When it comes to canvas tents vs. nylon tents, canvas will win on most points. However, that isn’t to say that ripstop nylon tents don’t have their place in the camping world, nor that canvas tents don’t have their downsides.
Canvas Tents vs Nylon
The best way to decide whether you would prefer a canvas tent or a nylon tent is to consider point by point the things that you want a tent to do, and how a tent will perform.
Nylon tents are much lighter than canvas camping tents. If you’re backpacking across the country with a canvas tent, you want a trusty mule to carry that tent.
Whereas nylon tents, even with the fiberglass tent poles, can fold up small, fit in a carrying bag that can hang off your backpack, or hook to your bicycle saddlebags.
While they do have some weight to them, it’s minuscule compared to canvas.
If you need a semi-permanent base camp, outdoor canvas tents are the way to go.
Although they need to be seasoned before actual use (they will leak the first time they are put up) canvas is made of tightly woven cotton. When it gets wet, the fibers swell, increasing their ability to repel water.
3. Ease of Placement
Most nylon tents can be erected by one person, or at the most, two. Thanks to their greater weight, canvas tents are more difficult to put up. They are usually larger than nylon tents.
Here the prize goes to canvas. Thanks to the nature of the cotton fabric, as it becomes wetter, it does a better job of keeping the heat in as well as moisture out.
Furthermore, it doesn’t require the extensive venting that is needed by a nylon tent.
Canvas wins, hands down. Nylon requires flaps and windows to help a tent breathe. By its very nature, it requires a mesh top with a rainfly to be habitable.
6. Keeping the Bugs Out
Here the two tent types are about even. Both require mesh netting over windows and doors to keep those pesky flying critters from flying into your tent.
A good tent of either type should have mesh closures for windows and doors in addition to the more solid weather shield closures.
7. UV Resistance
Both fabrics will break down under the influence of the sun’s vigorous rays.
Both can be treated for UV resistance, but canvas does have an edge over nylon when it comes to resisting the effects of our local star.
While it might not be easy to do, you can sew a patch on a canvas tent, and you can make it waterproof afterward.
You can tape or glue ripstop nylon, but it doesn’t do well with restitching. You also must be careful of the type of glue used when patching since some types of glue will dissolve artificial fabrics.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the quotation goes, and it is certainly true when it comes to tents. Nylon tents are available in a variety of jewel-tone colors.
A field of nylon camping tents looks like some sort of exotic field of flowers or mushrooms has suddenly grown there.
But canvas tents can be structured in traditional patterns like medieval pavilions, tipis or laavu (a conical dwelling used by the Sami, which is similar to the habitations used by the native plains tribes in the United States of America.
10. Flame Resistance
Unless the canvas has been coated with something flammable, canvas tents are the hands-down winner here, especially when wet.
In the gold rush days, canvas was often used to cover structures made with log walls, or with stacked sod. The metal stove pipe for a wood-burning stove could be passed through a mud and wattle chimney with a moderate degree of safety.
The native American tipi was structured for the whole dwelling to act as a chimney, with a smoke hole at the top.
The smoke holes were arranged so that flaps could redirect the smoke vs. the wind and keep from flooding the interior with smoke from a downdraft.
11. Ease of Takedown
Nylon gets the prize here. Canvas tents are heavy even when dry. When they are wet, whew! They can hold a lot of moisture, and water certainly has weight.
More than that, if you put a nylon tent away while it’s a little bit damp, all you need to do before using it again is put it up in the backyard and hose it out a little.
Canvas needs to be dried completely before you put it away or it is likely to mold, and mildew. This will cause its natural fibers to biodegrade, and not in any kind of a good way.
Nylon is the winner here. Cheap and easy to produce at this time in history, you can get a fairly large nylon tent for a fraction of the cost of a similarly sized canvas tent.
The only thing is, a few years down the road, you’ll have to replace the nylon tent, while the canvas tent, if you have taken care of it, will probably still be in great shape.
So, which is really better, canvas tents vs nylon? It really depends on what you need for your tent to do. If you need one that is super portable, easy to put up, and easy to take down, then you want a nylon tent.
If you like the bright colors, then that’s a nylon tent, too. But if you want a tent that you can leave up for a while, have a place to set up a stove, or build a fire in the middle of the floor, then you’ll want a canvas tent.
Incidentally, if you want a tent that’s super portable, then a tipi is absolutely the way to go. When you take the tent, er, tipi, down, you use the poles to create a travois and the tent skin as the base on which to load your worldly goods.
Of course, it helps to have a well-trained pony to pull the travois. Canvas is heavy, durable, and steeped in tradition. Nylon is cheap, colorful, and portable. The choice is yours.