9 FAQs About Canvas Tents (Consider This Before You Buy)

canvas tent pitched

The subject of camping and the type of tent to use is fraught with debate. At least when it comes to car camping or extended stays like a backcountry hunting camp. There tend to be two schools of thought on the subject divided by choice of materials: synthetic or canvas. So why buy a canvas tent?

Canvas tents are a great choice if you are more concerned about durability and comfort than weight or price. If you are heading on a backpacking trip into the backcountry, it is best to stick to lightweight and quick-to-set-up synthetic tents. But if your trip is assisted by stock animals or you’ll be staying for more than a few nights, canvas is an all-weather favorite.

Consider these nine frequently asked questions and facts about canvas tents before you pull the trigger on one.

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1. Are Canvas Tents Waterproof?

Canvas is made of sustainable, naturally water-resistant cotton material, and most manufacturers use some waterproofing treatment.

However, canvas tents are not “waterproof” right out of the box due to the stitching holes created during the manufacturing process. They need a little extra attention and seasoning before being considered ready for wet weather.

Once seasoned, they are as weatherproof as anything and will last forever.

2. How Do You Season a Canvas Tent?

Before it is ready for action, you will have to season your canvas tent. Depending on whom you ask and how much sunlight is available, seasoning is a repetitive process that can take several days. It involves soaking your new tent with a hose and allowing it to dry over and over again until it no longer leaks.

You are essentially forcing the natural cotton fibers to absorb water which makes them swell up and lock together and then shrink when dry. This process tightens the fibers and closes the gaps left by the stitching needles during the manufacturing process. Seasoning is a natural and fairly permanent way to waterproof your canvas tent.

3. Do Canvas Tents Need Waterproofing?

If you have properly seasoned your canvas tent, it is essentially waterproof. There should be no need for additional waterproofing sprays or chemicals.

If your canvas tent is old and/or wasn’t properly seasoned, you could use a waterproofing spray to spot treat problem areas. Although effective, it can reduce the breathability of the fibers.

If the problems look to be mostly along the seams, there is seam tape that you can apply to these areas that can work quite well. As with all waterproofing materials, you may just need to reapply every year to keep the water out.

Polyester tents may not require extra treatments, but waterproofing applied to the surface will eventually degrade. That could be a hard lesson to learn during a rainstorm.

4. How Do You Maintain a Canvas Tent?

Maintenance is essential when considering why you should buy a canvas tent. Canvas tents require more maintenance than nylon due to their susceptibility to canvas rot. If left untreated, it causes the natural fibers to break down and turn to dust.

However, if given the proper attention, canvas tents will far outlast other types of tents. Here are some steps to take when caring for your canvas tent.

  • Dry the tent out thoroughly after use. A wet canvas tent invites the growth of mold and mildew, which can lead to rot. Consider bringing it indoors to dry, especially if it is raining or you are in a humid climate.
  • Keep the zippers clean. Aside from ensuring you are using them properly by aligning them when closing, you can also use a toothbrush with soap and water to scrub the teeth if they get dirty.
  • Clean the tent. A small broom and dustpan or vacuum will help you remove any debris inside. Then, use a sponge and a product made for canvas or make your own simple 4-part water, 1-part vinegar solution to scrub dirty areas. 
  • Re-treat the canvas if necessary. You may need to replace fire or waterproofing treatments after cleaning.

Recommended: Pros and Cons of Canvas Tents

5. Are Canvas Tents Good in the Rain?

The combination of surface tension and being well-seasoned helps make a canvas tent naturally very good at shedding water when it rains. But it is always important to set up the tent correctly with the proper pitch to aid in shedding rainwater.

6. Do Canvas Tents Get Condensation?

Condensation occurs when warm, humid air meets a cold surface or when there is so much water vapor that the air can no longer hold water. Both events can quickly happen while you are camping and often do.

While condensation is unavoidable, the cotton in canvas tents is absorbent, and it tends not to produce annoying drips. Nylon tents often drip from condensation since synthetic fabrics are not as breathable as cotton.

7. Are Canvas Tents Warm?

Canvas tents have heavy, thick material that insulates the tent when needed. Additionally, fireproofing allows canvas tents to be fitted with a chimney and a wood-burning stove, making them supremely comfortable in cold weather.

8. Are Canvas Tents Too Hot in the Summer?

Luckily, the same insulating canvas that keeps out the cold can keep the sun at bay in the warmer months, making it more relaxing inside for longer. Some canvas tents also incorporate highly breathable mesh and customizable venting to provide top-notch comfort even when it is warm.

9. How Long Does It Take To Set Up a Canvas Tent?

If you have experience setting up tents, a canvas tent shouldn’t take any longer than a nylon tent. Being inexperienced and having to learn the basics as you go might slow things down. In either case, reading the directions is always a good idea, even though that takes some time.

Some canvas tents are enormous with several rooms inside and require several people to put them together. However, pup tents are small and likely come with the same number of poles as small polyester tents. It’s the size and configuration, rather than the fact that it’s canvas, that will impact how long it takes to set up camp.

The time of day can be a factor when setting up a tent. Trying to put one up in the dark after driving three hours is a very different and much slower experience than doing so fully alert in the middle of the day. Plan accordingly.

While owning and maintaining a canvas tent may seem a bit more labor-intensive than caring for a nylon tent, the durability, comfort, and sustainability of the materials more than make up for the effort.

If you’re still wondering if a canvas tent is for you, try these articles:

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to the Best Canvas Tents

Which is Better, a Cabin or a Dome Tent? (Pros and Cons)