How Are Tents Made: Materials, Fabric, & More

Rilor Staff
Update: July 17, 2021
Table of Contents

How are tents made?

Tents may not make the world go round, but if you're a camper or an outdoorsman, you'll need a good tent. After all, anyone who's ever been caught in a rainstorm in a cheap domed shelter knows how miserable a bad tent can be. But, what do you really need to know when buying one?

Of course, you would want to know first how these tents are made. Once you have a good grasp of this, you will be able to distinguish which tents have shabby construction from those that have impressive architecture.

This post is a sneak peek at this particular matter. 

How Are Tents Made?

In general, tents today are constructed with either two or a single layer. A two-wall tent features an external part that protects you from the element and an inner layer that serves as your personal space. These tents are beneficial for hiking and backpacking, as they can shield you from the rain, snow, and UV rays. They also have enough insulation for temperature regulation and preventing condensation. 

Meanwhile, single-wall tents only have a single layer of fabric that separates you from the outside world. These tents are lightweight and easy to pitch. At the same time, they have excellent ventilation, too. But at the same time, they are not designed to be exposed to heavy precipitation. After all, they aren't waterproof. 

Fabric Material

When building tents, manufacturers have to be specific when it comes to the fabric they use in building the canopy. Traditionally, cotton is the material of choice because of its inexpensiveness and decent durability. Today, cotton is utilized as a component for the inner tent because they enable breathability, which, in turn, prevents condensation from happening. 

However, the downside of cotton is that it is heavy. At the same time, it has an extended drying time, which means that it gets drenched for a long time if it gets wet due to rain. Moreover, it makes the canvas more susceptible to rotting. 

Modern tents today use polyester and nylon. These two are considered superior alternatives to cotton. They are rugged but offer a more streamlined weight. In addition, if they receive a proper chemical application, these fabrics can ensure foolproof weatherproofing. 

Meanwhile, PU coating is also available for these nylon and polyester tents. The said coating improves the defense of these fabrics against UV rays. Hence, it is not surprising that most 3- 4-season and 4-season tents are made from these materials. The weather on the outdoors is already erratic, so you want to shelter yourself inside these structurally protective tents. 

Also, tents these days have fine mesh on their walls and access points (i.e., doors and windows). They allow ventilation inside the tent without letting bugs and critters come inside. They are essential in any tent, especially if you want to experience the utmost convenience while on the trip.


One of the things that burden campers in the past are the weight of the tent. One of the major contributors to a tent's weight is its frame or poles. In the past, manufacturers only relied on steel poles, which are durable but extremely heavy. Manufacturers tried to innovate and find alternatives for this material until they arrived at fiberglass and aluminum.

Fiberglass is durable and lightweight. Moreover, they are easy to pitch because you can just unfold and link them together using cords. But at the same time, they can become too flexible that they often experience bents and breakages. Manufacturers know this problem, which prompts them to only use fiberglass poles on 3-season tents or tents that are designed for leisure use and glamping. In short, you can't take these tents on terrains where the weather is harsh. Otherwise, the fiberglass poles would not hold off. 

If you are a backpacker or mountaineer, your best bet is a tent that has aluminum poles. They are lightweight, durable, and impervious to bents. The only downside is that they can get expensive. But if you are not so worried about the price, these tents with aluminum poles are worth buying. 

Guy Ropes / Guy Lines

Not all tents are constructed to have guy ropes. But it is definitely a good thing if you get a tent that has these particular components. The purpose of guy lines is to provide stability to the tent by pinching the latter to the ground. Usually, these ropes are paired by stakes; the ropes are tied to the stakes, then you bury the stakes down. 

With these lines, you can make the tent immovable and more secure, which is suitable in windy conditions or terrains where the substrate is not that stable--such as sand. Smaller tents are constructed with guy lines as bigger ones can remain stable even without them due to the presence of heavier fabrics and frames. 

When using these ropes, make sure that you don't stretch them too much. Otherwise, they can cause the stitching on the exterior fabric of the tent to rip or get torn. It is also a good idea to buy extra ropes if you think that the ones provided by the manufacturers are quite brittle.  

Waterproofing / Water-Resistance

Tents are designed to be either water-resistant or waterproof. Don't confuse these two terms together, as they are not the same. When a manufacturer says that their tents are water-resistant, this means that the tents can handle light rain and snow. But they won't be able to hold against heavy downpours. Eventually, they will be prone to water and moisture breaches. Meanwhile, a waterproof tent features impermeability, meaning that the water can't pass through them. 

Most of the time, tents offer waterproofing through their rainfly. Their waterproof rating, which is called the hydrostatic head, measures the resistance of the tent against water pressure. Specifically, the hydrostatic head is expressed by manufacturers as millimeters. 

Entry-level tents today have approximately 1000mm hydrostatic heads. Some of them don't even reveal this information on their labels, knowing that they don't have any sort of waterproofing at all. For tents that have a 1000m hydrostatic head or less, they are more suitable for summer adventures rather than on winter or rainy expeditions.

Most of the 3- 4-season and 4-season tents have a hydrostatic head of 2000mm or higher. The bigger the numbers, the better. You will be able to use these tents in harsh atmospheric conditions without being compromised. 

Interestingly, tents today have been constructed with groundsheets. These groundsheets are different from tent footprints, as you need to purchase the latter separately most of the time. These groundsheets have a waterproof rating, too. Usually, manufacturers construct groundsheets with a hydrostatic head of at least 5000mm. With such architecture, you guarantee that the bottom part of your tent is impervious to the elements.

In Summary

All tents are made up of a combination of various parts and components. Even the entry-level ones can offer intricate and well-detailed construction. When you start to think about it, a tent isn't something so simple. It is quite challenging to design and build a good tent. Moreover, making them work properly in the wild is even a different story. Hence, we should be thankful that reputable and high-quality manufacturers do the dirty work for us. 

That's it for now. If you have other related inquiries, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.

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