What Were Old Tents Made Of? A Walk Through Time

Updated Jul 21, 2023

As someone who has spent countless nights under the stars, nestled in a variety of modern tents made from cutting-edge materials, I often find myself marveling at the evolution of camping gear. It’s humbling to remember that our ancestors, too, shared this age-old experience of sleeping outdoors, albeit with equipment far removed from today’s nylon and polyester structures.

In this post, we’re going to take a step back in time, peeling back the layers of history to examine the materials our forebears used in creating their own shelters from the elements. From the animal hides of primitive cultures to the cotton canvas of military encampments, let’s explore the fascinating history of what old tents were made of.

Historical Background of Tents

One of the earliest forms of portable housing, tents have been instrumental to the survival of our species since prehistoric times. In the earliest days, nomadic tribes relied on basic tents as their primary shelter, moving with the seasons and available resources. Made primarily from animal skins, bones, and later, plant materials, these tents provided critical protection from the elements and predators alike.

As we move forward in time, the tents of the nomadic tribes evolved in design and materials, but remained central to their way of life. The Mongolian Yurts, the Bedouin tents of the Arabian deserts, and the Tepees of the Native American Plains Tribes stand as prime examples. Mongolian Yurts, known for their sturdy and semi-permanent structures, were made of felt derived from the wool of their herds, stretched over a framework of poles. Bedouins, meanwhile, crafted their tents from goat hair woven into a heavy, black fabric that provided a cool shelter in the daytime heat and warmth during the cold nights.

Native American Tepees, on the other hand, were constructed using large wooden poles covered with durable, weather-resistant buffalo hides. In northern Alaska and Canada, Nunamiut Eskimos use caribou skin tents to keep warm in the harsh environment they travelled in as they followed caribou for food and clothing.

Related Post: Did Cowboys Use Tents?

Turning our gaze to the grand civilizations of antiquity, tents were frequently employed for their portability and tactical advantage. The military campaigns of the Roman Empire, for example, relied heavily on tents to house their legions during long campaigns. These Roman military tents, much more standardized and uniform than their predecessors, were typically made from leather or heavy canvas.

During the Middle Ages, tents became larger and more elaborate, reflecting the societal rank and wealth of their owners. Nobility and knights would have sprawling pavilion tents, often adorned with bright colors and family crests, while simpler, more practical designs were used by the common soldiers and serfs. These medieval tents were typically constructed from hemp canvas or linen, sometimes waxed or oiled to increase their resistance to wind and rain.

In every era, the design and materials of tents mirrored the resources, needs, and technology of the time. They were, and continue to be, a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability in the face of the ever-changing and often harsh natural world. This historical journey not only gives us a greater appreciation for the luxury of modern camping gear but also reminds us of our enduring connection to the great outdoors, a bond that has been sealed within the canvas folds of tents for millennia.

Materials Used in Ancient Tents

Ancient tents were made from a variety of materials, chosen for their durability and practicality. Animal hides provided insulation and protection from rain and wind. Wool was naturally water-resistant and resilient. Linen was lightweight yet strong, and reed mats were flexible for easy transport. Canvas was heavy-duty and strong against various weather conditions.

Unique details also appeared. For example, some civilizations used animal bones or wooden poles for support. Such advancements improved stability in harsh weather.

These materials showed off the resourcefulness of our ancestors. By understanding their craftsmanship, we can appreciate how they created durable shelters from nature’s offerings. This inventiveness still influences modern tent designs and inspires outdoor enthusiasts.

Materials Used in Medieval Tents

In medieval times, tents were crafted using materials that were abundant, strong, and able to withstand the weather. Canvas was common and provided protection from wind and rain. Wood and metal frames gave the tent structure. Animal hides like leather or fur created insulation and comfort inside.

Nowadays, you can recreate a medieval tent experience with modern materials. High-quality canvas, wooden poles, and metal frames are available online or from suppliers. This attention to detail adds a sense of connection with our ancestors.

Tents have evolved from animal skins to high-tech fortresses. Yet, they still can’t drown out your snoring buddy.

Advancements in Tent Materials

Tent materials have drastically changed over time! Nowadays, cutting-edge tech and materials make tents more durable, weather-resistant and high-performing. Polyester is used a lot since it’s lightweight and waterproof. However, it isn’t breathable. Nylon is strong and tear-resistant, but can be damaged by the sun. Canvas is durable and insulates well, but it’s heavy and bulky. Silicone-coated fabrics are abrasion-resistant, but pricey.

To ensure better tent performance:

  1. Pick polyester if weight and water-resistance matter.
  2. Select nylon for strength and tear resistance.
  3. Go for canvas when durability and insulation are key.
  4. Invest in silicone-coated fabrics for abrasion resistance.

These advancements benefit outdoor lovers by offering them durable shelters that can handle all kinds of weather. Wrapping up in an old tent feels like a hug from the past – reminding us that even old campers needed protection from mosquitoes.


Tents have been important for shelter throughout history. To gain insight into our ancestors’ lives, it’s useful to know what materials they used to build them. In medieval times, craftsmanship and resourcefulness were essential. Tents were made of canvas, animal hides, and woven fabrics.

Canvas is a plain-woven fabric from cotton or linen. It’s tight weave protects from wind and rain, yet it’s breathable. And, it’s easy to transport, making it ideal for nomads and armies on the move.

Animal hides from bison or buffalo were tanned and treated to make them water-resistant. Plus, they insulated against cold.

Wool and silk woven fabrics could be customized in terms of patterns and colors. This allowed warmth in tents during colder months.

Today, modern materials can mimic those used in the past. Synthetic fabrics have canvas-like strength and breathability. Faux animal hides look realistic and don’t harm animals. Vintage-inspired woven fabrics can be sourced from places like antique markets. This way, we can combine old and new to create unique camping experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were old tents made of?

Old tents were typically made of natural materials such as animal skins, hides, or woven fabrics. These materials provided durability and protection against the elements.

What were tents made of in medieval times?

In medieval times, tents were commonly made of canvas. Canvas is a strong, heavy-duty fabric made from hemp or linen. It provided excellent durability and weather resistance.

Were animal skins commonly used to make tents in the past?

Yes, animal skins were frequently used to make tents in the past. Skins of animals like buffalo, deer, or bear were stitched together to create sturdy and weatherproof shelters.

Were old tents easy to transport?

Old tents were designed with portability in mind. They were lightweight and could be disassembled and packed onto animals or wheeled carts for easy transportation.

How did old tents differ from modern tents?

Old tents were more simplistic in design compared to modern tents. They lacked intricate poles, zippers, and synthetic materials. However, they still served the purpose of providing shelter effectively.

Related Posts

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

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This