Cotton Canvas vs Synthetic Plastic Camping Tents

What is the best material for a camping tent?

Posted on: October 4, 2018
By: Jeff Dobbs
Cotton Canvas vs Synthetic Plastic Camping Tents

Cotton Canvas vs Synthetic Plastic Camping Tents

Compare cotton canvas tents vs. synthetic plastic tents across eight categories you should consider when deciding what kind of camping tent is best for you:


Cotton Wins!

Cotton: Humidity is the most critical factor in environmental comfort.  Unlike synthetics, canvas allows small moisture particles from breath, sweat, and cooking to escape.

Plastic: Non-breathable vapor-impermeable fabric prevents moisture from sweat and breath from escaping.  High humidity means sweat won’t evaporate, making it feel even hotter inside than outside.

Cotton 1 - Plastic 0


Cotton Wins!

Cotton: Canvas tents can be safely used with wood burning camp stoves keeping you camping in comfort through all four seasons.

Plastic: Plastic melts and burns easily making them incompatible with stoves and unsafe to heat.

Cotton 2 - Plastic 0


Cotton Wins!

Cotton: Rain causes the fibers of the canvas to swell.  The surface tension of a rain drop prevents the water from passing through the tight weave of quality canvas, keeping you dry, naturally.

Plastic: Plastics do not absorb water well. Initially rain will shed, but after the fabric has been saturated it can hold moisture and further limit breathability, increasing humidity, making the inside feel damp.

Cotton 3 - Plastic 0


Cotton Wins!


Cotton: Canvas is tough, rip resistant, and repairable.  Pre-treated and re-treatable, a properly maintained canvas tent can last for years.

Plastic: Ripping and tearing easily, synthetic fabric is nearly impossible to repair.  Although cheap to buy, any damage can mean a ruined trip and a total tent replacement.

Cotton 4 - Plastic 0


Cotton Wins!


Cotton: In addition to the natural breathability of cotton canvas, CanvasCamp tents are equipped with large no-see-um mesh covered vents and windows, and some with 360 degrees of mesh wall.

Plastic: Because synthetic fabric doesn’t breathe, plastic tents are entirely dependent on small vents to release humidity and circulate air.  Often blocked by rain flys and sleeping bags, vents are often insufficient and inconvenient.

Cotton 5 - Plastic 0


Cotton Wins!

Cotton: A rounded design, robust canvas, and burly steel stakes and poles stands up to high winds, driving rain, and blowing snow.

Plastic: Poles with a smaller diameter than a Slurpee straw, a thin plastic tent membrane, and miniature aluminum stakes simply don't do the job when you need them most.

Cotton 6 - Plastic 0

UV Resistance

Cotton Wins!

Cotton: Quality canvas has a protective treatment to withstand sun damage and can be easily retreated to maintain that protection for years to come.

Plastic: Damaging UV rays degrade synthetic fabric quickly while canvas endures.  Once weakened, plastic fibers are prone to breakage and aftermarket treatments can do little to prolong the life of the tent.

Cotton 7 - Plastic 0


Plastic Wins

Cotton: Canvas is heavy. The average Sibley Bell Tent can be pitched in under 15 minutes and packs down to fit in a standard car trunk. When 80% of camping takes place within 100 yards of a home or a car, weight is a non-issue for most applications.

Plastic: Synthetic wins out when packing your tent in a good distance. Ultralight tents are the hands-down favorite for backpacking where compromising comfort and strength for weight is essential.

Cotton 7 - Plastic 1


Final score : Cotton 7 - Plastic 1

Cotton wins!