What Are Teepees Made Of? From Bison Hide to Canvas

Updated Jul 21, 2023

Among the various styles of tents that have dotted the landscapes of history, teepees, also known as tipi tents, hold a special place. Iconic in their conical shape, these tents were not only practical shelters for the Native American tribes of the Great Plains but also deeply symbolic structures imbued with cultural and spiritual significance.

Central to a teepee’s functionality and symbolism is the choice of materials used in its construction. These tents are made from materials such as canvas, which is a great material due to its durability and natural waterproofing. The cone-shaped structure is supported by a center pole, which is perfect for air flow and regulating the temperature inside.

In this article, we delve into the various materials traditionally used to construct teepees and the modern alternatives available today. We’ll also explore key factors to consider when choosing the right material for your own teepee tent.

Pro tip: To make your teepee tent last longer, make sure to clean and store it properly. Don’t fold or pack it when it’s wet or damp to avoid mold or mildew. Our materials for teepee tent construction are so strong, they’ll even survive the wildest campfire stories!

Materials for Teepee Tent Construction

The construction of a traditional teepee tent involves two primary materials: the poles, usually made from long, straight cuts of wood like pine or cedar, and the cover, traditionally made from animal skins such as buffalo or elk hide.

The hide cover was typically treated to ensure it was waterproof and durable enough to withstand harsh weather conditions. Animal skins were perfect for this application because they are naturally insulating, keeping the interior warm in winter and cool in summer. The poles, meanwhile, provided the necessary support and structure, with their arrangement allowing for an internal fire and smoke release.

In modern times, while some teepees are still constructed in the traditional manner, many are made from more readily available and less expensive materials like canvas or synthetic fabrics. These materials are easier to work with, maintain, and often more lightweight and portable. However, they may not offer the same level of insulation or longevity as natural hides.

To summarize, the following materials are used in teepee tents:

  • Wooden poles
  • Animal hides (in previous history)
  • Canvas
  • Synthetic fabrics like polyester (modern times)

Factors to Consider when Choosing Teepee Tent Material

Choosing the right material for a teepee tent is essential for a comfy and enjoyable camping experience. Here are some factors to think about:

  1. Durability – Sturdy materials such as canvas or polyester can withstand different weather conditions.
  2. Waterproofness – Search for materials with a waterproof coating or treatment to stay dry in rain.
  3. Breathability – Look for fabrics that allow proper ventilation to avoid condensation and enable airflow.
  4. Weight – If you plan to go backpacking, lightweight materials like nylon make transportation easier.
  5. UV Protection – Look for fabrics with UV-resistant properties to protect against harsh sun rays.
  6. Maintenance – Choose materials that are easy to clean and resistant to mold or mildew growth.

Plus, pick a material that fits your camping needs, whether it’s for family trips or solo journeys.

Pros and Cons of Natural Materials for Teepee Tents

What are the pros and cons of natural materials (like cotton canvas) for teepee tents? Let’s take a look!


  • Durability: Natural materials, such as cotton canvas, are often highly durable and can withstand various weather conditions.
  • Breathability: Natural materials allow for better airflow, ensuring good ventilation inside the teepee, even when it’s warm outside.
  • Eco-friendliness: Natural materials are more environmentally friendly as they are often biodegradable and have a lower carbon footprint.
  • Insulation: Natural materials provide better insulation, helping to keep the interior of the teepee cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Many people appreciate the natural and rustic look of teepee tents made from natural materials.


  • Weight: Natural materials such as canvas can be heavier, making them less ideal for backpacking or long-distance camping trips.
  • Bulkiness: Teepee tents made from natural materials can take up more space when packed, requiring more storage room.
  • Maintenance: Natural materials may require more maintenance, such as regular cleaning and waterproofing, to ensure their longevity.
  • Cost: Teepee tents made from natural materials are often more expensive compared to those made from synthetic materials.

Continue reading Are Canvas Tents Better? Pros and Cons So YOU Can Decide to learn more about the pros/cons of canvas as a tent material.

Pros and Cons of Synthetic Materials for Teepee Tents

Synthetic materials (like polyester and nylon) for teepee tents have their own pros and cons. Let’s explore them.


  • Durability – Polyester and nylon provide excellent durability, making them great for long-term use. They can also handle harsh weather and regular use.
  • Weight – Synthetic materials tend to be heavier than natural materials like canvas. This can make transporting the tent more difficult, especially if you’re hiking or camping on foot.
  • Water resistance – Synthetic materials usually have high water resistance, keeping you dry even during heavy rain. This is especially useful in unpredictable weather.
  • Easy maintenance – Synthetic teepee tents are simple to clean and maintain. They can often be wiped down or spot cleaned.


  • Breathability – Unlike natural fabrics, synthetic materials aren’t as breathable. This means moisture and condensation could build up inside the tent, leading to potential mold growth.
  • Environmental impact – Using synthetic materials increases environmental concerns due to their manufacturing processes and non-biodegradable nature. Eco-friendly alternatives might be more sustainable.

Pro Tip: Consider your needs, such as durability, weight, water resistance, breathability, easy maintenance, and environmental impact when selecting a teepee tent material. You need to balance convenience and sustainability for a great camping experience.


Choosing the right material for your teepee tent is essential for a great outdoors experience. Here are 5 things to bear in mind:

  1. Durability: Select fabrics like canvas or polyester, which can handle harsh weather and won’t tear.
  2. Water resistance: Look for fabrics with waterproof coatings or treatments to stay dry in rain.
  3. Breathability: Make sure the material allows air circulation to stop condensation inside the tent.
  4. Weight: Nylon is great for backpacking trips, but heavier fabrics offer more durability.
  5. Cost: Think budget and desired features versus quality of the material.

Also, opt for eco-friendly options to reduce environmental impact. Choosing the right fabric is vital for a great camping experience.

Did you know teepee tents have a fascinating past? Native Americans used them as portable homes because of their versatility and practicality. They’d often pack up their tents and move miles, seeking resources. This nomadic lifestyle needed tough but lightweight materials that could manage different climates. Even today, teepee tents remain popular among campers, who love their design and plenty of space.

So, next time you plan a camping trip, research the best material for your teepee tent. It could make all the difference in having an enjoyable and comfortable camping experience in nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are teepee tents made of?

Teepee tents are typically made of durable and weather-resistant materials such as canvas, polyester, or nylon. Historically, teepees were made from animal hides that came from the animals they hunted as food. For example, Native Americans used bison hides to make their teepee cover.

Which material is the best for a teepee tent?

The best material for a teepee tent depends on your specific needs. Canvas is known for its breathability and durability, while polyester and nylon offer better water resistance. While it’s possible to still find teepee tents made from more traditional materials (like bison hide or leather) these are quite expensive and generally don’t offer enough benefits to outweigh the advantages of canvas.

Are teepee tents waterproof?

Not all teepee tents are completely waterproof. However, many models are treated with waterproof coatings or come with a rainfly to provide protection against light to moderate rain.

Can teepee tents withstand strong winds?

Teepee tents are generally designed to withstand moderate winds. However, their stability can be improved by properly staking them down and using guylines for added support.

Are teepees made of leather?

Yes, traditional teepees were made of animal hides, which often included leather. While it is possible to find teepees made with leather today, it is not as common. Most modern teepees are constructed using canvas or other durable fabrics.

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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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