Buying a tent is a process of balancing the factors of durability, wind protection and water resistance against ventilation and weight. With the default preference for remaining dry, a tent's facility for providing warmth, coolness or stability in varying camping and backpacking circumstances will dictate the fabric and construction requirements. In the back country, size, weight and protection from the elements are pivotal factors, but space, standing room, ventilation and general comfort are more critical in a family camping of tent. Tents often have different fabrics for their bodies, floors, rain flies and ventilation panels, and the fabrics used will reflect the intended use of the tent. Resistance to fire is an important factor in all materials used.
Nylon and polyester dominate camping tent construction, often woven into a taffeta, which is a medium or lightweight fabric, smooth and lustrous, plain-woven, and with a fine crosswise rib effect. Rip stop nylon incorporates thicker thread into the weave for strength, and, being lighter than polyester, is often the choice for backpacking tents. These fabrics are breathable, which reduces condensation, but are not waterproof unless treated. Bigger family camping tents often use coated polyester, which holds up well to long-term sun exposure. Canvas is very durable, but also quite heavy. Commercial super-fabrics like Gore-Tex, Nextec and eVent, which are lightweight, breathable and waterproof, are often used for "single-wall" (no rain fly) alpine mountaineering.
A rain fly is your tent's cover and protection, and is typically made of coated polyester, often rip stop, although treated nylon rip stop is a common fabric for lightweight, high-elevation backpacking. Polyester resists stretching when wet. The "double-wall" construction of tent-and-rain-fly helps to reduce condensation. Previously mentioned super-fabrics are sometimes used for rain flies.
A tent's floor needs to be waterproof and tough, so heavier materials are warranted in their construction. Polyweave, which is the fabric used in boat covers, is very waterproof, but also bulky and heavy. It also tears easily. Rip stop polyester taffeta and nylon floors, coated with polyurethane, are more suitable for backpacking.
Panels, Vents and Doors of the Tent
Panels, vents and doors in tents allow air-circulation, which minimizes condensation, and make outside viewing possible. Polyester mesh, which forms a blockade to mosquitoes but lets air and perspiration pass through, is most often used.
Your tent's color influences the quality of light inside, the attitude of neighbors who have to look at it, and your chances of being rescued if you are in trouble in a remote area. Bright colors like orange and yellow provide brighter, cheerier light in gloomy weather and can be seen more easily, but may be counterproductive to a wilderness experience. Blue and green tents provide a softer interior light and are easier on the outside viewer's eyes. Earth-tones blend best with the environment.
Tent floors and rain flies, which have direct contact with water when it rains, are often coated with moisture resistant materials like polyurethane. Many tent bodies are left untreated to encourage air circulation. Coatings are measured in millimeters, representing the height of a column of water which is supportable by the fabric without leaking.