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Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent
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Douglas Johnson
(Sponge) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 09:00:03 MDT Print View

I'm mulling over my shelter choice, and I thought I'd poll the audience...

Which do you use and why? A Tarp with or with out a bivy or a tent.

Advantages of tarp/bivy - Flexibility, weight, views

Advantages of tent - ease of setup/fiddle factor, weather protection, privacy

The lightest full-protection tent I'm aware of is the GG one at 17oz.

The lightest tent/bivy combo I'm aware of would be a cuben tarp w/bivy. Weight should be around 10 oz

What is your choice and why?

Linsey Budden

Locale: pugetropolis
"Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent" on 08/11/2008 09:18:59 MDT Print View

For three+ seasons a tarp is my choice due to better ventilation, lower cost, palatial space, ability to cook underneath in inclement weather, and super easy to make yourself.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 09:59:11 MDT Print View

Hammock. Heavy but comfortable.

OK, when there are no trees I use a tarp.

For winter I use a poncho and bivy.

John Frederick Anderson
(fredfoto) - F

Locale: Spain
Tarp/ bivy vs tent on 08/11/2008 10:15:30 MDT Print View


Weight, weight, weight.

I moved from a 2.6 kilo tent to a tarp and bivy combination which weighs 1 kilo. My base weight is now less than the weight of the old tent by itself.
I use a Shangri-La 3 and an Titanium Goat Ptarmigan bivy.
Weight was the most important factor for me. Haven't noticed any loss in comfort, in fact I feel more in touch with nature than I used to in the tent.

hope this helps,


Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 10:28:50 MDT Print View

I use a small solo tent in winter and a tarp/bivy in spring/fall/summer.

It may be a matter of opinion, but the Gossamer Gear One is not a tent. That's a shaped tarp with attached bug netting and a floor.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Tarp Tent on 08/11/2008 11:29:15 MDT Print View

I use a tarp tent. Bug protection is a must for me. I could save a little weight by using a bug bivy and tarp (and have added flexibility) but I would have a lot less room in my bug shelter. The weight savings would not be that big, either (two person Refuge-X weighs 16 oz.).

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Tarp Tent on 08/11/2008 13:45:03 MDT Print View

I'm with Ross on this one. Bugs, plus the fact that a lot of my hiking is with my partner, makes a tarptent the only choice. Of course I also carry a bivy....

Michael Wands
(walksoftly) - F

Locale: Piney Woods
Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 14:03:09 MDT Print View

Used to use a silnylon poncho and bivy with a built-in bug screen. Then decided to go "the full monty" and now leave them all at home. Carry a sportsman's blanket (12 oz.) that I have cut down. Set it down, lay down, pull one half over me, go to sleep.

Low tech, blocks wind, keeps out flying pests. During summer I sleep in a silk mummy liner on top of the blanket folded over. Crawl in if it rains.

Don't need to spend a bundle just to catch some zzzz's. By the time I get ready to sleep, I'm so tired that I don't want any hassles with setting anything up. I just want to set me down.

When I was a kid I used to just carry a wool blanket or a cotton sleeping bag (can anyone say "duck print") and did just fine. Never needed more. Now that I am older and smarter (?), I should be able to get along with less.

Editorial complete.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 14:08:27 MDT Print View

As usual, a lot will depend on your own priority/preferences!

Some people like to get creative with setting up their tarp depending on weather and terrain. Others prefer something quick and simple.

Some people don't mind slipping into a bivy and donning on the netting when skeeters strike -- others prefer a protected interior space where they can still move around.

One thing though: I think weight is now a non-issue. There are many tarp tents and even "regular" tents that weigh less than a tarp/bivy combo -- and a lot less work to set up as well. So, really, there's very little left that will sway you one way or the other objectively -- but almost all of it depending on your own preferences.

jim jessop
(LuckyJim) - F
Tarp&bivy vs tent? on 08/11/2008 14:20:23 MDT Print View

I use a terra nova 'competition' that weighs 1k (about 2 pounds)- they do a photon that weighs even less.

This is for a two skin tent with separate inner and down to the ground fly sheet. (two skins vastly reduces condensation and keeps temperatures a bit more even). The inner has a good bath-tub groundsheet and noseeum mesh along the top of the inner door for bug protection and ventilation.

If it's warm, little chance of rain and not too windy (so in the UK that's hardly ever!) I use a Henry Shires Contrail.

To get anything like similar levels of protection I'd have to use a tarp, bivy and some kind of bug proof inner so the weight saving would be negligible.

I don't know if Terra Nova are available in the US but sure you could find a retailer through a Google search that would be happy to mail. I buy lots of US made gear by mail order and it works fine, although I do sometimes get hit for import duties.

If it's fine and the bugs aren't biting just leave the doors open for a bit of star gazing.

Edited by LuckyJim on 08/11/2008 14:22:45 MDT.

Eric Fitz
(pounce) - F
Terra Nova on 08/11/2008 14:29:14 MDT Print View sells the Terra Nova tents. They are not cheap. Another option for a tent might be the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1. I'm looking at this one. You can configure it with just the fly and footprint sans tent at 1lb 12oz. Not bad considering the BA eVent bivy is the same trail weight.

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Tarp or tent: on 08/11/2008 14:45:38 MDT Print View

If it rains a lot were you are and bugs are a issue get a tent. If it is warmer and no bugs. Still get a tent. Dependable shelter and a porch to store equipment and cook in bad weather matter. Many folks will say that tarp and bivy is light. So are tents and tarp tents. Why do you need to be cocooned in a sleeping bag in a bivy under a tarp all night when you can relax and be comfortable in a tent - warm and protected from condensation with the inner. Also you don't need trekking poles to walk (though I think they help) so when adding up the weight tarp users don't factor trekking poles in to the total for their shelter weight (that will upset a few tarp fans). So I doubt the weight gains of tarps Vs modern light tents are so great to be worth it. On trekking poles tarp users say they are making use of something they use already, but they need them to pitch the tarp, and poles should count in the total shelter weight.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Poll: Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/11/2008 15:35:35 MDT Print View

Douglas, Douglas, Douglas...

With this crowd you should realize that you need to be very specific about where, when and how you plan to use your shelter.

For example...

Where - northeast US, Arizona, Sierras, Scotland, above treeline, etc.
When - summer, winter, bug season, rainy season, etc.
How - solo hiking vs. with partner, single vs. multiple nights vs. thru hiking, main shelter vs. backup to lean-to
Priorities - weight, cost, flexibility, storm worthiness

Without this information, you are just starting an endless discussion among passionate people...or maybe you're just another of those trouble makers. ;-)

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Tarp or tent: on 08/11/2008 16:02:45 MDT Print View

You can use CF "tent" poles if you dont use trekking poles like the MLD ones I have for my tarp.
OR better yet use trees or sticks to tie to your tarp saving even more weight.
There is just somthing about the simplicity of a square piece of fabric..!
The bivy does complicate it a bit but, when there are no bugs out sleeping under a tarp is the best.

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 08/11/2008 16:03:33 MDT.

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Re: Re: Tarp or tent: on 08/11/2008 16:18:12 MDT Print View

I'm liking my GG Spinnshelter. Properly waterproof, can be setup as a tarp on fine nights. Can also be setup as a down to the ground fully enclosed tent. I use a spaceblanket as a groundcloth: properly waterproof, and cheap to replace. I use a couple of sections of £1 fishing rod as a rear pole, and a handy stick for the front. Long enough for my 6' 8" frame with 102" between poles. Just big enough for two if they are thin and friendly.

Only downside is that it seems to be a fly magnet. If anyone has info on dyeing spinnaker cloth I'm listening.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Tarp/Bivy on 08/11/2008 17:01:20 MDT Print View

We use a tarp and bivy here in Southeast Alaska no matter what the weather and the degree of bugs. In winter we will use a Pyramid.
Tarp Camp at Cherokee Flats

Edited by Umnak on 08/11/2008 17:02:35 MDT.

Craig Burton

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Tent (for now) on 08/11/2008 19:08:02 MDT Print View

I currently use the GG The One, but unfortunately I've had very little time to play with it -- the one chance I did get to use it was disastrous because of a bad pitch (my fault)! However, I plan to use this shelter, as long as it lasts, for 3-season trips.

For winter trips, I am seriously considering a floorless shelter/bivy combo. I'm eying the BMW Vapr Pro and the GG SpinnShelter if they ever come back in stock. I'd prefer something that can shed a heavy snowfall, but I'm not very familiar with any sub-10oz shelters that fit the bill.

jim jessop
(LuckyJim) - F
Tarp Poles on 08/12/2008 00:40:03 MDT Print View


I use carbon pacer trekking poles whether using two skin tent or single skin tarptent. If I use my TN Laser Comp which needs its own pole I still have the weight of my trek poles (which I don't generally count as pack weight as I don't carry them in my pack!)

If I had to take a special pole to erect a tarp or my contrail I'd count the weight along with any guy lines, pegs etc, which I do count.

If I use my trekking poles that I'd be taking anyway why would I count their weight?

I'd like to see TN or other design a proper double skin tent that uses my pacer (or other) poles to erect, maybe with the option of a light connector between the two to make a ridge pole.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: Tarp Poles on 08/12/2008 06:39:14 MDT Print View

This discussion may be evidence in favor of greater focus on skin out weight, rather than distribution. (Though distribution is revealing.)

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Tarp/Bivy vs. Tent on 08/12/2008 11:53:49 MDT Print View

About a dozen years ago I decided to give up my 6 lb Jan Sport dome tent in favor of a less than 2 lb gore-tex bivy. Doing so allowed me much more flexibility in choosing a camp site since I didn't need a huge, flat, brush free area to pitch a tent. If the weather turned really nasty I simply set up under a "dry tree". The bivy has netting to foil the skeeters, so they're not much of an issue.

For winter, however, a tent is still preferred. I moved on to a 2.10 lb MontBell Mono Diamond; it's the lightest true double-wall tent that I'm aware of. And when the weather is really cold I'll add the bivy.

This year I hankered to check out the wounderful world of tarps and settled on the Gatewood Cape, a kind of tarp tent/poncho and paired it with an Equinox bivy. Together they weigh about 1 lb. The first time I used it a couple of weeks ago it rained for 10 hours straight that night. I remained dry, warm, and snug as a bug!

So to summarize, a bivy seems pivotal to all the various permutations of gear and seasons, and is great all by itself, too.