It was during the electrical thunderstorm with hail and pounding rain outside, that I came to appreciate the canvas tent versus the “nylon cocoon”. There was a point that I reached in camping when I realized I was a little bit beyond the “hobby” camper.
Update! In addition to the written review, we’ve also posted two videos as well so you can get a real-time feel for the tent and hear Joe tell a little about its construction.
Sitting in the 12 foot by 14 foot Woods Canda Canvas Prospector tent, I know how a professional camper feels. The romanticism of the canvas tent can be summed up in this following quote: “Living in a cotton tent that is heated by a wood stove has no match for comfort, aesthetics, or style. When viewed from the outside, the simple lines of the tent, with smoke gently rising from the chimney and the whole structure lit with the warm glow of a lantern or candles, speak of the true wildwood home. This icon of traditional camping has earned its place in your choice of how to camp. Once you come to understand its value and beauty and make a choice (rather than being sold on the style of camping you would like to do) the traditional wood-and-canvas tent has no rivals.” (Wescott 79) It is by no small bit of luck that we were able to pick one of the best canvas manufacturers out there to realize the depth of this quote.
The Canada based Woods Company has been manufacturing outdoor gear since 1885. Canada makes some solid, solid outdoor gear. Take a look at Tilley Hats for instance, with a bulletproof warranty and insurance if lost. Woods CA brand is no different, and makes a multitude of different items including sleeping bags, outerwear, canvas packs, and of course, canvas tents. The Canadian bush is no joke, and most of the Northern wilderness consists of wild terrain with bad weather to boot, and a nylon tent simply won’t do for an extended bush excursion.
So where does the “Industry” in the industrial strength Prospector Tent come from? What kind of people would use a tent like this? Alright, here is a test: When you visited large outdoor camps when you were younger, what kind of tents did you sleep in? Most likely they were the canvas pup tents. The canvas tents are used because they are set up for long periods of time. The hunting guides around the northern areas need hard core tents that can survive a whole season of abuse from Mother Nature. They can’t rely on the nylon cocoon of the week long wilderness wanderer as a main shelter mainly due to size, duration out in the sunlight, and ability to hold warmth in. The long standing heavy duty design of the cotton canvas makes them a sure hit for those bushmen who want to make a substantial investment in a shelter. The normal nylon tent does not last a great deal of time under UV light and constant freezing conditions. At camping gear rental stores, most of these tents have to be changed out twice every season due to the nature of the nylon. A canvas tent can last well beyond 20 years, especially if taken care of properly.
There are various points of a tent that the reader should know during this review, in the never ending endeavor of increasing your knowledge of all things outdoors. At the top of the tent there is a long horizontal extension of cloth called the ridge. On each side of the tent, the vertical sides are called walls. These also have ridges. “The wall tent is said to be the most efficient use of interior space of all closed tents.” (Wescott, p. 80) On the bottom, the Woods Canada tent has a sod cloth made of polyethylene to keep the splashing and the critters out. A good Sod cloth is about 12 inches in length and comes underneath the tent. The point where water is shed off of the tent is called the drip line, and even modern tents have drip lines near the bottom. The ropes coming out from each side are called guy lines, and normally have an adjustable device called a bone, toggle or guy. This is normally made out of wood or bone, and some new modern devices have plastic ones. A taught line hitch is an extremely handy knot to use in place of these devices, when pitching the tent. You don’t put up a tent–you pitch it, and you don’t take down a tent–you strike it.
The first task of learning the joys of canvas camping, was to consult those who dwell in them on a regular basis. During a primitive skills class get together at the Schiele museum, I had the chance to put the tent up for the first time with some seasoned camping veterans. They showed me the ins and outs of setting up canvas tents, and also the basis of selections for the different type. The first thing that was pointed out was that the tent would not work at historic rendezvous, due to the polyester mosquito net. No problem, as these are built to spec, one could ask to take out the netting, or even cut it themselves. Now these rules are for the re-enactments. They have a specific set of stipulations needed to reinsure that they get the most out of a historic get together and purvey the joys of the classic out of doors person. The normal camper does not have to worry about these small rules unless they are going to attend one of these events as a re-enactor. And hey, the closer you get to traditional camping, the happier they are.
I also got feedback about the overall tents construction, from the seam tape on the ridges to the uses of sod cloth. Steve Watts instructs me on the construction and wood choice for all of the poles needed. He told me of some of the companies that he prefers as well, noting the quality of this company’s tent construction. A few of the people in the class were looking for canvas tents, and appreciated the mosquito netting. It was interesting to note that Woods had not been heard of around these traditional campers, and I was happy to spread the word about it.
Tips For Tent Dwellers
In this day and age, we can’t live in a tent every day, so it has been said that a tent easily spends 90% of its life in storage. This is when the care of a tent really shines through. You must dry a tent, whether canvas or nylon, before storing it. When rolling it up outside, use a tarp underneath to keep it clean, and remove all debris off of the tent, including the smashed bugs or mud. Take care of the guy lines, replace them if needed, and untie any knots on the guy lines that are not permanent so the rope does not weaken. Make sure you keep the tent stored in a dry area, as rodents, bugs, including termites, can move in to make a miniature shelter out of your shelter. When pitching the tent, you should be able to bounce a quarter off of the tent roofing, much like the test a drill sergeant would perform at boot camp. Clear the area and pay attention to how the water would run off in a torrential downpour. Set stakes at a proper 45 degree angle every which way, including each side of the square if your tent is shaped that way. Use toggles (bones) or taut line hitches to keep all of your guy lines adjustable and proper rope material to hold the knots well. While dwelling inside your newly pitched abode, make sure to air out the sod cloth, and keep the base of the tent free of leaves and dirt so that it doesn’t leak easily or start to rot, and install a door mat to keep you and your guests from tracking in filth. These can make or break your tent in extremely wet weather.
Turn The Heat Up
Anyone who wears man made materials near the campfire will tell you first hand the effects of an ember on fleece, nylon, capeline or Gore-tex. There is a very matter of fact hole much larger than the original ember. Going “au-naturale” has its benefits here too, as both wool and cotton do not spread out from a small ember. Most canvas tents are flame retardant (i.e., not flame proof) and a substantial ember is needed to burn through. Stove holes, in the Prospector Tent, are an option that is installed by request. The user can grab one of these ultra light wood stoves, and set up a heat source inside the canvas stadiums to heat the happy hunter all the way to Spring. You will see these optional stove pipe holes in many large canvas tents, further sealing their popularity as an extremely dependable bush shelter. Nothing beats the cold better than a wood stove in a wall style tent.
The second I opened up the box of the Woods CA Prospector tent, I knew I had a quality shelter on my hands. The first thing I noticed were the taped seams pushing out of every edge of the tent. Each seam was double stitched over to prevent any catastrophic stretching from the extended use of the tent. At every corner, there was a double layer of canvas to reinforce the stretch point. This was especially true for the inside corners where the ridge pole set in. Each piece of cotton tape that was loose, used for holding the doors open, were also rigidly made and double stitched to stay on during any problematic pulling that can occur when moving the tent, rolled up.
The fabric of the Prospector starts out with a 10 oz cotton duck material, treated with a mold resistant, wax based water repellent, and flame resistant compound making the weight about 17.5 oz when done. All rolled up, this tent weighs about 65 pounds. The rot resistance is truly a godsend in humid climates, and I happen to basically live in a cloud 75% of the year. To test the difference, I had a piece of untreated canvas from the store, inside the tent, away from most of the elements, and it still molded up and mildewed all along the bottom of the untreated canvas. I shudder to think what would happen if that huge tent was untreated. This tent has no bottom, and I am grateful for it! A tent with no bottom is lovely, and one does not have to go outside to beckon the calls of Mother Nature in the middle of the night. Also, items that spill inside the tent are not apocalyptic, and nothing is more dog friendly than a dirt floor!
Options are great in any tent, especially the type of options that make you work less. There is an option for steel poles in this particular tent design, and this helped me immensely due to the fact that I got the tent a day before I had to leave for a primitive skills class. Normally for poles on a canvas tent, one would go about cutting them out of a light weight heavy duty wood such as pine. On a wall tent, one would set the poles up in a shear style, much like scissors, on each tall end of the tent. These long shears would hold an external ridge pole in the crotch of the two angled poles. This particular set up style is called a Western style pitch. There is a ridge line with brass grommets on the top of this tent for just such an application with that top horizontal outside pole. If one were to set up the tent in an Eastern style, the horizontal ridge pole would have to be on the inside, and the uprights would be the exact same size and not set up like shears.
The beauty of having a wood pole setup is that one could leave the poles at the camp and not have to pack them the next time they come in. This was a common practice of the Blackfoot Indians, who would leave their tipi poles at every camp for use the next time they migrate into the area. If not, then you could either bring the long wooden poles with you, or go with the steel pole option. The steel tent poles are heavy duty, but can be bent if one does not know what they are doing. The expandable upright tents can be bent easily and would have to be machined back to straight again. This is one of the downfalls of the metal uprights, but it can be avoided by setting the walls up on the sides first, thereby alleviating much of the tent weight and only having to pitch the roof up, rather than the whole tent. For uprighting the wall, there are 10 four-foot sections of metal poles that line up on each side, 5 at a time. These go into the brass grommets on both sides of the wall ridge lines on the tent.
The Rope From Hell
If you have ever watched Mors Kochanski’s video on bush knots (highly recommended), you will see that he terms polypropylene rope as the “rope from hell”. This is no surprise, with the stiffness of the rope and the general fraying nature of the material making it a poor choice for a rope to use knots with. Unfortunately, that is the type of rope that the Prospector tent is supplied with. This is an easy fix, though. One trip to the store and some normal cotton or hemp rope, and you are set. But, what about those nylon “bones” or guys supplied with the tent? I found those to break upon heavy usage. They would crack in the wind, and basically would whiten and fatigue during the camp’s life time. I would end up making some wooden toggles to go with my tent, or just used the classic taught line hitch with the new rope to hold the tent up. Out of everything tested on this tent, I found the rope and peg system to be the only lacking factor, easily fixed with the innovation that a canvas tent owner most likely has! The tent pegs broke in the cold weather and not having enough length to fully support the tent. I would recommend a good iron steak about 15 inches long.
Keeping The Bugs Out
Now why would anyone want to do that? Being a pro bug person, even I get annoyed by the buzz of the mosquito in the ear. This canvas tent takes a modern twist by putting extra fine mesh polyester. And a fine twist it is! The screen material works well to keep the critters out, depending on how long you keep it up. You may have to escort the occasional cricket or small fly out of the tent, but for the vast size of the Woods Canada 12 X 14 foot tents; the tiny amount of bugs that may infiltrate it is extremely minimal. On the back side, there is also a mesh window with a canvas cover. During the hot months, the large canvas tent flaps can be strapped back and the mesh can be left down, allowing for an eclectic breeze to travel through the tent while keeping you away from the blood suckers on the other side of the mesh. Conversely, the mesh near the front doors can be taken up with the cotton tape straps during the cold months to keep it out of the way.
You can pitch this shelter yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it the first time you are playing with the tent. If you have the 10 vertical wall poles, stretch them out and put them up first. Then take the middle ridge pole on the inside of the tent and slowly put up one side. Try to hold the horizontal ridge pole while moving to the other side, and then place the other pole up. There is room for an optional middle pole, and I always put this third pole up to make the tent rigid. You normally pitch the tent up once, then walk around and adjust stakes to make it look pretty. Once you gain experience with the tent, you can get it up in a matter of minutes. I was extremely surprised and enthused about how fast I could get it up after the second pitch and strike down. I have not set the tent up in the western style yet, and that may prove to be easier with one man due to the action of the shears on the outside.
This tent does weigh about 65 pounds, so try to set it up in a way that will put the least amount of weight on those middle up right poles when pitching it. The canvas shelter is about the size of a small trashcan when rolled up, but it easily can fit in a small trunk of a compact car with enough room for all the other equipment needed. But let’s be frank folks, if you are traveling light yet carrying the canvas tent, you probably aren’t using the amenities of this shelter to its full potential. I could, after all, fit a whole picnic table just on one side of the tent.
Rain, Wind, and Canvas
I sure did pick a good time of the year to set up this tent, as it seems to rain just about every other day up here. The canvas tent proved no worse for wear with the amount of unsavory weather, and I slept some of the most comfortable nights I have ever slept in this large white monolith. There is nothing like hearing the sound of a heavy rain fall on the outside of the tent, yet remaining perfectly dry and cozy with tons of room on the inside. The wind knocked the tent down during an extremely vicious windy day. There are two factors that caused that to happen, though. One was the plastic toggles that broke on some guy lines that hold the uprights down. The other is that I did not take the proper precautions that morning to rig it with a storm set, as the clear skies all day masked the windy nature. The tent had been in bad weather for days, and the ground was extra soft around the stakes. I could have doubled up the number of pegs, using one as a pulley, to help take off the weight on one stake. You don’t want your tent stakes to be buried too much though, as the canvas should not rip before the tent stakes come out of the ground. I would rather deal with a teetering side than a whole ripped tent.
Striking The Tent
It brings me great pain to bring this review to a close. This canvas escape, set up on the opposite ridge parallel to my house, afforded me many restful and contemplative nights, waking up feeling refreshed and happy. The warm glow of the lantern casts a comfortable aura inside the tent as I read many classic camping books night after night. Investing in a canvas tent is a wonderful endeavor, and the Woods Canada Prospector tent is a true joy to use and pitch. The pros at Woods CA have many other products available to the public, including an extra stellar looking canvas pack that would probably give an equal amount of pleasure to use out of doors. If I’m trying to take the fiancée out for a long period of camping, this is the tent I would use to keep her comfort to a maximum, along with a large spot to organize all my gear and other items I’m sure to have available. I could use this tent knowing that I wouldn’t wear it out in my life time, and I’ll be under a canvas roof next time you see me out at a rendezvous!
One Last Note:
The amount of information in this review could not have been obtained without the expertise of Steve Watts, and David Wescott’s wonderful book Camping in the Old Style. Though no longer in print, Steve Watts and David Wescott are collaborating to bring a multi volume book series out in the next few months with traditional camping on the subject. You can expect a full review of the book here on woods monkey when it comes out.
For additional inquiries about the Prospector Tent and/or the specialized re-enactor tents, you may contact Scott McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.icpinc.com
Wescott, David. Camping in the Old Style. New York: Gibbs Smith, 2000.