It’s 4:30 a.m. My alarm jars me awake in a darkened tent. Time to get up and sort through a complex pile of gear for a day of hunting high in the Rocky Mountains.
Fortunately, I’m in a massive canvas tent. Shared with my two hunting buddies, it’s as spacious and comfortable as a hotel room and makes base camp life comfortable so we could focus on the mission at hand.
Initiation To ‘Canvas Camp’
Canvas tents are nothing new. They’ve been used for decades in military, hunting and exploration applications. I’ve never used them much myself, daunted by the myriad components and ultra-heavy design.
But the model we tested, the Sibley 500 Ultimate Pro tent by Belgium-based CanvasCamp, is a different sort of huge canvas tent — with just a center pole and an A-frame door as the only rigid components, it is easy to set up, taking about 45 minutes for a first-timer (and more likely 20 minutes once familiar).
The majority of setup time comes from hammering stakes into the ground, as this model relies on a bunch of tent stakes as the backbone of the structural integrity.
Canvas Camp ‘Sibley’ Design
The tent is delightfully simple. It has a round floor and ceiling, lofted at the center by a heavy steel pole. An A-frame holds the 4-foot-high door open, with a wide zip opening allowing easy, near standing access.
The floor is made of a very heavy, extremely durable ripstop PVC — it weighs 1.5 lbs per 10 ft². It seems absolutely indestructible; we laid it over some sharp rocks and roots and had no problem.
The floor is attached to the ceiling by a foot-high canvas side-wall, which can be unzipped entirely to remove the floor or just open the sides for ventilation, which we didn’t do thanks to cool temps in the mountains.
Inside, it’s a massive 210 ft² of floor space — enough room to fit four queen size beds. We used sleeping bags, and there was a lot of floor space left over even after we unleashed bags of gear.
Canvas Camp Sibley 500 Ultimate Pro Test & Review
Three of us used the Sibley as a base camp for three days of elk hunting at about 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The weather was pretty idillic — lows in the 30s and highs in the 60s. We had no rain.
The tent worked exceptionally, however the conditions didn’t really put it through that tough of a test.
At night, the three of us slept comfortably in warm sleeping bags. The tent provided little insulation, but it did cut the wind.
In the day, the heavy tent did block light more than a typical camping tent, allowing for naps even in bright sunny conditions.
One day and night we were hit with some solid 25 MPH winds, with higher gusts, and the tent stood strong. It seems extremely strong, but it is very tall.
The company says that the center pole is designed to give way before ripping the canvas. We didn’t get anywhere near putting it to failure, but this seems like a good design as the center pole is easily replaceable and the product ships with a repair kit.
Given the cool weather, I expected condensation to form on the tent walls. We did not notice any; the tent stayed bone dry even in the early morning hours when we were getting prepared for the day.
Company spokeswoman Robyn Smith said the tent fabric is highly breathable, and at this point of testing I would have to agree.
Windows & Ventilation
The tent has several small windows that provide screened ventilation around the wall perimeter. The door can also be propped open and has a detachable screen. Vents at the top let air flow out of the tent.
For cool weather, the ventilation was certainly sufficient. In hot conditions, I would expect you’d want to unzip the walls to give the tent a breezy feeling. That would allow bugs to enter, so in buggy, hot conditions, this would be something to consider.
Super (Heavy) Duty
This thing is huge, and with huge, heavy duty construction comes incredible weight.
The Sibley 500 Ultimate Pro weighs about 100 pounds and fits in a sack that takes a bear-hug to lift and is about 3.5 feet long.
This is OK if you’ve got a vehicle, or maybe a horse, to strap it to. But you need to be strong to lift it and move it around. If you can’t lift 100 awkward pounds, or have a team that can, this tent isn’t for you.
Setup & Take Down
For such a big structure, this tent is remarkably easy to put up and take down — both jobs took us well under an hour, and it was our first time working with it. I’d imagine that, with experience, it would take probably 20 minutes at a leisurely pace.
Much of the project consists of pounding stakes. I’d be concerned using the tent in areas without much soil, as stakes are critical to the structure. That said, we used it in the Rocky Mountains, which got their name for a reason, and we didn’t have much trouble with the stout, well-made stakes even though we hit plenty of rocks.
The instructions are easy to follow and summarized. Just roll it out, stake it down, put in the center pole and A-Frame for the door, and enjoy!
Benefits Of A Big Tent
Fact is, you don’t need a tent like this to camp, or even to undertake major tasks like elk hunting or video production, in remote areas.
But dang it’s nice to have a big interior space to deal with whatever issues may arise. We had lovely weather, but had rain fallen, there was plenty of room in the tent to set up chairs, maintain equipment, probably even cook with a modicum of caution.
It was really nice to stand up in the morning, pull on my pants, and rummage through my gear for a full day of hunting in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with plenty of space to manage my gear.
The Sibley can be equipped with a wood burning stove of various designs. We didn’t have one to use, and didn’t really need it due to moderate temps, but dang it seems like it would be nice.
The brand says the Frontier Camp Stove is a good option. To use it, you must cut a hole in the fabric for the chimney pipe and should use a spark-arrester to keep the flammable floor from catching fire.
We noticed one seam had unstitched a little over a six-inch section between the ceiling and floor. The brand says it will help with repairs in any way possible, but because of the insane weight of shipping this thing, we’d suspect most people would be best served sewing it themselves or taking it to a local canvas specialist for little repairs like this.
A couple grommets also had come out of stake attachment points. We doubt this would affect the performance of the tent, but for something that should last decades, we’d like to see the problem addressed.
The only other concern we had with this design was that the tensioning system for guy-lines was a little awkward to use. We had to re-position stakes to really get them tight. The brand said they are planning to upgrade the rope used in the guy-lines and that should improve the way the tensioners work.
Who Should Buy It
This is a big boy of a tent, and not for everyone. But it would be great for a lot of people.
- Hunters and anglers: If you’re objective is in the field, but you want a good base camp for any weather, this tent should do the job for six adults or so comfortably.
- Glampers: Good grief I hate this word, but it sure does describe the “glamourous camping” that has grown in popularity. If you want a queen size bed in the woods, this will house it nicely and has a great, civilized ambiance.
- Festivals: The brand says music festivals regularly buy the tents to rent out to festival-goers. If you need to house 10 mud-covered revelers, it would be perfect.
- Airbnb: Stick it up in your backyard or put a few on your back 40, decorate them nicely, add a cozy bed, and rent them out for $50 a night. These could bring in regular business for years.
- Family campers: This could be a bit of a stretch, but if you want to set up a camp for a week or more, this is a good option and provides significant shelter compared with most family tents.
Models And Price
We tested the Sibley 500 Ultimate Pro — one of the larger tents made by the company. It costs about $1,000, not cheap, but when compared with hotel rooms, it starts looking pretty reasonable fast.
The tents are designed in Belgium and made in Asia. The brand has a U.S. based distributor in Colorado.
The brand makes a range of models. The smallest, the 75 ft² Sibley Standard 300, uses lighter material and fits one queen bed, could sleep 3-4, and costs about $330.
The most expensive tent in the series is the Diamond Fire 500 — which is basically fireproof and crazy durable for use by guides and those who more or less live in the tents. It costs $1,200.
The brand makes a wide range of tents between these two that vary according to the heaviness of fabrics used and size.
CanvasCamp also makes really cool looking Tipis. We hope to test one of these soon, maybe as a ski shelter once the snow flies.
If you’re looking for a big, burly tent to use as a base camp for weeks or months on end, give these a look. They are well made, are easy to assemble, and provide a great interior space for work or play.