Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Most tents on the market today are made of either nylon or polyester which are lightweight manmade plastic fabrics. These tents are really handy for those hiking trips where you need a small, compact shelter to sleep under but they are not so compatible with recreational and family camping, or with the environment.
So when you choose to invest in your tent, it is important to consider how, where and when you plan to use it. If you don't need to carry your tent on your back, you may want to consider canvas. Here's some practical reasons why canvas camping is better for the environment and for your day to day enjoyment of your camping adventures.
Natural versus man-made fibres.
Both Nylon and Polyester tents are made from plastic based fabric. This means that they are non-breathable and won't release the moisture from your breath and body out through the fibres. By the same token, they won't let fresh air flow in. If you are pitching just to crash after a day on the trail, this likely won't bother you. But if you are wanting to set up camp recreationally (particularly in summer), it will become stuffy and uncomfortable. You won't want to use the tent shelter during the day as it will feel, hot and humid and after a night in it you will feel sweaty and clammy.
Having additional moisture in the tent also makes the tent feel cold at night... this is because plastic based tents keep the moisture in but not the heat. Natural canvas tents however, are made of cotton. A natural fibre which is insulating but breathable, letting air permeate in and out of the fabric. This quality doesn't impact its water resistance. As the cotton fibres get wet, they swell so the water cannot pass through. The excess water beads on the exterior and runs-off the well tensioned canvas, naturally. This keeps you dry and warm even in heavy downpours.
If you want to make the most of your tent, you may want one that will be able to stretch through multiple seasons and climates comfortably. Cool in the heat, warm in the cold. One of the other lures of canvas tents, is that they can be used with an internal wood-burner or stove. Plastic fabric tents have a low melting point and should never be heated, but in a canvas tent you can have some unforgettable adventures warming your toes and a hot kettle whilst you are cosy and dry under canvas.
Canvas is breathable, waterproof, warm and even compatible with wood burning stoves
Strength and Durability
When investing in a tent that is eco conscious, one important consideration is its lifespan. Waste is a huge issue today and it's so important to factor in when and where your purchase will be at the end of their life. So weigh in the importance of strength, durability and the ability to repair and replace parts to maximise its lifespan and minimise waste.
What makes a tent strong is its stretchability, abrasion resistance and UV resistance. Nylon tents, in particular, have a low UV resistance. This means that high UV (hello New Zealand) weakens them and causes them to degrade, resulting in tears, breaks and fractures. Once damaged in this way these, most tents are a complete write-off bound only for landfill. Polyester tents have better UV protection but are less stretchable. This makes them more likely to rupture in the first instance.
Canvas tents rate high on the strength scale because the natural fibres can stretch and shrink in different weather conditions. They have naturally high UV resistance (and often come treated with extra protection too) so they can endure a long life under the strong New Zealand sun. It is also very hard to make a tear in canvas, and if it does happen, the weave of the cotton means that it won't grow before you have the chance to patch it. Canvas also has the best inherent abrasion resistance, meaning the fabric will stay strong for years of use. These tents are repairable and re-treatable to maximise their period of use.
To top this off, most canvas tents come in classic, time-tested shapes and styles that work with the dynamics of the wind and weather. They are pitched with thick durable steel or nickel-plated steel poles that can be put together easily and are super strong. In the classic bell tent style, there is only one central pole and one door frame which means the tent is fast and easy to pitch (check out this video demonstrating how to pitch a classic bell tent).
Perhaps what is best of all however, is that cotton canvas is biodegradable, so it will have far less impact on the planet when it is time to say goodbye.
Canvas is naturally stretchy, abrasion resistant, UV resistant and biodegradable
So if you have decided that a canvas tent would fit your idea of camping you are going to want know more about relative affordability. There is an assumption that canvas tents are a bigger financial investment. The truth is you can buy poor or good quality tents in every category but the mid-range, reputable branded tents are actually very similarly priced:
Cotton and canvas tents are a great choice for comfortable, eco-conscious camping because they are naturally breathable, naturally waterproof, have greater UV, abrasion and tear resistance. They are re-treatable with UV and waterproofing agents and are easily repairable (read more on how to repair canvas tents here).
They are cool and dry in the heat, warm and dry in the cold and even safe to use with a wood burning stove. They can truly be used for four-season adventures as they are strong against high weather conditions.
A canvas tent that is well cared for can last 20 years and when the day finally comes when you might decommission your tent... the cotton canvas is biodegradable (Read about canvas tent care here). At Camplight we ensure that all our canvas tents have the Seal of Cotton that ensures they are more sustainable, renewable and biodegradable. (Check out info on Cotton Inc's Seal of Cotton here)
If you care enough about the environment and the preservation of the natural world to go camping (and don't need to carry your tent in your pack) - then go canvas camping!