Fabric structures for glamorous camping

Fabric structure manufacturers find a global market in the ‘glamping’ trend.

Specialty Fabrics Review | October 2011
By Janice Kleinschmidt

Have you heard about the s’more sommelier?

That sounds like the setup to a joke. It is a setup—but it’s no joke. The Happy Glamper package at Lakedale Resort Campground on San Juan Island, Wash., includes sleeping on pillow-top queen beds and a sommelier bringing you gourmet s’more makings with a bottle of sparkling wine. The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont., and Fireside Resort at Jackson Hole Campground in Wyoming also offer s’more service with luxury tent rentals.

“[Glamping] originated in the safari experiences in Africa,” says David Troya, CEO of GlampingHub.com. “Now a lot of people that own luxury tents and yurts are starting to call their sites glamping. It’s in nature, and it’s comfortable—even posh.”

Troya built a website for glamping information about 10 months ago. Now he’s turning it into a reservation site as well. “We are doing business with manufacturers and glamping-site owners,” he says. “It’s a field that is really shaping up.”

The growth of glamour

Paul Zway, owner of Exclusive Tents Ltd. (which is relocating its headquarters from Arizona to Belize), has been planning a media campaign to push glamping further in the United States. “It’s still in its infancy [in the States]; I believe it’s got a lot of potential,” he says. “In other places [around the world], it’s already growing rapidly.” Exclusive Tents’ deluxe digs can be found in all types of environments—such as Belize, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos, Mexico, Seychelles, Maldives and United States.

Zway’s clients include Virgin Group magnate Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot resort in Morocco, where accommodations include six Berber Tented Suites; Tippi Hedren at Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif.; and wealthy resort owners around the world (most recently in Israel, Italy and Turkey). With the growth in glamping, his “families” of tents have grown. “About 2005, when glamour camping started, the largest was 500 square feet. We have taken it to about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet these days,” says Zway, noting a demand for additional rooms. “We have developed new designs that lend themselves to separating rooms, split levels, linking tents. Space also equals luxury.”

Although Alan Bair founded Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove, Ore., 33 years ago, it was after his state fair exhibition in the mid-’90s that Oregon State Parks purchased two of his yurts for coastal campgrounds. “They wondered if they would survive the winter storms we have,” Bair says. (They did.) “Then they bought 50, and now almost 200. Most are booked six to nine months in advance.”

Glamping amenities and rates vary widely. Oregon State Parks charges as little as $56 a night for yurts with beds, restrooms, kitchenettes and TV/VCRs at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in Reedsport. Treebones Resort in Big Sur, Calif. (also a Pacific Yurts client) rents them for $170 to $300 (depending on view and number of guests). On the high end, Banyan Tree Madivaru in the Maldives (a client of Exclusive Tents) fetches $3,000 a night and up (meals included) for ‘villas’ that are sets of living, sleeping and bath tents.

“State and national parks are starting to have a high interest [in yurts],” says Scott Powell, director of marketing for Rainier Industries Ltd. in Seattle, Wash. “With the economy, they have to earn their own keep, so they’re interested in the rental market, and a lot of them have recently gone to or are going to yurts.” Rainier also supplies glamping resorts and customized 15 canvas cottages for Lakedale Resort. “The upper end of the market is starting to become more aware of these structures and glamping. The trend toward a more upscale statement of a previously mundane structure is increasing at the upper income brackets,” Powell says.

Fielding appeal

“Our structures have always been more accepted in the West,” says Ivy Fife, marketing director for Colorado Yurt Co. in Montrose. “We’re strong in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and California. The Rocky Mountain region is our strongest market. We’ve also had a great year internationally: Australia, New Zealand, Europe.” Colorado Yurt’s glamping resort customers include Mary Jane’s Farm in Moscow, Idaho, and YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colo.

Garg Dyeing and Tent Works has found a strong market for glamorous tents in Kenya, South Africa, France, Thailand, the Maldives, Middle East and the United States, as well as in its home country of India. “We are expanding pretty fast in the resort market,” says owner Rajeev Garg. Based in Ambala City, Haryana, the company will customize tent designs, but customers also can create a custom look themselves by mixing and matching elements from a vast range of colors and print patterns for interior walls, pole sleeves, valances, borders and drapes (a natural/cream finish is recommended for the exterior, as colors will fade after prolonged sun exposure). Garg also sells complementary accessories, such as lanterns, furniture and umbrellas that add authenticity to the Indian motifs in the fabric.

“We started to make tents for resort purposes in 2005, and since then there have been a lot of changes in the market,” Garg says. “At the start, we got orders from small resorts; but the last three years, there has been a huge response from large resorts that provide accommodations under canvas.” Clients include the prestigiousFour SeasonsOne&Only, and Enashipai resort companies.

“We just shipped seven domes to the Island Lodge off Copenhagen, where they’re building an eco-resort,” says Asha Deliverance, founder and president of Pacific Domes Inc. of Ashland, Ore. Fifteen of her company’s geodesic fabric structures on the ski slopes at Whitepod in the Swiss Alps are equipped with wood-burning stoves, organic luxury bedding and full-service bathrooms.

Mountainsides, deserts, woodlands, coastlines, tropical islands, even on water (such as 12 linked “villas” by Exclusive Tents at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge in Cambodia’s Koh Kong Province)—it seems luxury tent makers have a market that knows no bounds. As Bair says, noting that Pacific Yurts’ international sales doubled last year, “Eco-tourism is the fastest-growing part of the tourism industry: Do no harm, but offer a high level of comfort.”

The soft side (and top)

Tents that are going to stay up for more than a couple of days at a time, that feature doors and windows and that create a luxurious surrounding, need more support than the old Coleman® camping tent that needs to do little more than protect your sleeping bag from rain and mosquitoes. Steel, wood and other hard materials provide a firm foundation and structural integrity. What goes on the frame, however, is the essence of what glamping is all about.

Colorado Yurts makes yurts, tents and tipis, with yurts offering more fabric options. Yurt walls may be made with:

  1. a 15-ounce 45/55 polyester/cotton army duck that is flame retardant, has an acrylic coating that resists water, soil, mildew and UV rays, and carries a five-year warranty;
  2. 12.5-ounce acrylic-coated, 100 percent polyester; or
  3. a 15-ounce three-layer vinyl laminate.

The roof may be an 18.5-ounce, PVC-coated polyester with an acrylic topcoat to provide mildew resistance, flame retardance and UV protection, or a 37-ounce thermoplastic alloy over high-thread-count polyester with a 15-year warranty. Tents offer two fabric choices: the same army duck as used for yurts and 13-ounce, preshrunk, 100 percent cotton army duck with a marine finish to make it water repellent, mildew resistant and UV protected. Tipis are typically painted with designs; tents and yurts are not.

Most of Exclusive Tents’ designs have four roof layers: a bull denim cotton lining, 15-ounce ripstop cotton/polyester canvas (also used for walls), 21-ounce PVC-coated polyester rain fly, and spun HDPE 80 percent shade fly. Air space between each provides natural cooling. Depending on the environment, the outermost roof layers will last five to 10 or more years. The canvas is treated with a water-based paint that provides UV, water and mold protection. “You paint every three to seven years and that restores the protection and original color,” owner Paul Zway says. His company will incorporate graphics to order.

For tent exteriors, Garg Dyeing and Tent Works uses 15-ounce cotton canvas treated to ensure water, rot and flame resistance. Linings and pole sleeves are made of fine cotton and can be hand-block printed, or customers can purchase linings and pole sleeves made of 100 percent polyester in hand-blocked prints. Drapes can be ordered in cotton voile or polyester. With good care, tent fabrics should last at least 10 years.

Pacific Domes offers three fabric options, all flame, water, mildew and UV resistant: 15-ounce polyester with a five- to seven-year life span; 16-ounce vinyl-coated polyester with a life span of eight to 12 years; and 19-ounce polyester with an additional protective film (recommended for humid climates) with a 12- to 20-year life span. “You can put Thermashield™ on any fabric you want,” says Asha Deliverance, owner. “We recommend that for high-desert climates where there’s a massive amount of sun. It keeps the building cooler and adds UV protection.” Pacific Domes sells but does not apply Thermashield. The company will customize domes with graphic printing.

Pacific Yurts uses woven polyester for the lining. Then comes a layer of Reflectix® insulation that reflects 96 percent of radiant heat. Side covers are acrylic-coated polyester with an average life span of eight to 10 years in high-UV areas. The vinyl-laminated polyester top has a 15-year warranty. Graphics can be added to the front of the door canopy and can even be backlit, or a banner mount can be built into the top framework.

Rainier Industries Ltd. makes cottage tents from 10-ounce, tightly woven cotton duck canvas treated to be water repellent, mildew resistant and flame retardant. The rain fly is 14-ounce reinforced vinyl with an acrylic topcoat. Yurts are made with 17-ounce vinyl-laminated polyester. According to Michael Fuhrman, sales and design, the fabrics could last seven to 15 years or even longer, depending on the environment, though a rain fly may have to be replaced after five or six years if a tent is left up year-round. “The cottage tent is often used as a three-season camping tent. They can be used four seasons as long as there is no snow-load requirement,” Fuhrman says. Rainier will apply graphics upon request.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.


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