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Tent Flysheet Material Guide

How do the pros and cons of a material fit in with our camping style?

All our materials – including groundsheets – will keep out wind and water. But materials do this in different ways and may require a different set of camping skills to ensure they do this efficiently. Variables like time, money, use, space will also affect choice. 

Let’s consider the three material types we use for our tents. We no longer use pure cotton – a great fabric but highly expensive at the quality we demand. Cotton is included here because a good selection of secondhand Outwell cotton tents are still to be found. Let's start with cotton as this helps explains the basics of tent fabrics and our reasons for using Polyester, Polycotton and Taslon in our current collections.

Cotton

Despite the cons, quality cotton has long been regarded as the ultimate tent fabric. The initial cost is far outweighed by cotton’s long lifespan that makes it a far better investment when comparing its reduced depreciation and the cost per night to a synthetic tent. However, this is dependent on the camper understanding how to use and maintain a cotton tent. 

Cotton does not have a hydrostatic head rating as it does not use a coating. It is a natural fibre and its waterproof properties depend on its ability to absorb water and swell to fill the gaps in the weave. While we should describe this as water resistant this process is highly efficient – especially when the gap to be filled is very small as that in our densely woven Outtex 100% Ripstop Cotton we once used. A Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment assists rain bead and roll off the fabric’s outer face.

It’s good camping practice to ‘weather’ a cotton tent before first use or after storage. You wet out of the tent either by rain or the use of a hose. It is then left to dry naturally before repeating several times. This ‘activates’ the cotton fibres and allows them to swell and contract rapidly. It also helps to check the tent’s seams and practice pitching before the tent is used for a holiday. Seams are not sealed but a cotton/synthetic thread is used and this swells to fill the needle holes. Drips caused by slightly oversize holes can be cured by a dab of Outwell Seam Guard. 

Dirt, detergent, oil and grease may damage a fabric and will certainly impact on the way cotton reacts to water. These should be removed immediately, the area cleaned and, if necessary, re-proofed. Try not to touch the sides of any cotton tent when it is raining for body oils may allow water to pass through the fabric. General reproofing is not a regular maintenance task but should only be done if the fabric shows signs of leaking or wear. 

Cotton is not a strong fibre and fabrics tend to be heavier to compensate. Our Outtex 100% Ripstop Cotton had a reinforced weave to provide extra strength, enabling us to use a lighter weight fabric. Cotton is high maintenance and a tent has to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before storage to avoid mildew. Store in a cool, well ventilated place away from vermin. 

Campers wanting a high quality camping experience for longer trips will not do better than cotton. Those tiny holes allow water vapour to pass through the fabric to eliminate condensation inside. Combined with the extra weight and insulation you get that highly appreciated ‘air conditioning’ effect throughout the year and the unique much sought after memory-evoking ambience. Long life and high resale values add attraction.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• Breathable and moisture absorbent properties eliminate condensation
• Maintains a stable temperature inside the tent
• Noise free in windy conditions
• Great feel and smell
• UV resistance
• Long lifespan

Cons

• Initial cost
• Special precuations needed for preperation, maintenance, and storage
• Understanding weatherproof properties – see below
• Low strength
• Susceptible to mildew
• Weight and pack size

 

Polyester

Quality polyester is arguable the best synthetic for tent production as it is a rugged material that requires less immediate care – although tents should still be stored clean and dry. Its light weight and low bulk not only makes it ideal when transport and storage space are at a premium but it also makes pitching easier. Such user-friendly properties coupled with a relatively economic price tag makes it a good fabric for family use – especially for regular short jaunts with little time in between for drying.

The fabric’s waterproof properties stem from coatings applied to the inside surface and this is tested to provide a hydrostatic head rating (the pressure required to push water through the coating and fabric). While this acts as a guide to a fabric’s performance other factors, like the quality of the base material and the application of the coatings, also affect how waterproof a fabric remains over time. Sealed seams stop water entry.

While no water can enter a tent it means no water vapour can escape so condensation is often a problem unless there is sufficient ventilation – and this is often mistaken by campers for a leak. 

Dirt, grease and oil will not affect waterproof properties although the coatings can be damaged by substances like insect repellents. But, along with wear, they will impact on the DWR treatment used on the outer face to stop the fabric wetting out. As with cotton, clean off any dirt, grease and oils, rinse and spray on a water repellent as necessary. Reproofing is not a regular maintenance task and any patches ‘wetting out’ can be quickly treated with a DWR spray like the Outwell Water Guard.

Synthetics deteriorate under the sun’s UV radiation and this will accelerate if used in certain areas in direct sunlight for extended periods. We have created our own range of Outtex polyester fabrics to enhance positive features and use UV-inhibitors for extra protection.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• Good tensile and tear strength
• User friendly maintenance
• Lighter than cotton
• Weight and pack size
• Cost

Cons

• Poor UV and heat resistance compared to cotton but better than other synthetics
• Non breathable – condensation can occur
• No protection from temperature variation
• Noisy in windy conditions
• Limited lifespan

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Talson

In 2016 we introduced a new fabric to our portfolio.Outtex 6000 HD is a select Taslon polyester that undergoes a special process during yarn production that enables us to create a dense-weave fabric that resembles canvas.

When combined with special treatments it becomes extremely tough and resilient compared to standard polyesters used, and it retains its handle and amazing looks throughout its extended life. While pros and cons are similar to standard polyester, Taslon is a heavier fabric and, as a result, is quieter in windy conditions. Store and maintain in a similar fashion to polyester.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• Excellent tear strength
• User friendly maintenance
• Longer lifespan and UV resistance
• Quiet in windy conditions
• Dense-weave fabric that resembles canvas

Cons

• Non breathable – condensation can occur
• No protection from temperature variation
• Material heavier than polyester

Polycotton

Polycotton performs in a similar way to and has similar properties as cotton but the addition of polyester to the weave reduces many of the problems experienced with a pure natural fibre, like lack of strength and susceptibility to mildew.

Further, the cotton helps resist heat and UV degradation that affect a synthetic fibre. The high comfort levels still have a weight and bulk penalty, but it falls midway between polyester and cotton.

As a market leader in manufacturing polycotton tents we have specially commissioned our Outtex Airtech polycotton for premium performance and internal climatic control. It is far more tolerant than pure cotton and is far nicer to use than polyester.

Like cotton, the fabric’s long lifespan means a polycotton tent is normally a cost-effective investment with high residual values. Store and maintain in a similar fashion to cotton.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• Better strength and mildew resistance than cotton
• Better resistance to heat and UV light than polyester
• Breathable and moisture absorbant properties eliminate condensation
• Maintains stable temperature
• Noise free in windy conditions
• Great feel and smell
• Lifespan
• Weight

Cons

• Initial cost
• Special precuations needed for preparation, maintenance, and storage – as cotton
• Understanding weatherproof properties 

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