Use of tarps
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Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Use of tarps on 01/24/2009 11:44:05 MST Print View

I have been using a tarptent but want to try just a tarp. In thinking about this, I kind of wonder what the tarp is actually for.

Why do you use a tarp at all? What's the purpose? If it isn't going to rain, why bother?

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Use of tarps on 01/24/2009 12:03:42 MST Print View

I have been using a tarptent but want to try just a tarp. In thinking about this, I kind of wonder what the tarp is actually for.

Why do you use a tarp at all? What's the purpose? If it isn't going to rain, why bother?



  • Weather forecasting is not reliable in many locales

  • Weather forecasting is completely unreliable beyond 48 hours in some locales

  • Some locales frequently get heavy dew

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
using tarps on 01/24/2009 12:04:22 MST Print View

personally, i used tarps as insurance against foul weather. weather reports are pure mystery, and sometimes its hard to read the skies when you are deep in canyon. a tarp, at 7-8 ounces was a companion of mine. I still use a tarp, almost full time, but its strung between 2 trees.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Use of tarps on 01/24/2009 12:26:11 MST Print View

I setup my tarp each night regardless of weather since it takes less than 5 minutes to setup and take down. As stated the weather isnt always predictable especially in higher elevations. I "think" that it is slightly warmer under the tarp. At the minimum it does shed wind. I also think there is a nice pyschological nature of having a walled in placed to retire to.

Jamie

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
using tarps on 01/24/2009 12:38:10 MST Print View

I enjoy a lightweight, non-waterproof bivy for some conditions. The bivy allows me to camp on smaller ledges, ridges, or sandy areas less suitable for tents (especially useful when you are trying to minimize impact in desert areas by camping on slickrock), keeps dust, dirt, creatures, and wind out of the sleeping bag when sleeping under the stars, fends of dew and minor moisture, is easy to setup, and provides an cool aesthetic experience (see Andrew Skurka's many discussions of this). However, a non-waterproof bivy, while avoiding many of the issues involved with waterproof bivies, does not stand up to sustained rain. Unless you want to take the risk, a small tarp is the answer to this problem. Together, tarp and bivy can be a formidable combination in nasty weather, and if one ends up stuck in those conditions, tarps sometimes provide more practical living space than a single or double wall tent for the weight (especially if you hike with trekking poles, or string between trees).

According to postings elsewhere on this site, a tarp may also improve bivy comfort overnight by blocking radiation from the night sky that can cool the top surface of the bivy below the ambient temperature of the air, thus reducing the risk of condensation inside and outside the bivy. Apparently, trees can also block this radiation. I can't speak with authority to the range of conditions where this would make substantial real-world difference, but it is interesting to consider!

I know your question wasn't about bivies per se, but it is always useful to evaluate questions about gear based on the system within which they will be used. Evaluation of pros and cons may change with conditions, number of hikers, experience of those hikers, personal preference, etc. For example, I've seen some on this site who bring a tent and a tarp to provide more sheltered space when backpacking with children.

Edited by dubendorf on 01/24/2009 12:58:38 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Sleeping under the stars on 01/24/2009 14:01:30 MST Print View

Thank you. I hiked the PCT last summer (1500 miles) and put up my tent every night because of bugs (giant ants and mosquitos). As summer progressed, there really was no other reason for the tent and I longed to sleep without it.

Unless there's a real chance of rain, I can't see the reason to set up the tarp. I guess dew is something to consider. Maybe ashes from forest fires would be a reason for the tarp.

My tarp is an Equinox 1.1oz silnylon, 8x10 feet. Adequate protection from the elements and also kind of a big barrier between me and the world.

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Sleeping Under the Stars on 01/24/2009 15:28:02 MST Print View

Diane,

Congratulations on hiking the PCT. I've not yet attempted any long distance hiking, and look forward to doing so. You have hit on what I feel is a real benefit of the bivy/tarp system: its flexibility. One can pick and choose what kind of protection they desire at the time, whereas with tents it is a bit more of an all or nothing proposition. For me, I like to see the stars if at all possible, I like to feel close to my surroundings, and I like to nestle or perch in places where tents might not work. If you need bug protection but not rain protection, you can leave the tarp in the backpack and sleep in the bivy. If you need rain protection but don't have to worry about blowing wind, tarps provide an airy, open shelter with better views that a tent. In wind and rain, low-pitched tarp and bivy to catch anything from the sides. I am by no means advocating against all uses of tents, or insisting on any shelter orthodoxy- there is no BEST shelter. But in certain situations, I appreciate what a tarp/bivy combo offers.

Edited by dubendorf on 01/24/2009 15:56:16 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
tarp/bivy on 01/24/2009 16:14:20 MST Print View

I was thinking of skipping the bivy. Seems unnecessary with an 8x10 tarp. It would also cause my shelter to weigh more than the Gossamer Gear tent I have. I'm only 5'3" tall and feel lost underneath the tarp. It's like the Taj Mahal.

In my local area (Santa Barbara), I can rely on the 5-day forecast because it's so arid here. So a bivy seems like unneeded weight.

What do you think?

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
Use of tarps on 01/24/2009 16:48:40 MST Print View

Diane,
As you commented in an earlier post, you would set up your tent every night for protection from bugs (ants...) even if rain was not a threat. I find that I will often use my light bivy for the same reason, with or without my tarp.

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Tarp, Bivy, Tarp/Bivy on 01/24/2009 16:55:46 MST Print View

The tarp and bivy accomplish different things- depends on what you feel you can go without.

If I don't anticipate rain, and I'm confident that unexpected showers may be at most inconvenient but not dangerous, then I leave behind the tarp rather than the bivy. For example, a late spring two night trip in the southern Utah desert. Dry conditions prevail, and thus the primary function of the tarp, rain protection, is not needed. The bivy, however, provides protection from dew, wind (very common), critters, adds some warmth, and keeps the clingy desert dust out of the sleeping bag. Plus, I don't need to worry about camping in an area where surface conditions sometimes make staking out a tarp downright tricky, especially in windy conditions (no trees, loose sandy soil, long slabs of slickrock, lots of microbial growth you don't want to disrupt with stakes or moving around rocks, etc.).

Tarp without bivy would work just fine in many circumstances- dew protection, some wind protection depending on the pitch, and less confining than the bivy. Furthermore, a head net or other similar rig would provide critter protection if needed. In this case, the bivy could be left behind as long as you felt comfortable going without its added wind/weather protection. In extreme weather, if you could only choose a non-waterproof bivy or a tarp, I think the tarp would be the most likely choice (unless you were willing to flip the bivy upside down to its waterproof underside and gut it out). I'm sure others could expand upon or offer alternatives to this pro/con list!

EDIT: just read Thom's post and second it.
Jamie

Edited by dubendorf on 01/24/2009 16:57:42 MST.

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
One More Thought- Tarp, Bivy, Tarp/Bivy on 01/24/2009 17:36:31 MST Print View

Another thought to add- I feel the dilemma to bring or not to bring the tarp because my GG White Lightnin' 8x10 is, by tarp standards, a very robust 20 oz. or so. Other tarps or tarp ponchos fall down around 5 oz. or even lighter, so that changes things.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
A16 bug bivy on 01/24/2009 17:52:14 MST Print View

Well, I did get an A16 bug bivy for the bugs. I haven't used it yet. Seems like just the thing, though. I tried to make one of my own out of mosquito mesh and auto sun shades, but it just wasn't roomy enough.

Maybe the tarp isn't a good option for me. I was thinking I would bring it for rain, thinking that my The One wasn't rain-worthy enough. But if I have to haul around so much extra stuff to make the tarp work, it wouldn't be worth it, unless The One is completely useless in rain.

Maybe I'll just stick to the tarp for local hikes with my BF so that we don't have to carry the 6lb tent (or spend money on a new, lighter tent.) My local region has nice and reliable weather. I don't think a bivy would ever be necessary.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
weathering a tarp on 01/24/2009 18:11:56 MST Print View

I hear ya Diane, the SW has fair weather usually... but here near the Phoenix area it can still be a toss up...even tho id bet you get more than our average 8in./year
here is an example of my past few hikes:
forecast low- 52, % of rain 20
actual low 31, no rain

forecast low- 45, % of rain 30
actual low- 39, Hard rain for 3 hours

forecast low- 37, % of rain 30
actual low- 38 (and high), rain all day

forecast low- 28, % of rain 0
actual low- 37, no rain

this is the NOAA spot-on forecast using Google Map feature. As it isnt perfect, the differece between 30% chance of rain (which seems to be a consistent label) and 3 hour pounding like I havent seen for a few years is major. 8oz insurance is worth it, to me.

Edited by mikeinfhaz on 01/24/2009 18:13:37 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Gossamer Gear The One on 01/24/2009 18:44:19 MST Print View

So then, since my The One is so dang light, what's the point of bringing so many parts to equal its function, but at a greater weight?

Since I would bring my Gossamer Gear The One tent instead of a tarp by default, does anyone have experience with it in the rain? I have only used it in very light rain. It worked splendidly. I worry about hard rain. Anybody used it in hard rain?

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Gossamer Gear versus Tarp/Bivy on 01/24/2009 19:56:28 MST Print View

*So then, since my The One is so dang light, what's the point of bringing so many parts to equal its function, but at a greater weight?

No doubt The One gives some heavier tarp/bivy combos a run for their money on weight, and for many folks the margin of weight savings at this level is not meaningful within their style of hiking. There is rarely one single standard through which to evaluate gear, whether it be weight, weather resistance, durability, etc. Every gear has its pros and cons, and the fun is in finding the selection that best suits your own style. I have not found the tarp/bivy combo to be at all complex to employ, and I value its flexibility for all the reasons outlined above- flexibility that The One lacks, though it weighs about the same. I leave this system behind when hiking with girlfriend and dog, because my needs change: dog likes enclosed space to sleep in, people like a little shared, sheltered space without being separated by bivies, and a little room is nice when dog likes to hog the tent! For this I purchased the SMD Lunar Duo, and look forward to giving it a go next chance I get. This tent meets certain needs that are important for me, but also comes with other limitations (if only there was any piece of gear without limitations!). Obviously, a shelter called "The One" would make for an unpleasant night with dog, girlfriend, and me, and I know who would be kicked out first...not the dog!

*Since I would bring my Gossamer Gear The One tent instead of a tarp by default, does anyone have experience with it in the rain? I have only used it in very light rain. It worked splendidly. I worry about hard rain. Anybody used it in hard rain?

No experience here, but it sounds like The One and a tarp do not accomplish the same functions for your purposes, unless you can sleep two comfortably in it (which is, as I interpreted your earlier post, the reason you were considering the tarp rather than The One).

Best,
Jamie

Edited by dubendorf on 01/24/2009 20:31:23 MST.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Use of tarps on 01/24/2009 20:23:01 MST Print View

"So then, since my The One is so dang light, what's the point of bringing so many parts to equal its function, but at a greater weight?"

Diane,
If you are referring to tarp plus bivy I find that this combo will exceed most of the functions of a small single wall tent like "the one" except for maybe bug protection and privacy. Things to consider...tarp+bivy=warmer then tent, tarp+bivy = better in rain, tarp+bivy = faster to set up, tarp+bivy = less condensation, and yes tarp+bivy = lighter. My integral designs silnylon tarp weighs 6.8 oz + my MLD superlight bivy 6.2 oz add 24' of spectraline and 8 tent stakes (2.9 oz) = 15.9 oz (and other tarp setups come lighter). The one with tent stakes, seam sealed, and recommended ground sheet will probably come close to 20 oz and you have to hike with poles to set it up.

All that being said I still think the one is an amazing tent and will serve many folks well. I've spent many more nights out in a tent then I have a tarp, but since switching to a tarp full time I really like it better.

Jamie

Edited by jshortt on 01/24/2009 20:39:43 MST.

Nick C.
(nixie) - F
Re: The One in the rain on 01/24/2009 20:50:10 MST Print View

Hi Diane,

I wonder if our paths crossed last summer?

I used the One on the PCT last summer and found it be ideal for much of that trail. It is quite light and when there are mosquitoes about it makes a nice sized bug-free bubble to relax in. Its supplied stuff sack is also sized to make it a comfortable pillow when cowboy camping. As far as rain, it does well for the occasional odd day of rain or snow as it can be dried quickly during the next day's break.

However, I found that the One is not quite as comfortable when dealing with consecutive days of rain. If one does not get the opportunity to dry the tent the following day, then when it's packed up the water on the outside surfaces tends to wick its way into the inside of the tent. Then on the following (rainy) night, the additional moisture inside the tent combined with high humidity outside the tent and limited ventilation seems to create a fair bit of condensation on the interior walls which then gets knocked off when gusts of wind hit the walls.

Of course this is probably a limitation of single-wall tents in general, and the One seemed to suffer no worse than my friends TT Rainbow during the same conditions. For Washington, I switched to using a separate ground cloth and an 8' x 10' tarp made of 3 mil plastic. My friend's technique was to continue to use the TT Rainbow and on bad night's take a Nyquil to sleep through it.

To answer your question: the One can easily handle a night's hard rain. However, quality of life will degrade with each consecutive day of even moderate rain.

Hope that helps!

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
crossed paths on 01/24/2009 20:59:41 MST Print View

Maybe we did cross paths. I only met one other person with The One, that I know of. I think his trailname was Rizzo. Mine was Piper. Who were you?

Did you have a bivy with your tarp?

What I'm thinking is that I could take my tent most of the time, but trade for the bivy when I approached Oregon/Washington where the heavier rain is.

I plan to bring my new bug net bivy everywhere all the time so I can always sleep without the tent or tarp if I want with no fear of bugs.

I did not complete the PCT. I hurt my feet. I sat home August and September reading trail journals. One person said that people were unhappy in the rain with their lightweight tents. I've heard a couple of times now that the problem was the tent getting wet inside after multiple days of rain and stuffing it in the pack.

My plan is to complete the PCT this year with something that won't disappoint me in the rain. If it turns out to be too much hassle, my tarp would at least serve as a decent 2-person tent for local hikes w/ my BF, replacing our 6lb 2-person tent.

(I did the PCT alone and will do it again alone. I'm the only one in the family willing to throw away my future for the trail.)

James Dubendorf
(dubendorf) - M

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Perfect Time to Experiment on 01/24/2009 21:25:22 MST Print View

Diane,

Sounds like a perfect time to experiment with some different options before finishing up the PCT. For example, it seems that you could cover all the functionality of The One and the bug bivy, both of which you are considering carrying on the first portion, for much less weight and fewer moving parts with a tarp/bivy combo. If you feel comfortable with a bivy/tarp setup in variable conditions, then you could do away with The One and the bug bivy on your trip entirely. However, if you really like how the bug bivy feels on those clear nights, it could be worth it to you to carry the extra weight. You could even consider carrying the bug bivy and the tarp at the dryer stage, and then swapping the bug bivy with a full bivy, for example an MLD soul bivy, later in the trip to add a little more storm protection. Since a tarp does not enclose you in the same way The One does, you may find that even when the tarp is wet for multiple days and soaked on all surfaces, it is much less of an inconvenience because meanwhile you have hopefully been able to keep your bivy largely dry the whole time. And since tarps can be pitched high in rain when wind is not an issue, there is much more practical living space and less chance to rub up against wet surfaces.

Ultimately, of course, you will be the one in the rainstorm! The more you experiment with all these different options in front of you, the better a decision you can make about the kind of hike you want to hike. As for trips with a significant other in moderate weather conditions, the SMD Lunar Duo is definitely worth a good luck, and is reviewed on this site.

Jamie

Nick C.
(nixie) - F
Re: completing the PCT on 01/24/2009 21:45:13 MST Print View

Hi Diane,

Hmmm... the other person I knew who had a One was a guy named Icebag. I'm not really a trail name person myself, so I went by "Nick" most of the time. Some of the trail names people tried out on me were: "VE-Nick" and "Cool Hand Luke."

I'll PM you with more details.


edit: To answer your question; I did not have a bivy with my tarp. Like you I had heard that the 8' x 10' dimensions would provide storm coverage such that a bivy wasn't necessary. I found that to be true for myself. I was also betting that mosquitoes would not be a large problem that late into the season. I did have a silk bag liner for my quilt which kept the ants out mostly and a bug headnet to sleep with if the mosquitoes were bad. They weren't that bad and soon they were gone. I used a piece of tyvek as a ground sheet.

Of course, the main reason I didn't have a bivy was that at the time, I didn't want to spend any more money on something I was going to use just for Washington.

Edited by nixie on 01/24/2009 22:42:12 MST.