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Tarp camping in the southern US
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Jack Stalnaker
(fadecomic) - F
Tarp camping in the southern US on 09/18/2012 12:08:12 MDT Print View


I have rabidly read a great deal of this site, and I'm very interested. I am by no means a newbie to camping, but I've never tried to go lightweight before. I really like the idea of tarp camping, but I want to know how well that works in the southern part of the US. A lot of the advice articles I see (including the Scout ones here) are by campers from the northern part of the country. Here, it is humid and hot a great deal of the year, and that comes complete with a side of bugs. I've read some of the other forum articles asking for opinions, but I had a few questions of my own.

I see quite a few posts, for example, recommending bug bivies and ground sheets for bugs and rain. My question is by the time you add all of that, why not just use a tent? Do you gain a significant weight savings? Seems like you pay a cost in comfort though, because those bivies seem to remove the very freedom you got a tarp for in the first place. This isn't meant as an attack, but a genuine question.

What about heat and humidity? I see a lot of advice about quilts vs bags and the like, but neither is ideal for September camping in east TX, is it? The nice thing about a tent is you can open all the flaps and still have bug protection and privacy enough to flop out in your boxers. Can you have a good hot weather camping experience in a tarp? If so, how do you guys do it?

Tom Lyons
(towaly) - F

Locale: Smoky Mtns.
re. on 09/18/2012 12:38:01 MDT Print View

I live in the Southeast, and I tarp camp.

Basically, the lines between these things are blurring, and some tarps are becoming "shaped tarps" which are getting closer to tents, and tents are getting lighter and more open and closer to tarps.
A lot of them are meeting in the middle at a form of inner net-tent and outer rain fly. Depending on how far the side walls extend to give all-side coverage might make the difference between calling it a "tent" or a "tarp".

So, alot of people just use the general term "shelter'.
You can get the basic necessities for camping from many different types of these shelters, and as you noticed, needs can be different in various areas of the country, and in various seasons.

The reasons why people want inner net tents and outer rain coverings that there is a pretty common need for bug protection and rain protection. But not necessarily all the time. For example, even here in the southeast, bugs are not a problem all year long. There are bug seasons, but just last week I spent the night out without any bug net because it was cool enough that the bugs weren't out. This allows you to leave the bug net home, and just take the rain fly, which essentially is a "tarp". In other areas of the country, there isn't much rain. But sometimes people want to have bug protection or from creepy-crawly critters getting on them, so they bring the inner bug-tent only, and camp "under the stars" but with their netting protection around them for their comfort. Others sometimes just sleep in their sleeping bag "cowboy camping", or they just use their bivy alone. Some people like to feel unrestricted and closer to nature, so they use the minimum.

In most all situations on this website, people try to minimize the weight and bulk of what they are carrying, so they can hike lighter and go further and faster. Many are long distance hikers who are hiking the Appalachian Trail or other long trails.

In the end, we have a saying, "Hike your own hike". You do as you wish. We discuss a lot of things here so that we can all share ideas to make our own hikes as pleasant for us as each of us desires, in our own ways.

You will find hikers here from all areas of the US, and even around the globe. There is a lot of info to share.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Tarping in the South on 09/18/2012 12:38:58 MDT Print View

I almost exclusively use a tarp now for backpacking. My tarps range from 9-12 oz for at least 2 person coverage. I use a polycryo groundsheet that is no more than 2 oz. I don't carry a bivy or bug bivy typically. I backpack mostly in the southeast. I have used this in worse bug places too, like Maine. At most, I have a headnet(1 oz) and deet available is case things turn bad. I don't seem to get a lot of mosquitoes but have the headnet in case they come in. Its a pretty large weight savings.

It sounds like you might be more of a camper than a backpacker, though. In that case, carry a big tent.

I assume yoiu don't have many bugs in west Texas but a lot in East Texas. If you go to both, you could have a bug bivy only when in the east. And you could have a quilt to roll off you if its too hot. But again, not all tarpers use a bivy or bug bivy at all.

You could look at something like a zpacks tent. Bug protection at not much more weight than many tarps.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Tarp camping in the southern US on 09/18/2012 13:07:18 MDT Print View

Tarps are for everyone. Some people aren't bother much by bugs. Some get by with just a mesh head net. Some folks only use a shelter during bad weather. Many people need walls no matter what the weather or bug situation is. There is no right way when it comes to shelters. If you want to change, then experiment to find your sweet spot.

Jack Stalnaker
(fadecomic) - F
yikes on 09/18/2012 14:07:14 MDT Print View

Yikes, it seems I touched a raw nerve (maybe it's just lack of tone in text). But I'm not trying to insult tarp camping, just trying to see what peoples' experiences and recommendations are in the heat and humidity (and to a lesser extent bugs) with tarp camping. I was just geniunely curious what the difference was between a tent and a tarp once you add a bivy and a bug net and a ground sheet.

Geoffrey Lehmann
(yipper) - MLife

Locale: deep south
hammock on 09/18/2012 14:19:28 MDT Print View

"Can you have a good hot weather camping experience in a tarp? If so, how do you guys do it?"

Yep, by suspending your tarp over your hammock (with or without bug netting).


Paul Ensley

Locale: Indiana
In defense of tarping on 09/18/2012 16:39:19 MDT Print View

I use a 7oz GoLite poncho tarp, and a 7oz bivy. That's a substantial weight savings over most tents.

Many people find that when using a bivy with a waterproof bottom, you can leave the ground sheet at home.

The bivy keeps the bugs off when they're out. Plus, if it's a nice night (I like to use Mike C!'s LATS method) I can skip setting up the tarp and camp in just the bivy.

Sometimes, when it's really hot at night, I like to skip the quilt and fall asleep with just the top of the bivy draped over me. I usually wake up cold and end up using the quilt anyway, but I fall asleep better if I'm not too warm.

Tarping may not be for you, but you should definitely try it. You might find that it enhances your experience as much as it lightens your pack!

John Giesemann
(johngiesemann) - MLife
Re: Tarp camping in the southern US on 09/28/2012 16:07:05 MDT Print View

Can you have a good hot weather camping experience in a tarp? In a word, Yes.

I backpack/camp primarily (90%) in the southeast. I only use a tarp. I define a tarp as a single wall shelter without bug netting. I do not use an additional bug netting except occasionally a head net when the bugs are really bad.

Why do I use a tarp? First comes weight. My ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tarp with carbon-fiber pole and custom-made top and bottom pads, guylines, stakes, Gossamer Gear Polycro ground cloth, and stuff sack (total shelter) weighs less than 10 ounces. My older Granite Gear White Lightnin' 8x10 tarp with stakes, guylines, poles, and stuff sack sleeps 2 and weighs less than 20 ounces. It is a heavy tarp in comparison to many today. How many tents can be found that weigh less than this? None that I am aware of.

Second comes condensation. As you note in your post, humidity is a problem here. I have far less condensation in a tarp than in a tent.

Third comes comfort. I am much more comfortable in a tarp with a little breeze than in a tent that stops the breezes. I stay much cooler in the summer. In the winter, I can stay just as warm in a tarp as a tent. I regularly camp in temperatures down to 20 degrees and am comfortable in my tarp.

Are bugs a problem? When I was planning to purchase a ZPacks tarp, I debated long and hard about whether to buy the tarp or the tarp tent that had bug netting. After thinking on it, I realized that very seldom are bugs a problem for me when I am camping and bought the tarp as a result. I try to camp at least one weekend a month. I seldom have to use bug spray, but but spray has always solved the few problems I have had. Other campers have resorted to a head net to solve the problem. In most of our situations, the bugs go to bed shortly after I do anyway (I retire early). If I stayed up later, I would not have any bug problems while sleeping.

How about rain? My answer to this is to purchase a tarp large enough to cover me. I prefer the 8x10 tarp. This will cover 2 people in a hard rain. I also purchased the ZPacks Solo Plus tarp instead of the Solo tarp because I prefer a little more rain coverage.

I doubt that I will ever go back to my tents. In fact, I have permanently loaned my single person backpacking tent to a friend.

Hope this helps your decision making.