People like me can talk about tents and tarps all day long. In fact, I could talk about tents and tarps, even if you filled my mouth with marbles, taped it shut and put me underwater. And to prove it, we have gone as far as analyzing the main fabrics used to make these products, and summed up their various characteristics for you – just in case tents and tarps are your thing too.
So, what is the difference between silpoly and silnylon? As you may have guessed from their names, silpoly is made from silicone-coated polyester while silnylon is made from silicone coated nylon. These materials are then woven to form a tarp. Although polyester is less stretchy, heavier and less durable than nylon, it is naturally more waterproof. It is further improved by an additional waterproof coating. Nylon, however, is hydrophilic, meaning that it absorbs water over time. Polyester is the best choice for a higher waterproof rating, but if that is not an issue, silnylon is lighter, stronger and stretchier.
Silpoly Vs. Silnylon: Key differences and considerations for backpackers
Durability – If you are looking for something tough and rugged that is only going to be used as a groundsheet, then perhaps you would be better off with a nylon based tarp. They are more durable and stretchier than the polyester tarps, meaning it could protect the floor of your tent from punctures or abrasions. Silpoly, however, stands up to UV better and so will last longer in hotter, sunnier environments.
Packability – There is not a great deal of difference between the two fabrics in this regard. Perhaps silpoly wins here, but only by a whisker, and it is no basis for a decision between these two products.
Rain performance / waterproofness – Silpoly is the best choice if your tarp needs to stand up to prolonged periods of rainfall. It is hydrophobic, meaning that it is made from non-polar molecules that repel water. Combined with an additional waterproof coating (more information below) they can be quite effective against heavy rainfall.
Silnylon is hydrophilic, meaning that it absorbs water and becomes stretchier as it does. This means that tensioners will be required as the material is likely to sag more the wetter it gets. You will notice a lot of products on the markets nowadays are made of polyurethane coated ripstop nylon.
Due to how it is woven, this type of nylon (ripstop) is both strong, light and water resistant which makes it an excellent choice for backpacking and those looking to cut down on unnecessary weight.
Before we get stuck into products we should quickly mention the hydrostatic head test, or more simply, a test on how waterproof something is. All the products are given a value in millimeters. Imagine a test tube blocked by a single layer of the fabric being tested, and then filled with water.
The measurement we are interested in is the amount of water required to penetrate the material over a 24-hour period, so the higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric.
Favorite Silpoly Tarp (12×12 feet)
UGQ Outdoor Cat Cut 12 x 12 – This extra-large tarp is made from coated silpoly and has the highest waterproof values on the market. It boasts ultra-low water absorption rates and has industry-leading UV resistance. It also provides excellent protection from strong winds.
- Has a hydrostatic head of >2,500 mm.
- Does not sag or stretch when wet.
- Stakes, guy lines and ridge line are not included.
Favorite Silnylon Tarp (6×10 feet)
Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary Siltarp – Measuring in at 6 by 10 feet, this highly rated and predominantly silnylon tarp is light, strong and comes with everything needed to set up a shelter straight from the box. It is trekking pole compatible, so you can build an A frame shelter in seconds using your trekking gear.
It is also hydrostatically rated to 5,000 mm, and the seams have been factory taped, so you can forget about any water leaking issues.
- It comes with everything you need: Light and reflective Dyneema guy lines, adjusters, and alloy Y-stakes.
- Relatively inexpensive.
- I got nothing.
Overall Favorite Tarp For Ultralight Solo Backpacking
Sea to Summit Escapist 15D – If you are traveling solo then you will be looking at the medium size for this range. Measuring 8.5 ft by 6.5 ft and only weighing 10.5 oz, this could be an excellent choice for a thru hiker, or ultralight backpacker looking to move fast.
At a spacious 9.8 by 9.8 feet, the larger version can comfortably sleep or shelter two people. And yet it only weighs in at a super light 15.5 oz.
Both tarps come with eight tie down points with built in adjustable straps. We also love that the stuff sack provides plenty of setup ideas sketched on the outside, so you do not need an internet connection for inspiration.
- Can use a trekking pole to pitch the tarp.
- Easy to assemble with built in adjustable cords.
- Only rated to 1,200 mm.
Favorite Nylon Tent (2 person)
Big Agnes Copper Spur – This range of tents coming in either one, two or three-person form, is well regarded in the backpacking community. They are both lightweight and spacious (the 2-person tent weighs only 3 lbs 1 oz and features 29 square feet of space), while the rain fly is made from silicone-treated rip stop nylon and is rated to 1,200 mm.
- Lightweight and well suited to backpacking.
- Easy to pitch.
- Many useful internal pockets.
- Similar tents on the market have more head room.
Favorite Poly/Nylon Combo Tent (1 to 3 person)
MSR Elixir – Although most tents these days are made from nylon, there are a few that use a combination of the two fabrics. It comes with a 70D taffeta nylon floor that is hydrostatically rated to 3,000 mm, and a footprint for underneath to protect the tent floor. They make the switch to poly for the rain fly, which comes in 68D ripstop polyester and is rated to 1,500 mm. Both fabrics have been treated with polyurethane.
Now, I will say it once and I will say it 68 times – MSR makes great tents. This particular three season tent – the Elixir – is also available in one-to-three person variations, the one-man tent weighing it at 4 lbs 12 oz. It puts the Elixir on the heavier side, but it is for those that will need superior protection from bad weather
- Performs very well in bad weather (wind/ rain).
- Comes with a footprint.
- A little on the heavier side.
How do you keep a tent floor dry?
To keep your tent floor completely dry, there are a number of things that have to happen. You should have a good quality tent with a waterproof rain fly that covers the whole of the inner section. It could be a good idea to lay a tarp on the ground under the tent to provide extra protection for the tent floor. This prevents punctures, and therefore potential leaks.
You should keep the tent well ventilated – open and breathing when the weather allows it – and never pack up your tent when it is dripping wet. If worse comes to worst and you have to break camp, you may roll up your wet tent, but whenever you have a break, get it out and drying as quickly as possible. Moldy tents are not fun.
It could also be a good idea to pitch your tent where there is unlikely to be any water flowing. Preferably on an area of higher ground, so that any potential rainfall is going to flow away from you.
Why is my tent wet inside?
Some tents can get wet on the inside because of a lack of ventilation. Particularly in the early mornings, the air in the warm interior of the tent condenses when it touches the fabric, which in turn is being cooled by the air on the outside. It causes moisture drops to form, and if there is enough of it, this can sometimes drip back into the inside of the tent.
Another reason could be that your rain fly is losing its water repellent nature. This is common in tents that are a few years old, but the owner has not re-waterproofed the fly. This can be done in a couple of steps:
- Seal the seams – Clean the inner seams of your rain fly with ispropyl rubbing alcohol, before applying a special-purpose seam sealer. The good brands come with their own brush painting tool. Follow manufacturers recommendations.
- Refresh durable water repellent (DWR) coat – Remember when you bought that brand new tent and loved seeing that rain bead up and roll off the top of your fly, with no penetration? And then slowly it slopped doing that. If you have let it go on for long enough, it could be the cause of you getting water in your tent. Apply a spray of DWR and make your tent more water repellent than ever.
Do you put a tarp under your tent?
While it is not absolutely necessary to place a tarp under your tent on certain terrain, sometimes it is impossible to go without one. If the ground is rugged, rocky or could potentially have sharp objects, then that tarp is going to provide a great deal of protection for your tent, perhaps preventing punctures or damage to the tent floor.
Some tents come with their own groundsheets for this purpose, but using another layer is never a bad idea. Some people also find that with a larger tarp under a tent acting as a kind of porch, it is easier to keep the inside of the tent clean as well.
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As a travel writer and photographer, Gordon spent the better part of 2018 visiting 13 different countries as far apart as Chile, Morocco and Vietnam. He is in New Zealand in 2019, writing a third travel book, while exploring pretty much anything that forms a bump on the Earth’s surface.
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