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Pitching a Tarp In Wind
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Brian Morgan
(bmor831) - F

Locale: Houston, TX
Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/30/2009 22:43:54 MST Print View

I Have a MLD Grace Spinntex Solo Tarp that I have only been able to use in good weather conditions. I do not have a ton of experience tarp camping, but I decided to try out a different pitch to fight strong winds and blowing rain. I had some time today and windy, rainy weather to take my tarp outside in the backyard and attempt to setup my tarp using only one pole instead of both as shown below.MLD 1

I was able to stake out the bottom end of my tarp pretty much at ground level to help with wind and rain. After looking at quite a few of the cottage industries websites and looking at their other tarp designs I don't see why this setup would be a problem.MLD 2

I know with all the experience you guys have, there has to be some pros and cons to this setup I haven't thought about or other pitches that you would suggest instead. Thanks for the help guys.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 05:27:58 MST Print View

I wouldn't say that pitching the foot of your tarp is a "problem," but there are some potential downsides.

In your second photo it looks like your bag is in contact with your tarp. During a rain or snowstorm, you will feel all of that on your feet, and the snow can start to build up. Also, the cat tarp isn't made for that pitch, so there seems to be some slack in the tarp, which will flap around in a breeze.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 05:58:38 MST Print View

Looks okay, agree with Thomas' comments. I would only add that, after you've got this set up, it'd be easy to then unstake the back and set your pole in for a normal setup. By staking the back to the ground first, this allowed you to get the front set up in the wind. Easy now to set up the back normally, if you wanted to.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 06:20:28 MST Print View

I agree that the second picture looks like a problem because of the bag in contact with the tarp. That would probably be bad news.

What I usually do, which isn't as storm proof as what you have there, is to put my poles at an angle in order to get the height of the ridgeline lower. Then you can still stake the sides to the ground and still have the benefit of the ridgeline. I don't have a cat-cut tarp, so mine probably isn't always pitched as tight as those. It still keeps the rain off, though.

Brian Morgan
(bmor831) - F

Locale: Houston, TX
Re: Pitching a Tarp in WInd on 12/31/2009 07:32:08 MST Print View

For all you tarp users, how do you pitch a tarp to best handle the wind then? I've never used a bivy, just seems like it would be clausterphobic? Maybe that's the part I'm missing to tarp camping in inclimate weather???

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 08:21:27 MST Print View

To handle wind better, pitch like in the first photo, but with a shorter pole at the foot end, and maybe even at the higher head end. Rear corners should be at or within 4-6 inches of the ground, and the front at whatever seems to work best.

If you can't shorten the poles, drive them into ground gently, angle them (as already mentioned), use adjustable trekking poles, or use down but strong tree branches.

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 09:00:05 MST Print View

Some good suggestions already, but for extreme weather in a small tarp like the Grace Solo, a bivy is generally needed. If you are worried about them being claustrophobic have you looked at the MLD Serinity Shelter or Alpinlite Bug Tent? With solid silnylon head and foot end (options) it should let you pitch the tarp low and be okay in all but the absolute worst weather.

A big part of tarp camping is site selection too. Where you can try and find spots sheltered from blowing rain.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 10:34:34 MST Print View

I agree with the comments above that a catenary curve tarp is designed to be pitched only one way. If you want to have success pitching in a polyhedral manner you really need a tarp with straight edges.

That said, pitching a cat-cut tarp in the traditional manner should hold even strong winds provided you use some common sense and apply proper technique. Find a natural wind break such as a stand of trees or rock walls, use the side tie outs, pitch the corners low to the ground resulting in a wider stance, use longer stakes and protect them with heavy rocks.

One big piece of additional advice- be aware of what the wind is going to do overnight so you can take that into consideration with the direction of your pitch. If the wind is shifting, try a compromise pitch that will keep the foot end of the tarp facing the wind direction for a majority of the night. You don't want gusts hitting the tarp face at a right angle. Oh, and earplugs can help ;)

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Tarping in Scotland in the winter on 12/31/2009 13:13:24 MST Print View

Read Colin Ibbotson's advice on tarp camping in Scotland in the winter. Scottish winter weather has to be in the top three for worst camping weather in the world.

Via Andy Howell's blog, where the comments are interesting, too.

Colin designs and builds his own tarps for a very taut pitch with plenty of tie-outs (short stretches of unsupported fabric).

Finally, dealing with rough weather in a tarp is far more about skills than equipment. I would agree with one of the commenters on that blog post, that "compared to Colin, I am an incompetent buffoon". Note that Colin is willing to get up in the middle of the night and repitch his tarp when the wind changes.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
The Cave on 12/31/2009 13:20:27 MST Print View

Your second pitch is one that I use a lot with my flat 8x10 tarp. I call it "the cave". It is very quick to pitch. Here is a video showing the process:

I have a center tie-loop on my tarp (Integral Designs) and I tie that off to a shrub or my second trekking pole to make a lot more room.

Big photos of the setup here:

and here:

There are a few more photos in my blog post about a week-long tarp trip in the Sierras this summer:

This does not provide enough rain protection for straight down rain. You'd need a 10x10 tarp or pitch an A-frame.

The Sierra Designs Grip Clips are a good way to add temporary tie-outs on a tarp.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Pitching a Tarp In Wind on 12/31/2009 13:37:24 MST Print View

The first thing which will happen in bad weather is that the end of the tarp will flatten right to the ground, pressing down on your SB. The second thing that will happen is that the underside of the tarp will create lots of condensation which will soak into your SB.

The root problem is that a very simple tarp like this is not designed to handle really bad weather. It needs some end-bells - which are extra weight.


Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: The Cave on 12/31/2009 16:08:51 MST Print View

David Olsen provided a photo of a cave-like tarp pitch a couple years ago. (fourth post in the thread).

James Naphas
(naphas13) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Olsen's pitch on 12/31/2009 16:41:30 MST Print View

That's using a 10x10 flat tarp. OP is using a catenary cut solo tarp. Olsen's pitch won't work with such a tarp. Flat tarps aren't as easy to pitch in as an A-frame, but are a heck of a lot more versatile.

Brian Morgan
(bmor831) - F

Locale: Houston, TX
Bivys? on 12/31/2009 18:34:43 MST Print View

So is it pretty much standard that all you guys that tarp camp are using bivys?

Also do you have any suggestions on suitable bivys?

There has been mention of bug bivys? Do any of you use bug bivys or is it pretty much all standard bivys?

Thanks for the help guys. I'm trying to extend my backpacking opportunities past whether or not the weather forecast is good or bad.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Bivys? on 12/31/2009 18:48:25 MST Print View

"Also do you have any suggestions on suitable bivys?"

Welllllllll, sure! The Mountain Laurel Designs Soul bivy, available with a side zip to make getting in and out easier, is a great bivy! Used by many on this site.

And wouldn't you know it, I happen to be selling one, new, never used, at a great discount! See here

Also, the Titanium Goat Ptarmigan and Raven bivies are very well regarded by most. And cheaper, too!

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Bivys? on 12/31/2009 23:24:58 MST Print View

"So is it pretty much standard that all you guys that tarp camp are using bivys?"

I would say so. Bivys give bug protection as well as wind protection thats why I and I think most tarp users use them at least part of the time. But I think your problem is that you want to do more with your tarp than it can. It has already been said that a centenary cut tarp is designed with an A frame set up in mind. If you want more versatility you need to get a bigger flat tarp. You will realize that a flat tarp is usually heavier and thats one of the reasons behind the centenary cut tarps- to save weight and to make a tighter pitch. Most tarps like these also are narrower on one end, again to save weight but this once again takes some of the versatility away. So you have to chose between more weight/ versatility vs lighter weight/less versatility.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Bivys? on 01/01/2010 17:39:51 MST Print View

"So is it pretty much standard that all you guys that tarp camp are using bivys?"

Not I! But I'll definitely agree with the idea that site selection is big. It's real easy in the places I backpack most of the time to find areas that are very sheltered from the wind. If I happen to be in an open area, I pitch my tarp at the edge of the clearing, trying to angle the head end to the trees and keeping the foot end toward the open area. I've never had enough uninvited water get under my tarp to get my sleeping bag wet.

I intend to continue going without a bivy, but once I get to places that aren't "green tunnels" I may regret that decision :) Only one way to find out!