Can You Dye a Tent?


You’re looking for new camping gear, there’s a big sale, so you leap on a tent that’s 75% off. While you generally don’t care about most colors…the lime green abomination is atrocious. The natural question leaps to the top of your mind: can you dye a tent?

In all likelihood there’s some bad news here.

You can dye a tent if you are talking about an untreated canvas tent. However, more common tents made from polyester or nylon generally can’t be dyed into a new color. While there are dying kits for polyester, nylon, and similar fabrics they are inconsistent at best. Only tents made from canvas can be reliably dyed.

Does this mean you’re stuck with colors of any tent you got a good deal on when on sale? Not necessarily. There are some options and work arounds even if you’re not dealing with a dye-able canvas tent.

Do you want to make your tent darker? Are you bored with the color of your camping tent? Are you planning to dye your tent? Do you have a reason the current color won’t do and you need something that either sticks out more or blends in more?

What are your options in this case? We have you covered!

Here is what you need to know about colors, camping tents, and dyeing a camping tent.

two tents in a forest

Can You Dye a Tent?

In short, the answer in the majority of cases is no. You can’t just dye a tent but there is a reason for that. Almost all the camping tents sold in the market are designed to be water resistant.

Regardless of the fabric used for making the tent, these are coated with a durable water resistant coating. This coating prevents water from reaching the actual fibers.

If you want to do a quick experiment, just take your tent out and put some water on a part of the tent. You will notice that water has started beading up on the surface which means it is not able to get through to the fibers and this is what keeps you dry inside the tent when it is raining outside.

Since the fabrics used for camping tents have been treated for water resistance, water can’t reach the fabric inside which means there is no way for you to paint or dye a commercially available tent.

However, it does not mean that there is no solution to this problem. Before we go further, let’s discuss why the color of a tent matters.

In the next section, we are going to discuss how you can use some other practical solutions to get the tent color you want.

Why the Color of a Tent Matters?

The color of the tent affects the temperature inside the tent, its ability to attract bugs, its ability to blend in with the surrounding environment as well as various other important things such as protection from UV radiation.

Temperature Inside the Tent

Everyone knows that color affects the temperature. You wouldn’t want to go out wearing black clothing in the summer months as you’ll quickly get baked. Black color absorbs all the sunlight that falls on it and that energy gets dispersed as heat.

Therefore, people typically prefer brighter colors in order to keep the temperature inside the tent down. If you want to choose the coolest color, go for a white colored tent. A white colored or a light-colored tent makes a lot of sense for camping during the summer months.

On the other hand, these light colors don’t really gel with the cold season camping. You want something darker. In the winter months, a black tent makes a lot more sense as it will keep you warm inside during the cold winter day/night.

Be One with Nature

When you are out there camping, you naturally want to blend in with the nature without leaving any footprint. Therefore, it is natural to want a color that matches the colors of your surrounding landscape.

For instance, dark green is the most natural choice for camping in mountain or forest areas. On the other hand, a brown colored tent makes much more sense for camping in the desert.

Unwanted Guests

There is a very common misconception that certain colors are more likely to attract bears. Nothing could be further from the truth as there is no evidence that supports this claim.

Bears can distinguish between colors, but anyone saying they are attracted to certain tent colors don’t have the facts right. Bears aren’t color blind so they are more likely to spot a bright tent versus one that blends into the background.

But they are not likely to get attracted to your campsite due to your tent actually being a certain color. They don’t love red over green or orange versus blue. Bears are curious by nature so if they do make their way to your campsite, it is probably either curiosity or even more likely, it could be due to smell of food or other things.

Certain birds might be attracted to bright colors but they are unlikely to cause you any harm.

However, bugs do get attracted to bright colors but there are simple ways for you to keep bugs away from your campsite.

Easy to Find Tents

One of the main arguments given by people who go for bright colored tents is that these are easy to find. You want your tent to be easy to find only in certain parts of the globe. In fact, there are places where you wouldn’t want anyone to know you are there.

A brighter tent is easier to locate which means it will be easy for you to find your tent when you return in the night completely tired. Bright colored tents are also easier to find when you are struggling to find your way to your camp during a winter storm.

Also, bright tents are easier for search and rescue teams to locate if there ever comes a situation where you need their help.

UV Protection

If you are a fan of beach camping, you must be aware of the problem of UV radiation. Choosing the right color can also help you in addition to wearing the right creams.

If you want to choose a color for beach camping, it is recommended to choose dark shades of blue as these are known to be most effective against UV radiation.

Don’t make the mistake of relying solely on the tent for protection from UV radiation. Always wear appropriate protection creams.

The Solution to Dyeing Your Tent

We have already established that you cannot dye a tent due to the special chemical coating which prevents water from reaching the fabric. However, it does not mean that there is no solution if you want to change the color of your tent, and do not want to spend that much money on buying a completely new tent.

The solution is to tie dye the tent fly. Every camping tent has a fly. You can’t dye it directly as it also has that water resistant coating.

What you can do is buy some untreated fabric and use the existing fly from the tent as a pattern to make a new fly. You can then make a completely new fly from this untreated fabric and dye it in the color you want. After dyeing, you can coat it with durable water resistant coating.

The final result will be that you will have a tent with the color you want as the fly is the most visible part of a tent.

Alternatively, you can also make your own rectangular or square tent fly which can then be mounted over the tent with a pole and guy line at each end.

When it comes to choosing the material for the new fly, buy a material that is labeled as ‘prepared for printing’ or ‘prepared for dyeing’. These materials do not have any surface finishes that can interfere with colors.

You can also choose nylon if you want but make sure it is labeled as prepared for dyeing. In short, choose materials that have not undergone any treatment.

Before you start, wash the material with very hot water and detergent to get rid of any finishes. Use the existing fly as a pattern to cut out the new fly from the fabric you have bought.

Always test a small part of the new fabric to ensure it will readily accept the fabric paint or dye you have chosen.

Ask the fabric supplier to send a small sample for you to test first. When you buy, make sure you are buying untreated fabric and not water resistant fabric. Water resistant fabric can’t be dyed.

What About Dyeing Kits?

As far as dyeing is concerned, different fabrics require different methods. There is a lot of information available online on dyeing. For instance, it is easy to dye silk but dyeing nylon can be tricky as you will need to use special acid dyes and very hot water.

Polyester can also be dyed but there are some complex methods you will need to follow. There are dyeing kits for polyester and nylon however most people I’ve talked to have said that in their experience the color tends to be splotchy, uneven, or just generally underwhelming.

In some cases because of the finish or waterproofing on a tent these don’t work, or after drying off the tent during the dyeing process you will then need to waterproof the tent to prepare it for outdoor use once again!

Do not forget to apply a durable water repellent finish once the dying process has been finished. These are readily available online as well as with suppliers of camping or mountaineering products.

In Conclusion

To conclude, you can’t dye an existing tent but you can always buy a new untreated fabric and use it to make a new fly. This new fly can then be dyed in any color you want. So, follow the tips mentioned above and get started on giving that new color to your camping tent.

Outdoor Shane

I've been in love with the great outdoors since I was a toddler. Grew up in many parts of rural America, spent my youth camping and in Scouts, and years adventuring in Alaska. I know, love, breathe, and live the great outdoors.

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