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What are Tent Fabric Specifications and Coatings?

September 8, 2022

Specifications and coatings for tents can be perplexing. What is the difference between denier, thread count, and hydrostatic head? Understanding tent specifications and terminology will assist you in selecting the best tent for your needs.


When purchasing tents, reputable brands and retailers should provide tent fabric specifications so you can determine a tent's performance capabilities and suitability for various conditions. Here's an overview of various tent fabric specifications. For more on fabrics check out fabric pros and cons.


#1 What is Denier?

Denier (D) is a unit of measurement for the weight and thickness of the individual threads in a fabric. A higher Denier fabric is thicker, stronger, and more durable than a lower Denier fabric - 40D Nylon is stronger than 15D Nylon, and 150D Polyester is stronger than 75D Polyester. Keep in mind that different fabrics have varying strengths. Lower Denier nylon is commonly used in ultralight nylon tents and tarps where weight is critical. Polyester camping tents have higher 68D, 75D, and 150D fabrics, whereas for camping and event shelters, something around 150D is recommended to deal with the greater stresses and longer exposure to the sun and elements.


#2 What is Thread count?


The thread count (T) is the number of horizontal and vertical threads used per square inch of fabric... 210T is an abbreviation for 210 threads. A higher thread count indicates a denser and tighter weave in the fabric. As a result, lower Denier fabrics (with a 'thinner' thread) frequently have a higher thread count.


#3 What is Ripstop?

Ripstop tent fabrics have a special reinforcement to increase tearing and ripping resistance. When weaving, a stronger thread is used at regular intervals to create a visible crosshatching and grid pattern in the fabric. This increases the fabric's strength and makes any tears or holes less likely to spread and become larger.


#4 What is gsm?

The weight in grams of one square meter of raw woven canvas or polycotton canvas is referred to as GSM (grams per square meter). (It is still measured in ounces per square yard.) A higher gsm indicates a heavier and thicker fabric. Most tents are 280gsm to 380gsm, with more modern polycotton canvas at the lower end.


#5 What are coatings on fabric?

Tent fabrics often have chemical coatings added to them to improve performance, particularly water resistance.


#6 What is a silicone coating? What is silnylon?

Silnylon refers to nylon that has a silicone layer. A stronger, waterproof nylon fabric with improved stretch and tear strength is produced when the coating "permeates" the nylon fabric. Since silicone repels water, it's simple to shake off extra moisture and it dries rapidly. On the negative side, silicone coatings are more expensive, prevent the fabric from "breathing," which could increase humidity, and produce a very slick and slippery surface, which prevents tent seams from being taped and necessitates the manual application of a liquid seam sealer. Also, keep in mind that silicone coatings cannot be printed with brand logos.


#7 What is a Polyurethane (PU) coating?

When applied on polyester and nylon fabrics, polyurethane coatings, also known as PU coatings, act more like a film that adheres to the surface of the tent fabric. It is more cheap than silicone, has better breathability, forms a waterproof barrier, and has a surface that enables the use of tape on tent seams. However, it doesn't strengthen a fabric's strength in the same way that silicone does, needs to be kept clean and dry for storage, is susceptible to UV ray damage, and eventually breaks down. PU coatings can be printed with branding directly.


#8 What is a SIL/PU coating?

In order to balance the advantages of both coatings and enable tape to be applied to seams, certain tent fabrics have silicone coating on the outside and PU coating on the inside. This makes tents "ready to go" for end users. The fabric will have branding printed on the inside, not the outside.


#9 Hydrostatic Head (HH), water column or ‘waterproof’ ratings (measured in mm)

Fabrics made of polyester and nylon cannot be made waterproof; thus, silicone or PU coatings are used to provide these qualities. A tall column of water that is measured in millimeters is used to gauge how much water they can 'hold out' for. Ratings can be as low as 800 mm and as high as 10,000 mm, with ratings of 1500 mm and greater often being regarded as "waterproof." For a more thorough discussion of waterproof tents and ratings, see our article on how to choose a waterproof tent. These normally do not have mm ratings because DCF (Cuben fiber) is waterproof and canvas has a naturally waterproof capability.


#10 What other fabric coatings are there?

Other coatings can be applied to tent materials to increase fire retardant qualities, rot and mildew resistance, water resistance (enabling water to bead and roll off), UV resistance, and water resistance (allowing water to bead and roll off).


#11 What is Oxford?

In contrast to typical plain weaves, oxford is a particular form of weave that offers more strength and durability. Heavy duty fabrics frequently use this.



As well as identifying your preferred tent design, you’ll need a tent fabric with the right balance of strength, durability, waterproofness, weight and budget to meet your needs. Knowing more about tent specifications will help you get the right tent.