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PCT: Tent or Tarp
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Jace Mullen
(climberslacker) - F

Locale: Your guess is as good as mine.
PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/15/2011 18:44:47 MST Print View

I am going to be hiking the PCT starting may 2012 and am still getting some gear together for that.

One of the biggest things that I am working on figuring out is whether I should go with a Tarp (and bivi or headnet) or Tarptent for the trail.

The tarp would be a lighter alternative but I don't have a bivi bag or a tarp. I do have the Tarptent (GG Squall Classic). I would be selling the squall if I do get a tarp but then I would have to figure all of that out as well.

Any recommendations from those who have done the trail?

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/15/2011 19:01:37 MST Print View

Are you sure about a tarp and bivy combo being lighter? Make sure you add the weight of the bivy you get, but with the tents that are coming out now, you can get a full double wall with full bug and water protection for about the same weight or less than a tarp/bivy. Of course, I'm not up to date on the latest greatest on bivies.

For example - A zpacks Hexamid solo, and bug shelter, comes in at 11oz. including stuff sack and guy lines.

I'd be curious to see what kind of weights people can come up with for tarp/bivy combos.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Tarps on 12/15/2011 19:03:23 MST Print View

Jace I have not done the PCT so take this for what its worth. If you do get a tarp I might get a bit bigger tarp than normal. I used a 5 x9 ft. tarp for a good while and really liked it. On the Colorado Trail I just got tired of camping under such a tiny space in bad weather. I stayed dry the problem was there was very little room to spread gear out, get organized or do much of anything except lie in my bivy. Thats okay for a weekend trip but day after day it gets old. I eventually switched to a 9x9 tarp that was a lot heavier but the extra space was amazing.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/15/2011 19:48:39 MST Print View

I used a tarp and bivy the whole way and would do so again. I was worried about bugs, so I also carried a light bug net that I could attach to my tarp between Kennedy Meadows and Cascade Locks. But I only ended up using the net 5 times the entire trip. On all but the buggiest nights I would zip up my bivy and wear my baseball cap to keep the skeeters off my face.

I used a solo-sized tarp from Campo to Cascade Locks. For Washington, I picked up a GoLite Shangri-La 1 because I wanted a little more protection from the rain. If I had it to do over again I would probably get a 1.5-person sized tarp like the GG SpinnTwinn and use it the whole way.

One more benefit of using a tarp+bivy: no groundcloth. I just slept with my bivy on top of my pad.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Whatever on 12/15/2011 20:12:23 MST Print View

Whatever you're most comfortable with! I can't stand having mosquitos buzzing around my head, even if I have a headnet on. I used a TT Contrail on the PCT and it was wonderful. I met a guy on the CDT using the Zpacks hexamid, and he swore by it, and I have to agree it looked great.

You'll have the potential of bugs from the Sierras onwards, and then the potential for a lot of rain in WA. I met people who just carried a tarp and didn't even bother with a headnet, they just hiked until the bugs went away.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Whatever on 12/15/2011 21:00:54 MST Print View

On the PCT, you will seldom NEED to erect your shelter due to inclement weather.

Bug pressure can be minimized by careful campsite selection (i.e avoid low meadows and along streams or lakes). Camp high where the breezes blow, or camp later in the evening when the bugs have gone.

Most of the time, you can cowboy camp under the stars. Your shelter in this case is dead weight.

That said, I realize that many folks are just more "comfortable" inside a shelter of some sort. After all, it MIGHT rain. Just having that frail wall of netting, nylon, or cuben between you and the lions, tigers, and bears that might be out there is important.

Pack accordingly. You have to carry it.

Long before you leave Campo, try out your shelter system of choice under bad conditions. Spend a weekend or overnight deliberately camping in the rain - the harder the better - and/or in a known nasty buggy spot. Learn how to set up your system for the best protection. Learn how well it works. Yes, you will get wet and/or bitten and you may even spend a miserable night or two . Better that than be facing 5 months of that stuff with a shelter you don't like.

Edited by wandering_bob on 12/15/2011 22:45:26 MST.

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
Re: Whatever on 12/15/2011 21:52:53 MST Print View

It depends on your style. One of my hiking friends set up her hexamid 10 times total, which were all due to weather. I set my lightheart solo up 80% of the time, mostly in bug net mode since I get woken up easily by bugs. It was also great to have for added warmth, privacy, and occasional rain. How quick and easy it is to set up encouraged me to use it more.

To say your shelter is dead weight is a silly argument, much the same as saying a first aid kit or a rain jacket is dead weight. In an ideal world, you can always find great campsites or just keep hiking until you do. In the real world, group pressures, tiredness, getting off schedule, freak storms, and bad luck can lead you to camp in less than ideal places in poor conditions.

Whatever you use, make sure it is practical and you are familiar with how to set it up well before you get out there. Don't be like the guy who couldn't set up his hexamid in a storm and dove into another hikers Contrail, or the guy who sent his shelter forward and spent the night in my tent with me.

You will be happy with the Squall. It is pretty light and would be very comfortable.

A tarp and bivy gives you a modular system that would be great for lots of cowboy camping and could save a few ounces. If you go this route, a full coverage tarp shelter may be a good way to go for privacy, wind, and rain. A gatewood cape, wild oasis, solomid, duomid, ID Silshelter, or hexamid w/ a beak would all be solid bets.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Whatever on 12/16/2011 00:51:33 MST Print View

Having used both a tarp and a tent on the PCT, I agree that this is a preference issue. This might sound strange, but I found that ended up fiddling a lot more wiht a tarp setup than I ever did with a tent, especially in higher winds. But that's me. I agree that you can often go without shelter altogether, especially in Southern California, but I never seemed to manage to stay awake too long to enjoy the stars.

I would go with whatever you feel most comfortable.


Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
If it were me, I'd keep the Tarptent on 12/16/2011 07:42:05 MST Print View

I did the PCT in 2010 and if I had to choose a tarp or Tarptent I'd use the Tarptent for sure. There were many times where the mosquitoes were bad when I went to bed and I was very glad to have protection from them. (I actually used a Wild Oasis until Washington, and then a Lunar Solo.) I remember in the Sierras walking through clouds of mosquitoes past a guy sitting under a tarp and it made me shudder. Mosquitoes are something I can deal with during the day, but at night I like to escape them.

It rained a lot the first few days in Southern California, occasionally in Oregon, and in Washington on my hike so a shelter was a big deal. There were also dozens of nights where I cowboy camped under the stars.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
ditto tarptent on 12/16/2011 11:18:25 MST Print View

You can't know ahead of time how many buggy nights you'll have. Not everyone is the same on this, but I definitely find it worth carrying a lightweight fully-enclosable shelter. Single-walled tarptents work great for this.

I did the first 700 or so miles with a poncho, and liked that option as both rain gear and shelter --- nice to go lighter weight where possible at the beginning to help offset a weaker body at start and sometimes a lot of water weight carried. But once at Kennedy Meadows I'd go for a tarptent. You'll be getting an ice axe and bear can and the like in the mail there anyway, might as well pick up a tent at that point.

David T
(DaveT) - F
squall. on 12/16/2011 11:52:47 MST Print View


Congrats on the PCT hike upcoming!

I used a Squall 1 on my thru-hike and I was very happy with it. I slept out all through SoCal, but then once the bugs hit, I was extremely happy to be able to escape into a fully enclosed shelter. Even after the bugs abated (which happened early for us in the low snow year of 2004), I usually slept in the Squall. And then the rains hit for much of Oregon and Washington, and it was important to have not only a good shelter, but one large enough to be able to "keep the dry stuff dry and the wet stuff wet." The Squall was great for that. After hiking for days in the rain (or snow) with too little warm clothing, the highlight of the day for me was always crawling into a dry shelter and cooking a hot meal.

It was easy and quick to set up, quick to dry out if wet, condensation is sometimes an issue but pretty easily managed, and had plenty of space. I hiked a lot with someone with a big tarp, and it always seems like it took him 5x as long to set up his shelter as mine. I have a Contrail I use for most hiking now, but if I did the PCT again, I think the Squall Classic would be a great shelter for it!

Also, remember that you can always get rained or snowed on in SoCal mountains too. Make sure to be sure about the weather before you plan on not carrying your shelter at any point.


Edited by DaveT on 12/16/2011 11:56:38 MST.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/16/2011 12:01:07 MST Print View


I can't comment on the PCT or any long trips for that matter.
I can comment on the GG squall classic. I have had tarps, tents, and slept under the trailstar and shangri-la shelters and have to say that i will probably never sell my squall classic. Its a great shelter and is one of the lightest 2 person shelters out there (with floor and bug protection).
I know (as you) that lighter options can be had, but i just throw up that squall in a minute or two and i love it. IMO, its one of those pieces of gear that really shines. It doesn't have a lot of wow factor, but just works simply and easily everytime.

that being said, sometimes in drier climates i have left the squall at home for a lighter option.

Edited by benwood on 12/16/2011 12:54:23 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/16/2011 12:13:46 MST Print View


Looks like ultimately it comes down to whether you are a tarp guy, or a tent guy. What trail it is on may not be the determining factor. On a PCT thru hike, you need to determine the best way for you to handle mosquitoes. Some people are okay with a head net or bivy, some people need a fully enclosed tent. The only consensus is that you do need a reliable shelter.

The last month plus I have gotten a lot of use in light rain with a Hexamid and a Lite poncho/ground sheet from zPacks. From my experience so far, this is what I would use with just a head net. I think the ground sheet would hold up.

Alasdair Fowler
(MessiahKhan) - F

Locale: Newcastle, UK
PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/16/2011 16:04:36 MST Print View

Me and my wife are doing the PCT next year as well. We have gone with a Cuben Supermid with perimeter bug netting and bug netting door as our shelter. It weighs a bit more than some tarp options, but it also gives us a shelter that is totally bug proof and large enough to sort out wet gear etc. It's super quick to put up as well. Very happy with it so far. :)

Jace Mullen
(climberslacker) - F

Locale: Your guess is as good as mine.
Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp? on 12/16/2011 17:32:55 MST Print View

I think I am just going to stick with my Squall.

I didn't even think about ease of set-up compared to a tarp and I think that might be the deciding factor. Well, that with the added bug protection and lots of room for just one person.

It may not be the lightest out there but I know that I will already be pretty light on the trail and I'll chock the extra couple ounces up to luxuries.

I appreciate all of the support and help. I am sure this won't be my last question as I get stuff together.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/16/2011 18:09:41 MST Print View

I did some research a couple of years ago and found that tarp plus ground sheet plus a bug net big enough to cover my dog as well as me weighed as much as my Squall Classic! Add a bivy and the combo weighs several ounces more! About the only way I can go lighter is with the ZPacks Twin Hexamid which, with cuben ground sheet and added stakes, is ten ounces less. I did bite the bullet on the $$$ and am trying out a Hex Twin; I will decide next summer or fall which one to sell.

Unless you want to invest a lot of money in cuben, I'd stick with the Squall Classic. It's a great tent!

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/16/2011 18:15:30 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: PCT: Tent or Tarp? on 12/16/2011 18:19:19 MST Print View

Well, that makes one less piece of gear to purchase, and usually one of the more expensive ones too.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

PCT: Tent or Tarp on 12/16/2011 18:39:49 MST Print View


First I would like to recommend to you that you consider joining the pct-l mailing list. It is *the* place (online place) to be apart of for the PCT. Truly amazing group of people there that are 100% dedicated to the PCT. Not that you will not find that here at BPL but the pct-l is pretty much 99% active posters involved in the PCT.

To voice my own opinion: A tent is what you will probably want to use. All the reasons give above more than answer your question. A tent unless you are a hard-core backcountry hiker accustomed to the abuses of the flying bugs who we shall note name as well as the weather. Very few people hike the PCT with a tarp. You will see a whole lot of TarpTents out there. You will also see some of the true veterans of the PCT out there with the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape.

A video well worth watching is this one which is an interview with Billy Goat, in which he talks about shelters and sleeping.

Edited by JohnAbela on 12/16/2011 18:41:54 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Tarp/Bivy on 12/16/2011 18:51:18 MST Print View

I think it is a more complex issue than presented. I took a tarp/bivy setup over my Squall because I wanted speed of setup and teardown. BUT, the speed didn't come from setting up the tarp quickly, I only setup the tarp three times on the whole trip, one for snow, one for rain, and once because it looked like rain. (I was fortunate enough to be able to do this this because I started in late May after the SoCal rains and ended in late August before the WA rains.)

I loved the ability to roll out my bivy with my quilt in it, slip in the pad and crash. Reverse in the morning. My bivy has a screen that can zipped up (TiGoat) and that was used the few night that there were bugs. Frankly I had more issues with ants than mosquitos and ziping up the screen kept them both at bay. But the biggest advantage for me was the ability to really be in tune with nature during the night. I was looking at stars not the inside of a shelter. Several nights I would lay down and not close my eyes until I saw five shooting stars.

If I were hiking the AT it may be different but if, no when, I were hike the PCT again I would definitely repeat my shelter system.