What Are Tents Made Of? Guide To Common Materials

what are tents made of

If you’re planning on buying a tent soon or are an avid camper, you might have wondered what tents are made of. If you are, you don’t need to look any further!

In this article, our expert team details all the different tent materials and fabrics out there, their pros and cons, and which one is best for your next camping trip.

Quick Answer

Most tents are made of either nylon, polyester, or cotton material when designed for camping. Other, less common fabrics include poly-cotton, cuben fiber, and PVC.

Each type has its advantages and disadvantages and may be right for you depending on the type of camping you’re doing, weather conditions, and other factors.

Nylon Tents

Nylon tents are a very common type of material. As a man-made fabric, nylon first came onto the scene in 1938 and has steadily grown into one of the most popular types of tent material.


  • Lightweight: The most lightweight tent fabric is, without a doubt, nylon. Due to its strength, a nylon tent can be made with a much smaller amount of material compared to other options. This makes it incredibly easy to carry around, which is great for something like a backpacking trip.

  • Durability: Nylon tents are very durable, especially given how thin they are. They hold up quite well against surfaces that would normally damage a tent floor, like a thick forest or rocky ground. You shouldn’t expect to see any scratches on your nylon tent.

  • Stretchy Strength: Nylon is a naturally stretchy material, which makes it very tear resistant. This is another point for durability, although it can also cause some weaknesses we’ll discuss later.

  • Inexpensive: Nylon is incredibly cheap to create, which makes it a great budget option for campers. For those looking for a great bargain, you can grab an inexpensive nylon tent for under $50 in some cases.

nylon tent


  • Not Waterproof: Nylon fabric is not naturally waterproof. When it rains, it will absorb water and even stretch/sag under very bad weather conditions, which is not ideal. Many manufacturers now add silicone to their nylon tents, which makes them more waterproof.

  • Breathability: Nylon is not a breathable material, so you’ll want to make sure you get a tent with plenty of built-in mesh ventilation if you go this route. Otherwise, it might get warm and humid inside, especially if you’re camping in hot weather.

  • Degrades in Sunlight: Over time, UV rays will degrade nylon and make the material fall apart. Do your best to camp in the shade when possible, and apply a UV protection spray to the outside of your tent for increased sun resistance.

nylon tent

Polyester Tents

Polyester tents are neck and neck with nylon for the title of most popular tent material. It’s made in a similar way to nylon, so you’ll notice that the tents share many advantages and disadvantages.


  • Waterproof: Unlike nylon, polyester tent fabric does not absorb any water whatsoever. This makes it a great material for the rain as it will hold its shape and not let any moisture through.

  • Stability: While polyester isn’t very stretchy, it is stable, which is an advantage in its own right. It holds its shape well against the wind and rain, which means you won’t hear it flapping around at night when you’re trying to sleep.

  • Relatively Lightweight: While not as lightweight as a nylon tent, a polyester tent is still a good option for campers that don’t want to lug around something heavy everywhere. Polyester is easy to carry for any car camping trip you might take.

  • Inexpensive: Polyester tents can be found anywhere on the budget spectrum, and are overall similar in pricing to nylon. Bargain hunters can grab a decent quality tent in the $50-100 range, or upgrade to something will all the bells and whistles at a solid price relative to some other materials.

  • Sun Resistance: Polyester fabrics are designed to hold up extremely well against sunlight. UV rays hardly affect them at all, so you won’t have to worry about leaving these tents out in the sun.

polyester tent


  • Loses Some Mild Advantages of Nylon: Altogether, a polyester tent is relatively similar to nylon, primarily doing better in the few spots where nylon is weaker. While not major weaknesses, polyester tents are slightly heavier than nylon, more prone to tearing, and overall are slightly less durable. However, it’s easy to argue that the advantages make up for this, and most of the tents we use ourselves are polyester or a hybrid fabric.

polyester material tent

Canvas Tents

Canvas tents, also known as cotton tents or cotton canvas, are the original material that almost all tents were made from. While other fabrics have come along that fit certain uses better, there still is a time and place where a canvas tent will shine.


  • Extremely Sturdy: Canvas tents are simply built differently compared to everything else out there. With their heavy fabric and thick, steel tent poles, it would take some seriously bad weather to blow one of these down if set up properly. Their sturdiness also means they’ll last a very long time with proper care.

  • Good Insulation: Because of its thick material, a canvas tent has excellent insulation compared to other options. It holds in heat very well while also not making the tent too humid due to its breathability.

  • Breathability: The cotton tent fabric of a canvas tent is highly breathable despite its weight. Much like a cotton vs a polyester t-shirt, the air will flow in and out of the cotton fabric much more easily. This is great for a sunny day as the breathability keeps the air flowing.

canvas tent


  • Very Heavy: Canvas tents are by far the heaviest material covered in this article, which leads to some situations where they’re too heavy to carry. For example, it would be nearly impossible to carry a canvas tent around on a backpacking trip or even a long walk to your campsite while car camping.

  • Harder to Care For: While they last a long time with proper care, canvas tents also require a bit more maintenance than your average tent fabric. They’re more prone to mold and it’s harder to clean them after camping, especially if they’re dirty.

  • Somewhat Expensive: Since canvas tents take a lot of materials to make, they are more expensive as a result. You should only use them if you’re camping with a big group or staying somewhere for a while where it might be worth it.

canvas tent

Other Tent Fabrics

While these types of tent materials are not used as often for camping as the ones mentioned above, you might see tents made from them every once in a while. Here’s what you need to know about these fabrics.


Polycotton tent fabric is a hybrid of cotton and polyester. The standard design is 65% polyester and 35% cotton, which makes for a hybrid tent that combines the best of both materials.

It is generally more breathable and insulated than polyester while maintaining similar waterproofing. However, while lighter than canvas, it will still be heavier than polyester or nylon on its own.

poly-cotton tents

Cuben Fiber (DCF)

Cuben fiber, also known as Dyneema Composite Fabric, is the ultimate combination of strong and lightweight tent material on the market today. Highly tear and water-resistant, it’s seen more use in recent years as a backpacking tent fabric.

However, these benefits don’t come for free. This material is by far the most expensive on the list, and you’ll probably have to shell out $500+ to get a tent that has it.

Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC tents are similar to cotton tents beside the fact that they’ve been given a special waterproof coating. This makes them much more resistant to mold which is often a problem for canvas material.

The downside is that this makes these tents even heavier than the already heavy canvas tent. In fact, these tents are so heavy that they’re rarely used for camping at all and are saved more for large outdoor events instead.

pvc tents

What Is The Best Material For Me?

Choosing the best tent material for you can be a bit difficult with no guidance, but in reality, there are only two variables you need to think about. We discuss both here to help you decide what you need.

Based On Type of Camping

If you’re going backpacking, the best tent material for you is likely nylon. It’s the most lightweight, which is very important since you’ll be carrying it with you everywhere.

However, polyester is also an option for shorter trips, and if you’re a pro or have a big budget, then cuben fiber might be the best choice.

For a more traditional camping trip, any of the three main tent fabrics we covered will work for you.

A longer trip with more people should push you towards a canvas tent. If you’re out for the weekend with a small group or by yourself, nylon or polyester will be easier to handle and provide plenty of comforts.

Based On Weather Conditions

If you’re camping in cold weather, then a canvas tent will provide the best insulation that money can buy. We’ve appreciated the thick fabric in the past, on longer trips especially.

If you’re going on a trip where carrying a cotton tent around is not realistic, a 4-season nylon or polyester tent will work too. Just make sure you bring a heater or find other ways to stay warm.

For hot weather, polyester will give you the best breathability and weight to keep you cool. Make sure you’re buying a 3-season tent with plenty of mesh ventilation for optimal coolness.


Camping tents are made from a wide variety of materials, each with its positives and negatives. Now that you’ve read this article, you’re well-equipped to know which one will fit your specific camping needs.

If there are any facts about tent materials that you think we missed, definitely let us know in the comments below. Happy camping!


What is the most waterproof tent material?

The most waterproof tent material is nylon combined with silicone. It’s a lightweight fabric that provides extreme water resistance and breathability, making it the best option for those who expect to be camping in wet weather conditions and need something to protect them.

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