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Canvas Tents and Canopies

Red canvas tent for camping

Canvas tents have long been a perennial favorite of campers, backpackers, beach-goers and party hosts. Canvas tents are strong, durable, wind- and rain-resistant, and offer substantial, roomy protection and shelter.

Party Tents

Party tents can typically be rented for short-term use, or can be purchased. Affordable used party tents are often offered for sale by tent rental shops. Party tents can made of canvas or mesh — mesh for providing moderate shade, canvas for more substantial shade, plus protection from rain. Some party tents consist of only a top canopy, while others include side panels that can be rolled down or zippered on in case of rain.

Gazebo Tents

Gazebo tents are generally open-air canopies with a thin, almost mesh-like canvas top. These tents are lightweight, easy to set up and take down, and very portable. Gazebo tents are often taken to the beach, and are commonly used as additional shelters by campers.

Camping Tents

Typically, camping tents are put up, or pitched, through the use of a metal framework that the canvas attaches to. The framework supports the canvas, and the canvas protects the occupants. The best camping tents offer a high ceiling for plenty of headroom, heavy-duty zippers, and ample zippered mesh "windows" that can be opened to allow for air circulation or closed to keep out rain. The mesh used in the windows should be of a very fine mesh designed especially to keep out no-see-ums, the tiny insects that can squeeze through regular screen and mesh.

Many tents include external detachable awnings, to provide shade and rain protection at the front entrance to the tent, and many also include a sort of roof-over the main roof to help provide extra insulation and additional protection against leakage during wet weather.

Camping tents range in size from small, ultra-light tents for backpacking to large family-size tents, which often come with canvas partitions to provide areas of privacy.

Cabin Tents vs. Dome Tents

Dome tents tend to be smaller and more affordable than cabin tents. Dome tents are also usually easier and faster to put up and take down, and because of their shape are less susceptible to high winds and handle rain better. Dome tents are usually the choice of backpackers and wilderness campers.

Cabin tents, with their nearly vertical side panels, usually have more standing headroom inside and a larger interior space overall. Cabin tents are more likely to have interior partitions for privacy, an integrated screen room in front, and similar features. Families needing more space and privacy frequently opt for a cabin tent.

Ground Cloths

Regardless of the type of tent you choose, you may wish to purchase and use a ground cloth with your tent. The ground cloth is placed directly on the ground underneath the floor of your tent to protect the tent floor from abrasions and tears from stones, pebbles, and twigs or roots on the ground. The ground cloth should be slightly smaller than the tent itself, to avoid having it collect rainwater to pool under the tent. Some campers like to use a ground cloth inside the tent as well. A quality canvas or poly tarp of an appropriate size can be used as a ground cloth.

What To Look For When Buying A Tent

The cost for canvas tents can vary from less than $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the size, the quality of construction, and the number and complexity of extra features.

Larger tents, while providing roomier accommodations, are heavier to carry, and usually somewhat more difficult to put up and take down. Smaller tents can often be pitched easily by one person, while large tents may require 2 people or even more.

  • Screened windows with zip-close panels — you want to be able to open the windows and let in fresh air in nice weather, and button up tight when it rains.
  • Waterproof — Make sure the tent you are considering is made with a waterproof coating to keep out rain.
  • The right size — Consider carefully how you will be using the tent. A large family taking a tent in the car to a campground has very different needs from a solo hiker carrying his tent on his back. Think about how many people will be using it, for how long, how much gear it will need to hold, how many people will need to sleep in it, and how it will be transported.
  • Taped and reinforced seams — If your tent doesn't come with sealed seams, you'll have to seal them yourself. And who wants to fool with seam sealing goop, when you can buy a perfectly good tent with the seams already sealed?
  • Sufficient space and headroom — if it's important that you be able to stand up inside the tent, check the interior ceiling height. Dome tents only reach their full listed height at the very center of the tent, while cabin tents generally have plenty of headroom toward the sides as well.
  • Three-Season or Four-Season — Three-season tents are the most common and readily available. They generally have good ventilation and are designed for use in the spring, summer and fall. But if you plan to camp in the winter, particular in the mountains in severe cold weather, you should consider a four-season tent designed specifically for that purpose. There are also very lightweight summer tents with lots of ventilation, but they are usually not suitable in cooler weather.
  • Flame-Retardent — Look for a tent with a flame-retardent coating. No matter how careful you are with your campfire, a stray spark (or a flaming s'more) can wreak havoc on a tent that hasn't been treated for flame retardance.
  • Ease of set-up — A tent that sets up in a couple of minutes flat, even in the dark, will be much appreciated after a long day on the hiking trail or when rain is threatening. Dome tents are usually easier to pitch than cabin tents, with shock-corded poles that pull out of the bag and snap together as if by magic.
  • Extra heavy-duty flooring — the floor of your tent is likely to be one of the first parts to start showing wear. You can prolong its life by using a ground cloth both underneath the tent and inside the tent. The ground cloths will be much cheaper to replace on a regular basis than the tent itself.
  • Rainfly — A rainfly over the top of the tent will keep the top of the tent itself from accumulating water, and will protect the tent from the sun and rain. The rainfly can be replaced separately from the tent.
  • Interior hooks and pouches — many tents include storage pouches and hooks on the interior to store your gear and hang up lanterns, wet clothes, and other items. Since storage space is always at a premium when camping, these features can make your tent more convenient and enjoyable.