My curiosity about canvas tents was first sparked along the Colorado Trail in the San Juan Mountains in autumn, when I passed a cozy-looking hunting camp, wood smoke cheerily puffing from a silver stovepipe extending from the tent’s roof. Long accustomed to the packability, light weight, and perpetual nylon rustling of backpacking walls, I wondered about all thing canvas—the cost, sturdiness, weatherproofing, and livability of a cabin tent. What did those folks know about camping comfort that I didn’t?
Eventually, I acquired access to a small patch of land in the Mojave Desert, and I turned my curiosity into a real-world test, setting up a 12x12 Kodiak Canvas Cabin Lodge tent ($1,000) at 4,500 feet in spring 2023 and leaving it up through the desert’s infernal summer heat and a historically powerful tropical storm. Six months later, my curiosity has been replaced by admiration and stoke. Today, I’ll make any excuse I can to get back in the field and stay in the tent.
Kodiak has an extensive product line, but for our purposes there are two square tents to consider, the 12x2 and a 10x10 ($800). The larger of the two weighs about 100 pounds and is a beast of a product for someone used to three-pound fastpacking sprites. After I opened the box and as I sorted through the collection of steel tubing, stakes, guy lines, and canvas—plus the optional 8x8 awning porch weighing another 40-some pounds—I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Divide and conquer: I sorted everything into like piles in the back of my truck and it started to feel more manageable.
In preparation for my first trip with the tent, and knowing I’d be alone, I watched a bunch setup videos on YouTube. Despite the ever-present Mojave wind, the first setup took about an hour, with no major missteps, only a little backtracking here and there. If you’ve set up a nylon camping tent, you can set up the Kodiak. It is, basically, a box, with external grommets for the top of each pole, velcro to hold the poles in place, and a central beam that supports the pitched roof. The trickiest part, the only tricky part, is erecting the two tallest poles at the front and back of the tent, with the beam stretching between them. It’s a little bit of a challenge by yourself, but a piece of cake with a partner. I’ve now set the tent up twice by myself and the awning with a friend. The whole kit and caboodle can be done in less than an hour.
It probably goes without saying, this isn’t a tent you toss in the back of your CrossTrek for a quick night away. But I was surprised at the simplicity and speed of the setup, and if you have space in your rig, the Kodiak could be an excellent option for weeklong trips, not just the extending living I’ve been using it for. And the reason is livability: What hunters know that I didn’t is that canvas tents are incredibly comfortable, spacious, and, with the addition of a stove, warm.
A few more details: The Kodiak Cabin Lodge is constructed of heavy-duty, watertight duck cotton canvas. The bathtub floor is 13.5-ounce vinyl with welded seams. The ceiling height is 7.5 feet and the side walls are vertical to four feet. There’s a center support post (optional, but I use it), and six mesh windows with zippered canvas coverings. A D-shaped door brings you into a space larger than my office.
Currently, I have it appointed with two Ikea rugs, two cots, two Woods Canada camp chairs, and a sturdy table from Front Runner. It nominally sleeps eight, but that would be tight. With my wife and me and all that stuff, it feels roomy but not palatial. The white ceiling/roof keeps the space bright and cheery, thwarting any sense of the gloom I worried it might have, and with the windows open to mesh, ventilation is excellent. At night, the white roof catches every bit of starlight, and it’s enough that I can navigate the semi-darkness without a headlamp.
The list of things I like about the Kodiak tent is long. Aside from the obvious and substantial weight penalty, the canvas feels better than nylon in every way. Cotton is like coming home; nylon is…not. The walls, doors, and window coverings are more pleasant to touch, and quieter, too. Canvas breathes—when I return to the tent after a week or two away, it’s hot inside but not dank or musty. When it’s windy, which is almost always in the Mojave, the walls shimmer, not flap, and at most they whisper. Even heavy rain on the roof sounds like white noise and not the alarming splatter of a fly a few inches above your head. The vinyl floor is definitely not cozy, but it sure is heavy duty, and unless you’re walking around in crampons, you needn’t fear punctures, seepage, or bugs. Plus, an affordable rug easily covers that.
The list of things I don’t like about the tent is short. In fact, there’s nothing on it. The weight…yes, it’s undeniable. But that’s the nature of any canvas tent, and the expected use case is very different from a nylon one. Although…if I my kids were little again and I were doing it all over, I would probably get a 10x10 and just make sure we camped at least three or four days in any once place. The Kodiak is that much more pleasant and comfortable compared to nylon.
Riding the Storm Out
Anybody remember that hurricane / tropical storm that blasted Southern California in August? We were printing the fall issue and then heading to NorCal for a float on the American River that week, so I couldn’t get out to the desert to batten down the hatches. So, how did it go?
Pretty darn well. Joni and I went out to the Mojave on Labor Day weekend and when we arrived, the tent was still standing. (I had visions of it being blown all the way to the Colorado River.) The windward side had collapsed, but this was due to guy lines being pulled off their stakes. This caused two poles to walk out of their grommets, and all the poles on the windward side were slumped over. Two had poked small holes in the walls at ground level. But nothing was broken, the interior was dry, and despite a 20 mph wind, it didn’t take us long to reset everything.
The holes were easily fixed with stick-on patches, and I replaced most of the stakes with longer, heavier steel ones. The soil in that part of the Mojave is mostly decomposed granite, which is loose, and these aftermarket stakes are a better choice. In most soils, the stock Kodiak will likely be just fine.
If You Get the Tent, Get the Awning
I hemmed and hawed about purchasing the 8x8 awning porch ($480), but whatever space it adds, it easily doubles the livability. You can run it with just the roof or roof and walls. We’ve spent many hours in its shade, drinking coffee, reading, sketching, noshing chips and guac, and just looking at the Joshua trees. It makes an excellent entryway or mud room. It thwarts bugs and dust from entering the tent. It’s great for gear overflow or making coffee while your partner sleeps. And it’s also an excellent place to put your potty for the night.
You’ve probably gotten the message that I love the Kodiak tent and its awning. Indeed, I do. The Kodiak feels like a legitimate shelter rather than a thin, rustling way to keep bugs and moisture at bay. Nylon tents are superior for their intended purpose of packability and quick set-up, and perhaps you don’t have room or need for a canvas model. I’m not going to tell you to get one, both because it’s none of my business and I have no idea how you camp. But I will tell you that I’m blown away by how cheery the Cabin Lodge is, how cozy, how comfortable, and how good I feel coming back to it after a long day of scrambling, know that I’ll be dry and secure as I clean up, make dinner, and reset myself for another day in the field.
You’ll find lots more specs and information about the Cabin Lodge on the Kodiak Canvas site. Adventure Journal does not have affiliations.
Words and photos by Stephen Casimiro