Common Tent Terms: What Do They Mean?


When you start doing research into various tents, specifically into the fabrics that are used to create them, you oftentimes come across different terms used to describe the tent’s wide array of attributes. Most notably, the terms mils, ounces per square yard, and grams per square meter appear and are used to compare one tent fabric to another. But what do these refer to? Can you compare the mils of one fabric to the oz./yd2  of another? Let’s find out!

We recently sat down with Celina’s Director of Engineering, Gabe Lehman, to learn more about the various tent terms, what they mean, and how they compare to one another. Let’s dig into his feedback below.


What types of fabrics are sold by mil?

Many fabrics are sold and specified by mil thickness. Some of these fabrics include lightweight polyethylene tarps, unsupported PVC films, and geomembrane pond liners. Keep in mind, when a supplier is specifying how many mils their product is, they are only measuring the thickness of the material, not the density or weight. A mil is 1/1000 of an inch. If someone is saying that their fabric is 12 mils, they mean it is .012” thick. When you are working with unsupported (no scrim) films and liners, then it is commonplace to reference the material by mil thickness or gauge.

Why is tent vinyl sold in grams per square meter or ounces per square yard?

Weight and density have become the industry standard for all industrial textiles including tents, tarps, upholstery, etc., when comparing and discussing various fabrics. The density of these fabrics is mainly attributed to its durability, not its thickness.

How do mils and ounces per square yard/grams per square meter relate to each other?

If we look at one of the cheap blue tarps found at the local hardware store, the thickness is 10 mils, but the weight is only 3 ounces per square yard. A standard PVC coated tent fabric is 19 mils, and weighs 16 ounces per square yard. So even though the cheap blue tarp is nearly half the thickness of the tent fabric, it is only 1/6th the density of the tent fabric.

Why are other company’s banners and tents listed in mils if Celina’s are in ounces per square yard?

Many banners are created from unsupported fabrics – fabrics without a scrim or support layer – and so they would need to be measured in mils. The materials used for printed banners and tents at Celina have an internal scrim for a stronger product. This scrim is the reason our materials are measured in ounces per square yard.

Are there any other terms used when describing tent fabrics?

Gauge is another common term that pertains only to thickness, not density. Again this term is mostly used by unsupported film and liner manufacturers.

As you compare fabrics for your tents, remember that comparing like items is the best way to go. If one or the other isn’t listed – ask the manufacturer! You can never be too careful when it comes to an investment like a tent. Check back every week for more in the field of tent technology, or browse our website – – and check out our YouTube Channel for more informational tidbits.