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Classic vintage CANVAS TENTS

Discussion in 'The Great Outdoors' started by PADDY, Sep 3, 2010.

  1. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Gentlemen, I've been considering getting an old fashioned traditional canvas tent for some time now.
    Only two years ago a relation of mine had an original 1930's (complete with wooden pegs..etc) Scouting Bell Tent. When I asked him recently if he would think about getting rid of it (to me!), he asked me "why do you want that sort of old rubbish?" and then proceeded to inform me that he had 'cut it up' and taken it to the local council dump!! The pegs were the only useful thing, as they had made good fire starters. :rage:

    I KNOW, we ALL will have some sort of horror story like that!!

    Anyway...I'm after an original (if I can get one) bell tent or wall tent from the 30's-40's (probably from the UK, as they are too heavy to post).

    Last resort is, that there are companies in the UK who are making them to the old specs, but at £300 and upwards, that's A LOT OF WONGA!!

    I've really started to get back into my tent camping, but fancied something a little bit different to my old one man tent (which can be more like a bivvy bag!). Thanks, Paddy.
  2. When I was scouting, we camped in WWII-surplus, canvas, pyramidal tents....the kind that weighed as much as a small truck, had ten-foot center poles and ventilation holes at their peaks. Summer days, the temperature inside those tents would be twenty degrees hotter that the air temperature outside. Winter nights, the temperature inside the tents would be twenty degrees colder than the air outside.

    Never could figure the physics behind that.

  3. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    My father is a canvas man (boat covers and such) and I as ww2 reenactor can also attest to this. Canvas rots! It will look fine but can easily be torn by hand. Dry rot infects even the most fastidiously cared for vintage canvas. I would seriously recommend a repro. If you are not too particular (like reenactors can be) and are just looking for a retro canvas tent check around the sutlers or vendors for various wars and eras. Lots of nice tents from wars besides WW2 and the whole Renaissance era available as "repro" Might find one of those used.

  4. Bourbon Guy

    Bourbon Guy A-List Customer

    Old canvas sucks. There's a reason no one uses it anymore.

    A decade ago I went "old school" and sewed my own canvas tent. I made it from the pattern of that canoe guy. A "campfire" tent. Even found a supplier of the old Canvac, or whatever it was, to waterproof it. Man, did it suck. Stunk to high heaven and leaked.

    Couple years later went new school and bought a little a-frame to bike camp and camp at Friendship for the shoot, and it was great.

    Forget old school. Buy new.
  5. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender


    I know that the newer canvas ones have various anti-rot and mould treatments, but 'oh the expense' of them...

    Jury's out on this one still...[huh]
  6. Mr Vim

    Mr Vim One Too Many

    We had shelter halves in the Army. They were leftovers from the 70's or 80's, I cannot recall what era. But those things were always rolled up in the compnay storeroom for months at a time and they never molded. Then we would drag them out, issue them, hike to some god forsarken neck of the woods and use them for a week, get them good and muddy wash them off and store them again. To my knowledge they never rotted once.

    Now the smell? That was a separate issue. A heady mix of locker room and vomit.

    Ah, It's times like this I am so thankful to be in the Coast Guard now.
  7. shortbow

    shortbow Practically Family

    I must demure strongly from the nay-sayers. Good canvas properly handled and sewn will make superior tents as well as many other things. OLD canvas will rot, for sure. New, quality canvas is wonderful stuff when properly constructed of good cotton. In the States and Canada there are heaps of great companies now making tents and lots of other outdoor equipage from canvas; some, like Filson and Duluth Pack have been around for nearly a century and if their stuff was crap, they woulda been history long ago.

    There are many, many really good tents in some great lightweight designs currently being made in the U.S. for the reenactor set and others who appreciate the aesthetics and practicality of canvas shelter. Just Google around a bit and you'll see what I mean.

    I also started scouting back in the '60's under surplus WW2 pup tents and have since camped hundreds of days all over N.A. under canvas. If it didn't work great, no matter how much aesthetic appeal it has I would not have stuck with it.

    I won't go into it all here, but I can tell you this in all candid and factual sincerity:
    -If you get the right design made from the right canvas from the right hands, a canvas tent, from one man size to huge guide tents, is totally superior to modern synthetics. But don't believe me. If you thoroughly and objectively research the subject, you will find that what I say rings true. And, from what I've seen of your orientations on here Paddy, your just the kind of guy who would dig this stuff.
  8. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many

    Indeed. There are also companies in the UK making some fine traditional bell and ridge tents in canvas.

    Like yourself I have a lot of experience of using sleeping (literally) under canvas. I concur that the material has many excellent properties.

    I don't see why some people can accept that (say) Ventile(R) cotton functions well as a material for garments and yet won't accept that similar fabrics would perform in a tent.
  9. shortbow

    shortbow Practically Family

    Over night I remembered a great book I have called "Camping in the Old Style,"
    by a fellow called David Wescott, published by Gibbs-Smith, P.O. Box 667, Layton, Utah, 84041, came out in 2000. Orders: 1 800 748-5439.

    If you can find this book, it will address all questions and much arcana regarding canvas tents et al. It is also beautifully written and put together with lots of vintage photos.

    If any FL'r wants to see it, but cannot find it, I would be willing to lend it to he who would pay postage both ways and provide me with a $50 deposit.

    Only reason I ask for the deposit is that I've "lent" too many books that I ended up never seeing again, and this one is not a book I want to lose.


    HHISIII One of the Regulars

    Waittaminute!! Y'all washed 'em off? What kind of pansy BS is that? We just rolled 'em back up and turned 'em in. Couldn't get away with that IRT central issue, just company level issue. I never saw another shelter half after basic, god willing, they were all burned...
  11. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many

    'Those who know' tell me that it's still hard to beat a Meade tent for extreme use. There is a beauty in the archives of the Mountain Heritage Trust in Penrith.
  12. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    To be clear, I wasn't naysaying canvas tents. Just be very wary of vintage canvas tents. Cotton over the decades will develop a form of dry rot or brittleness. No bad smell or visual clues, just the easily tearing of the canvas. In fact having studied several originals and one repro my father and I are looking to reproduce US Army wall tents.

  13. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Good insights Gents.

    All valuable feedback to help make a balanced and informed decision. Cheers!
  14. benstephens

    benstephens Practically Family

    Hi Paddy,

    I would look for an original of I were you. I have a couple of wartime bell tents, bought for a donation to a scout troop funds. Granted, they will not last as long as a modern reproduction, but, most military tents had a rot proofing applied to the canvas, and in the 14 years of continual use of mine the only problem I have found is the guy lines rotting, so, for the price of new ones, they have been very cheap tents!

    Where to get them though is difficult, scout troops do still have them, although be warned bell tents are not small tents when folded, and would need something s little bigger than the MX 5, I certainly can not fit mine in the Riley.

    They also take two people to put up, a lot of troops are now getting rid of the canvas patrol tents. These are the ones in the light green canvas. These are good tents, much lighter than the earlier canvas, and much easier to put up.

    I have a period tent catologue that I will scan when I have time.

    Kindest Regards


    DUKE NUKEM One of the Regulars

    I will eventually be setting this up with lodge poles in a more traditional fashion. We have several of these.

    From a previous post:
    This tent is 16 X 20 but if you call my buddy Rick Davis at Davis Tent he can make you one any size you would like. He has been making tents for me off and on for me since 1979. (I buy one and sell one from time to time pending wether I own a 5th wheel at the time. ) Shipping is real cheap from them too. I have a 14 X 16 also from them I have not set up yet but will soon.

  16. Pardon the intrusion, Gentlemen...

    If you'll pardon the intrusion, Gentlemen, may I suggest a modern reproduction as well? When we were children, my best friend and I had many backyard campouts in the woods behind our house using her grandfather's old green canvas army(?) tent. It was fun, but I can vouch that an old canvas tent is cold, leaky, and damp. No matter how many blankets we dragged outside, we always woke up shivering in the middle of the night!

    It's also true that it takes two men to set one up. I don't know the proper names of tent styles, but it would have been either World War 2 or Korea era, and the one we used was of extremely heavy green canvas. When set up, it was a small, oblong triangle shape...sort of the shape one might see in a cartoon. It was too heavy for both of us to carry and took my dad and her grandfather over an hour to set up, even though they knew how. Post campout, in order to prevent mildew and rot, they had to hang the tent in the sun across several heavy clotheslines before putting it away. (The canvas had a coating that was peeling off/missing in areas due to heavy use and age, and basically did little in terms of waterproofing. )

    It was fun as a kid, and I'm glad to have had the experience, but I wouldn't do it now! But I can certainly understand your urge to try it.
  17. kampkatz

    kampkatz Practically Family

    As a kid growing up in the 50's and 60's all we had were canvas tents. Any romanticizing about those heavy, mildew collecting shelters is quiclky overcome when unfolding a modern nylon tent and poping it up in its frame in less than ten minutes.
  18. MPicciotto

    MPicciotto Practically Family

    TWO of us put up a GP Medium in about an hour. And two of us can put up M-1945 Command Post tent in under ten minutes, same for a Officers Small Wall.

    On the other hand I've watched other reeanctors have 10-15 people take an hour to put up a GP Medium. And it still not be straight or right. And take 4 people, over half an hour to put up an Officers Small Wall. Regardless of the kind, shape, or size of tent you get seek out somebody who knows what they are doing to show you how to put it up and take it down. The right know-how can save you countless amounts of time and headache, prevent tears and keep you dry in even severe weather conditions.

    P.S. we can also fit that same wall tent (sans poles and stakes) into a duffel bag and close the top!
  19. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    40's Canvas 2 man tent.

    Should be getting one dropped off at the weekend (fingers crossed).
  20. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many


    It should go nicely with your 1940s campaign bed (when you get it!)

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