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Canvas Tents

Updated on September 19, 2014

The Canvas Tent Guide

Canvas is a heavy duty fabric of woven threads, with hemp or cotton being the traditional materials used for canvas tents. These days, most tents are made of synthetic materials that are lighter and more waterproof than canvas, but lack some of the qualities that the organic thread canvas has.

Canvas tends to be heavy, offers complete shadow from the sun and provides excellent wind protection. The sturdy material and environmental qualities are the main reasons why canvas wall tents are popular base camp tents.

I can't really see anyone wanting to go backpacking with a canvas tent but it is a very good choice for longer stays where you want a full height cabin tent.

Canvas tents breathe!

Canvas Tarp and Net

Paint Essentials 9-Feet x 12-Feet Canvas Drop Cloth HW912
Paint Essentials 9-Feet x 12-Feet Canvas Drop Cloth HW912

8 ounce 100% duck canvas tarp On every occasion that I have been tenting the tarp is what has always saved the trip. Use it under the tent in wet areas, fold it over the tent as a rain fly, or suspend it between trees for shade.


Natural fabrics breathe

Hemp fabric is almost impossible to find nowadays but cotton is just as good, perhaps even better in some ways.

Duck canvas is very tightly woven and a canvas cabin tent which is well maintained provides a dry indoor environment.

The difference to many synthetic materials is that even though the cotton canvas tent keeps you dry and shielded, it continues to breathe through the fabric.

The synthetic materials used in modern tents are almost too impermeable and you get condensation humidity inside - something you will never experience inside a canvas tent in good condition.

Thick and heavy material without internal humidity problems is the main reason why traditional canvas tents make excellent long-term housing. They have downsides - mainly weight - but if you are setting up permanent base-camps, or can carry it in your car, canvas is an excellent choice when durability and inner air quality matters.

Kodiak makes one of the best camping canvas tents

6 person canvas tent by Kodiak
6 person canvas tent by Kodiak

If you look at the best-seller lists on camping gear, you find tents made of all kinds of synthetic materials, but also one or two canvas camping tents. These type of wall tents are popular and many consider them to be the best tents for families.

My personal favorite is the Kodiak Flex-Bow Canvas Tent a 6-person modern canvas wall tent which is a solid performer in the top 100 tent bestseller list at Amazon.

The Flex-Bow is made from custom woven, cotton duck, Hydra-Shield canvas supported by a 1-inch galvanized steel tubing frame. The six person Kodiak has a generous 10 x 10 footprint and a total weight of 68 pounds including stakes (which is pretty light for a true canvas tent).

Magnum Tents 1214WT Canvas 12'x14' Heavy Duty Elk Hunting Tent w/ Stove Pipe & Frame
Magnum Tents 1214WT Canvas 12'x14' Heavy Duty Elk Hunting Tent w/ Stove Pipe & Frame

This outfitter style tent cabin comes complete with metal frame.


Outfitter Canvas Tents

An outfitter canvas tent is usually a durable canvas wall tent with full standing height. These canvas tents are designed to act as base camp housing (or storage) and are often supported by a pretty sturdy metal tube tent frame.

No-nonsense wall tents like these canvas outfitter tents can be heavy and are not something you will be taking with you on a backpacking trip!

10 x 16 Canvas Tent Cabin by Trek

Trek All Season Cabin Tents

How about a cabin style canvas frame tent that you can use all year round and comfortably stand up straight in? The Trek Four Season Cotton Canvas Tent offers 160 sq. ft. with a center height at a generous 88 inch and a total weight including frame and full rain fly of 70 pounds. This is one of the best family tent designs for long stay settlements.

If you want a tent for longer stays that can handle all types of climate, including winter, then a canvas tent fits the bill. As mentioned before, cotton canvas is pretty heavy but this type of cabin tent offers superior protection and is a great choice as a family tent, or as a base camp for the hunting crew.

Trek also offers the boxy wall-type 245C cabin tent. which offers slightly less floor space but more headroom out to wall edges. Both of these are four season tents that you can use in heavy weather.

Small Military canvas tents

The Military half shelter has multiple uses - one of which is making a small canvas tent when you put two together!

Even though some modern materials have superior qualities, the traditional olive military canvas material is designed to last. It is heavier than for example nylon, but it also offers a thicker layer of protection and a certain degree of sound dampening. The downside of a thick organic material is that when the fabric gets wet it becomes quite heavy. Still, I like these U.S. Military tents of half sheter type specially for excursions where you establish a base camp.

Stansport Scout Backpack Tent
Stansport Scout Backpack Tent

Very cheap small shelter tent with poles and string included in delivery.


Nylon Traditional 2-Person A frame Tent

if you want the look but not the weight, a nylon backpacking A frame tent is probably the right choice and the Stansport "Scout" Backpack Tent won't make a hole in your wallet.

This is a cheap backpacking tent that is a lot lighter than a traditional canvas tent. If you like retro-style, this one should fit the bill.

Just be aware that nylon does not breathe like true canvas and you will need to ventilate to get rid of condensation.

Guide Gear Teepee Tent, 18' x 18'
Guide Gear Teepee Tent, 18' x 18'

The Gear Guide Tipi tent builds on the traditional design with modern materials and a excellent comfort / price ratio.

Over 9.9 foot inner height, weighs just 21 pounds.


Traditional Tipi Tents

A tipi is a better tent than many assume. The circular form of a teepee can make it a bit hard to furnish but at the same time you have maximum access to all the ground area and no dead corners. Tipis also have full standing height and are 3 or 4 season durable. There are a couple models, primarily Sioux and Cheyenne, that come with canvas fabric and make excellent base camp tents.

A lot of what is for sale is either partly or fully crafted and handmade so be prepared to pay a pretty penny for a fully functional tipi! An alternative is to buy a tipi-style tent made from modern materials.

That's it for the Canvas Tents guide. Like it?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Just started reenacting and want to purchase a canvas tent. Glad to know they offer lots of protection from the elements.

    • ismeedee profile image


      5 years ago

      Brings back wonderful childhood memories of our old army tent- I can still smell it, and see the caterpillars crawling on it!!

    • blue22d profile image


      6 years ago

      Tents have come a long way since we had our first in the 60s. Makes me want to go camping.

    • Linda Pogue profile image

      Linda Pogue 

      6 years ago from Missouri

      This is good information for campers. Anyone looking to buy a canvas tent should read this first. Blessings!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Looks great for families who want to camp.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very good information - thanks for sharing!


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