There is a lot of debate about what type of camping gear is the best. As hikers, campers and backpackers are a peculiar lot, each of them has their own way of doing things and each follows it fervently.
However, there are a couple of things every outdoor fan can agree on: it’s crucial to be warm, dry and protected from the wind and rain. Furthermore, it is vital that the gear we carry is light and compact, so carrying it around doesn’t exhaust us while we’re choosing the best campsite or hiking all day along the trail.
This is why most hikers and backpackers opt for silnylon as their fabric of choice. Silnylon is very light and extremely durable for its weight. That, coupled with the fact that it is waterproof and resistant to wind, makes it the perfect fabric for making outdoor gear, such as tents, tarps, or bivy bags.
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What Is Silnylon?
The word itself is a combination of Silicone and Nylon, which is also how the fabric is created – by combining the two.
Silnylon is a man-made fabric created by impregnating a nylon sheet with a thin layer of liquid silicone on both sides. Once dried, the material becomes waterproof and much more tear-resistant. Unfortunately, the fabric isn’t breathable, which makes it less than ideal for making clothes.
Silnylon is used by outdoor enthusiasts all over the world, and it is a good material for tents and other camping gear.
The one downside it has is that it’s a little bit on the expensive side, and not the first choice when you’re camping on a budget.
Types of Silnylon
There are a lot of kinds of this fabric and they can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but we will focus on the three kinds that are most commonly found in retail.
- Classic Silylon – This type is smooth, slippery, and silent when you move it around or rub it against itself.
- Crisp Silnylon – Much lighter than the classic type, this fabric is brittle, noisy, and also tears more easily
- 66 Nylon – Just a bit heavier than classic silnylon but it has a much higher tensile strength, which is why it’s used for making parachutes. For just a fraction of the weight, you get more durability and wear and tear.
What Is Silnylon Used For?
This material is mostly used to make light but durable equipment, popular with backpackers worldwide. It has countless uses (extreme sports, military, construction), but here we’ll focus on the ones that have an outdoor application.
- Bivy bags
- Tent footprints
- Even some clothes
In most cases, even the bags for the mentioned equipment are made from silnylon. Tent bags and sleeping bags are made from this fabric, as well, to ensure your equipment stays dry in all sorts of conditions.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Silnylon?
As far as camping is concerned, there isn’t such a thing as the perfect solution, and silnylon is no different. It is a great material for outdoor use, but it comes with its limitations.
The Upsides of Using Silnylon for Tents and Camping
- Excellent weight to durability ratio
- Amazing tensile strength
- Handles wear and tear well
Because of all this, silnylon can come in handy in damp, wet, and outright rainy conditions. A silnylon tent will keep both you and your gear dry and your backpack won’t be that much heavier because of it.
In addition to all this, silnylon comes in a variety of colors and patterns so you can customize it to your preference.
The Downsides of Using Silnylon for Tents and Camping
- Non-breathable – Condensation is not uncommon in single layer tents made from this fabric. Make sure your tent is double-layered, or that you’re using a different type of shelter to prevent condensation.
- Not particularly good for thermal insulation – In itself, silnylon isn’t the best insulator. It will prevent your heat from leaving the tent, but it will also allow the outside temperature to seep in a bit.
- Not very cheap – Depending on the manufacturer and the type of nylon used
This means it might not be the best choice by itself when the weather is extremely cold. However, by pairing it with thermal efficient fabrics, you can make a cozy and warm tent to keep you warm in freezing conditions.
Materials Alternative to Silnylon
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to use silnylon for every single item in their camping kit. The price can put off most people who want to try it out for the first time, but it is definitely worth it. However, if you’re not willing to spend the extra buck, we’ve prepared some alternatives that are much cheaper and will provide you with almost the same measure of protection and comfort.
By taping a space blanket to a plastic tarp, you can increase its thermal efficiency and improve its durability. You can use more than one space blanket, depending on the size of the tarp. If you don’t have a plastic tarp that’s big enough, you can tape up some garbage bags together. It will look like the Frankenstein’s monster of tarps, but it will keep you dry and warm.
Another alternative is to use polyurethane instead of silicone to reinforce your bare nylon. Polyurethane is not as light as silicone and probably won’t make your tent as durable, but it will give precious insulation and it’s very waterproof.
Finally, you could use a durable water repellent (DWR) on any tarp, nylon or not, to make it waterproof. This will not make it warmer or more resistant to wear and tear, but you will get an ultralight waterproof shelter.
How to Repair Silnylon Tents and Tarps?
Even though it is extremely durable, silnylon can still get damaged. There are countless things that can happen to your tent while you’re setting it up, and sometimes, a stone you might have forgotten can damage your silnylon shelter.
Don’t worry, this material is not difficult to repair and there are a few ways you can do it:
- Sealers – These use heat to melt two pieces of nylon together and thus seal them tight. Sealers are probably the best way to fix your damaged silnylon tent. The only issue might be that the heat can remove the protective silicone layer, so make sure you coat the tear with silicone after you seal it.
- Glue – This will work wonders as a short-term patch. So, if you’ve damaged your tent while on the trail, glue it up until you get home. Then it’s time for serious repairs.
- Silicone seam sealer – There’s a variety of options you can find both online and in retail shops. Even though it is primarily used to seal seams and make them waterproof, you can use it to patch up tears in your tents and other shelter equipment.
How to Make a DIY Silnylon Tent?
Whether you’re preparing your new tent for a night in nature or you’re interested to see whether you can do a better job than all those silnylon manufacturers, or you just want to save some money, it is possible to make your own silnylon tent and to impregnate your nylon with silicone.
Before attempting to make your own silnylon tent, make sure you are well protected. Silicone and mineral spirits are extremely toxic when inhaled or when absorbed through the skin. Prepare the following items to ensure your safety:
- Rubber gloves – For washing dishes. Make sure the rubber is thick. Do not use latex or surgical gloves as the mixture will melt them off easily.
- Breathing protection – You can get a painters’ mask or a gas mask, just avoid surgical masks, as they won’t provide enough protection.
- Eye protection – Safety goggles are a must if the mask you have doesn’t protect your eyes. Do not use sunglasses.
- Do it in a well-ventilated room – Ventilation is vital in keeping all the toxic fumes away from you and anyone helping you. Ideally, you should do the entire thing outside.
- 2 quarts mineral spirits (odorless)
- 1 tube of silicone caulk (clear)
- Caulking gun
- Bucket – at least 3 gallons
- Brush – get a new one, as you’ll most likely have to throw it away afterward
- Drill + zip ties or a paint mixer (we’ve found that a shaft with three zip ties tied to the end is a much better option as you can throw them away instead of spending hours cleaning the silicone off them)
- Rubber gloves, mask for your nose and mouth, eye protection
- A tent
With these quantities of mineral spirits and silicone, you could coat a tent, a tent bag, and one tarp, tent footprint, or poncho.
- Combine the mineral salts and the silicone caulk in a bucket (we found that a 3-gallon bucket is perfect)
- Mix until the mass is smooth, and there are no lumps. It should take about 3-5 mins of constant mixing with the drill.
- Leave the mixture to settle for about 3 mins. Don’t wait too long or the silicone will harden.
- Spread the tent. Ideally, you should do this before step 1. Make sure the tent fly (outer layer) is spread well and completely taut. Use ropes or guylines to make sure it doesn’t move about.
- Spread the mix over the tarp. We recommend you use a brush to apply the mix on all sides, but you can simply immerse the entire tent in the bucket. If you do this, make sure you wring it thoroughly to drain all the excess mix from the tent.
- Leve to dry for about 6 to 8 hours. We personally do not like to leave it in direct sunlight, but it won’t make much difference, as long as the area is well ventilated.
After step 3, you’ll be on the clock to get the job done before the silicone hardens completely. Work efficiently and don’t waste time and you’ll make it.
If you notice lumps are appearing and the mix is getting too viscous, you can give the bucket another mix with the drill.
So, Are Tents Made of Silnylon Good for Camping?
In short, yes. All outdoor gear made of silnylon is great for hiking, backpacking, or camping.
Its durability is amazing for its weight, and that’s something you’ll need out there, in the wild – reliable, lightweight, and durable gear.
Apart from being tear-resistant, silnylon is also waterproof and windproof. Which makes it the outdoorsman’s fabric of choice, whether it’s for tents or other gear.
If you need a tent that will keep you toasty warm and the rain away, silnylon fabric is the way to go.