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Help me understand how to set up a tarp
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Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/04/2009 00:06:52 MST Print View

I have been looking at pictures of how people set up their tarps. I am confused by what people call a storm pitch. Sometimes to me this looks like you'd get more rain on you than in other pitches that people say are not storm-worthy. Usually it doesn't look any different from most A-frames.

Can you help me understand different ways to set up the tarp and what makes them better in bad weather?

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Setting up a tarp on 03/04/2009 00:21:19 MST Print View

Wow, this should generate a billion responses, good thing I'm in Anchorage for the week because I would normally be in bed by this time.

While I could wax eloquently about the similarities of tarp pitches and jazz, I think I'll just suggest you take a look at the piece posted on the website under tips and gear lists. Tarp Shelters - An Introduction by David B. Macpherson

My wife gets nervous when I start to suggest we do a Flying Wedge, because she knows that means I think the wind is going to increase and the rain is going to turn torrential. The few storm pitches we have slept under have been fun, almost like the "tent" one made with the covers as a kid.

Sit back and enjoy the responses.

Tarp Camp in Southeast Alaska

Edited by Umnak on 03/04/2009 00:30:04 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/04/2009 01:46:43 MST Print View


There are so many ways...

I prefer a-frame for most situations, but that is just a personal preference and by no means the 'best' way. The biggest three items IMO, is to let nature help you by finding a protected site, keep the main ridgeline tight, and find site that will drain well (i.e. not a depression in the ground).

Also you want to situate a side that will catch the brunt of the weater (rain/wind) to your best advantage (i.e. on an a-frame that side would be closer to the ground and perhaps even taller the the other side). For minimal percipitation I might pitch the sides higher off the ground for more head room and ventilation, and in a nasty storm pitch it very low to the ground. Stay off ridges or above tree line in nasty weather.

We should be getting some rain Wednesday on the Calif coast, so go pitch it in the backyard and see what happens. Best to practice pitching a tarp several times at home. :)

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/04/2009 08:40:34 MST Print View

For example, if you scroll down on this page to where it says "storm pitch" below the picture of a tarp, there is a picture of somebody's poncho set up for a storm. It looks pretty high up off the ground to me.

I had found another picture, but now I can't find it, where someone put the back end right against the ground and the front end sticking up a little. It looked to me like it would protect you well from rain, better than the above, but he said that it wasn't a storm-worthy pitch.

Anyway, if I'm going to practice setting up my tarp, I want to get good with a setup that is meant for rain.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/04/2009 09:09:02 MST Print View

Hi Diane,
I looked at the storm pitch you were referring to. It's not my idea of a storm pitch, but if it works for them, great. I only set up my tarp in 2 ways...although I've tried lots of others. A-frame and Lean to and slight variations to them are my current choices.
For nasty weather, I pitch it A-frame straight to the ground. Guylines only go on the trekking poles. I can tell you that I have endured serious rain with this setup and stayed plenty dry. Also, super easy to pitch whne it is raining because you only need the 2 lines. But, you have to slither in like a snake.
Storm Pitch

This should give you an idea of how tight it can be in there though.
Tight Quarters

Lean to if it is nice, usually just to deflect wind or breeze.
Lean To

And then the 1/2 Pyramid. I haven't used this one and I may be a bit tall to set up my MLD Cuben Poncho/Tarp like this, but I like it alot because if you pitch it to the ground, it uses only 1 guyline and 1 tensioner. Perfect for SUL trips where every ounce counts!
I took this picture from the net.
Half Mid

Hope that helps. I'll be following this thread aswell as I am interested in what others experiences have been.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 03/04/2009 09:11:59 MST.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Lean to to deal with wind on 03/04/2009 09:21:17 MST Print View

Straight-up lean to:

Tarp at Sec. 16

Similar setup:

Tarp at Horseshoe Ridge

These setups were on consecutive nights, top first - both had wind barreling at the lower edge of the tarp - no rain was forecast.

Edited by citystuckhiker on 03/04/2009 09:22:52 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/04/2009 15:25:17 MST Print View

Thanks for the helpful pictures. I like the idea of not having too many lines to set up. I am looking forward to practicing these.

Mostly I want to know how to use a poncho in an emergency situation. I figure if I'm camping with just a poncho for shelter, then I'm planning not to have a roof unless it's needed.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Here are my tarps all set up on 03/05/2009 17:27:55 MST Print View

I practiced setting up my tarps in the backyard.

I think I prefer the 8x10 tarp to the poncho. By the feel test, I can't feel any difference in weight.

I think the poncho might work as shelter in the rain in desperation, but I have a feeling I would not stay too dry. The roof is very close to my body even without a sleeping bag. Raise the roof and there's a chance of rain getting in on the sides. I think it would work more comfortably if I could find a log to use for one wall of my shelter. But I do have a bivy sack and would consider that to be essential to stay dry.
Golite poncho set up as tarp

The poncho set up as a little half pyramid makes a happy little home. I think if I would only want some privacy, this is the way I would set it up.
Poncho set up as half pyramid

My equinox 8x10 tarp is a palace by comparison. I don't think I would need a bivy sack to stay dry because there is a lot of room inside.

Here's my love shack built for two.
Equinox tarp for two

And here is my equinox tarp set up the other way, with the shorter end pointing up instead of the longer end. It's very cozy. I'm not sure I can fit two people in there, but there's a ton of room just for me.
equinox tarp set up the short way

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Help me understand how to set up a tarp" on 03/05/2009 17:33:56 MST Print View

Good job, Diane. Yes, In foul conditions, you'd need a bivy with the Golite Poncho tarp. I noticed that the tarp in your last picture was a little limp. maybe tightening up that corner closest to the camera ;)


Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/05/2009 17:51:21 MST Print View

Nice. No snow.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Limp tarp on 03/05/2009 18:24:15 MST Print View

Well, my patch of grass in the back yard isn't big enough for the Equinox tarp so things aren't set up entirely optimal. And I did leave it set up over night. I took the picture of it in the afternoon the following day. It was a little breezy today, too.

I couldn't seem to tighten it any further, either. I think I'm spacially challenged because I always have this problem, even with my The One tent. There's one side of it I can never get tight and flat.

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Help me understand how to set up a tarp" on 03/05/2009 18:27:16 MST Print View

Ah, yes, I understand, Diane. I agree with David, no snow! BEUTIFUL!!!

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/05/2009 18:37:04 MST Print View

I took this picture from the net.

Hi Steve,

That photo is from a trip I took in the Lost Creek Wilderness last spring. Here's a photo taken from the back of the shelter the following morning.


I set it up low to the ground because there was a steady cool breeze coming from the west. During the night, the wind shifted to the northwest with a bit of snow. I was still protected by the head of the shelter. In retrospect, though, I should have piled pine needles to seal the gap at the bottom of the poncho/tarp. Cold wind slipping in at ground level made for a chilly night. A warmer bag would have helped, too. ;-)

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Snow on 03/05/2009 18:38:00 MST Print View

Where are you that has snow?

I live in Santa Barbara. It does not snow here. Right now it is spring.

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Help me understand how to set up a tarp" on 03/05/2009 19:13:02 MST Print View

Noth Idaho, Post Falls, Diane. The roads and my driveway are clear but, we got 2ft. of it everywhere else. Auuggghhhh!!! I'm SO sick of it! Right now it's snowing outside, but melting as soon as it hits the ground and anything that lasts through the night melts as soon as the sun comes out. Praise the Lord! ;)

Chris Chastain
(Thangfish) - F

Locale: S. Central NC, USA
Brawnylite tarp on 03/05/2009 19:20:44 MST Print View

This may not apply much, but fwiw:

This is my Brawnylite tarp (shaped tarp w/ a bit of a beak)
in the yard, set up like I usually do... as high and airy as I can get it.
Brawnylite tarp w/ bag in yard

Here is the same tarp, (my excuse for a storm pitch) set much lower after a night of hard rain. (sorry, the picture sucks... it was still raining.
Brawnylite tarp rain pitch

The following night was severe thunderstorms w/ high wind and rain and it (and I) did just fine.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
How to set the tarp - in the snow on 03/05/2009 20:48:22 MST Print View

Well perhaps not a billion responses but there are some good comments and it seems you have figured out what is best for you. This weekend marks the start of the Iditarod sled dog race and I was staying at the race headquarters most of the week. I asked a few of the mushers what they had for emergency shelters and one did saqy he carried an 8x10 tarp. I suggested a pyramid, about the same weight but a whole lot of room.

Pyramid Tarp

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Help me understand how to set up a tarp on 03/05/2009 21:30:21 MST Print View

Small world that it belongs to a BPL member. I just googled 'half pyramid tarp' and that was the first picture that came up for me. What size is your tarp and do you find that setup is suited for rain?

Diane, tarp is looking good. I'm not sure if that big green guyline is needed though ;)

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Big green guyline? on 03/05/2009 22:34:38 MST Print View

Do you mean the garden hose?

I'm glad I tried the poncho. I'm not quite sure what to think of it. I need a bridesmaid to carry its train when I try to wear it, but to sleep under it it seems so small.

I like my bigger tarp, but in buggy country, I think I would rather have a tarptent.

I like the fun factor of all the different ways to set up a tarp. And the poncho is physically the smallest package. It would be handy to stow in my daypack for those nutty off-trail adventures I sometimes do.

I'm trying to figure out what to bring with me on the PCT this summer.

The poncho weighs about 10oz but requires a bivy. Mine is 6+ oz, so we're at about 16oz, not counting the guylines. On the negative, it is cramped space underneath.

My tarptent is 16oz. It's spacious and comfortable. On the negative side, it's very noisy in wind and it's often windy.

The Equinox tarp is 14oz, not counting the guy lines, and wouldn't require a bivy. It's spacious but it's not bug-free space. On the negative side, it's saggy in the dew.

I plan to bring a bug bivy regardless what shelter I use so I can sleep without a roof if I want.

It looks like a tie between the Equinox and my Gossamer Gear The One.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: on 03/06/2009 01:10:57 MST Print View


If you poncho is a GoLite (and most others too) it has snaps and velcro to make it shorter when you are wearing it.

With a bivy, you don't have to pitch it to the ground, unless it gets really nasty.

This set-up gives you lots of options:
- Poncho means no rain jacket - or even pants.
- No pack cover needed.
- Several sleeping options (bivy, tarp, both, none).

It just takes a little time to get used to finessing your system.