Camping is a recreational activity that implies you will be spending some time in nature. According to the report by Kampgrounds of America, more and more people are doing it. An interesting fact is that in 77 million American households there is at least one family member that goes camping from time to time.
Tents have been around for quite a while and have served as a portable residence, providing a dry, safe, and enclosed environment during stops on a journey. From luxurious medieval tents, nomadic shelters, to the patented Sibley tent their purpose was the same, but the way they were made varied.
Light and compact are two words you want to use when getting your camping gear. If you are a beginner and plan to get one, make sure you know the essentials. Start by understanding why tents are coated with aluminium hydroxide?
Aluminium hydroxide is water-insoluble and water repellent which is precisely why most tents are coated with it. However, it doesn’t only provide water resistance, but some other useful things as well.
With modern technology and a better understanding of nature and physics, manufacturers design the most efficient materials that protect campers from bad weather (both Sun and rain), and allow insulation, again, from high and low temperatures.
In this article, we will discuss more on the intent behind the technology, and share some tips to improve your camping experience along the way.
Table of Contents
Why Is Important to Use Quality Camping Gear?
Quality gear can only enhance your camping experience. People new to hiking and camping always try to start basic and cheap. This means that their tent is made out of a large piece of fabric, and it can provide poor insulation and is highly absorbent. Imagine what happens when you are out in the woods and a large summer rain falls down in the evening? You get an extra shower and damp wet bedding and equipment.
The majority of experienced hikers start shopping for gear without doing previous research. Having a waterproof tent may or may not come to your mind. More importantly, understanding why one item is better than the other is what will ensure you a dry good-night sleep next time you go camping.
What Materials Are Used to Make Tents?
Depending on the type of tent you can find many materials they are made of. However, for a secure and dry/cool camping experience, you need a good tent.
When it comes to good options on materials, there are three that come in close to one another by the quality of materials resistant to the outdoors.
- Nylon – This modern-day material is lightweight, affordable, and durable. Some experts roughly estimate that over 50% of camping tents today are made from nylon.
- Polyester – This material is not as common and is in the higher-end pricing zone. It can be slightly lighter for implementation, but it mostly depends on the manufacturer’s construction methods and the intended purpose of the gear.
- Cuben – Cuben fiber is a material also known as mylar composite. It started out as a light-weight sandwich of mylar plastic with spectra fibers. It has great characteristics and is very lightweight. However, in practice, you will see this material used mostly by small cottage industry manufacturers. Only ultralight-packed hikers and very experienced campers may opt for this material because of its cost.
How Is a Tent Made Waterproof?
Most manufacturers will start by using resistant materials in most weaves. Also, the mylar composite is fully waterproof by itself, which is why it would be a great investment.
Nylon and polyester, on the other hand, do require silicone application during the manufacturing process. Silicone impregnation happens before the fabric leaves the textile mill. After the process, the material is called ‘silnlyon’ or ‘sylpoly’ indicating the addition of silicone. Silnylon tents can provide great protection which is why campers and hikers like using them.
Materials play an important role in making a tent waterproof. When asking about the fabric keep in mind that it has a purpose to keep the water out entirely. Unfortunately, time spent outdoor spends the fabric so it will not last forever. Because of this, there is a degree to which waterproof tents actually serve their purpose, and we will discuss a way to compare the fabrics before making the purchase.
Waterproof Rating – the Hydrostatic Head
The Hydrostatic Head is a product characteristic that tells the user how well a material can keep out water. Its value is in millimeters as it implies how much water can the fabric resist when a column of water is held above it.
If you read on the material that it has a HH 1000, it means that it can hold a 1000mm water column above it, and anything more in concentrated and pressurized environments it will start to seep through. It means that the more water it can resist (or higher the HH) the higher the water resistance.
On average the HH tent ratings go from 1000-3000, where the lower value is more suitable for light rain camping, while the higher value is made for torrential rain. The golden average is 2000 HH which is more than enough for a few seasons of camping during the summer.
As mentioned earlier, some fabrics have a higher HH rating by their purposes, but most fabrics are treated with some kind of coating to increase their hydrostatic rating (in the factory, or after the purchase of a tent).
The most common coatings on the market are polyurethane (PU) and silicon and are applied as a thin layer of waterproof film to your tent. They can prevent the rain, but consider that it will increase the overall weight of the tent.
Another type of advertised material for tents is the ones that have a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. It means that the fabrics are made hydrophobic, repelling the water instead of absorbing it.
Have you ever used a waterproof jacket or an umbrella? It is the same principle. Another great benefit to raindrops simply falling from your tent is that it is lighter than PU and silicone coating.
Keep an Eye Out on the Construction
A high HH cannot guarantee that you will be dry, warm, and away from the Sun. The construction of how the rods and materials are composed together plays an important role in keeping your tent dry.
When you are looking for tents, it is advisable that you either ask to see the product up close or ask the manufacturer to send you pictures of the product (emphasize that you want the close-ups as well!). Keep an eye on the seams, zips, and groundsheet, as all of those can be a potential leaking source.
You want to look at four double-stitched seams with sealed holes. Sometimes they will be inverted to prevent leakages. Based on a similar system, zippers can let some water in, so you want to make sure that they are covered. Finally, the groundsheet will have its own HH rating.
In summary, a tent will be waterproof only when you combined all the elements, such as a high HH rating of tent and groundsheet, cleverly constructed, and is most likely treated with some form of a coating.
How Is Aluminium Hydroxide Used on Tents?
Aluminium-hydroxide is used as a semi-durable flame retardant. According to Science direct, in addition to being a great flame retardant, this formulation typically contains an acrylic binder and a melamine-formaldehyde resin. After this manufacturers will introduce a curing stage at a higher temperature (130-160 C) to allow the finish to interact with the fiber.
A process ended with such a curing stage allows the fiber to be more resistant to water soak and gentle laundering treatment (such as dry cleaning). In addition to being used for tents, semi-durable flame retardants are used for carpets and curtains as well.
How Do You Waterproof a Tent?
Now you might know a bit more about tents, seems as materials as before, but already have a tent. There are still a few things you can enhance to make it better for the next trip you are planning out in the woods.
Seal the Seams
You have a perfect tent or have used it over time, and you noticed the seams are not as good as they were.
First of all, get a sealant that matches your coting (call the manufacturer if in doubt). If they started letting some water inside your tent (even the smallest amount), here is what you should do:
- Set up your tent outdoors (make sure it is a dry day)
- Lay down a sheet inside your tent to mop up any spillages easier
- Inspect all seams
- Remove any stray heads
- Wipe down the seems with alcohol
- Apply the seam sealer and leave to dry
Renew the Outer Material Coating
It is time to replenish the coating once you see that the rainfly and groundsheet are starting to flake. The process is similar to sealing the seams. You need a good dry sunny day:
- Spread the material outside
- Scrub off the previous residue with a rough side of a sponge
- Wipe down with alcohol and leave it to dry
- Apply the coating based on the instructions
- Dry for at least 24 hours
Renew the DWR Finish
If you have a DWR coating on your entire tent or your rain fly:
- Assemble the tent
- Clean the rainfly with fresh water and dry
- Apply the spray as per instructions and leave for a few minutes
- Wipe away the residue with a damp cloth
- Leave to dry completely
So, Why Are Tents Coated With Aluminium Hydroxide?
It may be complex to comprehend what, why, or how when it comes to camping gear. Experience is your best friend, and even if you get wet once or twice, don’t give up. Research more on the materials and their features, and how to maintain them, before you make that next big purchase.
When it comes to coating the tent, there is a wide range of options you can choose from, with Aluminium hydroxide being one of them.
As we learned earlier, tents and umbrella cloths are made from tightly woven fabric so that water cannot penetrate with its high surface tension. In addition, if the materials are ended with a curing stage in the textile mill, tents coated with aluminum hydroxide will be flame-resistant as well.
It does not mean you can neglect the responsibility of your actions, or that you can be safe in a hurricane! Camping will improve your survival skills if you nurture them and continue learning.