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Reliable’s workforce of around 20 employees—some having more than two decades of experience with the company—varies in number depending on the season. During the busy season, which begins around the first of March and lasts until the end of October, there’s little down time. Employees stay busy stitching panels together to create tent walls, sewing windows into yurts, attaching grommets, bagging stakes and finally boxing tents for distribution and delivery. The product of their labor? A tough, portable shelter that helps keep hunters warm and dry when there’s 8 inches of snow on the roof and the mercury resides in the basement of the ice box.
Montana Canvas (montanacanvas.com) is another longtime wall tent manufacturer and a major player in the national market. Over 20 years ago, Montana Canvas began supplying wall tents for an upstart sporting goods retailer called Cabela’s. They now produce tents for a host of nationally recognized sporting retailers including Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain. “We’re primarily a wholesaler,” explains Curt Heinert, company manager. “About 80 percent or maybe a little more of our business is in wholesaling.”
Located south of I-90 in Belgrade, Canvas employs 22 Montanans in a business with traditional roots and an eye for innovation. The heart of their business is producing standard, rectangular wall tents with a reputation for durability that range in price from around $900 to $1,900.
For most hunting applications, a 12-by-14 wall tent is ideal. It will sleep four hunters with just enough additional room to house a modest camp kitchen. Montana Canvas tents of this size sell like snow cones at a midsummer state fair. I’ve seen these tents hold up for two decades of casual hunting. At a shade over $1,000, that works out to about 50 bucks per year for a canvas cabin that’s about as comfortable as a stay in a local motel.
The company's wall tents are made of canvas similar to what was used in the 19th century—with key modern improvements. Before cutting for fabrication, the canvas is treated for waterproofing and mildew resistance. It also receives a fire retardant, making Montana Canvas tents legal for use in California. (State statutes prohibit use of a stove in a tent that’s not been so treated.) A high-tech polyester fabric called Relite finds its way into a few specialty models. Relite is a bit lighter than heavy-duty 12-ounce canvas, and is more durable and easier to clean, but it lacks the natural breathability of woven cotton. Nonetheless, this space-age fabric creates yet another selling point for a company that artfully balances nostalgia and innovation.
Futher advances come in the design features. The company’s ISQ wall tent (starting at $1,426) is a typical wall tent appended with individual sleeping quarters (hence ISQ) that jut from the main cabin like dormers. Heinert is currently redesigning the ISQ pods to reduce the tent’s overall footprint. Then there’s the company’s latest invention, a portable greenhouse (starting at $1,081). Constructed of reinforced vinyl, the greenhouse looks exactly like a wall tent, replete with zippered windows. It drapes over an internal frame, creating a functional greenhouse that can be set up and taken down with ease.
I can’t say I’m ever in one place long enough to care for plants in a greenhouse, but from autumn through early winter you’ll often find me bunking in a wall tent. Every hunter should have one. I have three: a 12-by-14 stalwart from Montana Canvas, a cute 8-by-10 from Reliable Tent & Tipi and one very old, very tired tent with a torn roof and three rodent holes in one sidewall. It’s shot, but I have no intention of turning it to trash. It still smells like elk camp. For that reason alone, I will always own a wall tent.