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Going tentless
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Kent Williams
(trailrunner13) - F
Going tentless on 12/21/2010 05:22:13 MST Print View

Old school backpacker here coming back from long absence and trying to ramp up my knowledge about the light weight and ultra light philosophies.

Obviously I have noticed that so many seem to go "tent free" during the spring through fall seasons. That is appealing to me too, so I am trying to change my old ways.

A few dumb questions if I may:

How often if ever in the is not having a tent with you an issue?

I am thinking of nights where it might rain such that a bivy sack or perhaps bivy/small tarp combo doesn't keep you dry.

Nights where the wind makes it either really cold or perhaps blows sand/dirt all over your bag.

Nights where mosquitoes drive you crazy without a tent? (Obviously not talking about summer in the Everglades or something like that).

Ever have any issues with any kind of creepy crawling things deciding to try to get in your bag or otherwise attack your exposed body parts?

Trying to expand my knowledge, so all info is welcomed.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
re on 12/21/2010 07:49:41 MST Print View

I sleep in a bivy year round.

About half the time I have a tarp over me when it's going to have any significant rain - my bivy isn't waterproof in steady rain, I don't like having a bivy over my face because then water from breath gets inside the bivy and makes everything wet

Here in Pacific Northwest not too many bugs. Occasionally I'll bring a 4 foot round piece of insect netting and put it over my face. I don't mind the occasional bug (or mouse) crawling over me in the night. If you're in Texas way more bugs there so this might not be so good.

Bivy is great in the wind, doesn't stick up in the air catching the wind. Usually you can choose a site to minimize sand and stuff blowing onto you, but this can be obnoxious. Need windproof bivy/sleeping bag to keep warm. Make sure and weight all your stuff down so it doesn't blow away.

Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
"Going tentless" on 12/21/2010 08:39:25 MST Print View

Go with a larger tarp & bivy. Practice different ways to pitch the tarp and work with your set up in your backyard. In case of epic backyard fail, just take everything in the house and try again another night.
Do your homework about the area and what to expect during which season. Some outdoor pests are much worse than mosquitoes. I learned (the hard way) about itch mites. THAT was the most miserable week of my life!

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Tentless?? on 12/21/2010 10:14:02 MST Print View

Here in the ADK's, a shelter is a MUST have.
It rains about 30% of the nights, often just a mist around one of the hills. Soo for a two night weekend, chances are you will need a roof.

That said, we don't have a lot of mice, scorpions, or other nasty critters. Just bears and coons, mostly. Sometimes a weasle or porkey-pine.

Bugs are different. We have a LOT of bugs. Black flies, no-see'ums, finger nail sized mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies ... lots o'the little blood suckers or meat eaters. Spring & Fall are not too bad, I use a tarp, mostly. Choosing a site is important, too. Late spring (June 1st or so), to late summer(August) is tent season.
Deet is no substitute for simply getting away from the things at night.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Going tentless on 12/21/2010 12:35:21 MST Print View

You never need a tent until you "" NEED "" one.

How much does a bivy & tarp combination weigh ?
1.0 to 1.5 lb depending ...

There are solo tents which are really super bivies (Nemo GoGo as an example) that weigh only 1.75 lb.
When staked out completely the GoGo is pretty solid.

Also keep in mind that tents offer superior protection against bears and mountain lions :-)

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
tentless on 12/21/2010 13:05:44 MST Print View

I go bivvy-only (a real, waterproof one) on some trips, either when speed and pack space are at a premium, or when the weather looks nice.

For mosquitoes, I find sleeping in a headnet to be quite tolerable.

If it rains a lot, hunker up and stick your head under the thickest conifer available.

Your strategy will have to be area-specific, but I do think that 90% of the benefit a tent provides 90% of the time is psychological only.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: tentless on 12/21/2010 14:58:07 MST Print View

"Your strategy will have to be area-specific, but I do think that 90% of the benefit a tent provides 90% of the time is psychological only."

Ha ha. Are you saying my wife needs psychological help 90% of the time?

Yeah. I pretty much agree. My wife insists on a tent. Mostly, I can talk her out of bringing it (and me having to carry it.) But late spring, summers? No. In the ADK's, it *is* needed. I have used bug screening, it doesn't work that well. If the bugs decide thay want you, you really need space between you and them.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: tentless on 12/21/2010 17:27:44 MST Print View

"I go bivvy-only (a real, waterproof one) on some trips, either when speed and pack space are at a premium, or when the weather looks nice."


Which bivy do you use, if I might ask?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
bivvy on 12/21/2010 21:15:20 MST Print View

I've used the Montbell Breeze-Tec for the last 18 months. Super light and tiny, waterproof, acceptable condensation.

My wife also finds a tent to be comforting. We're working on it. I think that Ryan J's point that an open shelter (for a preemptive sight line) is safer in bear country is well taken.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Going tentless on 12/21/2010 23:21:04 MST Print View

> How often if ever in the is not having a tent with you an issue?

Never been an issue because I always bring an appropriate shelter.

> nights that a bivy sack or perhaps bivy/small tarp combo doesn't keep you dry.

Personally I wouldn't go bivy only if I expected rain. Hard to manage life and stay dry. Small tarp + bivy which covers entry / exit can work. I used a poncho/tarp as my only shelter for a couple of years. I survived and stayed mostly dry on several trips with heavy rain... but I can't say it was fun. Eventually I switched to either a more protective tarp or tarptent like shelter.

> Nights where the wind makes it either really cold

Not been a problem.

> Nights where mosquitoes drive you crazy without a tent?

Without something... yup. I have made do with either a A16 bug bivy and/or with a headnet and supplex clothing that they couldn't bite through... but it was still really annoying. Also had problems time to time with biting ants. Eventually I decided I would be willing to carry a few extra ounces to get a bug free space that I could rest in. So I started to use shelters that had some sort of integrated bug protection. Either netting along the perimeter to keep flying bugs out, or some sort of hybrid shelter (currently it's the 8oz zpacks hexamid with netting) that has full bug protection.

> (Obviously not talking about summer in the Everglades or something like that).

The sierras can be just as bad if you have perfectly bad timing. I know that more than 100 on me as soon as I stopped moving on several trip. I stopped counting after 100. [Took me less than a minute to count thoses]

> Ever have any issues with any kind of creepy crawling things

ants. in the ancient past a snake that we later realized we were camped more or less on top of it's den. Never had a problem with scorpions, but my dad and several of his friends have had problems.


Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Going tentless on 12/22/2010 00:18:02 MST Print View

"How often if ever in the is not having a tent with you an issue?"
I'm pretty sure that most of the time, carrying the tent all dang day and not needing it would be the issue?

There is something called the Weather Channel that can tell you if it is going to rain, isn't there?
On that note, I'll bring my 4 ounce cuben tarp in areas that could get nasty with the wind chill, even if rain is not in the forecast.

I've also been in the Sierras a few times with no tent or sleeping bag and have never come close to be in a "Serious" situation. Sure I've been shivering like crazy and woken up with my legs so stiff from being cold that I had to lift my legs to get moving. Even then, the idea of having any extra gear would have never made sense.

Most bags are also almost waterproff now and will barely soak though if it gets nasty, but nothing that couldn't be dried out when it stops raining.

When you're continually trying to keep 2-4 days of gear in an Osprey Talon 11, you just can't bring much.

My newest gear list will be an 18 ounce bag with no seams so I won't need to worry about condensation, a 2 ounce cuben tarp and an 1/8" thick 24x72" two ounce pad from suluk.
The only other gear in the bag is my new Montbell Extreme Lite Jacket, a 3 ounce wind jacket, gloves and a beanie is it.

Why would you need anything else?

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
NOAA weather on 12/22/2010 07:10:28 MST Print View

NOAA has this tool where you can scroll around on a map and get a 7 day weather forecast for any specific location.

Only so accurate in the mountains

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Going tentless on 12/22/2010 12:24:34 MST Print View

I think people go "tent-free" but not "shelter-free." Some folks like using a poncho-tarp, which provides an experienced tarpista with an adequate shelter and decent rain gear for less than a pound. I've tried that, and it wasn't really my thing. I've also used a slightly larger tarp with a homemade Momentum bivy -- that works really well, and is versatile enough that I'd probably choose it for a long distance hike.

All that said, for weekend trips, it's hard to beat the tarp-tent style shelters. For 2 pounds or so, I get a large weatherproof shelter with complete bug protection, easy set-up, etc. Just the thing for making the transition from traditional backpacking to lightweight hiking. I like my Tarptent Moment, but there are plenty of other great choices.

Michael Reagan
(MichaelReagan) - F

Locale: Southern California
Tentfree on 12/22/2010 14:53:42 MST Print View

I almost never take a tent on backpacking trips, much preferring a tarp of some kind. I live in Southern California yet frequently encounter rain and snow in the higher elevations. My tarps have always keep me protected and happy.

Over the years the tarps have ranged from simple sheets of visqueen, to blue poly, to silnylon, to most recently, cuben fiber. They have ranged in size from 8'x10' versatarps all the way down to tiny ponchos. During the era when I was a Boy Scout (the 1960's), we never took tents on any of our backpacking trips. Our yellow plastic ponchos were simply dragged over our flannel sleeping bags and tucked in around the edges under our vinyl groundsheets in inclement weather. I don't remember ever getting seriously wet even with that primitive shelter. We also took care to camp in protected areas where trees provided much cover.

I have also occasionally slept in a bivi, with my poncho kept handy in case of rain. On one memorable morning I awoke to find a deer standing over me, oblivious to my presence. My buddies in their tents missed this, as well as all the beauty of the stars and night sky. This to me is the major reward of sleeping out. For bugs I have used a simple headnet and foam earplugs (if you can't hear them, they can't bite you). My present bivi has built-in bug netting, so I suppose that would make the headnet superfluous.

Some of the new ultralight tents are tempting in terms of weight, but put me off by their high prices. Besides, I already own an ID SilShelter, which I pack when my wife comes with me. She hates bugs, and when pitched tight to the ground, the SilShelter keeps out the worst of them.

To my way of thinking, a tarp or poncho/bivi combo is the way to go. Whenever I have to sleep in a tent I feel that I am closed off from the forest and missing out on too much.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Going tentless on 12/23/2010 21:29:34 MST Print View

In the Sierra Nevada, I find that a tarp can keep me completely dry in any weather as long as it is large enough and I stay below timberline. Above timberline it can get sketchy, as the soil is often either too hard to get a stake in or too sandy to hold well, so you end up using big rocks as anchors, which sometimes works well and sometimes doesn't.
But it's the bugs that drive me to a tent of some sort - anything fully enclosed with netting. I need that place to escape to when the skeeters are bad, someplace I can relax in peace.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Going tentless on 12/24/2010 16:19:58 MST Print View

"There is something called the Weather Channel that can tell you if it is going to rain, isn't there?"

Yup, and occasionally they call it right.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Going tentless on 12/24/2010 17:22:51 MST Print View

My backpacking buddy is an 80-pound dog, so I need a bug-free space for two. I've done a lot of research on various tarp combinations and find that weight-wise I'm actually better off with my tent, a Gossamer Gear/Tarptent Squall Classic. It weighs 25.6 ounces. By the time I add tarp, bivy, ground sheet (not necessarily under the bivy but under the dog and my gear), a bug net big enough for two and the additional stakes required for a tarp (the tent needs only 6), the weight of the tarp combo is more than the tent. I could get a few ounces lighter than the tent if I used a cuben tarp or a Zpacks twin Hexamid, but those are beyond my budget. Unless/until the price of cuben comes down, I'll stick with what I have!

If it weren't for weight and price considerations, I'd actually rather have a tarp--airier, better view, less claustrophobic!

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/24/2010 17:27:12 MST.

Robert Kelly
(QiWiz) - MLife

Locale: UL gear @
Another opinion on 12/24/2010 20:03:55 MST Print View

I really like the SMD Gatewood Cape as a shelter. If bugs are expected, add the NetTent that goes inside. The two together weigh 20.2 oz with 6 Ti stakes. If no bugs, leave NetTent at home and save a half pound.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Going tentless on 12/27/2010 19:35:32 MST Print View

I live in So Cal, arguably the best place to go without a tent, and I rarely go tentless. When I have gone tentless, I've observed these really cool, curious spiders checking out my stuff but something about them made me unafraid. I like to take an A16 bug bivy and a poncho if I'm without a tent. I never go without some kind of shelter from rain -- anymore. ;-)

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
You needn't go tentless... on 01/05/2011 22:40:43 MST Print View

For the past two years I have been using a Tarptent, Sublite. It has a floor area of twenty square feet, that allows me to keep all my kit in the tent. It weighs less than twenty ounces and has kept me dry in three hour Sierra thunderstorms. I have only had a little condensation on three occasions, which is pretty good for a single wall tent. I have used this tent about fifty nights and really like it. Keeps out the bugs and water and I sleep in critter-free comfort.

Tarptent Sublite at Chewing Gum Lake, Emigrant WildernessTarptent Sublite at Chewing Gum Lake - Emigrant Wilderness