Best Waterproof Tent Material: Choosing the Best Camping Tent

The fabric is what makes or breaks a waterproof camping tent, or any type of tent to be fair.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the types of fabric used to make tents. We’ll be shedding some light on waterproof tents in particular. We’ll attempt to answer the questions, “What are waterproof tents made of?” and “How to know if a tent is waterproof?”

If you want a short answer to the most common fabric used in making tents, it’s nylon.

Nylon is a lightweight, affordable fabric that makes excellent tents. However, some may argue that nylon isn’t the best tent cloth out there.

Wondering why? After reading this article, you’ll know why, and you’ll be able to identify the best tent material that works for you easily.

Read on!

Types of Waterproof Tent Fabrics

Below are different types of waterproof tent materials. Let’s start with the most common ones.

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Nylon

Nylon isn’t a waterproof material, as some people might think. It rather absorbs water and allows it to soak through. The use of nylon as a base for waterproof fabrics is very common, though. A coating could be applied to nylon to make it weatherproof.

Other production techniques could be used to make the nylon more water-resistant. It could be woven more tightly to keep the water out. Another technique is increasing the weight; the more layers the water has to go through, the more water-resistant the fabric is.

On its own, nylon isn’t a waterproof fabric. However, when infused with silicone, that’s a different story!

Silicone reinforces the nylon and makes it stronger, stretchier, and somehow waterproof. Because silicone repels water, it’ll be easy to shake off the excess water, and it’ll dry quickly.

There are downsides to using this fabric, though. Silicone is expensive and not breathable. That means that it’s more likely to cause a lot of condensation. The slippery environment caused by the condensation will make it hard for seam tape to stick to the fabric. That’s why it’s best to use seam sealing with this type of waterproof tent material.

PROS:

  • Lightweight
  • Resistant to mildew and bacteria
  • Small pack size
  • Good tear strength
  • Affordable
  • Easy to maintain
  • Dries quickly

CONS:

  • Cons
  • Doesn’t block out noise
  • Easily damaged by exposure to the sun
  • Causes condensation
  • Bad insulator

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Polyester

Polyester and nylon have similar properties. Like nylon, silicone could be added to the manufacturing of a polyester tent to make it more durable and more water-resistant. However, polyester could be treated and stand alone as a waterproof tent fabric.

The seams of the tent should be sealed, so it doesn’t allow water in or out. That’s great and all because the tent becomes waterproof, but it also causes condensation. You might notice it in the morning when the tent has been closed all night. This makes the insides of the tent moist and slippery. Definitely a downside!

You can solve this problem if you ventilate the tent well. It’s easy to maintain a polyester tent in general. Although they’re resistant to mildew, you still should clean and dry them properly. Dirt and oils might cause damage to the waterproofing treatments on the outer layers of the tent. Other than that, their maintenance is a breeze.

This tent material is light, with a good tear strength. Most importantly, it’s inexpensive. It might deteriorate if it’s left out in the sun for too long because the polyester doesn’t provide UV rays resistance. This translates into a limited lifespan of this tent fabric.

Also, because it’s light and thin, it won’t block out any outside noises.

PROS:

  • More durable than nylon
  • Lightweight
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Dries quickly
  • Resistant to mildew and bacteria
  • Budget-friendly
  • Low maintenance

CONS:

  • Doesn’t block out noise
  • Easily damaged by exposure to the sun
  • Causes condensation

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Polyethylene

Polyethylene is a very common form of plastic used all around the world. Apart from tents, polyethylene is used to make films, laminates, packages, and many more commodities. Because of its high tensile strength, it’s commonly used to make fishing nets, ropes, and decorative fabrics.

Much like nylon and polyester, polyethylene is lightweight, durable, and water-resistant. It’s the perfect material for tent floors. Polythene is inexpensive because it’s easy to manufacture. Most of this fabric’s properties are similar to nylon and polyester.

PROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Durable and tough
  • Not likely to tear
  • Waterproof
  • Easy to clean

CONS:

  • Bad insulator
  • Heavier than polyester and nylon
  • Noisy

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UV-Tex 5

The main idea behind this newly-developed fabric is to reflect UV rays away from the tent to keep it cool. UV-Tex 5 has all the nice properties of nylon and polyester; it’s lightweight and easy to carry around. In addition to being durable and strong, the color of the fabric doesn’t fade away as quickly as some of the other fabrics’ colors.

That’s because, as we mentioned, the UV rays are directed away from the tent. Thus, nothing harms the color nor the fabric. It also dries fast, so it’s more resistant to mildew than cotton tents.

UV-tex 5 tents are cabin-made tents that aren’t very common among campers. Most of the time, these tents are used by professionals. Because of their numerous appealing features, the prices of these tents are usually high. Professionals are more likely to be willing to spend a lot of money on a UV-tex 5 tent.

PROS:

  • Lightweight
  • Ultimate UV protection
  • Waterproof
  • Durable
  • Keeps the tent cool
  • Color doesn’t fade away quickly

CONS:

  • Expensive

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Gore-Tex

This new technology is taking the world by storm, literally. The advanced properties of this fabric make it both waterproof and windproof. The Gore-Tex membrane is built and designed to stay waterproof for the longest time possible. This is really what sets this tent fabric apart from its counterparts.

In order to pass as windproof, the fabric’s air permeability should be 1cfm only. Gore-Tex’s membrane is extremely tight that its permeability is even less than 1cfm!

Since it’s so tight that it won’t even let the wind in, you might think, “It’s not breathable.” On the contrary, the fabric is pretty breathable. The membrane allows excess moisture to escape the tent to keep it comfortable for you.

Gore-Tex isn’t used on its own. It’s used alongside two other fabrics forming the outer and inner layers with the Gore-Tex membrane in between.

PROS:

  • Durable
  • Breathable
  • Windproof
  • Handles harsh weather well

CONS:

  • Expensive

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Vapex

Vapex stands for “Vapor Extraction.” To put this in a more practical way, Vapex is created out of hydrophilic polyurethane. It’s a high-precision membrane that needs to be attached to other molecules, namely, another fabric. It works similarly to the Gore-Tex membrane.

Basically, you can’t have a tent entirely made out of Vapex. Oftentimes, a layer of Vapex is sandwiched between two other layers of fabric. These materials are usually nylon (woven) or polyester (fleece).

Vapex is an extremely lightweight and breathable material. It’s also fire-resistant. That’s why it’s commonly used in the arctic, where people use stoves inside the tent.

This fabric is the best for arctic or freezing climates. It has also worked well in other places where the temperature is relatively higher, like California. If you’re planning to go camping in Alaska or other similar areas, this is your best choice.

PROS:

  • Extremely breathable
  • Waterproof
  • Fire resistant
  • Suitable for freezing temperatures
  • Handles heavy snow and wind well

CONS:

  • Picks up dirt easily
  • Expensive

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What Is the Best Waterproof Tent?

All of these fabrics are great, but surely some may stand out more than others. If you’re looking for a 100% waterproof tent, I, personally, think that the Gore-Tex technology tents are your best option.

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It’s not just about being waterproof. It’s also about blocking out other external factors for an optimal camping experience. The Gore-Tex membrane has pores that are smaller roughly 2000 times than a water droplet. Even the tightest woven nylon fabric won’t have pores that small.

Add to that its durability and the fact that it can withstand temperatures ranging from -40F to 125 F. Not just that, it also stands heavy rainfall, and can take on a snow load and defy high wind speeds.

It’s truly an amazing durable tent fabric that will work in every situation. However, these features come with a price that not everyone can afford. If you have the budget, this tent fabric is definitely worth investing in.

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Are Cotton Tents Waterproof? (Canvas and Poly-Canvas)

Cotton and canvas tents could actually be pretty good choices for waterproof tents. Unlike synthetic waterproof tent fabric, cotton tent fabrics are great insulators. This means that you’ll be warm when it’s cold outside and cool when it’s hot outside.

To waterproof your tent, you need to weather it before you use it. To do so, you need to leave your tent under the rain or use a garden hose. This will make the cotton expand and fill in the stitches. If you don’t do this, your tent may leak when you’re camping.

Cotton tents are breathable, and so, they allow water out of the tent, making it breathable. This eliminates any chance of condensation inside the tent. When waterproofing treatments or coats are added to the tent, they make it non-breathable. Most of the time, manufacturers won’t add any waterproof coats, but if they do, it’s always a small amount.

Because cotton tents absorb water, they’re potentially a hotspot for mildew and bacteria. If you’re going to buy a cotton tent, you’ll need to clean it and dry it thoroughly before storing it. On the plus side, it’s much more resistant to UV-rays than man-made fabrics. This, in addition to effortless maintenance, makes the tent more likely to have a long lifespan.

However, you need to be careful with it because it can easily tear, which can be a challenge, given how heavy it is. It has a big pack size and can be a little overwhelming to transport. Look out for tree branches and other things that the tent could snag on.

PROS:

  • Excellent breathability – no condensation
  • Unmatched protection from UV rays
  • Long life
  • Has insulation properties
  • Isn’t as noisy as synthetic fabrics

CONS:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Needs to be weathered
  • Could grow mildew
  • A lot of work goes into maintenance
  • Expensive
  • Could easily tear

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Poly Canvas

Poly Canvas is a mix of synthetic fabric and cotton. It has both the advantages and disadvantages of cotton tents. However, because of the incorporated man-made fabric, the poly canvas tent is slightly more resistant to mildew and harder to tear than regular cotton tents. Unfortunately, poly canvas tents are somewhat expensive.

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Do Tents Lose Their Waterproofing?

Over time, tents tend to lose their waterproof properties. It depends on how the tent is waterproofed. For example, if the tent is seam-taped, then it loses its waterproofing when the tape degrades. Sometimes with seam sealing, there may be spots where it starts to leak after some time.

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Other materials like PU-coated fabrics, for example, could tear and leak in the water quicker than other non-treated fabrics.

In a nutshell, yes, tents do lose their waterproofing over time, and that’s why it’s important to reapply your treatment every once in a while.

However, it’s claimed that Gore-Tex doesn’t lose its waterproofing properties. You can’t really say all tents leak water eventually because every tent, treatment, and fabric is different.

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How Long Does Waterproofing Last on a Tent?

There’s no definitive time as to when exactly a tent would lose its waterproof properties.

However, sunlight exposure, the intensity of water, and other factors may very well increase the rate of the tent’s degradation. If nylon and polyester tents are left out in the water long enough, they’ll eventually soak it up!

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Types of Waterproof Treatments to Waterproof a Tent Fabric

Tents can be waterproofed using several methods. The most popular one is seam sealing or seam taping. Let’s get to know more about these two.

Types of Waterproof Treatments to Waterproof a Tent Fabric_Trekkerr Blog

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Seam Taping

As the name suggests, seam taping is basically applying tape over the seams, so water doesn’t leak into the tent. This is done on the inside of the tent. Unfortunately, seam taping can only be done at the factory because different seam tapes require different temperatures in order to stick.

These tapes work well with heavier tents because they adhere well to heavy fabrics, like polythene, for example. With lighter tents, the tape degrades quicker, and your tent will lose its waterproofing faster than you’d expect.

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Seam Sealing

We recommend sealing seams over taping them. You can actually seal the seams yourself. You don’t need to go to the factory to do so. Seam sealing is basically applying a type of glue on the inside of the seams.

It may be a little tricky to apply a seam sealant if the tent is seam-taped at the factory. The tape may wear off over time and leave some residue. This residue will make it hard to apply your sealant.

Here are other waterproofing treatments apart from seams.

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PU Coatings (Polyester Urethane)

A very popular waterproofing treatment is PU Coating. These coatings are widely used because they’re inexpensive and readily available. However, they do have some drawbacks.

First of all, PU coated fabrics do absorb water, but it takes a very long time for them to do so. So they may not be the best choice if you’re going to camp for a long time in an area near any water source. The heavier the coat you apply, the longer it will take for the water to seep through. Unfortunately, by doing so, you increase the overall weight of the tent.

In addition, PU coated fabrics are actually weaker than those without. That’s because PU decreases the slippage of the fabric. Basically, high slippage means that the layers slip over each other making it harder to tear. PU decreases the fabric’s slippage, which makes it easier to tear.

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Bottom Line

One of the most important aspects of a tent is being waterproof. Chances are everywhere you’re going camping there’s going to be water nearby that could slip into your tent. The last thing you want is for you and your tent to get wet because your tent wasn’t good enough.

Here, we discussed the different types of tent cloth and briefly mentioned the best tent material. The camping tent materials we’ve mentioned are mostly synthetic. Canvas or cotton tents are the only natural waterproof camping tent material. They’re perfect for family camping because they’re very comfortable. I recommend using cotton tents if you’re camping in a familiar area.

If you’re feeling like going on an adventure, nylon and polyester tents are your safest bet. They’re lightweight, which means that you’ll be moving freely whenever you feel like it. They’ll also withstand the walking around. Plus, they’re not very likely to snag on a tree branch and tear like some other fabrics.

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