Are Canvas Tents Better? Pros and Cons So YOU Can Decide

Updated Sep 5, 2023
are canvas tents better

The sweet, unassuming aroma of the earth, a melody of chirping birds serving as your morning alarm, and the timeless allure of sleeping under the stars – these are but a few of the many charms of camping. Choosing the right gear can significantly influence your experience, and the quintessential symbol of camping – the tent – is no exception.

One particular question that often springs up among camping enthusiasts is “Are canvas tents better?” The answer, however, is not as straightforward as one might think. There are numerous factors to consider, ranging from your camping environment to personal preferences. It’s a question that calls for a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of this traditional type of tent.

In this article, we’ll explore the various aspects of canvas tents, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of their benefits and potential drawbacks. Armed with this information, you’ll be well equipped to make an informed decision about whether a canvas tent is the right choice for your next camping trip.

What is a Canvas Tent?

A canvas tent, as the name suggests, is a tent made primarily from canvas fabric. This material, which is typically a heavy-duty, plain-weave fabric, is renowned for its durability and robustness. Historically, canvas was made from hemp, but modern versions are composed of cotton and are treated with water-resistant or waterproof coatings.

Canvas tents come in many shapes and sizes, from the compact, traditional A-frame style to larger, more luxurious wall tents. Some models like the bell tent, are notable for their unique design features that have stood the test of time.

Canvas tents are favored by many for their longevity and ability to provide a comfortable camping experience in various weather conditions. They are also often chosen for their aesthetic appeal, as their classic look evokes a sense of nostalgia and connection with nature that modern synthetic tents can sometimes lack. However, as with any camping gear, they come with their own set of pros and cons that should be considered before making a purchase. The following sections will delve into these aspects in detail, helping you decide if a canvas tent is the better choice for your camping needs.

Canvas Tent Pros / Advantages

Let’s start out with the pros and advantages of canvas tents. They have a lot of great features going for them, making them an awesome choice for several reasons.

Canvas Tents are Warm in the Winter

Canvas tents are a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts who camp in the winter due to their many benefits. They are known for their excellent insulation, which keeps them warm and cozy even in the winter. The thick fabric helps retain heat, creating a comfortable environment. The natural, heavyweight fabric used in canvas tents is inherently better at retaining heat compared to their synthetic counterparts. This means that once a heat source is introduced into the tent, whether it’s a portable heater, a wood burning stove (using a built in stove jack for hot tenting), or the body heat from campers, canvas tents can maintain a warm, cozy environment that’s much appreciated in chilly weather.

This warmth retention does not mean canvas tents become airtight or stuffy. The breathability of the canvas fabric remains a significant advantage, as it allows for proper ventilation and helps to manage condensation—a common issue in colder temperatures. This balance between insulation and breathability helps create a comfortable indoor climate, preventing the inside of the tent from becoming damp or overly humid while keeping the cold air out.

Another essential aspect that makes canvas tents popular among winter campers is their ability to withstand heavy snow loads. The robust structure and materials used in canvas tents can resist the weight of accumulated snow much better than lightweight synthetic tents, providing reliable shelter even in harsh winter conditions. This feature, combined with their superior insulation and breathability, makes canvas tents an excellent choice for those braving the cold to enjoy the unique tranquility of winter camping.

are canvas tents better: pros and cons

Canvas Tents are Good in Rain & Wet Weather

Rain can quickly turn a delightful camping experience into a miserable one if you don’t have the right tent to withstand the downpour. Fortunately, canvas tents are well-equipped to manage wet weather conditions, making them a popular choice among campers who frequently face rain on their outdoor adventures.

One of the primary reasons canvas tents excel in rainy conditions is their water resistance. Canvas is a thick and dense material, and many canvas tents are treated with waterproof coatings to further enhance this natural characteristic. Unlike synthetic materials that may allow rain to penetrate under heavy or prolonged rainfall, a well-maintained canvas tent can keep you dry even during a torrential downpour.

Another factor that makes canvas tents good in wet weather is their structural strength. A canvas tent’s weight and robust design help it to stand firm against wind and rain, reducing the likelihood of it collapsing or becoming damaged during a storm. This strength and stability can provide peace of mind when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Finally, as previously mentioned, the breathability of canvas plays a significant role in managing condensation. Even during rainfall, the natural fibers of a canvas tent can ‘breathe’, allowing moisture from the inside to escape while preventing rain from getting in. This process reduces dampness and humidity inside the tent, contributing to a more comfortable camping experience even when Mother Nature decides to open the skies. However, it’s important to note that while canvas tents perform exceptionally well in the rain, they do need to be thoroughly dried after the downpour to prevent the growth of mold or mildew—a process that can take some time given their heavier material.

Canvas Tents are Cooler In Summer

If you’re planning a summer camping trip, staying cool and comfortable can be a primary concern, particularly in areas with intense heat. Canvas tents prove their mettle in these situations, offering a distinct advantage over many synthetic tents: they remain cooler in hot weather.

The secret to this lies in the breathability of the canvas material. Unlike synthetic fabrics that can trap heat inside, canvas allows for excellent airflow. This breathability helps to reduce the temperature inside the tent, as hot air can escape while cooler air circulates. As a result, even under the glaring summer sun, canvas tents can provide a comfortable, shady refuge for campers.

In addition to being breathable, canvas is also a naturally UV-resistant material. This means it can effectively block a significant amount of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, protecting you and your gear from potential damage. It’s worth noting that despite canvas tents’ advantages in hot weather, they still require proper ventilation, especially in extreme heat. But with careful setup and positioning—preferably in a shady spot—you’ll find a canvas tent to be a much cooler option for summer camping. The blend of UV protection, breathability, and heat reduction make canvas tents a preferred choice for many campers seeking solace from the summer heat.

Canvas Tents are Built to Last A Lifetime

A major advantage of canvas tents is their longevity. The saying “you get what you pay for” rings especially true here, as the higher initial investment can translate to years, if not decades, of reliable service, given proper care and maintenance.

The durability of canvas tents begins with the material itself. Canvas is a robust, heavyweight fabric that can withstand the rigors of outdoor use far better than many lighter weight synthetic materials. It is resistant to rips and tears and can hold up well in a variety of weather conditions, from harsh sun to heavy snow. This inherent toughness allows canvas tents to stand up to repeated use season after season, providing a reliable shelter for your outdoor adventures.

In addition to the material, the overall construction of canvas tents often leans towards longevity. Many models feature reinforced corners, heavy-duty zippers, and robust poles, all designed to withstand repeated use and inclement weather conditions. The longevity of canvas tents makes them a favorite among frequent campers, outdoor educators, and anyone needing a semi-permanent outdoor shelter. They may require more maintenance and care than their synthetic counterparts, but with this investment comes the potential for a camping companion that lasts a lifetime.

Canvas Tents are Versatile

Versatility is another significant advantage that canvas tents offer, making them a popular choice among a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts. Canvas tents come in an impressive array of shapes and sizes, with designs ranging from the compact and simple to the large and luxurious. This variety allows campers to choose a tent that best fits their specific needs and style of camping, from backcountry adventures to plush glamping experiences.

For car campers, smaller canvas tents provide the durability and comfort of canvas without the bulk and weight of larger models. These tents often have straightforward designs that balance convenience with the superior weather resistance and breathability that canvas offers. On the other end of the spectrum, large canvas tents, often known as wall tents, bell tents, or safari tents, provide ample space and comfort for glamping or long-term living. These larger models can often be outfitted with home-like amenities, such as wood-burning stoves, proper bedding, and even furniture, elevating the camping experience to a whole new level of luxury.

This versatility extends beyond size and style. Many canvas tents offer adaptable features like removable floors, customizable ventilation options, or the ability to add partitions for multiple rooms. Some are even designed to accommodate a wood-burning stove for heat, adding to their year-round usability. With canvas tents, the options are nearly endless, ensuring there’s a perfect model for everyone, whether you’re a weekend warrior, a dedicated outdoor educator, or a glamping enthusiast seeking the utmost comfort in the great outdoors.

A summer glamping tent like this one can stay up year-round.

Canvas Tents are Spacious

A hallmark of many canvas tents is their spaciousness, which contributes significantly to the overall comfort and usability of these shelters. Unlike many traditional camping tents that prioritize compactness, canvas tents often feature designs that allow for full standing height across much of their interior. This vertical space greatly enhances the livability of the tent, allowing campers to move around, get dressed, and perform other tasks with ease, without the need for constant stooping or crawling.

This roominess isn’t just limited to height. Many canvas tents, particularly larger models, offer a generous footprint that can comfortably accommodate multiple campers along with their gear. They are often designed with glamping or extended stays in mind and thus provide ample space for beds, furniture, and other creature comforts that make the camping experience feel more like home. This spaciousness, coupled with their robust and comfortable fabric, makes canvas tents a particularly popular choice among families, groups, and anyone else looking for a roomy and comfortable outdoor abode.

Canvas Materials are More Sustainable

In a time where environmental considerations are becoming increasingly important, the sustainability of canvas tents is a noteworthy advantage. Canvas, particularly when it’s made from natural fibers like cotton, is a renewable resource. This contrasts with many synthetic tent materials, such as nylon and polyester, which are petroleum-based and non-renewable.

In addition to being made from renewable resources, canvas tents also tend to be long-lasting, as previously mentioned. This durability means that canvas tents don’t need to be replaced as frequently as their synthetic counterparts, reducing overall material consumption and waste generation. Additionally, at the end of their life, canvas tents made from natural materials can decompose, whereas synthetic tents can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

Moreover, canvas, being a natural fabric, does not release microplastics during its degradation or when washed—a significant issue with synthetic fabrics. While canvas production does have environmental impacts, notably water consumption in cotton cultivation, the long lifespan, decomposability, and lack of microplastic pollution contribute to canvas tents being a more sustainable choice for environmentally conscious campers.

Cons / Disadvantages

Now that we’ve covered the advantages of having a canvas tent, let’s talk about some of the cons/disadvantages. These disadvantages are not deal breakers, but they are worth considering before making your purchase.

Canvas Tents Take Longer To Setup (Usually)

While canvas tents offer numerous advantages, they also have some potential drawbacks, and one of these is the longer setup time. Compared to their lightweight, synthetic counterparts, canvas tents, particularly the larger models, typically require more time and effort to erect. This can be attributed to their robust construction, heavier weight, and often more complex design, all of which contribute to a more involved setup process.

The assembly involves laying out the canvas, constructing the frame, attaching the canvas to the frame, and ensuring everything is adequately secured. For large models like wall tents or bell tents, this can be a substantial endeavor and may require more than one person. It’s also important to be careful during setup to avoid stressing or ripping the canvas material, adding another layer of complexity to the process.

However, there is a caveat to this: not all canvas tents are complicated and time-consuming to set up. Some smaller, car-camping-oriented canvas tents are designed for quick and easy assembly, much like their synthetic counterparts. A great example of this is the Flex-Bow tent by Kodiak Canvas.

Yet, generally speaking, for their sheer size and sturdy construction, canvas tents are better suited for longer camping trips or semi-permanent setups where the tent will remain erected for several days, weeks, or even longer. The added setup time can be seen as an investment in comfort, durability, and the numerous other benefits these tents provide.

Canvas Tents are Quite Heavy

A clear drawback of canvas tents, particularly for those with an inclination towards backpacking or any form of camping that involves significant movement, is their substantial weight. The robustness of the canvas material, while fantastic for durability and longevity, results in a heavier shelter compared to most tents made from synthetic materials like nylon or polyester.

A canvas tent’s weight, combined with the bulkiness of its heavy-duty poles and stakes, makes it a poor fit for backpacking, where every ounce counts, or even for casual camping if the campsite is a considerable distance from your vehicle. For this reason, canvas tents are best suited for car camping, base camps, or any scenario where you can park your vehicle close to the campsite.

However, it’s important to remember that this increased weight contributes to many of the canvas tent’s advantages, including its robustness, weather resistance, and overall longevity. As with many aspects of outdoor gear, it’s all about trade-offs. With a canvas tent, you’re trading off lightweight portability for enhanced durability, comfort, and a host of other benefits that can significantly enhance your camping experience.

Canvas Tents May Limit Where You Camp

Another potential drawback to canvas tents is their large footprint. As mentioned, canvas tents are often quite spacious, and while this can be a major advantage in terms of comfort and usability, it can also limit where you’re able to set up camp. The size of these tents often exceeds the dimensions of designated tent pads found in many established campgrounds. This can make finding a suitable site for your canvas tent a bit more challenging.

This size consideration is particularly important for car campers using larger canvas tents. These expansive models are fantastic for long-term stays and comfort, but their size can limit the campgrounds or specific sites where they can be used. Therefore, if you’re considering a large canvas tent, it’s important to plan ahead and ensure the places you wish to camp can accommodate your tent. Despite this limitation, canvas tents’ plethora of advantages, such as their durability, weather resistance, and comfort, continue to make them a preferred choice for many campers.

Canvas Tent vs Nylon Tent

Canvas tents are made of heavy-duty, naturally breathable fabric that offers superior durability and excellent insulation. They are sturdier and provide weather resistance, making them ideal for longer camping trips or harsh weather conditions. However, they are significantly more expensive, are heavy and bulky, and take much longer to set up.

On the other hand, nylon tents are lightweight, water-resistant, and preferred by backpackers and car campers due to their compact size. They are easier to carry and quick to set up, making them suitable for shorter camping trips or backpacking. However, they aren’t as durable, are less weather resistant, and are more prone to breaking, meaning they don’t last as long even with proper care.

If you’re choosing between these two materials, it really comes down to your typical use. For most campers, a modern nylon tent is the better option. It sets up easily and provides adequate weather protection for the average camper. If you camp year round, have your tent set up for long periods of time, or want a permanent tent setup, then canvas is the way to go.

Canvas Tent vs Polyester Tent

Polyester tents are quite similar to nylon tents, so they have a lot of the same pros and cons listed above. When it comes down to the basics, polyester tents are good for the average camper, especially someone who backpacks or only spends a few nights away at a time. If you camp in the winter months or have a long-term camp setup, then canvas will be better for you.


Are Canvas Tents Too Hot in Summer?

No, canvas tents are actually cooler in summer compared to many synthetic tents. This is due to the breathability of the canvas material, which allows hot air to escape and cooler air to circulate inside the tent. Despite this, it’s still important to ensure proper ventilation and, if possible, to set up your tent in a shady location for the most comfortable experience.

Do Canvas Tents Have Floors?

Yes! Floors in canvas tents offer many benefits. They keep dirt & debris out, protect from moisture & provide insulation. They are typically made from a heavy-duty PVC that’s waterproof, and the floor is quite durable. Plus, they make a cozy atmosphere & define the space. However, some traditional or specialized canvas tents might not include a floor, so it’s essential to check the specific model’s features when purchasing.

Do Canvas Tents Need a Fly?

Canvas tents do not usually require a separate rainfly as many synthetic tents do. The canvas fabric itself is often water-resistant or waterproof and can provide sufficient protection against rain. However, some campers may choose to use a fly or tarp for added protection or to help shield the tent from tree sap, bird droppings, or UV damage, especially if the tent is setup for longer periods of time.

Is Canvas Sun Resistant?

Yes, canvas is a naturally UV-resistant material. This means it can effectively block a significant portion of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, protecting both the occupants and the integrity of the tent material itself. Despite this, continuous, prolonged exposure to intense sunlight can still lead to some degree of degradation over time. That’s why proper care and maintenance is paramount for longevity of the tent’s fabrics.

Do Canvas Tents Shrink?

Canvas tents can experience minor shrinkage, especially when exposed to wet conditions for the first time. This is usually part of the ‘weathering’ process where the fibers swell and tighten to seal the minute holes in the weave and around the stitched seams. However, once this initial shrinkage has occurred, a properly cared-for canvas tent should not continue to shrink significantly over time.

Final Thoughts: Are Canvas Tents Better?

In weighing the pros and cons of canvas tents, it’s evident that these tents offer unique benefits that make them a worthy choice for a variety of camping scenarios. Their superior durability, comfort, and versatility are hard to beat, particularly for longer stays or more luxurious camping experiences. Plus, their environmental credentials provide an additional reason for opting for canvas.

However, as with any piece of gear, they’re not without their drawbacks. The weight, setup time, and large footprint of canvas tents can be limiting factors, depending on your style of camping and your specific needs.

In conclusion, canvas tents embody a trade-off between comfort, durability, and sustainability on one hand, and weight, setup time, and size on the other. The key is understanding these trade-offs and deciding which factors matter most to you. If you value long-lasting, comfortable, and versatile shelter over ultra-lightweight and quick setup, a canvas tent could be a great addition to your camping gear.

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About the Author

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, climbing, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while.

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley


Know Nothing Nomads

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