A Guide to Choosing the Right Fabrics for your Shelter

A Guide to Choosing the Right Fabrics for your Shelter

Selecting the right fabric for your shelter is crucial to ensure comfort, durability, and safety while your shelter is in use. Each fabric type offers unique benefits and drawbacks that make it more or less suitable for different applications, whether it’s for use in extreme weather, backpacking, or just for general use.

In this guide, we will have an overview of the most commonly used fabrics in the shelter industry: polyester, polycotton, nylon, and canvas, highlighting their key characteristics to help you make an informed decision.

1. Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fabric widely used in shelter construction and is known for its versatility, durability, and affordability. This man-made fabric is available in many different weights and can have different coatings. As such, polyester is the main shelter fabric used in the UK and the industry standard.


  • Durability: Polyester is sturdier and more water-resistant than natural fibers or even nylon, making it a top choice for shelters that need to be used in harsher weather conditions.
  • Resistance: It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures from -30 to 70 degrees Celsius, meaning it can be used in nearly every climate.
  • Versatility: Polyester is available in various weights and deniers, meaning it can be used to make both heavy-duty and lightweight shelters.
  • Specialist coatings, such as polyurethane (PU), silicone, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), are also often used to make the fabric more durable or even enhance certain properties.

Here at LANCO, we use PVC-coated polyester for all our shelter fabrics, including flooring and ground skirting, which enhance the material's characteristics based on the intended application. The PVC coating makes polyester UV stable, resistant to oil and grease, and flame-retardant.

On the other hand, PU coatings are also a popular option as they provide water resistance, fire retardancy, and cost-effectiveness without compromising tear strength. However, PU-coated polyester is not completely waterproof and can absorb water over time in prolonged wet and humid conditions, potentially affecting its performance.

2. Polycotton

Polycotton blends cotton with polyester, with the exact composition varying between brands. A blend of cotton and polyester means that these shelters can reap the benefits of having a cotton-based shelter material while minimizing the drawbacks.


  • Breathability: Polycotton offers better breathability and temperature regulation, meaning that the shelter remains cool in the summer and retains heat in the winter. The fabric also reduces condensation compared to purely synthetic fabrics.
  • Comfort: The inclusion of cotton makes these shelters softer and more comfortable. The softness and lower resilience of cotton means that polycotton shelters are less durable but more lightweight, making them great choices for general-purpose shelters.
  • Balance: Blending with polyester enhances durability and maintains a good strength-to-weight ratio, offering a lightweight yet strong fabric as compared to purely cotton shelter fabrics.


  • Maintenance: Polycotton requires more maintenance due to the presence of cotton, which can be prone to mold growth if it gets wet.
  • Durability: Despite the polyester blend, polycotton is generally less durable than pure polyester fabrics and there is still some risk of tearing.

3. Nylon

Nylon is another synthetic fabric known for its lightweight properties, making it ideal for technical shelters used in activities like cycling and mountaineering. Nylon shelters are also often coated to make them more durable and resistant to UV.


  • Portability: Nylon's lightweight and thin structure makes it easy to pack and transport, perfect for mobile adventurers who require a lighter shelter for ease of transportation.
  • Durability: As another synthetic shelter fabric, nylon shares many properties with polyester, such as its sturdiness and water resistance. With the right coating, the fabric can be made more durable to abrasion and ripping.
  • Flexibility: The flexibility of the fabric allows for compact packing and rapid deployment in various settings.


  • Sturdiness: Nylon is known for being thin and lightweight and as a trade-off, it is less sturdy compared to heavier fabrics. As such, it may not withstand harsh weather conditions as well as polyester.
  • Durability: It is more susceptible to wear and tear over time, especially in extreme environments. Nylon also has the tendency to ‘ladder’, meaning a small tear can propagate across the fabric rapidly if not careful.

4. Canvas

Canvas, typically made from pure cotton, is a traditional fabric choice for shelters and the main fabric of choice before synthetic fabrics were invented.


  • Breathability: As a natural fabric, cotton canvas allows air to pass through, providing natural ventilation and reducing condensation, which is beneficial in warmer climates.
  • Comfort: The breathable nature of cotton allows these cotton canvas shelters to provide a more pleasant camping experience, especially when used for recreational camping in warmer climates.


  • Maintenance: Like polycotton, canvas requires more maintenance due to its susceptibility to mold and damage when wet. As such, they are also not suitable for use in harsh weather conditions or for non-recreational purposes.
  • Weight: Canvas is a much heavier material, making it less convenient for backpackers and those who need to carry their shelters over long distances.

5. Conclusion

Choosing the right fabric for your shelter depends on various factors, including the intended use, climate conditions, and the level of maintenance you are willing to undertake. Polyester excels in durability, polycotton balances comfort and durability, and nylon prioritizes portability and flexibility. On the other hand, canvas made of cotton provides great breathability and high comfort, but they are heavy and less durable. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each fabric, you can select the shelter fabric that best meets your needs, ensuring a safe and comfortable outdoor experience.

At LANCO, we produce low pressure, high pressure and exoskeleton shelters in a range of different sizes. All our products are built to last, with cadmium-free PVC being our material of choice. Every piece of PVC fabric we use is UV-resistant, waterproof, and fire retardant. For special projects, we use military grade fabrics and can fulfill specific military requirements. To learn more about our rapid deployment solutions, reach out today.