Passing down a love for the outdoors is a time honoured tradition that more and more people are doing. Additional leisure time available has allowed more families to enjoy hiking, camping and outdoor activities. One way to continue the tradition of experiencing the outdoors is by passing down your camping equipment, especially when it comes to tents. Canvas tents may seem archaic to some; however, they are perfect gifts to perpetuate outdoor activities from generation to generation.
Buying a canvas tent as an heirloom isn’t the only reason why campers choose them over regular camping tents. In this article we’ll explore the pros and cons of canvas tents and highlight the different types of tents, including 6 of the best canvas tents on the market in 2019.
- The advantages of canvas tents
- The disadvantages of canvas tents
- Types of canvas tents
- The best canvas tent options in 2019
Summary of canvas tent options in 2024
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|Type of tent
|Nordisk Alfheim 19.6 Organic Canvas Tent
|Diamond Brand Gear Elementum Canvas Wall Tent
|$$ - $$$$$$
|Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow 6 Canvas Tent
|PlayDo 4-Season Cotton Canvas Bell Tent
|Trek Tents 245C Cavas Cabin Tent
|Bushtec Adventure Alpha Kilo 4000 Canvas Tent
The advantages of canvas tents
Canvas tents are extremely durable in comparison to their modern brethren made from synthetic materials. While I was in the military, I was issued a shelter-half (a kind of tarp shelter) from 1984. When I arrived at my first duty station in 2000, I again drew a canvas shelter-half from 1991. Why I was issued canvas tents instead of modern, synthetic options wasn’t evident to me at the time. Having used them for many years, I now understand why; they are resilient. They are also easy to repair with remedial sewing skills. I still have a shelter-half set in my old military equipment that I use on lone excursions into the backcountry. And because the tent has lasted so well, I look forward to passing it down to my son or daughter.
Another advantage to canvas is the positive impact to landfills. Natural materials, such as cotton and hemp, decompose exponentially faster than synthetic plastic tents at the end of their life. This gives many people peace of mind in preserving not only the landfills, but also campsites. Plus, as previously mentioned, canvas tents are easy to repair making their lifespan much longer than synthetic tents.
The aspect that I have come to love the most about canvas tents is their natural ability to handle all seasons. They are very breathable in warm climates and adequately trap heat in cooler climates. Many canvas tents are also fitted with stove jacks. This enables wood burning stoves to be safely used inside the tents during winter camping trips and in adverse conditions.
The disadvantages of canvas tents
The weight of canvas tents is their main disadvantage. The added material dramatically increases the weight which can cause issues with your loadout. Plus, cotton and hemp are inherently heavier fibers than lightweight synthetic fabrics. If you are looking to keep your pack as light as possible then you’ll be better off sacrificing the durability and packability, and choosing a lightweight shelter or backpacking tent instead.
Slow to dry
Rain is not always your friend when camping in a canvas tents. Cotton dries a lot slower than its synthetic counterpart and will again add weight if you are looking to pack up quickly to jump to another site. I have spent my fair share of time cursing at my wet tent as it added 10+ pounds to my ruck as a hunting team decided to move to a new bivouac site.
Finally, the cost is a prohibitive factor for some people. Most will not consider how long the investment will last, and that passing it onto future generations will be well worth the initial cost. Canvas tents, depending on the size and type, will typically be double or triple the price of a high-end synthetic tent.
Types of canvas tents
Though bell tents and cabin tents might seem like the most common types of canvas tents for camping, there are actually quite a variety of styles of canvas tents to choose from. Let’s look at the most common types:
One of the smallest and easiest types of tents to transport, these tents are most often used for hiking into the backcountry. Pup tents have been used for centuries by most major armies and are an inexpensive way to provide shelter. They are propped up by two small beams that are usually folded or separated into smaller transportable pieces. These small canvas tents can be a one-piece or two-piece design that are quick to erect. A great aspect is that these can be found at military surplus stores and will last for a long time. Second hand canvas tents are great way to focus more time and effort into your trip into the wild.
These are extensively known in North America as the main dwelling of the plains indigenous people. The teepee is a simple design that can be raised or packed up quickly to be moved to new sites. Originally, bison skins were stretched over a framework of beams that leaned in on themselves. Teepee tents are an excellent option for glampers and car campers, or indeed those who are spending a long time camping in one place.
Bell tents are one of the more simple canvas tent designs that use a single pole to support a main canopy. The canopy is then anchored down by 5 or more tie downs. The first bell tents were known as sibley tents that were patented in 1858 by Henry Hopkins Sibley. His design was heavily influenced by the indigenous tribes during his expedition through the American Old West. Canvas bell tents are the favoured option of glampers thanks to their aesthetics and versatility to be used in summer and winter.
The design of yurt tents are more complicated that the bell tents and are mostly used as semi-permanent shelters on campgrounds. The traditional yurt tent, while portable, is constructed of an intricate latticework of wood, or like material, to create a strong skeleton. It is was previously covered with animal skins until tribes learned how to use more organic material. Initially relegated to central Asia; however, its influences have been seen in more modern offerings from Colorado Yurt Company.
Cabin tents are one of the most known style of tent. These rectangular tents are focused on sheltering a family. Most will have dividers to separate the occupants for privacy or to create a division between a sitting area and the bedroom. The larger versions will be best used when camping from a vehicle rather than hiking into a campsite. But you can find plenty of options that can be easily carried for 1 to 2 people.
The best canvas tent options in 2019
One of the most important pieces you will need to determine is the application you want your tent to be used for. If you are looking for a family sized tent for a drive campsite, then the cabin, yurt and safari tents are great options. However, if you and buddy are looking to hike into a site then smaller, 1 to 2-person, pup or bell style tents will be better options.
With room for 8 to 10 people, the Nordisk Alfheim tepee style tent is a great option for family camping trips or group outings. While the tent only weighs 20kg (44.1lbs), it may be a little cumbersome to pack in for an extended hike. One piece that I like is that there is only one pole to deal with and makes it easy to raise or pack up. The Norkisk Alfheim is definitely a roomy and viable option for your outing.
Producing tents for over a century, the Elementum is a ‘set it and forget it’ style wall tent. The 2-inch by 2-inch galvanized frame sections are meant to be constructed and anchored to a base year around. This allows you to only have to pack in or out the canvas shell. So, if you have a specific camping site that you use regularly, or can hike in on multiple trips, this tent could be a better option than the others since the shell may be the only piece you are concerned about. The canvas has reinforced corners, peak and ridge seams for rigidity. Finally, the Elementum features four windows with mesh screens for air flow that will make your stay as comfortable as possible.
The Kodiak Flex-Bow tent is a great tent for use as a base camp regardless if you are on an elk hunt or at the local campground. This tent has room for 6 with a 10-foot by 10-foot floor dimension and durable Hydra-Shield canvas ceiling material. Pack weight on this tent comes in at 30k.8g (68lbs) which is too heavy to hike into a deep site; however, for a local spot or a trail head this the Kodiak Flex-Bow is a rugged, all-season tent that will last a long time.
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The PlayDo 4-Season Tent is offered in 5 different sizes; 3 meter, 4 meter, 5 meter, 6 meter, and 7 meter floor sizes. The smallest tent will weigh 19.25kg (42.4lbs) and the largest tent weighing 60kg (132.3lbs). Regardless the size of this bell style tent you choose, each will have a stove jack to ensure you can heat the tent or the option to remove the walls to allow maximum air flow. In addition, the PlayDo canvas tent has vents at the top of the tent and netted, zippable windows for air flow regardless of the weather outside. In comparison, while this may be heavier it also may be a viable option in comparison to the Nordisk Alfheim.
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The Trek Tents 245C is another great option for a hunting base camp or family outing. Much like the roomy Kodiak Flex-Bow, the 245C is spacious and boasts a 9-foot by 12-foot base which is more than enough room for up to 9 people. Set up is easy and can be done in about 10 minutes. The entire tent, with the powder coated steel frame, will weigh about 29.5kg (65lbs). This will be a sturdy tent to last you years of heavy use!
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Another rugged tent to look at is the Bushtec Adventure Alpha Kilo 4000. The military-grade ripstop canvas material, that is waterproof and fire-resistant, is durable enough to handle anything you throw at it. Boasting UV and rot protection, this canvas dome tent has a 3 year warranty and is built to last 15+ years. Set-up is easy, does not require tools, and can be done in about 20 minutes. The Alpha Kilo 4000 also features No. 10 YKK zippers to support the wide door and windows. The tent also sports an awning which is a great feature for extra protection and convenience.
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For more canvas tent options that are suitable for car camping and glamping, check out our guide to luxury tents.