22. What’s even used to make a tent?

I had a good look at what tents are made of. There are variants within these materials of how large the denier is and how waterproof they are, through a tighter weave and/or coating. A tents water resistance is measured in Hydrostatic Head (HH) with the higher the number, the more weatherproof it is.


Most tents will have two layers – an outer cover known as the flysheet and an inner tent for sleeping. In almost all cases the inner tent just needs to be breathable (to prevent condensation building up overnight) The flysheet is what needs careful consideration, to keep those inside dry.


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, 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. Most tents on the market today 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 propagating.

It also absorbs water up to 3%, which can cause saggingg when wet.

Laminated Polymer or ther composites

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 sewing it together.


Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate is polyester that has been made entirely out of recycled packaging material. My first thoughts on this is that it would be expensive, however as this is becoming more popular, the price is beginning to fall. It can be used on tents, although i'm not sure of its longevity yet.

Polycotton or Coated Cotton

An alternative to traditional 100% cotton canvas is polycotton, or lighter-weight cotton with a weather-resistant coating. These materials have many of the qualities of 100% cotton canvas but tend to be lighter in weight and lower cost. Many family tent manufacturers have polycotton or coated-cotton units in their ranges, such as Outwell, Sprayway and Vango.


Before the 1960s, tents were generally made of natural fabrics such as cotton canvas.

Cotton canvas remains cool in summer, keeps the warmth inside in winter and rarely suffers from condensation. You do not generally need an inner tent in a cotton canvas unit, however they are heavy and require much more maintenance than the polyester choices.

Canvas is also a better sound insulator, so cotton tents often seem quieter inside than nylon or polyester ones, good for festivals? A cotton canvas tent will normally outlast one of man-made fabric, sometimes by several decades, but it will weigh significantly more and probably cost a fair bit too.


Groundsheets in most tents today are of sturdy PVC. If the ground is already particularly muddy, a piece of polythene from a DIY store or builders’ merchant – to go under your groundsheet to keep the mud at bay.



Fiberglass is a popular material for tent poles because it is relatively cheap to produce, lightweight and bends easily around the curves of a tent. It is often found in small- and medium-sized dome and tunnel units or as extra poles (over a porch or similar) in larger ones. It is made from thin glass strands held in a resin. Some such poles are surrounded by an outer wrapping and appear under a brand name, such as Durawrap or Dynaflex. One disadvantage of the material is that when a pole breaks or fractures – and they can do, especially if they are accidentally mis-threaded in a sleeve – the break can have sharp glass splinters.


Steel tent poles are generally painted, plated or coated to prevent them rusting, and need to remain that way. Steel is a strong, heavy material and they are not designed to bend around the curves of a tent.

If a tent has steel poles with angled corners, the corners because can be weak points. An accidentally bent steel pole can often be straightened, but it will never have all the strength of its condition before the incident.


Aluminium is a much lighter metal than steel and it can bend around curves like fibreglass. For extra strength aluminium is combined with another metal to form an alloy.

These materials are more costly than fibreglass but the strength and weight saving (over steel) mean they are often sold with lightweight, backpacking tents.

Carbon Fibre

Much stronger than the others, but the cost reflects this.


I think the importance of pegs are overlooked. I was at a festival years ago where the wind was so bad, some tents literally took off. Mine was destroyed and 5 of us had to sleep in the car!

Pressed steel or alloy

Pegs with a shank with a flat cross-section generally give better grip than standard steel pegs.

Lightweight pegs

Alloy or titanium reduce weight, but they are more likely to bend. You need to be sure they will be good enough to stay in the ground keeping your tent down in the wind.

Moulded plastic

There are many shapes and sizes of moulded plastic pegs on the market. Many are remarkably strong, even though they are light in weight. Some larger tents are sold with moulded plastic pegs for the main guy lines and steel pins for the remaining guys.

Rock pegs

Rock pegs are designed for especially hard ground – perhaps stony or frozen. They are normally made from toughened steel and generally have a head to take the guy line, perhaps made of plastic.

Screw-in pegs

These pegs have a strong grip and are designed to stay in the ground unless you unscrew them. Many people use a cordless drill to put them in place and extract them.

Groundsheet pegs

Groundsheet pegs normally have flattened tops so you can stand on them without spiking your feet.

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