Our knowledge of tents is extensive, so we’ve created a jargon-busting guide to tent materials and fabrics to help you understand what you’re buying and to ensure it meets your expectations.
If you don’t know your denier rating from your hydrostatic head, then read on to find out more. Our tent buying guide covers everything you need to find the tent specification that works for the location and weather you’ll be camping in.
What is tent fabric made of?
There are four main types of tent fabric to choose from, with each providing its own unique benefits. Whether you need a lightweight tent for outdoor adventures or a heavy duty tent for family holidays, there is a tent fabric for every situation.
As the main tent fabric used in the UK, polyester is the industry standard, with weights ranging from a denier rating of 68D to 210D, it is a great choice thanks to being lightweight and waterproof.
Widely used in Europe, polycotton features a mixture of polyester and cotton. It is a much thicker and stronger tent fabric that is cooler on hot days and warmer on cool days, but the downside is it absorbs water, hence why it is not overly popular in the UK! Once wet, polycotton also becomes much heavier and more difficult to pack away.
Lightweight, thin and very strong, nylon has many positive features. It is primarily used for very small technical tents, such as those used by cyclists or mountaineers. However, it comes with a premium price tag. A one-man tent can set you back over £1,000, while a family-sized tent will cost over £6,000, making nylon a tent fabric that most campers can only covet!
Essentially polycotton but made from a different mix of polyester and cotton, canvas is largely used for bell tents and glamping tents. As one of the more heavy duty tent fabrics, it is designed for much longer stays and is durable enough to be left up long-term. It benefits from great waterproofing properties, but still absorbs water, so it needs to be fully dry before packing away to prevent deterioration.
What is the best material for a tent?
Polyester is the most popular material for the flysheet of a tent due to its affordability and durability. As a versatile material, polyester can be used to make heavy duty or lightweight fabrics for tents, providing options for all weather conditions.
When choosing the right material for your tent, the best indicators of quality and durability are the following:
Denier (D) – the measurement of fibre thickness in fabrics and textiles. A high denier count indicates a thicker and more durable fabric, while a low denier count indicates a more lightweight material.
Hydrostatic head (HH) - the method used to measure how waterproof a fabric is in millimetres. The higher the rating, the more waterproof a fabric is.
Thread count (T) – measures the number of horizontal and vertical threads within a square inch of fabric. While a higher thread count indicates tighter fabric weave, this doesn’t mean it is more waterproof. We always recommend comparing the T and D ratings to gain a true picture of fabric quality.
Denier and hydrostatic head are key quality indicators and essentially, the higher the ratings, the higher the specification and the quality of the fabric. However, some brands use a combination of specifications in their ratings, such as HDE or DD, which can be confusing when you are comparing products. So, how do you know if your tent really does have a good denier count or HH rating?
Read on to find out how to compare thread count, denier and hydrostatic head ratings to find the right tent for you.
What is a good denier for tents?
After size and weight, the denier of the flysheet (or outer fabric) should be the next deciding factor when purchasing a tent. Denier determines the thickness of the fibres and the durability of the tent fabric, so a high D rating is the marker of a high quality tent.
If you’re investing in a large tent, you want to know that it is worth the money and that it will last a long time, so be sure to check specifically for the individual denier count (D). This is not an HDE count, DD count or anything else that is not simply D or Denier. We always recommend contacting the retailer directly to request the denier count if this information is not readily available within the specification.
68D to 75D is the denier count typically used for small backpacking or festival tents, and is ideal for tents that are used for short stays. These are typically manufactured using thinner fibres, making them cheaper to produce, more lightweight and ideal for general use. View our Quick Erect Tents to buy pop-up and poled tents on a budget or search our collection of hiking and motorbike touring tents for premium lightweight designs.
150D is the minimum denier you should aim for when buying a premium tent or an air tent to ensure longevity and value for money.
150D tent fabrics are also more versatile and more suited to sunlight, wind and cold because they are made from thicker fibres. With air tents in particular, the inner tubes need to be robust enough to withstand inflation, time after time, while large tents are more exposed. The higher quality fabric also helps to keep the interior cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
210D is the denier count of the most premium tents on the market, but these also come with a premium price tag and offer very little extra when compared to the 150D.
What is hydrostatic head?
Hydrostatic head (HH) is the waterproof rating of a fabric in millimetres. It is measured by pressing a column of water against the fabric, which is increased until the water starts to penetrate the fabric.
The hydrostatic head rating is essential, because you want to be confident that your new tent will protect you from the elements, wherever your camping trip takes you.
Check the HH rating in the technical specification of the product you are considering purchasing and look for the highest ratings, as the higher the rating, the more waterproof a fabric is.
1500mm – while there is no recognised industry standard, this rating is the minimum HH score for tent fabrics overall. Any rating lower than 1500mm is unlikely to withstand more than the lightest shower.
4000mm – is the lowest HH rating we recommend for camping in the UK. Our unpredictable weather increases the likelihood of strong winds and rain, so you need a good level of waterproofing.
5000mm – is the premium HH rating for tents and the number you should aim for when purchasing a large or premium tent, as it will withstand torrential rain without leaking, making it a reliable tent for year-round use.
6000mm – is one of the highest HH ratings on the market and worth paying extra for, this is awarded to tent flysheet fabrics that are fully coated to protect from leaks due to strong wind and rain.
At Khyam, our standard HH rating is 5000mm to 6000mm, so you can shop camping tents of all sizes with confidence.
What is thread count?
Thread count (T) refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads within a square inch of fabric. It isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality or reliability, as a material may feature many thin fibres which results in a high T count.
Thread count should not be confused with denier, which refers to the thickness of a fabric’s fibres and is a more reliable measure of durability, particularly with tent materials.
The use of thread count instead of denier within a product’s technical specification can be misleading, giving the impression that a product with a high thread count but low denier count is higher quality than it is in reality.
At Khyam, we recommend comparing the thread count to the denier to gain a true picture of the quality and durability of the tent fabric.
What is the most waterproof tent fabric?
In terms of materials, nylon and polyester are among the most waterproof fabrics used to manufacture tents, but their hydrostatic head (HH) ratings will depend upon how they have been treated.
The HH rating of a tent fabric tells us how waterproof the material is in millimetres and is the biggest indicator of water resistance in any type of material. The HH rating of the flysheet determines how well your tent will perform in the rain and wind.
It is possible to find highly treated polycotton with a 12,000 HH rating. While this would out-perform polyester tent fabrics in terms of waterproofing, it does become much heavier when wet.
What is the most lightweight tent material?
Nylon is by far the most lightweight tent material on the market, but it is also the most expensive and largely unaffordable for the average camper. The most affordably priced lightweight material is polyester, which is the most commonly used tent fabric.
Denier (D) determines the quality and durability of a tent’s fabric, but it is also a key indicator of weight. Therefore, if the weight of the tent is the biggest deciding factor, then look for a lower D rating.
Polycotton and canvas are much heavier fabrics and unsuitable for lightweight tents.
Why material matters: how to choose the most sustainable tent
Every camper wants value for money from their tent, but most also want to ensure the longevity of the products they buy.
Large family tents with 68D fabrics offer convenience for festivals or short-term stays, but it is important to keep in mind that they can have a bigger impact on the planet. Tent fabrics produce pollution in the dying process, and lower specification tent fabrics also degrade faster, so they are likely to become unusable and end up in landfill much sooner than those made from high quality fabrics. If you are planning to use your large family tent more often, we advise opting for a 150D fabric where possible.
At Khyam, we’re proud to support the planet and we strive to help all campers make responsible choices. That’s why we’ve developed our lifetime warranty, to do our bit to reduce the number of tents that end up in landfill.
We always recommend quality over convenience and our 150D premium tents benefit from a longer life expectancy, due to the fact the fabric itself lasts longer. Plus, if you decide to trade in your tent for a new one, then high quality, longer lasting tents remain usable and can be resold, as they do not depreciate in price like low quality alternatives do.
We’re also committed to offsetting our carbon, which is why we plant a tree for every product sold. Find out more about our tree planting initiative.
We purchased a Khama Screenhouse some years ago, which we used as a free standing awning for our Auto sleepers Peugeot camper vans. I can not recall how long we have had it, but it must be getting on for 10 years. It’s been an ideal awning, and continues to be so although it is showing some signs of wear.
Although checking your web site ,I can not find anything like the awning we have, are you still producing the Screenhouse or anything similar. The size we had was 3 × 3 m.