Canvas Vs Nylon – Which Tent Material Comes Out On Top?

a canvas tent in the forest

In the market for a new camping tent, but not sure whether to go for canvas or nylon?

You’ve come to the right place!

This article will tell you all about what each tent fabric has to offer.

We’ll take a look at how both materials perform in terms of:

  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Portability
  • Weather resistance
  • Cold weather use
  • Maintenance
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Price

By the time we’re through, you’ll know exactly which tent material is right for you.

Ready?

The canvas vs nylon tent showdown is about to commence.

Comfort

view of a campfire from inside a tent

Because canvas is a natural material, it’s more breathable than nylon, which is a synthetic material. This means that the airflow in canvas tents is better than in nylon tents.

This means you’re less likely to get condensation inside your tent. This can sometimes be a problem when you have a synthetic tent, made of a material such as nylon.

Although it’s more breathable, canvas is also a better insulator. This means you’ll be able to stay cool when it’s hot out, and warm when it’s cold out.

For these reasons, it’s safe to say that the level of comfort provided by a cotton canvas tent exceeds that of a nylon tent by quite a bit.

Which material provides more comfort? Canvas.

Durability

So, here’s the deal. Both canvas and nylon are highly durable materials.

That being said, canvas is more resistant to tearing than nylon is. It’s thick threads prevent small rips from becoming larger over time.

However, if you get a tent that’s made of ripstop nylon, it’ll also be highly durable. Like canvas, ripstop nylon prevents insignificant damage from becoming more significant.

If you do get a rip in your canvas tent, you can easily stitch it back up with a sewing kit.

To repair nylon, on the other hand, you need a special patch, which is somewhat more of a hassle.

Although canvas is more durable, nylon still has a better strength-to-weight ratio. It’s much lighter than canvas, but only slightly less durable.

Which material is more durable? Canvas.

Portability

man wearing a backpack

When it comes to portability, nylon has definitely got the upper edge.

Nylon tents are lightweight, making them an excellent choice for backpackers and anybody looking to keep their load light. They’re also more compact, making them easier to carry around.

Canvas tents are significantly heavier and bulkier. If you’re car camping, this won’t be too much of an issue. For backpackers, however, canvas should definitely be avoided at all costs.

Which material is more portable? Nylon.

Weather Resistance

OK, so what about the elements? Which tent is going to hold up better against strong winds, rainfall and the sun’s harsh rays beating down onto it?

Well, when it comes to UV resistance, canvas tents come out on top. Nylon tents will wear down over time because of repeated exposure to the sun. For this reason, a canvas tent will ultimately last you much longer than a nylon tent.

Canvas tents also tend to be more stable in windy conditions than nylon tents.

Neither tent fabric is waterproof in itself. A nylon tent needs a rain fly to protect it from water, whereas a canvas tent needs waterproofing before you use it. With these measures in place, both tents will have a similar degree of water resistance.

On a final note, nylon tents are quicker to dry than canvas. That means that if your tent gets wet and you don’t have enough time to let it fully dry, you’re less likely to have trouble with it developing an odor if it’s nylon.

Which material is more weather resistant? Canvas.

Cold Weather Use

man standing next to a tent in the snow

Canvas is made of cotton, which is a fantastic insulator. This means that a canvas tent does a great job at keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

It’s also better at retaining heat. If you’re using a tent heater to heat the inside of your tent, the space inside will stay warmer for longer in a canvas tent.

That being said, there are still plenty of 4-season and even 5-season tents out there that are made of nylon. If you’ve got one of these, and the right kind of gear for winter camping, you’ll be just fine in a nylon tent.

Which material is better for use in cold weather conditions? Canvas.

Maintenance

Now, different tent materials all require some kind of weatherproofing.

This can be done by applying a waterproofing spray. With canvas tents, however, it can also be done by just drenching the tent completely, and letting it dry out. This can be done once, or may need to be done several times, depending on the particular tent.

Now, as I mentioned, canvas tents take longer to dry out. This makes them more susceptible to mildew. Because of this, you’ll need to clean a canvas tent more often than you would a nylon tent, to make sure you don’t end up with a moldy tent.

When you’re cleaning a canvas tent, make sure to do so carefully. You don’t want to use a pressure cleaner or hose, and you don’t want to scrub the canvas tent fabric. Also, make sure you’re using water that isn’t any warmer than rainwater would be.

Nylon tents aren’t as sensitive, and you don’t have to take so many precautions when cleaning them.

For this reason, I’d say a nylon tent is definitely easier to maintain than a canvas tent.

Which material is easier to maintain? Nylon.

Environmental Sustainability

hands in gloves holding pieces of plastic from the ocean

Another aspect that shouldn’t be ignored is environmental sustainability. This is another category where canvas shines.

Because it’s a natural material, canvas is biodegradable. This means that once it’s reached the end of its lifespan, it’s able to degrade back into the earth, without leaving any trace or harming the planet in any way.

Nylon fabric, on the other hand, is a man made fabric made from petroleum. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and making these tents involves the use of harmful chemicals.

This process also produces toxic waste as a byproduct, which is harmful to the environment, as well as animals and humans.

That’s not all, though.

Once a nylon tent’s lifespan has come to an end (which will be quicker than a canvas tent, by the way) it will end up sitting in a landfill. As time passes, it’ll break down into microplastics, which end up in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

That means that a nylon tent will continue to wreak havoc on the environment, long after you’ve stopped using it.

There’s some food for thought.

Which material is more environmentally sustainable? Canvas.

Price

Canvas tents are generally more expensive than nylon.

This is because canvas is made of cotton, a natural material. Nylon, on the other hand, is synthetic, and is therefore more affordable.

4-season tents that are made to withstand extreme temperature conditions are the main exception. These are often made of nylon, but can be more expensive than a canvas tent.

Which material is cheaper? Nylon.

The Final Verdict

As you can see, each tent fabric has its own set of pros and cons.

Canvas fabric is more durable and weather resistant. It also provides better comfort, and performs better in extremely cold weather conditions.

On the other hand, nylon is more portable, easier to maintain, and more affordable.

All in all, if you’re looking for a backpacking tent the choice is clear – a good quality nylon tent that won’t weigh you down on your travels is the way to go.

If you’re a car camper and you don’t mind the extra weight, I’d recommend investing in a good canvas tent. As long as you take proper care of it, it’ll last you for many years to come.