A very thorough article written by the folk at www.thejoyofcanvas.info
“These days there are so many tent designs on the market that you would think every conceivable need was being catered for. However, the widespread use of plastic fabrics does bring with it some issues that are often ignored in the marketing brochures and sales pitch in the shops. So we would advocate people at least thinking about Canvas as a great camping material, and here are a few reasons why. If you feel inclined to find out more then have a look in the articles and info section.
The Environmental perspective
The environmental concerns are around the fact that nylon, polyester etc are made from oil and do not easily bio-degrade. Manufacturing the synthetic materials takes a lot of industrial processes and generates a fair bit of pollution. Canvas on the other hand is made from cotton which grows relatively easily in warmer climates. Cotton can also be processed with few chemicals and once it has finished active service will decay. By choosing Canvas you will reduce pollution compared to synthetic materials.
Plastic fabrics also suffer from UV degradation, they will begin to degrade the minute they are outside (whether in the sun or not). Some cheaper untreated fabrics are even expected to only have a design life of a few weeks use – which will mean some years use if you only use it once a year but maybe only one season if you were to camp regularly. Canvas is barely affected by the sun, though colours will fade in time, that is the dyes in the fabric not the cotton degenerating. Canvas tents of 20 years old can be like new and 40 plus years of use can still leave you with a serviceable fabric – so they really can last a lifetime. By choosing Canvas you can reduce pollution by having a much longer life from one tent rather than having to buy several.
Reusing an old Canvas tent also has a feel-good factor and it is easy to love Canvas because it feels organic and friendly. By re-using an older tent you can also save yourself a lot of money. Indeed there is almost an inverted snobbery that comes from not having spent hundreds of pounds to sleep in a plastic fabric woodlice that isn’t quite so loveable as an old piece of Canvas tentage.
The user perspective
Plastic tent materials allow almost no water vapour to pass through so condensation is the perennial enemy of plastic tent designers and users, even if some of the more expensive fabrics claim to be breathable, they don’t breathe any where near as well as Canvas. Canvas fabric is actually covered in very fine holes that allow water vapour through but (if kept clean) do not let water droplets through. Canvas breathes brilliantly without the need for ventilation panels and the like.
Because Canvas is generally heavier and softer than synthetic materials, tents made from it are much quieter inside. In normal use they have a nice relaxing feel to them, while in bad weather you wont get any of the flapping/rustling so often associated with plastic tents.
In sunshine a Canvas tent remains quite habitable and much cooler than a plastic tent – so the kids can nap in the afternoon or you can have a lie in in the morning, while your neighbours have to get out of bed or get cooked alive. Don’t underestimate the benefit of this, you can wake when you are ready while your neighbours in their plastic tent could have been up since 5 or 6am because the heat of the sun made the inside of their tent so uncomfortable.
A brief aside – we were camping in Sherwood Forest in the Summer of 2010 and it was a HOT weekend. Our neighbours had a nice enough Outwell Thingumibob but were unable to spend any time in it during the day even with all the openings open for a good draught. The thermometer hung inside showed 40 deg Celsius! Meanwhile our kids were exhausted from all the excitement of their first proper camping trip and were sleeping quite comfortably inside our tent. Being a Pyramid it wasnt possible to open any vents, but the Canvas meant it was really quite pleasant inside all the same.
Canvas is also warmer in the evening. Being a heavier fabric than most plastic fabrics (and a better insulator) means that the inside of a Canvas tent (of equivalent design obviously) will be warmer on a cold night than a plastic tent. If you plan to camp in the winter it can make some difference to the comfort of your trip.
Canvas tents also come in designs that are wonderfully easy to put up solo. Bell Tents and Dutch Pyramid designs can be erected solo in a few minutes even if you are not tall or strong. They make perfect tents for single parent families or couples that cant put up a tent without a row that grumbles on for the rest of the trip . . .
Some (almost) myths about Canvas
It is claimed that Canvas tents suffer from mould, but mould will form on any fabric that is damp, warm and dark – not just Canvas. The mould spores are all around us and plastic tents are susceptible to mould problems if not cared for properly. And all tent fabrics must be dried before packing away. In reality Canvas will mark and decay rather more readily than a treated Polyester fabric so it makes sense to dry things out properly, but mistreat a plastic tent and it will end up scrap too.
Some people say that synthetic fabrics dry much quicker and can readily be packed away ‘on site’ if they have had an hour or two in the sun. My experience of Canvas tents is that the inside will be less damp and that most Canvas tents will dry (inside and out) quickly too. The synthetic tent will often still be damp inside as well as in the seams and reinforcements due to the lack of breathability of the fabric. Canvas may dry a little slower but in practice the differences are marginal and any sensible camper will unpack and properly dry their kit at home anyway (won’t you?).
Canvas needs regular reproofing – is an interesting one. Canvas works by the fabric threads expanding when wet, so long as the fabric is clean and not worn thin it should keep working. Most Canvas used for tents will have had a wax or silicone treatment during manufacture which helps in preventing the Canvas from soaking up water too. So my preference is to keep the fabric clean and not to re-proof. But then others take the view that a wax or silicone impregnation helps the fabric work properly, last longer and can help it to stay clean. One to research further for yourself and make your own mind up.
Why might you not choose Canvas ?
Well it is heavier than plastic fabrics (especially when wet), so for back packing you might find the compromise unacceptable. For the average car camper these days the weight is less of an issue than ever. When erecting solo the weight of Canvas might make things harder but then if you are camping solo you probably wont be putting up a 6 berth frame tent – and anyhow erecting a large Dome/Hoop/Tunnel tent solo is going to be pretty challenging too.
Canvas fabric will ‘wick’ moisture if it is touched. In a plastic tent you can probably get away with a chair or a pair of boots pressed against the flysheet on a rainy night. It will get quite wet from the condensation for sure, but it probably won’t get wet from the rain. Canvas will draw water through into the item, so if you put something absorbent against the flysheet on a rainy night by morning you will probably have quite a puddle to clean up. In practice it isn’t a big deal but a little extra care is needed before you blame the tent for ‘leaking’.
Canvas also needs to be dried out properly before it is packed away for any length of time (a day or two to get it home and unpacked shouldn’t do any harm). If you live in a tiny bedsit then you might not be able to look after a 6 berth Frame tent properly unless you can find another space (like a stair well or dry garage) to dry things out.
It is hard/expensive to buy new Canvas tents in the UK though there could be a number of reasons for that. All the major suppliers like to focus on shifting volume. Camping these days is a fashionable, disposable activity for many people. Maybe people dont know any better, which is one reason this website was created in the first place. If you are willing to take a little risk on an unseen purchase, then there are shops in Europe who will deliver to the UK. There is always the secondhand Canvas tent market, which is full of nice kit (just remember to shop carefully).”
We couldn’t have written this better or with more passion. Thank you Joy of Canvas!