We often spend a few days of our summer sitting in a field near the sea, as do many other fellow campers. We listen for the regular "ha-beeeb" squeals of the oystercatchers, the eerie , yet plaintive, call of the curlew and try to spot the distinctive outline of the white than white little egrets nudging among the sea lavender and mud flats of the coastal marshlands looking for tiddlers. It's an idyllic natural world one might think, enjoyed all the more waiting for the morning fry-up to fry, the coffee to indolently brew and catching a few solar rays sitting in a chair made of poly-something and languorously stirring the sizzling contents of an old Teflon-coated non-stick frying pan with a poly-slotted spoon.

Our tent is made from various panels of poly-something and waterproofed with a spray-on solution of poly-silico-something else. My easy-dry poly-walking shorts with their myriad map and penknife pockets are, however, offset with leather boots, which nevertheless are waterproofed not with traditional dubbing but a modern poly-gel coating, a cotton tee-shirt (with no poly at all) and a cotton-polyester-wool blend for my walking socks to aid walking and support feet before they even begin to ache from all that walking.

It seemed, however, that a few of our neighboring tents had something of a retro kitsch about them, this year. There were numerous old-school, great, weighty canvas tents with dozens of very much non-fluorescent guy ropes and multiple steel poles. I imagine all of which require a hefty stuff sack and a trailer rather than a car boot. Our lightweight tent by contrast has its 4000mm of water-resistant head to stave off stair rods of rain, although that doesn't seem to preclude internal condensation from all that breathing one has to do; a problem common to campers near and far.

Our tent's bright green nylon-ish guy ropes, visible in near dark and its polymer resin mainstays are tough and weather beating, whereas those rope and hemp guys will rot if packed away damp and those stainless steel poles and pegs will diminish to rust given half an entropic  chance. Carbon fiber tent poles splinter in strong winders under much strain but are quickly bound together again with a few turns of gaffer tape (yet more poly for the tape and its adhesive), whereas once bent, a steel pole will stay bent, or if straightened will always be fatiguedi.

Nevertheless, it all got me thinking, as the delicious smells of fry-ups frying wafted across the campsite site, that for all our wonder materials, our super breakthroughs our copolymer composites and countless other technological marvels of the materials science age, there still seems to be a place for natural fibers. No one ever talked of the romance of sleeping under polyester and carbon fiber, it has always been the trip of a lifetime only if it involved at least one night under canvas, after all. I have to admit, though I'd rather the dry of the poly tent and odd bit of condensation than the risk the spot-flooding possible with those retro tents should an errant finger or pole poke them during a storm, even if that does mean we're not quite literally spending that night under canvas.

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the bestselling science book "Deceived Wisdom".