Choosing a tent can be a challenging business. There are a wide range of materials involved, from the fabric on the outside of your tent to the pegs you use to hold it down. This Data Sheet looks at some of the materials you are likely to encounter when buying a tent. You can find out more about other things to look for in another Data Sheet – Choosing a tent layout.
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Most tents will have two layers – an outer cover known as the flysheet and an inner tent for sleeping. In almost all cases, you won’t have a choice of fabric for the inner tent, so as long as it is breathable (to prevent condensation building up overnight) you should be fine. However, there is a range of materials available for the flysheet. Read on for more details.
Most tents on the market today are made of polyester. This man-made fabric comes in many weights and with a variety of coatings, many of which are given brand names by their respective manufacturers.
Polyester has similar properties to nylon (see below), but it does not stretch or shrink as much and by using specialist coatings can be made to be quite UV stable. Higher grade polyester tents may also have a ripstop weave, this is identified by a cross hatching in the weave and inhibit tearing.
As a result, most tents on the market today – especially family ones – are made from polyester.
Lightweight tents are often made of nylon. This man-made textile is normally coated to make it more durable to both abrasion and UV, with coatings such as acrylic, polyurethane (PU) or silicone.
One disadvantage of nylon is its tendency to ‘ladder’, which is when a small hole propagates across the fabric rapidly. Top-of-the-range nylon fabrics include a ‘ripstop’ mesh of thicker nylon strands that prevent a small tear propogating. However, some cheaper nylon fabrics have a ripstop crosshatch pattern embossed – simply to look the part – so it's worth checking whether the tent you are looking at is really ripstop fabric.
The latest generation of expedition tents are using laminated polymer or composite textiles. For example ULTRA from Terra Nova uses an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) mat coated on both sides with a thin polymer film. The result is a very robust and lightweight material, the textile can also be bonded allowing for a greater tensile strength than a sewn join.