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John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Tarp Survey Report on 04/05/2010 21:24:02 MDT Print View


+1 to your take on the survey.


+1 & Insightful as always.

>>Packing method is a driver of damage to tarps. The most damage-prone packing method is to stuff your tarp into a separate pack pocket, with a 55% damage rate amongst those users who pack their tarp in this way. Next worst is folding or rolling your tarp, either in your main pack or in a pack pocket (~30% damage rate in these circumstances). Stuffing your tarp into a stuff sack provides some protection for a tarp, but still has a 24% damage rate. The two methods providing the safest handling of tarps are stuffing your tarp loosely in your pack (11% damage rate) and folding/rolling it in a stuff sack (14% damage rate).<<

Numbers and statistics can be misleading. I don't believe a tarp stored in a stuff sack is more prone to damage than one loosely "stuffed" into a pack. It is more likely that whatever damaged the tarp in the first place might be worsened by the physical act of stuffing an already damaged piece of gear into its stuff sack.

Is a racing driver who is tightly strapped into his car more prone to injury than one who simply climbs in a drives off without buckling up?

Party On ! 2010


Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Adding post to: "SURVEY REPORT: THE MYTHS OF TARP DURABILITY on 04/05/2010 22:05:07 MDT Print View

Any link between nights under a tarp and experiencing tarp damage ?

Seems like the more use gear gets, the better the odds of experiencing damage.

Adding a question on *how* the damage occurred would be valuable.
(flying debris, high wind, tent stake, while packing, from trekking pole, etc)

Edited by redmonk on 04/06/2010 10:12:25 MDT.

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England

Thanks for all the excellent feedback... I'll try to answer as best I can, forgive me if I miss something, I'm running between work, teaching and taking classes this week!

1. Causality - this survey cannot establish causality for anything, since it is a point in time study. In order to establish the causes of correlation we would need to execute longitudinal studies using very tightly controlled / prescribed methods of (say) packing, erecting tarps under monitored (and therefore comparable) weather conditions. This is way beyond what I can handle off the side of my desk, but would definitely be worth while to establish the REASONS for these correlations, and even to confirm that these correlations exist!

2. Sample sizes - the total respondent base for this survey was 121 tarp users. Only one person put in more than one tarp, so this is 120 different people. While this is a decent (if not extensive) sample size at the 90% confidence level, individual cells within the study are far below statistical confidence level. This is why I called this a non-scientific study. What this DOES do is establish a basis to create a series of hypotheses which could be tested by other, deeper studies over time.

3. Stuffing vs rolling/folding - I too was surprised at the advice given on the BPL course re stuffing the tarp in the bottom of the pack, underneath the pack liner, but it actually is a good way to pack, allows you to shape your pack and prevents excessive folding or creasing of the tarp. If there was a deeper rationale than that, I don't know what it was (perhaps Mike C! could jump in on this!?). My observation / guess on the risk of rolling/folding is that this then creates a "solid" inside your pack, which is more prone to puncture from tent stakes, spork, etc, whereas a loosely stuffed (not stuff sacked) tarp might flex more and not puncture so easily. Since Mike C!'s advice is that your pack should be completely empty each night (and usable as part of your sleep system), and completely repacked each morning, you have the ability to carefully repack vs stuff the tarp in AROUND other things in your pack. Perhaps when you take a systems view, it makes more sense.

4. Tent stakes - I use a small MYOG nylon bag (made specifically for my stakes) to protect my fragile things from my stakes, and I slide it into what's left of the back pad space in my Jam 2 (along with my folded z-lite). This protect other things from my stakes, and means I can easily find them when I need them.

5. Next Steps - I plan to take this study, plus the feedback I have received and put together a set of hypotheses and a test plan for each hypothesis. I'd like to publish the study here and see if folks are up for turning it into a longitudinal study, with all that would entail (specific tests and documentation collected on trail while volunteers are outdoors with their tarps). In addition, perhaps BPL would be willing to sponsor a process for all of us to LOG tarp, hammock AND tent damage AS IT OCCURS, so that we can build a long term database of durability of our shelter systems. I think this is the only way to really establish best practice around these things.

Post if you are in support of this / willing to volunteer some time to complete documentation following a few backpacking trips over the next year or so, and I'll directly approach Ryan in a few weeks once I have the hypotheses established. It would also be great if one of the scientists on the form (Rog C????) would be willing to act as peer reviewer / advisor over time. Would love our comments on this?

6 - Perhaps in parallel with the data analysis which I am willing to pull together over time, there needs to be a gear destruction test or something like that, to test the resilience of construction methods/materials IN THE LAB. I cannot do that type of testing, but would LOVE to collaborate with someone who can. Please, if you are interested in collaborating on that - PM me!

7 - You will note that I did not publish any of the information about the different manufacturers, couple of reasons for that - primarily, this was not a supportable scientific study, so didn't want to bad mouth anyone, and secondarily, it wasn't an apples to oranges comparison. I think it would be great to do comparative studies on this, but that would need much deeper and more controlled samples.

Anyway, gotta head out now... but, once again, thanks for your feedback on this... keep it coming, as it will form a strong basis for the hypotheses needed for the next phase of this work.

Cheers and happy trails!

Peace, James.

Andrew King
(drewboy) - F

Locale: Arizona
Tarp stuffing at bottom of pack? on 04/06/2010 07:46:48 MDT Print View

Even if stuffing the tarp at the bottom of the pack results in less damage statistically, it would never work for me. I always keep my tarp easily accessible so that it can be put up quickly in the rain and keep the rest of my gear dry. Having to pull everything out first and risk getting all my gear wet makes no sense. I guess people rely on their pack liners to keep things dry outside of the the pack too?

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England
Tarp Durability & HYOH on 04/06/2010 07:55:44 MDT Print View

Hi! Not trying to tell you how to do it for yourself... in every case, the macro analysis from a survey is a roll UP of the individual experience of the respondents, nothing more. In no way does this imply that you are being told to do something different. My editorial (and it is just that, so don't take it the wrong way) - you could just put your tarp in the top of your pack, on top of your pack liner, seems to me that would be a simple solution to the challenge, for the way you like to use your tarp.

Anyway, happy trails mate!

Peace, James.

Andrew King
(drewboy) - F

Locale: Arizona
re: Tarp Durability & HYOH on 04/06/2010 08:13:29 MDT Print View

Hi James, that's a fair comment. There's definitely a lot of tradeoffs to be made on techniques and everyone has a slightly different spin on things. BTW, I should have also mentioned that I really enjoyed your article and analysis and my comments were in no way meant to be critical.

Marco A. Sánchez
(marcoasn) - M

Locale: The fabulous Pyrenees
Re: Tarp stuffing at bottom of pack on 04/06/2010 08:31:00 MDT Print View

"I always keep my tarp easily accessible so that it can be put up quickly in the rain and keep the rest of my gear dry"


In addition, if it’s raining / snowing when I break camp, the tarp is the last thing I put in the pack.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Wet tarp on 04/06/2010 10:37:36 MDT Print View

"Nah, you just stuff it in the bottom, then in goes the pack liner, then in goes your stuff."

So it's pouring rain, and I want to pitch my tarp, and I have to unload my pack to get to it? Um, not for me, thanks. My tarp rides in a mesh stuff sack in the outside mesh pocket of my (SMD) pack. Last thing I pack, and first thing I take out, especially in bad weather.

That was the one "finding" of this study that made me go, "Huh?"

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Wet tarp on 04/06/2010 10:42:53 MDT Print View

What Ken stated is especially true. The wet tarp is the last thing to be packed away for carrying, so it tends to be in a top pocket or outside pocket. Then when you get to a sunny place a couple of hours along the trail, you can pull it out, dry it while you snack, and pack it away again.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Tarp stuffing at bottom of pack? on 04/06/2010 11:22:05 MDT Print View

Maybe Mike C! pulls out the whole "sealed" liner (trash bag) to get to his tarp??? Would sure seem like a pain to put back in if you were just drying rather than stopping for the day. I also load my tent above my trash bag as well as the food and cooking gear.

Brendan West

Locale: Northeast Pennsylvania
Re: Re: Tarp stuffing at bottom of pack? on 04/06/2010 11:29:47 MDT Print View

"So it's pouring rain, and I want to pitch my tarp, and I have to unload my pack to get to it?"

"Maybe Mike C! pulls out the whole 'sealed' liner (trash bag) to get to his tarp??"

Exactly what I'd do.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Tarp stuffing at bottom of pack? on 04/06/2010 13:19:14 MDT Print View

I normally keep my tarp at the bottom of my pack, because I usually don't need it. Why touch any gear you do not need?

If it looks like rain, then it goes higher up in the pack.

Stuff I need a lot goes into outside pockets or at the top of things in the back, as long as I balance my load, which is really of little concern with really light equipment.

If I used the tarp during the night, and it is wet when I break camp, it goes into an outside mesh pocket. I never set up my tarp, unless I expect precipitation.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Just stuff it in the bottom? on 04/06/2010 16:52:05 MDT Print View

"Nah, you just stuff it in the bottom, then in goes the pack liner, then in goes your stuff."

Not me. My tarp always goes on top of my pack or in the kangaroo pouch, readily available for pitching if the weather turns foul. The LAST thing I would want is to have to spill the contents of my pack out on the ground when it is pi$$ing down rain just to get at my tarp. Much better to get 4 corners pegged, put the pack underneath the tarp and finish pitching. But, in deference to BPL philosophy, PYOT. ;-)

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
On top or in an outside mash pocket on 04/06/2010 18:22:16 MDT Print View

My tarp goes in last, on top, if it is dry. If it is wet, in an outside mesh pocket.

I have pitched my tarp for breaks or a nap in the sun or rain.
So I wouldn't ever put it in the bottom of my pack. I want quick access to it.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: SURVEY REPORT: THE MYTHS OF TARP DURABILITY on 04/06/2010 19:07:01 MDT Print View

Hi James

> It would also be great if one of the scientists on the form (Rog C????) would
> be willing to act as peer reviewer / advisor over time.
Delighted to help. Contact me direct at

All that lovely real data to play with ... drool! :-)


Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Re: SURVEY REPORT: THE MYTHS OF TARP DURABILITY on 04/07/2010 05:34:23 MDT Print View

James, thank you for the outstanding effort for collecting and analyzing the data, excellent work!

I'd be delighted to help out testing the hypothesis you're going to formulate for the longitudinal study. My email is - feel free to contact me there (the PM system sucks).

Edited by skullmonkey on 04/07/2010 05:35:01 MDT.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: where to pack the tarp on 04/07/2010 06:17:41 MDT Print View

I wonder if the answer to the question "where do I pack my tarp" has to do with the hiker's usual location. If I hiked in a place where rain was infrequent, and I planned to cowboy camp most of the time, then having my tarp at the bottom of my pack would make sense. Unfortunately, where I hike it's often raining, and for long periods of time, leading to packing a wet tarp on a regular basis, and needing said tarp when I stop for the night (and sometimes for lunch.)

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England
Tarp on the top? Tarp on the bottom? on 04/07/2010 07:04:37 MDT Print View

Good morning. You know, I think the "tarp on the top"/"tarp on the bottom" debate was started by a comment I made. I have to say that I certainly don't want this to be a "religious" debate (we'll save that for chaff). I think this is a preference, and anyone with any judgement is going to make a call based on the weather, as to which storage method to use on any given day.

For example, my normal practice (until now, anyway) has been to fold my tarp into a stuff sack and insert it in my pack... in the fall, I was hiking in the Whites and it was absolutely p'ssing it down in the morning. My tarp was muddy and very wet (although I was nice and toasty under it). I changed my normal practice and loosely folded it and put it in the outside pocket of my jam 2 - otherwise I would have had a pool of water in my stuff sack. We all exercise good judgement every day on the trail, or we suffer the consequences!

The questions was intending to capture what you "normally" do, nothing more. If we go forwards with a longitudinal study, we will examine what were you doing immediately before and after each incident of damage. This will give us REAL data on causes and implications of our behavior...

Judgement really is the whole deal with these things. Happy trails, my friends.. ;-)

Cheers, James.

Jeff Wright

Locale: ...
Where to pack tarp. on 04/07/2010 07:16:28 MDT Print View

The best place to pack your tarp is in the pack of the person that you invited to hike with you. Great ultralight practice. For instance just ask your wife/girlfriend to carry the tarp. If they object I'm sure they will tell you where to stick it... or should I say stuff it?

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
great work on 04/07/2010 08:26:31 MDT Print View

thanks so much, i know you worked very hard on this. I would disagree on one apspect though, 25lbs is still considered lightweight. I would not consider it traditional, as traditional backpackers/novices being sold traditional gear fall more in the 40-60lb range. That being said, great info, will benefit the forums greatly.