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"ideal" size for a solo flat tarp?
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Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
"ideal" size for a solo flat tarp? on 11/14/2011 23:41:08 MST Print View

It seems most folks agree that for a flat tarp, 8'x10' provides solid protection for 2, likely without the need for bivy sacks.

Is there a similarly accepted flat tarp size for a soloist? Wouldn't you only reduce the width, not the long dimension? I have read that John at BearPaw recommends 6'x10' for a solo tarp.

And, would you keep those dimensions or reduce them if you had simple beaks on the tarp (like a miniature Ray Way style)?

I'd kinda like to scrap my 8 ounce bivy and put that weight into a cuben solo tarp. Haven't decided on beaks or not.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
solo tarp sizes on 11/15/2011 00:03:38 MST Print View

Many get by with 5x8, including some triple crown hikers. I find 7x9 better when camping
in exposed places.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: solo tarp sizes on 11/15/2011 03:59:22 MST Print View

"Many get by with 5x8, including some triple crown hikers. I find 7x9 better when camping in exposed places."

Yes, I agree 100%. It sort'a depends on your terrain to go much smaller. Generally, a small tarp means you will need some sort of spray bivy. I much prefer to put the additional weight into larger tarp. Roughly speaking, adding a foot to length and width will remove the need for a bivy. So, it is kind'a moot, bugs aside, of course. Bivys help hold heat a bit, so this is another consideration. If you are in an exposed location, a thick hair tie on the corners will act has a shock absorber preventing wind hammer on the tarp and serve to help keep it tensioned in rain, if you have a nylon one.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: "ideal" size for a solo flat tarp? on 11/15/2011 06:04:47 MST Print View

Based on my tarp experience in the rain, it depends on your height and also how high you pitch your tarp. I found that having about 1.5-ft buffer at the head/foot and 1-ft along the sides around my sleeping area kept me dry in all of the rain conditions I've experienced. This is floor space, not tarp size. The floor space for my solo tarp is about 4.5'x8' at the head, a little narrower at the foot, but I'm only 5'2". If I were taller or used a longer sleeping bag, I'd go correspondingly longer in the tarp.

I think beaks help minimize the light spray around the openings but they also make it a pain to get in and out (ridgeline style tarp.) I always sew in a foot-end beak but not always a head-end beak; it's easy to not notice that the foot of your sleeping bag is getting wet until it's too late.

Another thing that has helped is a bathtub-style groundcloth.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: solo tarp sizes on 11/15/2011 12:51:00 MST Print View

"Many get by with 5x8, including some triple crown hikers. I find 7x9 better when camping in exposed places."

David, do you use a bivy in exposed places with the 7x9, or do you find the 7x9's coverage adequate to ditch the bivy?

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
bivy use on 11/15/2011 13:50:18 MST Print View

I use a bivy if there is expected high wind, lots of bugs, or "exposed" means sleeping on a ledge with no realistic means of quick retreat. Things that any size tarp
won't handle well.

Edited by oware on 11/15/2011 14:02:29 MST.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: "ideal" size for a solo flat tarp? on 11/15/2011 13:57:41 MST Print View

I am 6'1 and after buying a whole lot of different size tarps I have come to believe that the ideal size for me is 6 feet wide by 11 feet long.

I do not use a bivy so I have to take into account rain spray.

The extra 12-24 inches of a tarp length (over what most use) results in a minimal amount of weight, yet far less weight than the weight of a bivy.

I used a bivy for most of the 2011 season and stopped using it towards the end of this season and instead switched over to a longer tarp. It has proven to be beneficial in many ways.

As people have been saying for many years now, bivys have been put into use beyond their design and I think to many hikers (including myself this past year) have been expecting too much from them.

The weight differences of a cuben fiber tarp between a 6x9 and a 6x11 is less than two ounces. The extra length provides more than enough rain protection for a 6'6 sleeping bag. And, I dare say it is nearly impossible to find a bivy that weighs in at two ounces. So to me, a longer tarp proves to be the winner in the weight and performance categories.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Re: "ideal" size for a solo flat tarp? on 11/15/2011 17:12:04 MST Print View

I won't bother with anything smaller than 9x7. I think smaller tarps are frankly, for good weather when you just want 'something". I also prefer flat rectangular tarps. I like lean too configurations much better than a-frames. A-frames are harder to crawl into an don't seem to have much usable room. They are useful if you really need to pitch the tarp low in windy weather.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
tarp size on 11/15/2011 19:29:14 MST Print View

The 7x9 size keeps showing up. Since I'm looking at getting one made in 0.74 cuben, I might as well get a 8x10 and have a tarp that's fully capable for 1 or 2 people for only a 1.5oz weight penalty.

Still can't decide on beaks, though I must say if Jardine found them useful enough to put on all his tarps, that is meaningful.

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
No Beaks on 11/15/2011 19:36:03 MST Print View

Beaks = more bonding or sewn seams with seam sealing weight and less flexibility when pitching. If you want more coverage, just get a slightly larger tarp.

Bryce <- Virgaoutdoors .51 CF 9x7 flat tarp user w/ no bivy. (4.8oz)

Mark Fowler
(KramRelwof) - MLife

Locale: Namadgi
Make your own beaks on 11/15/2011 23:39:24 MST Print View

I think beaks are a great way to extend the performance of tarps. It is not so much the heavy driving rain that has caused me problems but rather "mizzle" which drifts deep into a shelter on the lightest of breezes. It just dampens things a bit - more annoying than anything else. I am waiting for some 0.51oz CF from Zpacks to make a removable beak for my MDL Grace Duo tarp.

Geoffrey Lehmann
(yipper) - MLife

Locale: deep south
tarp size on 11/16/2011 08:20:02 MST Print View

"The 7x9 size keeps showing up..."

As early as 1916 Horace Kephart (Camping and Woodcraft) recommended a 7' x 9' flat tarp for lightweight "trips afoot". He suggested a lean-to arrangement 4' high in front, pegged to the ground at back, and with the 9' side running lengthwise.


Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
testing 1,2,3...! on 11/16/2011 08:44:20 MST Print View

I did some testing based on the stormy weather forecasted for our area.

Last night I made a quickie MYOG tarp from a 6x9 piece of 2mil polyethylene and pitched it over a taught ridgeline on the raised ground between 2 trees in the backyard. I had the ridgeline at about 34" above the ground, and the tarp edges staked to within 3" of the ground. This is not a super low slung pitch by any means.

On previous MYOGs with this material I used double sheet bends on the corners, which were quite secure, but that made the tarp bag out and dish. This time I made the guy attachment points with a very small tied loop of 550 cord attached with a long piece of 3M fiber-reinforced packing tape. It has held up quite well, though I am concerned that freezing weather will inactivate the adhesive. In the past I've had top quality 3M duct tape refuse to stick to polyethylene at around 30 degF. Maybe (hopefully) the difference is in attaching the tape in a warm environment first. We'll see.

Anyway, I awoke early this morning to the sound of thunder and driving rain. What a great opportunity! I went out to the tarp and the ground was dry underneath. The pitch was still tight. I threw in a CCF pad and got under the tarp, then took time to see how the mists and splash zones worked out.


- I can definitely see how the 9 foot length is pretty much the minimum I'd want for harsh rain, at least if I had no bivy. I can also see how a 7 foot width would be nice for the soloist. Unfortunately the wind was just about nil, so I couldn't test how much rain a hard wind would drive under the tarp.

- Even without the wind, I could sense the tiny mist/splash droplets creeping in at the ends, though it was very minimal. I'm sure it would be much more significant with any wind.

- It occurred to me that an unprotected down bag/quilt could be a little tricky to keep dry even with the lack of wind-driven rain, especially with condensation under a low slung tarp. It would be even harder if the hiker was already wet. This is making me lean towards a synthetic quilt.

- Not being able to sit up under a tarp simply sucks. I know, we have heroes here who camp under tiny tarps when it's 35 degF and raining buckets, all while using down gear. But I hate to think of the contortionism required for a wet hiker to get under the tarp, get situated in a down bag, keep things dry, and all while unable to sit up. It seems like it would be even more of a clusterfark for a team of 2.

So as of now I'm pretty sold on the 8x10 size, since in cuben the weight bump is very minimal and would allow 2 to use the tarp. I am still undecided on beaks. Going from a 9' long tarp to a 10' adds 6" on each end, and that adds up to a lot of buffer zone for a 6' tall person like me.

Like Bryce said, the plain rectangle offers lots of pitch options. But I must admit, again, that if a guy as analytical as Jardine sticks with beaks, there's gotta be something to that. Maybe he has decided to always go with the standard A-frame, and has chosen to give up the other pitch options.

Edited by El_Canyon on 11/16/2011 08:49:55 MST.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: testing 1,2,3...! on 11/16/2011 09:10:43 MST Print View

What is it about Adamses - that they like to experiment with tents using polyethelene? Oh well...

If you put several staples in the duct tape or strapping tape then it will stay attached better.

I've gone down the same path:

Open ends let rain in, so I lower one end, put a beak on the other, make the peak height maybe 44 inches so I can sit up, you have to make all the edges within a few inches of the ground to minimize rain splash and flapping in the wind. There is a recent MYOG thread with a good example.

But I don't like a vertical pole at the peak - gets in the way - so I put two poles in "A" configuration.

But now, there's so much weight in fabric and poles.

Maybe the MLD Trailstar is a better configuration? Add a zipper so you can get in and out.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
more testing! on 11/16/2011 09:16:30 MST Print View

Just saw the National Weather Service forecast for later today: widespread showers, numerous thunderstorms, wind 15mph, gusts to 30mph.

The tarp's still up, might have to go by the house for a late lunch...!

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: testing 1,2,3...! on 11/16/2011 09:30:16 MST Print View

Yeah, those are pretty much the conclusions I came up with. Smaller can be done under the right conditions, like if you are really making miles. Larger for camp comfort. 8'x10' sonds good. Especially if you are going with UL cuben.
For really poor weather, 4 days and nights of rain, I have managed with two people and a 9'x12' tarp. Even with down gear and 25F nights things worked to keep us fairly dry at night, once we got some sort of fire going, a chore in itself and another subject. Sleeping dry and having a hot meal at the end of the trail at night counted for a LOT.

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Re: more testing! on 11/16/2011 09:36:17 MST Print View

Couple of points/ideas to keep the weight down (no beaks, and only 9x7):

- When you pitch your tarp, you may have a very good idea of the direction of wind. If it is significant and there is precip coming, pitch that end of the tarp to the ground.

- Instead of going for 10 foot long tarp, I went with 9 foot long and I use my pack liner (Trash compactor bag or Nylofune Bag) and stick my feet/lower end of the quilt in there. That keeps off the minimal spray

- Jardine knows a ton more than me for sure... but he's also still selling silnylon tarp kits (I know, I built one) instead of CF. Times change. :p

- 7 foot width was ideal for me. 6 foot Width weighed less, but made the pitch of the A frame too steep and more susceptible to side winds. I used this isosceles triangle calculator to play around with the angles and lengths to find something I was comfortably with. The 7 foot width also affords you the real estate to pitch three sides of the tarp to the ground in windy or gusting rain conditions and leave the heavy, condensation prone bivy at home.

It's a great way to visualize that yes, you can get the height you need to crawl under your tarp @ 6 foot width, but then your tarp is pitched so steeply, it cannot shed side winds well.

Edited by bster13 on 11/16/2011 09:37:47 MST.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Tarping on 11/16/2011 09:54:17 MST Print View

@Bryce..Its interesting to see your transformation of shelter preferences. I know you've tried to Bear Paw and other options as well. Sounds like you use something similar to my set up now. Is that your usual set up now?(large tarp, no bivy) I ask because I think you have loads of experience in lightweight shelters that interest me. I have been toying with the purchase of a Zpacks hexatwin, but am reconsidering seeing as how you have now a set up similar to mine. I use no bivy in a SpinnTwinn I have have for quite awhile. Its a bit larger but I am pretty long myself. Love to hear why you went to a flat tarp from your very cool-looking Bear Paw.

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Re: more testing! on 11/16/2011 10:11:51 MST Print View

"- Jardine knows a ton more than me for sure... but he's also still selling silnylon tarp kits (I know, I built one) instead of CF. Times change."

It would be interesting to get his opinion on CF, but even if he becomes a convert it would probably be difficult for him to market a CF tarp kit, because of the learning curve involved in working with Cuben. Silnylon is quite a bit more forgiving, so it makes a lot more sense than Cuben for a DIY kit.

On top of that, in smaller tarps especially, the weight difference is fairly small unless you use .60 oz/square yard Cuben, which is even less forgiving than the .75 oz/sq yd stuff, so I find the idea of making a practical DIY kit like one of Ray Jardine's tarp kits out of .60 oz/sq yd Cuben to be unlikely -- not that it's a bad idea, just that it wouldn't fit the target market for the DIY kits, which is people who don't do a lot of DIY kit building.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 11/16/2011 10:16:02 MST Print View

I really appreciate everyone's info, it is so helpful.

Bryce, good move on using the compactor bag at one end. It's like getting a bat wing for free.