The turn of the 20th century saw a surge in its popularity, particularly among middle-class families, who — with vintage tents and some basic camping gear –found in it an affordable and accessible pastime.
Recreational tent camping in the US all started with vintage canvas tents
Canvas tents became a symbol of this era, their practical design mirroring the straightforward, hands-on approach of these early campers. These vintage tents, sturdy and dependable, owe their origins to old nomadic cultures worldwide, and have been a constant companion to outdoor adventurers across centuries.
Born of necessity, it was constructed from heavy-duty woven fabric, initially hemp and later cotton, valued for its lighter weight and improved durability. As the 20th century dawned, it found favor with the burgeoning middle-class camping crowd, its practical design and hard-wearing nature transforming campgrounds nationwide.
Known for their resilience and durability, these tents were the go-to shelter for countless camping families. They might not have been feather-light, but they held their own against the elements — a trait that’s earned them a well-deserved reputation. No pop-up tent or ultralight gimmickry here, just good old-fashioned craftsmanship.
Space age retro tents for wilderness wanderings
The evolution towards lighter-weight materials and frames in the world of tent construction largely took place during the second half of the 20th century. The drive behind this change was a growing focus on mobility and ease of use, particularly among backpackers and mountaineers who required lightweight yet sturdy shelter options for their excursions.
The first significant shift occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s, when synthetic materials like nylon and polyester began to replace the traditional canvas.
These fabrics were not only lighter and more compact but also displayed superior resistance to rot and mildew. Nylon, in particular, with its excellent strength-to-weight ratio, became a favorite among outdoor gear manufacturers.
Vintage tents with modern frames
The tent frame, traditionally made from wood or steel, also underwent a transformation. Aluminum alloy poles emerged as a popular choice, offering the right blend of strength, flexibility, and lightness. They were much easier to carry and could withstand heavy winds better than their heavier counterparts.
In the 1980s and 90s, the advent of new technologies led to the development of even more sophisticated materials. Ripstop nylon, for example, incorporated a special reinforcing technique that made it resistant to tearing and ripping.
Around the same time, polyurethane and silicone coatings were introduced to improve the water-resistance of tent fabrics.
Vintage dome tents and carbon fiber tent pole innovations
Tent design also evolved, with models like the geodesic dome tent becoming popular for their strength and stability, despite being made from lightweight materials. More recently, the use of carbon fiber poles has pushed the boundaries of lightweight tent construction even further.
All these developments have led to the variety of lightweight, durable, and easy-to-set-up tents available today, demonstrating that innovation is a constant companion to the adventurous spirit.
These vintage camping tents show you the kind of simple, straightforward approach to camping that middle-class American families appreciated back in the day — a reminder that sometimes, the basics are all you need for some truly memorable adventures.
Take a look at some of the vintage camping tents that were available in the last century!
Large vintage tents from the 1920s
Genuine “Superior” heavy all waterproofed khaki duck wall tent, all-white duck wall tents and more vintage camping gear from Sears in the 1920s
Antique camping tent styles from the 1920s
1940s Sears camping tents and camp equipment
Air-cooled vista wall tent, bargain waterproofed tents, no center pole umbrella tents, junior-size umbrella tents, crawl-in tents and more from the forties
Large vintage tents from 1940
Weatherproofed 1950s pup tent for kids (1959)
Old-fashioned scout-size tents for kids from 1950
Old Boy Scout-size camping tents (1955)
Scout-size umbrella tents, pup tents, wall tents and Roy Rogers tents for kids
1950s tents, trailers and cars at a campground in Wisconsin (1958)
Vintage 50’s camping gear for families (1958)
Inside a 60s glamping tent (1968)
Vintage glamping camping tent over a little dining table (1968)
Vintage Coleman Sky-Vu large camping tent (1967)
Make sure your new tent has plenty of big holes in it.
The Sky-Vu’s unique controlled air-flow system lets you enjoy the great outdoors indoors. In comfort. No matter what the season. For instance, on warm days and nights, wide-open, 4-way cross ventilation lets tons of fresh air and breezes come in. And because heat rises, we gave it a way to get out. A real skylight. Right in the roof.
Other nice things can come in, too. Like sunshine. Moonlight. Starlight. An almost panoramic view. But not insects. (Besides the fiberglass screen, there’s a sewn-in floor, zippered threshold.) And not rain or snow and cold air. The “holes” zip closed quickly from the inside. Or, in mild cool weather, can be partly closed to suit your comfort.
Awnings and canopy permit 3-way ventilation even in the rain! With Coleman’s patented inside “Flex-bar” frame, the Sky-Vu goes up in minutes…stays up in gale force winds.
Retro 60s tents to build (1965)
Old-fashioned large tents from the 1960s
Vintage Ted Williams and trailer camping tents (1965)
Vintage umbrella tents – Camping in 1965
Boy by a lake with his yellow camping tent (1965)
Sears Motel VII camper trailer with Zip-A-Room tent (1968)
Vintage family-size tent with frame (1968)
Coleman Tent and Chevrolet (1968)
Sears camping tent from 1969
Old-fashioned cabin tents from the early 70s
Big 9×12-foot tent sleeps a family of 8 — accommodates four single or double-decker cots. Outside aluminum frame pitches quickly, protects against contact leakage. Sewn-in floor keeps out bugs and moisture. Dutch-style door has nylon screened window. Opens easily with sturdy zipper and double-pull sliders.
Vintage 9- x 12-foot cabin-style tent inside view of bunks (1972)
Retro 70s tents from Sears (1971)
Coleman Oasis tent from 1970
Sears camping tent in a rainstorm (1970)
Large vintage camping tents with outside awnings (1971)
Continental style camping tents (1974)
Retro 1977 Sears Cottage-style and Cabin-style family tents
70s camping scene up in the mountains
Vintage 80s tents with lightweight external frames (1980)
Plymouth Voyager van with Magic Tent bonus (1985)