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fabric types for tarps, tents and swags


  • the lightest, strongest fabric is Dyneema cuben fibre but it is also the most expensive
  • many hiking tent flys and tarps are made from polyester as this is a good compromise on weight, functionality and price
    • pros:
      • inexpensive
      • very light
      • available in different thicknesses to optimise weight vs durability
      • dries out fast
      • better UV resistance, more abrasion resistant, more waterproof, holds less water and thus less sagging when wet than simple nylon
    • cons:
      • degrade over time, especially if left in the sun a lot
      • not has tear resistant or abrasion resistant as ripstop nylon
      • these are usually waterproofed with a polyurethane (PU) coating but then it loses it breathability and breaks down more readily in UV exposure and requires some care to be kept clean and dry for storage. It is hydrophilic and attracts water and thus can sag when wet.
      • some have a silicon coating (“silnylon”) for extra waterproofing, durability (more stretch and tear strength) and UV protection but this does make them less breathable, more slippery, water shakes off more readily, can be made lighter, and it also means logos cant be applied nor seam sealing tapes (seams require manual application of a liquid seam sealant)
      • some have silicone coating on the outside and PU coating on the inside of the polyester (“Sil/PU”) which allows logos to be applied and seam sealing tapes to the PU surface
      • get hotter than heavier but more breathable polycotton or cotton fabrics but this can be partly addressed by using a Blockout fly material and good mesh window ventilation
      • get colder than polycotton or cotton fabrics
      • can be more noisy in the wind than heavier fabrics especially if not set up taut
      • tears cannot be sewn as with a polycotton or cotton fabric
      • less flammable than light cotton but instead tends to melt
  • touring tents often have heavier, more durable, less noisy and more waterproof floors made of either:
    • PU coated poly Oxford polyester:
      • a heavy grade polyester material with a PVC coating (Oxford is a type of weave), the PVC makes it abrasion resistant but is not breathable
      • also used in expensive tarps
    • taffeta weave nylon
      • smoother, crisper feel, and are lighter in weight compared to Oxford fabrics but not the same tear strength and durability
  • some tarps, swags, touring tents, bell tents, yurts, tipis are made with more durable, more insulating but much heavier cotton canvas or polycotton canvas
    • waxed cotton canvas
      • pros:
        • some have been treated with fire retardants if planned use is as a hot tent with a wood stove inside
        • more UV resistant than synthetics
        • more insulating and more breathable than synthetics
      • quieter in the wind
        • great for warm dry conditions
      • cons:
        • very heavy (especially waxed cotton canvas), especially when wet
        • larger pack size
        • take a long time to dry out
        • these generally need weathering (treated with water and allowed to dry)
        • waterproof rating is usually only around 1500mm unless waxed cotton canvas
    • polycotton canvas
      • pros:
        • lighter than cotton canvas
        • PU coatings can be applied for better waterproofing
      • cons:
        • less breathable than cotton canvas
  • mesh
    • insect mesh comes in various hole sizes
    • many are designed only to stop mosquitoes and are thus susceptible to tiny biting midges or sand flies entering
    • some are designed to also stop the tiny biting midges or sand flies entering and these are called “No-See-Um” mesh
      • these have holes < 1mm but are generally not as durable

Grading of material

  • Denier
    • is the number which tells the weight in grams of 9000 meter of a fibre of yarn.
    • It is denoted by alphabet D.
    • a single strand of silk is approximately one denier
    • a 9000-metre strand of silk weighs about one gram
    • So 210D Polyester means, that 9000 meter of polyester will weigh 210 grams.
    • Denier (D) = Tex (T) x 9
    • the higher the Denier of a fabric, the less prone it will be to rips and tears but the price to pay is extra weight to carry
  • Tex
    • is a metric version of Denier and is the weight in grams for 1000 meter of a fibre of yarn.
  • filament count
    • the number of filaments used to create a thread or yarn
    • 20D nylon is actually composed of 27 filaments each having 0.926 Denier
  • thread count (“T”)
    • T thread count is number of fibres per square inch of fabric and is the sum of warp (vertical) threads/inch and weft (horizontal) threads/inch
    • a 210T Polyester is stronger, heavier, more durable and more suited to tents than a 300T Polyester while the latter is softer and more suited to sleeping bags
    • a single square yard of fabric with a yarn count of 250 threads per inch has 250×36 = 9,000 yards of yarn in one weave direction and another 9,000 yards of yarn in the other weave direction
      • that's 18,000 yards of yarn in one square yard of 250 count fabric.
      • for a 20D fabric this means that one square yard weighs about 20×1.8=36 grams/sqyd or 43.5 g/sqm
  • GSM
    • the weight in grams per square meter
  • thickness
    • used for PVC
    • 0.3mm = 11.8mil (thousandths of a inch)
  • weave type
    • plain weave taffeta - strong and hard wearing
    • Oxford weave - basket weave; retains shape, abrasion resistant
    • square ripstop - minimises tears
    • diamond ripstop - minimises tears

Waterproof rating

  • usually stated as mm of hydrostatic head (HH) of water pressure that it resists
  • flooring needs much more waterproofing as your weight can push water in
  • 1000mm is OK for light rain as a fly
  • 1500mm is generally considered “waterproof” as a fly
  • 3000mm is good for most rain as a fly and is reasonable for a floor
  • 5000mm or higher is preferred for floors, many higher quality floors for hiking tents are rated at 10,000-25,000mm waterhead
  • DCF (Dyneema Cuben fiber) is waterproof and waxed canvas has a natural waterproof performance so these typically do not have mm ratings


  • PU coating
    • usually applied as coats to the inner surface of nylon fabrics to give them improved waterproofing
    • the more coats applied, the greater the waterhead rating
    • makes it heavier and weaker
    • hydrolyzes over time, which causes a foul odor and peeling of the waterproof coating
  • silicone coating
    • usually applied on the exterior surface to give water repellence thanks to it being hydrophobic, and UV resistance
      • NB. bright nylon colors like pink, yellow etc can degrade very quickly in high UV environments
      • NB. muted colors like our green, or brown or gray do not degrade as fast from UV
    • unlike PU, there is a limit to how much can be applied and thus it’s hard to get water columns much higher than 1500mm when you’re using lightweight fabrics without PU
    • fabric stretch due to moisture is greatly reduced
    • strengthen the fabrics they are applied to, so they make the fabric harder to rip or tear
    • do not hydrolyze, and are more durable than PU coatings and also gives mold/mildew resistance
    • cannot apply sealing tape must be seam sealed
    • can attract dust and feel slippery
    • sil/sil fabrics will outlast all other coatings and coating combinations
  • polyether urethane coating (PE or PeU)
    • has similar characteristics to PU in that it can be combined with fire retardants and is applied in a similar manner
      • decreases fabric strength and UV resistance
      • but more stable against hydrolysis, absorbs less water, extremely mold and mildew-resistant so are better for hot humid environments
      • often applied to floors
  • seam sealing
    • when a polyurethane-coated (or PU-coated) waterproof fabric is stitched together, leaking points remain within the seams. Tape is then applied with heat and pressure, producing a seal.
    • can use seam tape
  • Durable Water Repellency (DWR) is a water repellant coating that is often applied to fabrics to make water bead and roll off but it is not permanent and needs to be re-applied over time
  • titanium oxide coating
    • this gives by far the best UV resistance and is important for base camps at high altitude where there is prolonged UV exposure

fabrics - strength/durability/waterproofing vs weight vs price

Dyneema cuben fibre (DCF)

  • this approaches the most ideal material in terms of tear resistant strength, durability, waterproofing and weight but it is VERY EXPENSIVE and is used in ultralight tarps and tents and is the preferred option for 2000km trail hikes
  • 0.51oz (17g/m2) 100XT Dyneema is probably the best strength Dyneema for tarp purposes
    • you can get even lighter, less expensive Dyneema but they will not last long
  • generally provides 15,000mm waterhead protection
  • does not stretch as much as most other lightweight fabrics nor does it sag when wet as does silnylon, the lack of stretch may make it less suitable for some types of pitches where stretching the fabric is needed
    • in storms, best to use springs on guy lines given the lack of stretch
  • better UV resistance than nylon
  • has a lower melting point than silnylon, so in a hot tent application ember holes will be bigger - use a longer stove pipe
  • although the fibre is 15x stronger than steel per weight, it is subject to abrasion damage due to the Mylar layer
    • easier to patch than silnylon, so if you do get a hole or tear it is easy and quick to use a mylar tape to patch it, and the tape is a permanent fix
  • seam failure from needle hole expansion is a common issue with films and nonwovens, so seams have to be bonded and/or hot taped and tape adhesives are often a weak point and can degrade before the rest of the shelter wears out

ripstop nylon

  • a superlight tarp which provides a great material for strength, durability, waterproofing (although not as good as Dyneema cuben fibre on any of these and is heavier much much more affordable)
  • usually is PU coated for waterproofing to around 3000mm waterhead
  • some are also siliconised for better UV protection but this increases their sag when wet
  • most are 20D for superlight purposes (15D versions are lighter but less durable, while 30-40D are much stronger but heavier placing them in the “light” tarp category)

taffeta nylon

  • taffeta nylon is heavier than rip-stop but stronger
  • often used in tent floors

Aramid nylon

other nylon

  • nylon fibre has 3 main strengths, in increasing strength:
    • nylon
    • nylon 6
    • Robic nylon - an improvement in strength and abrasion but it is still not as good as nylon 6.6
    • nylon 6.6 - “high tenacity nylon” and offers far better strength and tear resistance than Nylon 6, lower water absorption and increased abrasion resistance.
    • Cordura nylon - High Tenacity Nylon which resists tearing better than Nylon 6.6
  • a light material although not as strong as ripstop nylon for same weight
  • nylon is more abrasion resistant and has a much better strength-to-weight ratio than polyester due to its stretchiness but absorbs more water in the rain which makes it heavier and larger when wet and thus it sags more, and the stretchiness tends to give a less aesthetic pitch, and is more susceptible to UV degradation
  • as most tents are made in humid conditions in Asia, they can shrink in size in dry desert conditions
  • usually is PU coated on under-surface for waterproofing to around 3000mm waterhead and allowing seals to be taped
  • some are also siliconised on the outside for better UV protection but this increases their sag when wet
  • a 20D nylon tent often has a thread count of 330 threads per inch
  • UV on silnylon:
    • by 100 days of UV exposure:
      • tensile strength is reduced to max of 70% of original, with those lighter than 40D falling to 50% and also became discoloured, and some fell to only 16% of original by 200 days 1)
      • titanium oxide coated polyester performed much better, at 80-90% of original by 100 days and > 75% of original by 200 days exposure (polyester without TiO2 fell to 34% of original by 200days!)

SuprSil nylon


  • polyester is any polymer whose monomers are linked together by ester bonds and is commonly used to make clothing
  • whilst lighter 20, 30D, 40D and 75D PU-coated polyester (~105gsm) is used as tent flies and 100D (~150gsm) to 210D is used for tent floors
  • for the same weight fabric, it is ~ 15% lower tear strength than nylon but is much more resistant to UV, absorbs much less water and thus sags much less which is why it is used as the tent fly for many tents
  • less supple than nylon so does not pack as compact


  • a polyester fabric not as light as nylon but is more durable and does not stretch as much plus it is more UV resistant and water-resistant
  • often 210T thread count per inch but uses 68D which gives it more strength and durability

polyethylene (PE)

  • Polyethylene is a polymer consisting of many ethylene monomers bonded together
  • these are VERY noisy in the wind or if walked on
  • they are not very durable and usually have a life span of only 1-2 yrs as a tarp
  • they are quite flammable and easily damaged
  • 0.1mm thick “transparent” versions are cloudy (often used as mattress protectors)
  • best as a ground sheet or for covering a load, not great for wind protection for camping due to their noise

polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

  • one of the most commonly made plastics (eg. PVC pipes, PVC coated tent floors) but also one of the more toxic to make and for the environment as it may be considered hazardous waste
  • PVC consists of long repeating units of the carcinogenic chemical, vinyl chloride (this is used in the manufacture of PVC and evaporates readily and breaks down in a few days to formaldehyde)
    • If you breathe high levels of vinyl chloride, you will feel dizzy or sleepy. These effects occur within 5 minutes if you are exposed to about 10,000 ppm of vinyl chloride. You can easily smell vinyl chloride at this concentration. It has a mild, sweet odor. If you breathe still higher levels (25,000 ppm), you may pass out. Extremely high levels of vinyl chloride can damage the liver, lungs, and kidneys and can cause death.
    • after exposure, most of the vinyl chloride is excreted in urine within a few days however, some is metabolised in the liver to other more reactive compounds which stay much longer
    • chronic inhalation over years may cause changes in the liver and may increase risk of a rare liver cancer angiosarcoma.
    • vinyl chloride levels are regulated in drinking water, food, and air
    • exposure is most likely in PVC manufacturing workers and in those who live near a hazardous waste site, municipal landfill, or a chemical plant that produces vinyl chloride or PVC
    • whilst PVC does off-gas especially in the first few days when opened to air, and one can easily smell this, it is not clear how detrimental such exposure is, but it is probably best to let it air for a few days before using it
  • much less flammable, less noisy, more transparent in its pure form, and more durable than PE
  • PVC coated tarps generally last more than 10yrs
  • you can buy 0.3mm thick transparent PVC tarps which are 99.9% transparent and which block longer infrared waves so create a greenhouse effect

reinforced ripstop PVC

thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) sheets

  • soft, clear but strong and scratch and abrasion resistant elastomer material made from rubber and plastic
  • aliphatic TPUs are often used as a variably breathable waterproof clear plastic fashion fabric
  • degrade with prolonged temperatures above 100degC (generally has a melting point of 120 – 220 °C)
  • aromatic TPUs in particular degrades with prolonged exposure to UV light (by yellowing), aliphatic ones are more UV resistant
  • dark tinted TPU is more UV resistant
  • more expensive than PVC and tends to be tougher and with more abrasion resistance and is more environmentally friendly but does tend to yellow over time

XF film

  • a patented Swiss film that makes tarps strong and waterproof

ripstop polycotton canvas

  • 8oz versions as used by OzTents have 1500mm waterhead rating

polyester/terylene cotton (polycotton)

  • T/C is thicker, heavier, more durable, more effectively blocks sunlight and heat, and provides a more fire retardant option to nylon
  • its unique material technology enables it to be more water-resistant with each use through the fabric’s interaction with moisture in the outdoors, and fFabric performance can be enhanced by setting it up next to a river, stream, or even drizzle.
  • 210g/m² T/C with DWR coating for extra waterproofing is used in OneTigris T/C tents such as OneTigris Conifer T/C A frame hot tent
  • more durable than 70D polyester but perhaps similar to 150D polyester

cotton canvas

  • more durable and much more resistant to embers, punctures and gives more shade from the sun than lighter nylon tarps
  • UV treated cotton is more UV resistant than poly-cotton
  • less noisy in the wind
  • less hot and muggy in warm conditions, and less cold in cold conditions than polyester
  • cross-weave cotton fabric with rip-stop style stitching may be stronger than poly-cotton or polyester
  • more environmentally friendly than synthetics
  • long lasting if looked after (perhaps 10yrs or more) but they are very heavy and even more heavy when wet
  • 4x3m tarps may come in at just under 6kg eg. Outhaus

oilskin cotton

waxed cotton

  • cotton impregnated with paraffin wax “Japara” - a highly water resistant cloth, breathable, but without the stiffness in the cold or yellowing with age which became popular in WWI and 1950s for jackets but gradually were displaced by lighter synthetics
  • typically needs annual re-waxing

Nemo's OSMO

  • developed in 2021;
  • poly-nylon composite made from recycled polyester and nylon yarns and backed with a polyurethane coating for waterproofness giving “4x more waterproofing than polyester or nylon fabrics” and “3x less stretch than nylon when wet” and “20% more tear resistant”

NatureHike Durabing

  • designed for 5yrs in the sun
  • mildew proof
  • outer braided hydrophobic layer then UV barrier layer then flexible reinforcement layer then bottom insulation layer 10,000mm WH rating UPF50
  • eg. ~$AU800 for a 20sqm 696x480cm catenary cut shelter with 32mm 2.8m poles, guy ropes, pegs packs to 88x20x20cm 16kg

comparison of tarp materials

material approx. gram per sq.m weight for 3x3m tarp waterproofing cost for 3x3m tarp
Dyneema cuben fibre 24gsm ~220g 15,000mm $AU600-800
15D UltraSil silnylon eg. Sea to Summit 39gsm 350g 1500mm? $AU320
20D ripstop PU silnylon eg. Mont BatWing 50gsm ~450g 3000mm $AU280
DD Hammocks Superlight PU nylon (?20D) 54gsm 490g 3000mm $AU150
30D ripstop silnylon eg. WE Overhang Ultralight 78gsm 700g 1500mm $AU400
190T polyester PU eg. DD Hammocks 3×3 88gsm 790g 3000mm $AU100
40D PU silnylon eg. Aqua Quest Guide 100gsm 910g 5000mm $AU150
75D ripstop polyester eg. WE Overhang 117gsm 1050g 3000mm $AU260
105GSM polyethylene “Medium Duty” 105gms ~1050g start at ~$AU17 or $AU30 for clear versions
160GSM polyethylene “Heavy Duty” 160gsm ~1700g start at ~$AU30
205GSM polyethylene “Extreme” 205gsm ~2200g start at $AU80
280GSM ripstop polycotton canvas eg. Oztrail awning 280gsm 2520g $AU200
290GSM polyethylene ABCTarp 290gsm ~3000g $AU60
oilskin 3000g ~$AU400
0.3mm clear PVC 365gsm 3285g $AU380
420GSM ripstop polycotton canvas eg. most swags 420gsm 3780g
500GSM reinforced PVC Marson 500gsm ~5000g $AU100
680GSM reinforced ripstop PVC Marson Titan 680gsm ~7000g $AU150
australia/shelter_material.txt · Last modified: 2024/07/08 01:56 by gary1

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