Gear Rx: How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

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What does it mean to season or weather a canvas tent? 

Seasoning or weathering are interchangeable terms. It is a process that helps the canvas material remain water-tight, keeping you warm and dry no matter the conditions. 

Canvas is durable tent material that can last you years of use, plus it is naturally water resistant. Meaning, it has the ability to hold out water. But without proper weathering or waterproofing, water can eventually leak into the tent. 

New canvas tents may come pre-seasoned, but not all of them do. When shopping for the best canvas tents, see if they are weathered and waterproof. Like most processes and coatings that help keep water out of your tent, it can wear off with time and more use, so if you have an old tent, it may need a new seasoning as well. 

Seasoning vs. Waterproofing

Even though seasoning and weathering are synonymous, waterproofing is something entirely different. When working to make a canvas tent more weather resistant, go through both the seasoning and waterproofing processes for best results. 

Weathering a canvas tent helps the canvas material stay water-tight. Even though the canvas is naturally water resistant, it does have small holes that can leak water with enough exposure. Canvas tents are several panels sewn together. This allows the materials to develop larger holes, and water can penetrate the fabric. 

When you season a tent, the process involves soaking the tent material with water to get the canvas threads to expand, filling all of the holes. Once dry, those expanded threads stay contracted and reduce leaking. 

Some campers rely solely on the weathering process to protect them, but we recommend performing a waterproofing process afterward for best results. Seasoning a canvas tent should provide a completely waterproof seal, but the older the tent is or the more often you use it, the thinner the material becomes. As the material thins out, the tiny holes are more prone to open up, which is why the combination of seasoning and waterproofing is most effective. 

The more you use your canvas tent, the more often you need to go through this process. Many avid canvas tent campers season their tent once a year. 

How to Season a Canvas Tent

Whether you plan to only season or you also want to waterproof your tent, the seasoning process needs to come first. Do this when you have warm weather to help make the process more efficient. 

How to season a canvas tent: 

Set up your tent in a sunny, dry location. The area needs to be large enough for your tent to be completely set up and open.  

Shut all the doors and windows of the tent. 

Wet the tent down with cold water until it is fully saturated. We find a hose with a spray nozzle works best for this process. Depending on the size of the tent, this can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes. Ensure all tent materials are soaked and pay close attention to the seams. 

Once you think the tent is drenched enough, go inside. Look to see if there are any holes you can see the sun shining through. 

Once you can no longer see the sun through any tent holes, leave the tent set up to dry. 

Now that your tent is completely dry (and feels hot to the touch), soak it again with cold water, but for about twice the length of time. 

Check if you can see the sun through any holes from the inside, and if not, let the tent dry once again. If the seams appear to be leaking or there are still holes after extensive soaking, then consider sealing your tent seams

Once dry, you can test it with a few short sprays to simulate rainfall, then go inside to ensure no areas are leaking. 

Finally, after the tent is fully dry inside and out, pack it up or apply a waterproof coating. 

Doing this in a sun-exposed area tends to be the fastest and most efficient since the tent needs to dry after seasoning. Applying cold water and allowing the materials to heat up in the sun also helps the threads hold their expansion. 

Repeat this process every 12 months for the best results. 

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

Proper seasoning of canvas material should make the tent waterproof. If you are working with old canvas or want added protection, applying a waterproof coating is an easy way to do that. 

Before waterproofing your tent, choose a product that suits the tent material. Some waterproofing products for canvas tents that we recommend include: 

303 Fabric GuardSTAR BRITE Waterproofing SprayCanvak

Remember that many fabric coatings have similar instructions, but for best results, follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. The instructions below are generalized and may not always apply to the waterproofing solution you choose. 

How to waterproof a canvas tent: 

Clean your tent. Either spot clean or fully clean it off. If you just weathered the tent, it should already be clear of dirt and debris. Depending on the product, applying when the material is already wet is best. So, include this in the weathering process before the tent dries. 

Some waterproofing products may require dilution with water. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. 

You spray, brush, or roll on the solution for most canvas tent waterproofing treatments. Coat the solution evenly. 

Let the tent material dry. 

Repeat as needed. 

As mentioned, do this on a clear, sunny day to speed up the drying process. 


Q: How long does it take for a canvas tent to dry?

How long it takes for a canvas tent to dry depends on the sun and wind exposure. It can take as long as two days for the material to dry in some circumstances, but with direct sunlight, it should take just a few hours. After weathering your tent, we recommend leaving it out to dry for at least one day to prevent any risk of mold or mildew from developing while in storage. 

Q: How long do canvas tents last?

How long a canvas tent lasts depends on how well it is cared for while you have it, but on average, a canvas tent should last anywhere from 15-30+ years. Performing yearly weathering and waterproofing can help prolong the tent’s lifespan, which is another reason we highly recommend it to canvas tent owners. 

Q: What is the best way to waterproof canvas?

The best way to waterproof canvas is to go through a seasoning process. Waterproof coatings and sprays can be effective, but since the canvas is naturally water resistant, seasoning tends to be a more practical option. 

Q: Should you weather a new canvas tent?

It depends. Some new canvas tents come pre-seasoned and do not need to be seasoned before use. However, canvas tents should be seasoned every 12 months to ensure they retain their natural waterproof qualities.

The post Gear Rx: How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent appeared first on Field & Stream.

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