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Newbie tarp camping question
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Cory Mull
(eldon519) - F
Newbie tarp camping question on 08/13/2009 18:28:51 MDT Print View

I'm a lifetime tent camper wanting to try out a night or two under a tarp for the first time, but I could use some reassurance about it. I'm planning a solo trip around labor day to the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend national park, and given the possible need to carry a lot of water with me, I'm thinking about trying out a tarp to save weight. The only problem: I AM SCARED! I know the Chisos have plenty of rattlesnakes and scorpions and are said to have plenty of black bear and a number of mountain lions. I've camped enough to know that just cause they are there does not mean there will be a problem or that you'll even see them, but for some reason, the idea of camping alone without the mental-protection of a tent scares me.

Regardless, I'd like to try. Can someone give me some reassurance that this isn't a suicide mission? Also, what all do I need? I'm planning to take a 35 degree bag, ground pad, 10x8 overhead tarp and a smaller ground tarp (no bivy). Will that do the trick?

Edited by eldon519 on 08/13/2009 18:30:36 MDT.

Lance Marshall
(Lancem) - F - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Newbie tarp camping question on 08/13/2009 22:15:39 MDT Print View

Try these recent discussions here or here or here. Also try searching the forums for bugs, snakes, scorpions, bears etc.
Go for it!

Edited by Lancem on 08/13/2009 22:30:40 MDT.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/13/2009 22:25:25 MDT Print View

Take comfort in the statistics... on average only 1 in 20 newbie tarp campers are eaten by mountain lions.

Preston Patton
(prestonpatton) - F - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/13/2009 22:36:20 MDT Print View

I grew up camping in the Chisos Mountains and can say that you won't have a problem with bears if you follow appropriate food protocols and you won't even see a mountain lion unless you are very, very lucky. (If I remember correctly, there's been only 3 mountain lion attacks on humans in Texas since 1980.)

Rattlesnakes and scorpions pose a much more pressing issue, and you'll only have a problem with snakes while walking. I've never had a snake snuggle up to me and my sleeping bag for warmth during the night, regardless of what we've all probably heard growing up! Scorpions are there and I've been stung many times by them (similar to a bee sting). If you use a bivy, you won't have a problem. I suggest that you keep it sealed up until you climb in and that you stuff your socks in your shoes overnight (and carefully inspect them and your pack in the morning!)

The Chisos is a beautiful mountain with fantastic views! I'm jealous!


Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Newbie tarp camping on 08/13/2009 22:37:00 MDT Print View

@ Ashley - LMAO

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Newbie tarp camping on 08/13/2009 22:51:49 MDT Print View

Scenario A:
You're zipped up in a tent in the dark only to hear a violent rip and have something claw or clamp down on your head through the nylon. A struggle ensues, but you're helpless to get out of the now collapsed tent and the animal continues to eat your head, leg, or whatever else it can grab.

Scenario B:
You're snuggled up in your quilt beneath a tarp and feel something drool and clamp down on your exposed head. A struggle ensues, but at least you're not smothered under a collapsed tent and can kick free of your bag and shelter, thus increasing your fighting chances.

Tarps are WAY safer when being mauled.

Have fun out there!

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
Re: Re: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/13/2009 23:05:03 MDT Print View

"Take comfort in the statistics... on average only 1 in 20 newbie tarp campers are eaten by mountain lions."

and lucky you, you're #19

about the time i was awakened by a Ringtail licking my nose, was about the time I started sleeping under a tarp ABOVE the ground.

Rick Cheehy
(kilgoretrout2317) - F

Locale: Virginia
Re: Re: Newbie tarp camping on 08/14/2009 13:12:09 MDT Print View

Wow Craig and Ashley, way to be ambassadors for the sport, ya'll must work in sales.

Tarp tent...

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
re: tarping on 08/14/2009 13:30:37 MDT Print View

If it's really cold, the bugs don't bug. Late in the season they're gone anyway.

If you're not in Yosemite the bears probably won't bug you either - if you're in Yosemite the bears will sniff and test everything that looks like backpacking gear (smells count too but they know what a backpack is) - but they don't bother tents much.

Little critters and deer like salty stuff - straps, pole handles, etc. So those need to be point down if you use them as tarp poles, and packs can become your bedmate. I put the pack cover on and dangle it from the hammock suspension.

Pitching tarps against downed logs or rock faces can buy you some extra protection if it gets windy or rainy.

I use figure nines and reflective guy lines - I can tie a tautline hitch, but so far the nines hold well, even in 50 mph gusts. I tie a loop in the line, poke it through the loop on the tarp, thread the line through the loop; easy to remove and reconfigure the tarp that way. My cat cut tarp pitches fast and easy on the ground in a flying diamond.

My tarp looks like the Black Cat but is a MacCat. Some ground pitches at the bottom of this page:

The page also has instructions to make a Black Cat. :)

I felt exposed for a while even in the hammock - there really is something about being "open" and sleeping without the bug net under the tarp, hanging or not, feels too open. But it's an illusion. Your tent really isn't much protection either. A few nights and you won't notice the difference any more.

Edited by lori999 on 08/14/2009 13:32:38 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/14/2009 14:32:02 MDT Print View


Last year, I made the leap of faith of using a bivy and poncho tarp- forgoing my tarptent.

I backpack in the Sierras and the San Francisco Bay Area.

I would highly recommend that you consider getting a bivy, which will give you some protection from rain splashes or rain being possibly blown into your tarp.

The bivy also affords me a little more warmth in my sleeping system....optomistically up to 5 degrees F more.

A bivy with a built in head net will keep the bugs and critters out while letting the moisture from your exhaling to easily vent out and keep the condensation in the bivy at a minimum to non-existant.

I admit that it took some getting used to sleeping within a bivy bag, but on the plus side, I have really enjoyed the 360 view from under the tarp, which I did not have in a tent.

I feel more connected with the environment that I am in.

I even recall a few nights where I was laying in my bivy watching the full moon rise and being able to see it all, where I could not easily do so in a tent.

Furthermore, I have even had a number of nights this year where I slept with the bivy open and I survived!

I did have a few bugs, spiders in my bivy, but I guess I did not smell good because I have not been bitten by anything yet.

Never had any small or large animals molesting me either.

In my yellow bivy, I look like a giant Twinky to an bears out there. :)

As for fear, if you hike 20 miles a will be too tired to wake up if something visits you at night, so you will either get a great night sleep or you will never know what killed you.

It is all good!

P.S. Regaring a bivy....carefully look at the thickness of your sleeping pad and the loft of your sleeping bag. In some cases, you might opt for a wide version of a bivy, which I me tons of room inside without crushing the loft of my sleeping bag.


Edited by Valshar on 08/14/2009 14:34:50 MDT.

Sean Walashek
(caraz) - F

Locale: bay area
big bend on 08/14/2009 14:50:49 MDT Print View

Tarps are great, I find them more reassuring because I can see everything. I always thought growing up in the tent that the noise outside was a bear merely inches from my face on the other side of the tent wall. Thats never the case. In areas with scorpions though a bivy or bug tent could do wonders to put your mind at ease. Areas without the bug problem it can be left out.

Cory Mull
(eldon519) - F
Re: on 08/14/2009 15:09:36 MDT Print View

Well thanks for the advice everyone. I've found the conversation pretty reassuring. I've read a lot of threads where the answers are mostly the same, but I just wanted to make sure the advice still applied to somewhere with plenty of spiders, snakes, and scorpions since a lot of people's stomping grounds don't include these neighbors.

On a side note, I once woke up with a moth in my ear canal trying to fly which was a bit uncomfortable. That was indoors no less! It wasn't a big problem though cause once he finally left, I think he was just as happy to get out of my ear as I was to have him out. That was a long, bug-filled year spent in Kazakhstan where we experienced four seasonal plagues of mosquitoes, black beetles, scorpions, and little moths. The beetles quite literally would have achieved plague status. I remember riding a stationary bike in the gym with them falling off the ceiling around me. Within a ten foot radius, I'm sure there were at least 50 on the floor, live or dead.

Anyway, I think I'm going to go with a generic 8"x10" tarp and a Outdoor Research Bug Bivy. I came across a $4 tarp that shouldn't weigh much more than a pound based on its material weight and size (I know, it'll be a bit more than that). I don't mind the big predators so much, but the various stinging/biting crawly things I'm not so fond of. With this bivy, will I need some sort of ground tarp or will it be fine standing alone on the dirt?

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Bivy & Ground Cloth on 08/14/2009 16:31:16 MDT Print View

I don't use one, but I have a waterproof bottom on mine.

That to me is the key issue....unless you like the convience of having a ground cloth, like Tyvek to keep gear clean vs. on the ground/dirt.

If the bottom of your bivy is not waterproof....take a small ground cloth.


Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/14/2009 16:36:46 MDT Print View

Another possibility with a tarp is to use a net-tent underneath. This is a lightweight no-see-um netting tent that hangs under the tarp, with a waterproof bottom. They are easy to make and I believe some companies sell them. You crawl inside and are completely enclosed.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
RE: Newbie tarp camping question on 08/14/2009 17:57:46 MDT Print View

The Mountain Laurel Design's Serenity Shelter will work well under a tarp.


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: on 08/14/2009 21:06:11 MDT Print View

Get a cheap Wal-Mart tarp or 3-4 mil plastic sheet (with sheet bend knots) from Home Depot and try out in your backyard or local campsite to discover that it's not a real big deal. There have been lots of people that have used less on longer hikes, but we all have to go through our own evaluations.

The first time I came across a tarp on the AT near Roan Mountain in TN/NC, I thought about all of the creepy/crawlies/flying things that could come in...and didn't like the idea. Now I take my 6 & 11 year old son/daughter tarp camping all of the time. No big deal to me (NOW), and I grew up on a farm and was often laying down in the hay field with bugs on me. Your hiking destination is different, but I'm sure you'll come to the same destination.

Others have said it...when you are starting your hike, you worry about the wildlife; when you are finishing your hike hike, you worry about the people. I bet you come to the same conclusion.


Edited by TomClark on 08/14/2009 21:07:16 MDT.

John Beisner
(trtlrock) - F

Locale: Blue Ridge
Big Bend on 08/14/2009 21:24:14 MDT Print View


This particular thread on the Big Bend Chat site should be helpful:

The BBC site is great for planning & preparing for a Big Bend NP hike.

Good luck!

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Newbie tarp camping question on 08/14/2009 21:35:51 MDT Print View

For another bug free environment under a tarp check out Gen produces a couple of nice bug shelters - cheaper than MLD and available a lot sooner.