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Tent Users vs. Tarp Users...
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Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
Tent Users vs. Tarp Users... on 10/22/2007 09:45:56 MDT Print View

I have my first tarp and bivy on order from MLD. I only have experience with double wall tents.

I am wondering: How many of you have experience with tarps but went back to double-wall tents?

If so:

1) What were the reasons?
2) What are you able to keep your base weight to?

If I stuck with my BA Seedhouse SL tent, I can keep my base weight to ~12lbs and free up $430 to buy other gear (new quilt, down jacket, etc). If I get the tarp and bivy, I can drop my weight to ~7.5lbs.

Edited by splproductions on 10/22/2007 10:34:15 MDT.

John Mowery
(Mow) - F

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Tent v. Tarp on 10/22/2007 10:16:53 MDT Print View

I've never looked back. Besides being lighter, a tarp and bivy combination are far quicker to pack up in the morning - much less monkeying around. And if you don't expect rain, don't set up the tarp.

You'll be pleased you made the switch.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Re: Tent users vs. tarp users on 10/22/2007 10:52:26 MDT Print View

I've made the transition you're talking about, currently preferring a tent (Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1) to a tarp and bivy (my choice was the ID Salathe and a 5x8 Siltarp.) I tend to gravitate between the two, depending on time of year, expected weather, and length of trip; however, the tent is probably my choice at least 75% of the time. As far as pack weight, the SL1 weighs within a couple of ounces (I'm not even sure which way) of the Salathe/Siltarp combo, so it's a push for me. I've tried lighter bivy sacks, but never found one I liked better than the Salathe: the open-to-the-waist weatherproof panel is fully backed by a similar bug netting panel - a real necessity to using a bivy in the bug-infested humidity of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in summer.

I noticed you were wondering if the money you were spending on a tarp and bivy would be better spent on other gear. MLD makes excellent products, well worth the money, but I see your point. You also indicate that you'll save over 4 pounds by making this switch, which makes me wonder what version of the Seedhouse tent you're using. Assuming that the tarp and bivy will weigh at least a pound, the only Seedhouse tent I could find was the Seedhouse 3, right 5 and a half pounds, packed.

So, here's a middle-ground suggestion. Since you're toying with the idea of a bivy sack, you apparently don't need a 3-person tent. A Seedhouse SL1, at just over two and a half pounds, will save you about 3 pounds, and leave you $200 to put toward the other gear you mention. Since those items should also save you a couple of pounds, that might be a "most bang for your buck" approach. Also, since you already know you're comfortable in a tent, replacing your current tent with a lighter one means you don't have to try to make the adjustment to being comfortable in a bivy. (Am I correctly inferring from your post that you have at least a little apprehension about switching from a tent to a bivy?)

A bivy does take some getting used to. It's going to be a lot more confining, and if you're using a quilt, you may find it a little awkward to use it inside a bivy. (I frequently use my WM Mitylite bag in quilt mode, and found that it was really hard to adjust it as I rolled or moved around in a bivy; it was particularly hard to let a leg hang out from under the bag.) There's also not much space for other gear inside a bivy (not a huge problem if, like me, you don't carry very much miscellaneous gear and you don't keep your food inside your tent with you.) A bivy really can't compete with a tent when it comes to general livability.

Don't get me wrong, bivies are very nice. They let you camp in some places (like rock ledges) that a tent won't fit. But the current generation of tents, like the SL1, have pretty much eliminated the main reason I switched to a bivy: sleeping under the stars. With a bivy, on a clear night, you don't need a roof; the open feeling of sleeping under the stars is one of backpacking's greatest pleasures. Until the last few years, most tents had solid fabric walls, so you were visually closed in even when you didn't have the fly attached. However, tents like the MSR Hubba and the Seedhouse SL1 have all-mesh walls and ceilings. Lying in one of them, with the fly off, gives me the exact same sense of sleeping under the stars as my bivy ever did, with a lot more spaciousness.

A bivy/tarp combo is certainly a workable setup, but you may be able to accomplish more for the same cost with a replacement tent and other gear. Good luck.

Edited by garkjr on 10/22/2007 10:56:45 MDT.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
sl1 on 10/22/2007 11:19:04 MDT Print View

One needs a whole bunch of stakes and gulines to properly set up the fly on the SL1 (13 stakes for full pitch). As a result, I believe the weight would be significantly more than just over 2 and a half pounds...or am I incorrect in this case?

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Tent Users vs. Tarp Users... on 10/22/2007 11:47:44 MDT Print View

The real question is whether you will be comfortable with a bivy and tarp combination. The MLD combo will keep you warm and dry, but will it fit your style? I think you can experiment with a painters drop cloth that is bigger. A 8'X 10' will keep you dry without a bivy.

With a bivy the tarp is only needed so that you can enter/exit and pack/unpack. I use a bivy/poncho combination in the Grand Canyon and only expect to pitch the poncho about 25 percent of the time.

For me the tent is only for privacy. I would never use a bivy in a campground because people walking by and looking at me while I sleep creeps me out. Squirrels scampering across my bivy does not bother me. YMMV

Dave Heiss

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Tents offer more protection on 10/22/2007 12:24:17 MDT Print View

I've toyed with the idea of returning to bivys and tarps, because in my younger backpacking days I slept out under the stars on a regular basis. But I've decided to stick with tents because over the years my style of backpacking has changed. I tend to hike solo now, and even though it may only be psychological, nowadays a tent gives me the nightime feeling of security I used to get from sleeping in the open as part of a group.

I also enjoy the extra bug-free space a tent provides - even a small one like my MSR Zoid 1 - especially on warm nights when I need to throw off all or part of my sleeping bag to stay comfortable.

I can also thank my tent for saving me a few years ago when I was camped on the upper Sauk River in the Cascades. Just as dawn came the squirrels began screaming as they harvested fir cones. I had a big, heavy 3-cone bunch come down right on top of my head, but the missile bounced off the tent wall instead. Scared the %#*@ out of me! In a bivy I would have been nailed, and quite possibly hurt, but thankfully the only damage was a sap splatter on the fabric right above my head and a serious jolt of adrenaline to my system.

So if you decide to go the bivy/tarp route, enjoy, but use a tarp when you're down in the trees.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
SL1 weight on 10/22/2007 13:13:56 MDT Print View


You're right about using all 13 stakes that came with it to get a solid storm-with-high-wind pitch. It comes with 13 stakes, and the weight of the tent, pole, fly, 13 stakes, stuff sacks, and extra guylines is 2 pounds 15 ounces (I weighed mine when I got it; it was within two ounces of the weight Big Agnes lists on its web site.) However, I camp in the midwestern woods, usually in a valley, well protected by trees. It might be a wind-driven sideways rain in town, but it's just vertical rain with a little breeze in the valley. So, I leave the 4 stakes and extra guylines at home, and save 6 ounces.

But, even carrying the full complement of stakes is only a strong quarter pound more than I carry now - and the point was that, instead of saving four-plus pounds, you could save around three pounds and have some cash left. I couldn't be more precise without knowing the weight of the tarp/bivy combo he was getting and the actual model of the Seedhouse tent (I had to guess at that, based on the weight he thought he'd be saving.)

For what it's worth, I was also amazed at how light the SL1 is, even with all those stakes! (I had to weigh it twice, just to be sure I hadn't misread the scale.)

Edited by garkjr on 10/22/2007 13:25:18 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Bivy Tarp vs Tent on 10/22/2007 13:51:28 MDT Print View

Before my tarp pitching skills had developed, I had some miserable nights in my bivy but the low weight kept me coming back for more. After some practise, the bivy/tarp combo is my choice of shelter for all but winter conditions - so quick to set up and super versatile. My set up comes it at 18 oz for bivy/tarp/raingear.
Not sure if someone mentioned it already, but when comparing weights between the two setups, keep in mind that one has to bring additonal raingear when sporting a tent.

Sorry everyone...I made the assumption we were talking about poncho/tarps when clearly we are talking about just tarps. Disregard the last part of my post about adding the additional weight of raingear as both tarps and tents would require it.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 10/23/2007 17:12:41 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Tent Users vs. Tarp Users... on 10/22/2007 15:11:25 MDT Print View

I did the poncho tarp thang a few times...and decided a golite hut 1 was much easier to set up, in about 2 minutes if you get the stakes in a good position the first time. A flat tarp has it's pros and cons like any other shelter as opposed even to my shaped tarp.

Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
To clarify my setup... on 10/22/2007 15:14:00 MDT Print View

Thanks by the way for everyone's comments.

My current tent is the SL3. Tent with poles, guy lines, and stuff sack weigh in at 67.5. Add 3.6 for 12 stakes and I'm roughly at 71 ounces.

I have the SL3 because I am usually backpacking with another person (the SL2 is too small for 2 people). I usually carry the entire tent setup because my non-UL friends' packs still weigh 2x as much as mine even without having to carry a tent.

On order from MLD: Grace Duo Spinntex (8.6), CF Poles (2.6)(I don't use trekking poles), Superlight Bivy (long, wide, 6.9). I have Kelty Triptease to make guylines out of - 0.5 ounces maybe? NOTE: Ordering the Grace Duo instead of the Solo so I can provide shelter for two.

I'm a bag user right now but will either make my own simple synthetic quilt or possibly order the GoLite in '08 (money willing).

MLD System:
20 oz

Tent System:
71 oz

Again, my problem is complicated because I am often trying to shelter two people. The other problem is the other person I am with may or may not have a bivy.

(HighAltitude) - F
Tents Users vs Tarp Users on 10/22/2007 18:22:12 MDT Print View

When going solo my first shelter was one of those small Eureka solo tents. I used it for a few years but it is on the heavy side.

Then I started to use an 8x10 silnylon tarp. Plenty of space, light weight but not the best when the bugs are out.

I have thought about going with a small tarp/bivy combo but it seems that once you add a bivy to a tarp setup the weight starts to get up there.

Now I am thinking about a SMD wild oasis or a Lunar Solo.

I guess I haven't found my perfect shelter yet :-)

Edited by HighAltitude on 10/22/2007 18:23:31 MDT.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
TarpTent Advantages on 10/22/2007 19:47:30 MDT Print View

I think there are trade-offs with just about any system you use. For absolute lightest weight, a tarp and bivy is probably the lightest system available (especially if your tarp is also your poncho). If you want full bug and rain protection, I don't think you can get any lighter than the bug bivy and Cuben tarp from MLD.

However, there isn't a lot of room inside there. You also have to be careful about keeping your arms and bare legs off the edges (so you don't get bit through the mesh). Personally, I really like the comfort of a tent (single or double wall) when the bugs are biting (as they so often do when I hike). I find it much nicer to get inside a nice roomy area, take off the bug clothes and just relax. Most of my hiking has been with my wife, so we have used a (TarpTent) Squall 2 (two person tarp tent). I've been very happy with this.

I'm considering a single person tarp tent and I really like the designs of the (Six Moons) Wild Oasis and Lunar Solo or (Tarp Tent) Contrail. Then again, I might just wait until the (Six Moons) Cuben fiber tarp tent comes out (

The big advantage of a double-wall is condensation. Most are also free-standing. Another advantage is added warmth (although not typically enough to justify the extra weight of the double wall tent).

Of course, when you add storm-worthiness to the mix things get really complicated. This chart helps with comparing single wall tents:, but it doesn't compare them with double wall tents: By the way, it has been a while since these reports came out. It would be nice to see an updated report (please).

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Tents Users vs Tarp Users on 10/22/2007 19:52:41 MDT Print View

When comparing dont forget that its not just all about the weight.
I went from using a small tent to an 8x10 with mosquito netting suspended underneth, to tarp tent, back to tarp, then tried the newest tarptent and then to bivy/tarp.
I kept going back to the tarp becuse I could set it up most anywhere there was enough room to lay down.
With the tarp-tents I had to find a larger clear area, all I could see were good spots to camp -if I had my tarp!
I also missed the feeling of sleeping "out there" in the open.
Full bug protection means heavier no way around it, the Oasis and shelters like it are more "bug resistent". I know the mosquittos in New England will fully capitalize on any small opening they can find -and they have all night to find it !
Still my bivy/tarp setup is just under a pound and if you throw more money at it, it can easily be a lot lighter.
But thats a solo setup, a setup for 2- if they have thier own bivy is only a few ounces more.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
TT Contrail on 10/22/2007 21:37:32 MDT Print View

Having tarped (even in winter) and tented I'll take a tent like my TT Contrail in 3 season use. It goes up and down fast, is bug free, light and roomy.

BUT... I'm toying with the idea of sewing a 4"X4"X4" grommeted triangle of fabric in each top seam about halfway to the foot end for more tieout options in heavy winds.


Abdulaziz Al-Arfaj
(aalarfaj) - MLife

Locale: Northern MN
MLD tarp on 10/23/2007 08:20:39 MDT Print View

Hey Ryan I am thinking of getting the Grace Duo as well and would love to hear your thoughts on it if you do end up keeping the tarp. I am in a similar position as yourself with having a friend that I backpack with who is not lightweight yet and have to carry a tent for the both of us. I see the use of the Grace Duo as a good transition to a lightweight tarp. Please let me know what you think of it. Thanks and have a good day.