent excels, portable and substantial.
Whether it’s a natural disaster or your fumigating your home, you’ll need a temporary shelter.
You may be able to move in with a friend or extended family for a few days or you can break out your canvas tent and make it a cozy comfortable adventure.
Canvas tents are roomy, portable and durable making it an ideal back up option if you find yourself without a home for a while.
If you’ve made it to this point of the post, I know you’re seriously thinking about getting a canvas tent. And if you’ve read this site before, you know we focus on survival and preparedness.
When it comes to survival and preparedness gear, it’s always better to invest in tools and supplies that will last in the harshest of conditions. And canvas tents are one smart upgrade that serious survivalist and avid campers should make.
Don’t be turned off by the slightly more upfront investment because the price is what you pay; value is what you get.
With canvas tents, you’re getting much more value for your dollars.