So far, while testing canopy tents, we have been exposed to cotton, weathershield, polyester, protex, polycotton, weathertec, nylon, outtex, hydrofilm, canvas, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. It can become a little overwhelming and makes you ask, which ones are worth the money?
Polyester and Cotton
Most canopies are made out of synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon. The fact is that these fabrics are often cheaper which means you can get more bang for your buck. Of course there are exceptions. Advancing technology has allowed scientists to create more lightweight, more durable materials, which companies can use to create more rugged (and expensive) canopy tents. Picture the canopy tents that are constructed at the base camp of Mt. Everest.
I would imagine that most of the people visiting our site do not intend to set their canopy up at the base of Mt. Everest, so I am going to limit this review to the more affordable man-made materials, which are nylon and polyester. These fabrics are cheap, lightweight, quick drying, and low maintenance. All of these characteristics make them prime candidates for canopy fabric.
Polyester and nylon do have their drawbacks. First of all they are not good insulators and they are also not breathable, which isn’t a big deal if you’re shopping for an open sided canopy tent. Although, the lack of breathability means that you will get some condensation build-up. Nylon and polyester lose their color over time with exposure to the sun. This is a drawback because many people’s sole purpose for purchasing a canopy tent is for shade. If you are one of these people, let me suggest that you purchase a light colored canopy tent because lighter shades are more forgiving to color loss.
Water resistance and UV resistance are two characteristics of a fabric that are very important. Nylon and polyester are treated with chemical coatings by the manufacturer, which means that their resistance is manufacturer specific and cannot necessarily be determined just by knowing the type of material. The keyword to look for when trying to figure out the grade of water resistance is the “hydrostatic head”. We’ll cover more about the hydrostatic head in another post.
So given all of this information, I would say that I highly recommend man-made fabrics, more so than natural materials for portable canopy tents. The most important features that we consider when rating a traditional open-air canopy tent are durability, weight, water resistance, and UV resistance. Nylon and polyester are both strong in all of these categories. Be aware that you need to consider hydrostatic head when comparing man made fabrics. But even the cheaper canopy fabrics still outperform most natural materials. I’ll get into natural materials a bit more in a follow up post, though.