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Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/16/2012 19:05:48 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/16/2012 19:29:46 MDT Print View

Excellent! I can't believe it's been nine years.

I'm tall so I settled on a 9x9

Edited by kthompson on 10/16/2012 19:35:23 MDT.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/16/2012 19:35:24 MDT Print View

Excellent. I look forward to reading it in more detail later. For years I have been saying we need more pegging points on tarps and shelters.

I don't think I am ready to replace my Trailstar with a rectangular cuben tarp yet, but you never know.

Will Inman
(Empacitator) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Article on 10/16/2012 19:44:43 MDT Print View

Thanks for a great article Ryan. Very well written.

I prefer a mid for the simplicity first, weight savings second, it's nice to know that it's easy to pitch and ultra reliable when needed

I also find them heaps of fun to combine them with different inners, bivies, ground sheets etc :)

Edited by Empacitator on 10/16/2012 19:48:59 MDT.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Article on 10/16/2012 20:24:34 MDT Print View

Fantastic. Really--articles like these are why I re-upped my BPL membership.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
+1 to Clayton's remarks on 10/16/2012 23:31:09 MDT Print View

I totally agree. Seeing this article coming up this week was one of the reasons I re-upped my membership just the other day.

Lots of good info here. I read through it quickly but will definitely be through it again, much more slowly and carefully to glean all the great info out of it.


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Good article! on 10/17/2012 07:18:16 MDT Print View

Thanks! Clear and to the point.

Good staking technique is important. A few items that you didn't mention in regards to stake strenghth.
1) Angular displacement
Angular displacement is when a tarp uses low angles of incidence to the direction of the stress. We all know that angling a stake is stronger, this is not what I am refering to. Rather, the vector the stress is exerted from the tarp to the stake. A low pitched tarp, or "storm pitch" (Summit Lake pic with scouts 2011 in article)will exert a stress about 15 degrees to the ground. A taller pitch (Markus' Blue tarp in the article) pulls at ~40 degree angle. Given equivalent ground pressure, the stakes closer to a shear (0 degrees) will hold better. As you mention, though, the deflection is best described non-linearly. It applies to all staking points.
This is why adding a 1 "arm length" (about 3' or 1 meter) guyline to stake outs helps. The 8x8 tarp with a 42" center pole in front (Summit Lake pic, 2012) Adding a 3' tie out to the front corners decreases the angle from about 40 degrees to about 30 degrees.

Also, using longer tieouts on a narrow tarp is equivalent to using a full width tarp, in holding power. Ignoring wind catching, adding "arm length" guylines to the front corners will increase holding power to the tarp pictured at Summit Lake, 2012. Of course, you will also pick up more wind, a trade off.

2) Wind force
Wind force is something else that you don't mention. A nearly ideal shape would be a hemispherical shape or approching it. A good example is the pyramid, or, a shaped tarp from a tunnel tent. (Example: Exped Sirius allows only the tarp to be used.)This allows wind to be both deflected AND "sucked" back onto the tarp. (The wind force would actually create a tear drop bubble, but I am talking "ideal", here.)
This allows wind deflection from all sides, but is more expensive, in terms of weight, than the more usual 3 sided shelters UL'ers are fond of. Wind pressure will cause a vacume inside the tarp causing it to pull up, AND, push down. Often stronger stakes are needed where the "pulling up" force is greatest, usually the open, higer side. You can allow the wind through the tarp (after deflecting rain) to alleviate the air pressure differences by NOT pitching tightly to the ground. As you mention, stronger stakes are needed for higher areas("ridge lines") and areas that trap air pressure in high winds.
An Example:
In more constant high winds, a "Diamond" pitch works better than a "Shed" pitch. The longer pitch angle of a diamond, along the diagonal, will hold better. The angle also reduces stake out patterns around the two sides allowing a higher density of stakes on the fully sheltered, upwind side. The trade off is reduced roof effectiveness by removing about the first 1/3 as a wind shelter (though this often stays much dryer than outside, it has less three dimensional protection.) The more enclosed 2/3 will be far better against winds/rain and have far less pressure against each stake. Since the wind is allowed to enter the shelter, from the sides, you gradually reduce the air pressure pulling up on the stake holding the peak.

Ground clutter has a lot to do with wind velocity, as Roger mentionesd in his articles. Indeed, weather staions often have higher towers for measuring wind speeds.

3) Multiple stake use (2 stakes in the same loop): You mention this but do not describe it. When using two stakes, I angle both away from each other creating a "ground claw" aginst the tarp.

4) Stretch vs Impact (Wind Hammer) One of the great weaknesses of cuben tarps is the lack of stretch. Like a hammer hitting a nail, simply resting a 10 pound sledge on a nail is not as effective as pounding it with a 1 pound hammer, both for driving and pulling a nail. This is an extream example regarding tarps, but the same principle applies. A "snap", nearly instantaneous, will pull a stake with light wind speeds. A stretchy elastic will distribute the same pressure over time. Example: Given a stake that takes 30 ft/pounds of force to pull it. A single snap of that pressure distributed over about .01 sec will pull it. If I distribute the same pressure over .5 sec, it is never in danger of pulling loose. A looser pitch means more snapping, but the danger of pulling a stake can be (largly) removed when tight pitches cannot be done due to ground variations, and/or, obstructions.

Silnylon can streatch a lot. Nylon absorbs water and stretches. Temperature softens it and it stretches. Pressure does the same. So, there is a built in "shock absorber." Cuben tarps do not have the same properties. I often recommend heavy duty hair ties, or, "shock cord" on cuben tieouts to supply the stretch needed for good stake holding for the above reason.

A nice, tightly pitched tarp can often do the same by gradually increasing pressure on a stake as wind speeds increase. But, this can be fiddly to set up requiring good ground. The elusive "perfect pitch" escapes everyone, sometimes.

Anyway, I would suggest many shaped tarps are designed incorrectly with the wider, taller living space closer to the door. Dynamics dictate a more "igloo" like design with the door open towards the smaller, narrower end (with the living space behind it.) As with the trailstar, this supplies good storm protection for the occupent and better overall wind stability by supplying a more storm resistant "tear drop" shape. Perhaps it could be placed into the wind? Hmmm... anyway...

I really liked the article! Thanks again, Ryan.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Great! on 10/17/2012 07:36:42 MDT Print View

The original version was very influential in cementing my style as a poncho tarper. This updated version should inspire up and coming ultralighters to experience their surroundings in this beautiful and simple way.

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
More of these articles please on 10/17/2012 08:01:56 MDT Print View


I great article in the original style of BPL. These are the reason I keep re-upping my membership. Keep them coming.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Exellent artical on 10/17/2012 08:27:46 MDT Print View

That was beautiful man, great comeback. Thank You RJ

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Exellent artical on 10/17/2012 08:46:19 MDT Print View

So according to Ryan, Silnylon is stronger than Cuben Fiber with the only limiting factors being weight and stretch in comparison. In fact, Cuben Fiber has a high failure rate in his tests.

You cuben afficionados okay with that?

Edited by FamilyGuy on 10/17/2012 09:08:20 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: flat tarps on 10/17/2012 09:45:03 MDT Print View


80" by 90" spin tarp at 8k. I've spent the summer thinking about a small mid for solo trips, but keep coming back to the ability of my tarp to adapt to conditions.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 10:35:47 MDT Print View

Tarp camping in bad weather ? hmmmm
if only there was a tarp that was enclosed on all sides, with maybe a full zip door, and a nice waterproof floor-maybe bathtub shaped, oh ... and free standing :-)

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Cuben tarp durability on 10/17/2012 11:04:48 MDT Print View

"You cuben afficionados okay with that?"

Absolutely. For field use, personal and anecdotal experiences have been excellent. Some interesting reading from the past:
The myth of tarp durability"

Frank Oden
Great Job! on 10/17/2012 11:30:57 MDT Print View

Good article, I really learned a lot about tarp use. I've been considering the switch (from ultralight tent) and this article gives me more confidence about my biggest concern -- weather conditions -- and helps me know what kind of things to practice toward getting comfortable with the transition.

Related to your photos, I would like to offer a suggestion that your scouts -- and any anyone else who ties lines to trees -- consider the technique of "cribbing" those lines. That is to pick up small downed sticks and place them under the line as you go round the tree. Held in place by pressure, the sticks (or a cloth padding) will help to prevent bark abrasion and 'girdling' the tree as wind on the tarp causes movement in the line.



(jpovs) - F - M

Locale: Arrowhead
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 12:23:34 MDT Print View


Edited by jpovs on 02/02/2015 04:11:49 MST.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Tarp Techniques on 10/17/2012 12:41:40 MDT Print View

Great article. I've been loving my mid, but there are definately advantages to a flat tarp and developing these skills is a worthwhile pursuit.

"If the simple assumption is made that each stake will absorb an equal amount of force, then the same 120 pounds is distributed among five stakes, imparting only 20 pounds of force per stake."
Should be 25.

Edited by dandydan on 10/17/2012 12:42:15 MDT.

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: Tahoe
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 13:05:59 MDT Print View

Now I'm curious which manufacturers are considered to be capable of the "very high manufacturing quality and seam design" with cuben fiber.

James Hollis
Tarp camping on 10/17/2012 13:17:57 MDT Print View

Great article. I have been backpacking with a tarp for years and I love it for all the reasons you stated but especially the weight factor. Right now I am using the Equinox 10'x12' Globe Skimmer Ultralite tarp that weighs 18.8 oz. It has plenty of room for me,my son and our gear,dog and room to party if the weather turns on you. I could get a few ladies from the Swedish ski team in if necessary.

Art what you have added to the tarp makes it a tent. :)

John Coyle

Locale: NorCal
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 13:32:31 MDT Print View

OK, now where do I find an 8'x 8' cuban fiber tarp with all the attributes listed above? I have been considering switching to a MLD TrailStar or a tarp for some time.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 13:51:29 MDT Print View

Great job. Thanks, Ryan.

Maxine Weyant
(Maxine) - MLife
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 14:29:45 MDT Print View

Can anyone comment on their experience with the MSR cyclone stakes? They look like a twisted red-rope licorice. A tad heavier, but look like they'd be even better than some of the stakes reviewed in the past. Not sure how easy they'd be to pound into packed soil, however. I like to carry one or 2 heftier stakes, like the Easton nails, in addition to my ti shepherd hooks. I also use a small snow-stake instead of carrying a potty trowel, dual use whenever possible.

Ian Clark
(chindits) - MLife

Locale: Cntrl ROMO
to stake or not to stake on 10/17/2012 15:25:17 MDT Print View

Excellent read and comments. I never knew there was so much contemplation over what the average 11B calls home in the field. It seems strange that with so many rocks in the area, one doesn't just reinforce your stake points with rocks unless there is a lot of snow. I often set up shelters with out stakes and never use them when I'm in the field with the green machine. Actually getting stakes in the ground where I recreate isn't always possible, but piles of rocks are always close at hand. Of course endless deep sand is problematic too, but I don't frequent those places recreationally.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 16:41:58 MDT Print View

OK, now where do I find an 8'x 8' cuban fiber tarp with all the attributes listed above?

Without having heard Ryan's thoughts on it, he did mention in his gear list at the end of the Anaconda-Pintler photo essay that his 8x8' tarp is from ZPacks.

I'm definitely thinking about ordering one myself.

Edited by GlacierRambler on 10/17/2012 16:43:50 MDT.

David Pex
(dpex) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Trap Tie-Out points on 10/17/2012 17:08:33 MDT Print View

Perhaps a silly question, but:

What is the best way of establishing a mid-tarp tie-out point, that is, a point that is not a grommet hole on the edge of the tarp?



Diego Zurek

Locale: Bucaramanga
.....for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 17:10:32 MDT Print View

I had thought from the beginning; due to the giving expectation of the title, that the article, itself was going to show a more tautness and toughness point of view about strenght and forces distribution on a Tarp in the process of an inclement site condition.

David Pex
(dpex) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Locating cuben fiber tarp on 10/17/2012 17:11:23 MDT Print View

Z-Packs will make any size cuben tarp you desire:


Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: .....for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 17:19:21 MDT Print View

"I had thought from the beginning; due to the giving expectation of the title, that the article, itself was going to show a more tautness and toughness point of view about strenght and forces distribution on a Tarp in the process of an inclement site condition."

Yeah - no, it was just a re-hash of a 9 year old article. Fun to watch people get excited about it, however.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Re: .....for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 17:31:11 MDT Print View

Please feel free to write a similar article yourself, if you think you can do it better.

I'm sure almost all of us would appreciate your perspective on the subject.

James Sutton
(trailmaster109) - M
Great Article on 10/17/2012 17:34:43 MDT Print View

I've been exclsuively a tarp camper for years, and there are some good ideas here. I will definitely be adding stakes to my pack, and I love the corner-loop idea - simple but a great idea. I also appreciate the scientific aspect you offer.

rogerio brito
(kafer4life) - MLife

Locale: North Country
Loving the tarp on 10/17/2012 18:12:11 MDT Print View

Thank you for an awesome article. I am a hammock guy, so my tarp setups are a little different, but Definately enjoy the added sights and sounds of the adventures from under a tarp. This was a great read and brought back a lot of great memories of my scout days under the blue tarp in eastern Washington. Thanks

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Great Rewrite on 10/17/2012 18:19:20 MDT Print View

I read the first version of this article as part of the book "Lightweight Hiking and Camp" and the lessons from it served me well for the past 4 years camping under a poncho tarp and then a variety of (mostly small) tarps. I like the square tarp idea and might give it a try sometime.
One thing I like about Ryan Jordan's articles is he seems to wear out a lot of gear. Its nice getting his insights on how things fail over time so I can make better choices about gear that will hopefully be a good long term investment.

Doug Hus
(Doug.H) - M

Locale: Ontario. Canada
cuben fiber weight on 10/17/2012 18:29:50 MDT Print View

What would be a good cuben fiber (material) weight for a 8x8 tarp?

I have seen a variety of weights out there and would be curious to hear what a solid material weight would be.

.50 / .75?

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 18:39:26 MDT Print View

Locus gear do some sil tarps with lots of tie outs.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 19:01:30 MDT Print View

Somehow this is eerily similar to what Ray Jardin was saying all along... Even the techniques are similar.

I'm getting confused about what exactly the "best" type of shelter is... first tarps, then pyramids, now tarps again. I guess, like with all the UL techniques, it all depends.

Locus Gear makes almost jewel-like, superbly crafted shelters, with beautiful, very well thought-out and implemented practical detailing. Jotaro Yoshida is a perfectionist.

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Great guyline idea on 10/17/2012 19:37:56 MDT Print View

Earlier this year someone showed me a great way of pegging guylines. It's so simple that it can be done with one hand even with gloves (with some practice) and it has the added benefit of cleaning off your stakes and keeping hands clean when you break camp, especially when the stakes are the round type instead of V's or Y's.

No loops in the line or extra hardware needed--just a straight line coming off of the tarp. You can use linelocs if you like, though, but it's not necessary. Just tie a marlin spike hitch and use the stake as the "marlin spike". Super simple--go to

or the video below. This knot is commonly used to hang hammocks from tree straps using toggles (Shug Emery has a fantastic, funny video here:

Go to 3:57 if you are impatient. Shug was a Barnum and Bailey clown and his videos are fantastic. Just substitute a stake for the toggle he uses in the video and ignore the stuff about attaching a hammock. When you pull the stake out, it comes untied.

I've never had one of these slip even in pretty serious winds and using thin dyneema line.

Ron D
(dillonr) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 20:31:58 MDT Print View

Great article, I've been moving towards using a tarp more frequently but have had some real concerns with it above timberline. The article definitely helped with understanding some of the dynamics involved in making a secure pitch in an exposed area. I also went back and read the article from 9 years ago and it was also excellent but the new one expanded on it and covered a lot of new territory.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: .....for Inclement Conditions on 10/17/2012 20:53:38 MDT Print View

"Please feel free to write a similar article yourself, if you think you can do it better.

I'm sure almost all of us would appreciate your perspective on the subject."

I don't have to...I can read the 9 year old article.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
tarp weather on 10/18/2012 00:24:01 MDT Print View

We spend a lot of nights in the rain and under the tarp. Cold rain, often accompanied with a stiff breeze. The flying wedge is a bomb proof pitch. Shown here at the entrance to Chatham Strait off of Peril Strait in Southeast Alaska this past June. It rained for days.

Tarp Camps: 3 of 3

and from the front

Tarp Camps: 2 of 3

William Goodrich
(BoulderBill) - M

Locale: Where the plains hit the peaks
Retailers? on 10/18/2012 10:05:00 MDT Print View

Can someone reply with a decent list of recommended retailers for quality tarps? I'm not sure I'm ready to spend the money on a Cuben Fiber tarp, but would like to see options out there for silnylon, etc. An internet search comes back with a smattering of REI and Campmor results; I'm sure there are better options out there.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide some links!


Tim Heckel
(ThinAir) - M

Locale: 6237' - Manitou Springs
Leave no trace on 10/18/2012 10:21:26 MDT Print View

First, thank you for this article.
But I have to say, again, I think BackPacking Light should be more careful to encourage Leave No Trace principles in it's publications. Two of the three campsites pictured in this article violate widely accepted LNT principles, and many state and national park and forest regulations too, by being WAY too close to water.
Backpacking Light should promote responsible enjoyment of our remaining wild places.

Edited by ThinAir on 10/18/2012 10:22:30 MDT.

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: Leave no trace on 10/18/2012 11:18:06 MDT Print View

I completely agree with Tim.

Jason McSpadden
(JBMcSr1) - M

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Tarp Camping Techniques and LNT on 10/18/2012 11:26:08 MDT Print View

I guess I don't have a problem with it. Take a look at the topography around the lake in those two pictures. I would bet that there were few spots that were good for a site. Now one could say, "Then don't camp there." But sometimes the topo maps show that there "should" be good campsites and then when you get there--nope. Maybe there are extenuating circumstances that made this best of available choices.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Article pictures and LNT on 10/18/2012 12:34:31 MDT Print View

Rules for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness:

Campfires are prohibited at the following lakes within 1/4 mile of their shorelines: ..."

So the campsites were technically legal as long as there were no campfires, even though they violated LNT principles.

However, I do feel that BPL could set a far better example by not violating LNT practices in photographs in their publications!

...camping 200 feet (70 adult steps) from water is a good rule of thumb....It should never be necessary to camp on...islands of vegetation..."

Yes, I've had to violate LNT practices and even USFS rules, especially in areas where all the trees are dead from bark beetle so the only safe alternative is to camp in a meadow and/or too close to the trail (if I have to break the rules, I'll camp too close to the trail rather than too close to water). I don't take pictures of such camps for publication, though!

Edited by hikinggranny on 10/18/2012 12:49:02 MDT.

Daniel Benthal

Locale: Mid-Coast Maine
Silnylon Tarp Links on 10/18/2012 13:57:10 MDT Print View


Here are some options for silnylon tarps:

I have a tarp from Oware (first link) that has served me well for over 10 years.


Justin C
(paintballr4life) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Great Article on 10/18/2012 16:57:06 MDT Print View

I really liked this article (even if the LNT police are around), these are the kind I signed up for BPL in the first place.

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Square flat tarp can turn into a shaped tarp on 10/18/2012 19:50:04 MDT Print View

Ray doesn't mention it, but another advantage of using a square flat tarp is that you can set it up as a tetrahedron to shed wind from any direction if the weather requires it. Just stake out three corners, fold the fourth corner back to the mid-point. Crawl under and raise up the center with your pole and you get the following shelter.

9'x9' tarp pitched as tetrahedron

This is a 9'x9' Lawson cuben tarp

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
LNT issues on 10/19/2012 09:49:42 MDT Print View

I don't have a problem with the pics in this article. The first one in particular with Ryan looking at the lake is impossible to determine how far away he is from the water - in fact he could be well away. I know the second water pic looks close and the third one could again be far enough away. If these were shot with a telephoto lens then the distance is distorted. Sorry but the LNT police and zealots on here will just have to fume.

William Goodrich
(BoulderBill) - M

Locale: Where the plains hit the peaks
Re: Silnylon Tarp Links on 10/19/2012 10:41:54 MDT Print View

Thanks for the links, Dan.

I think I'm going to go with the FlatTarp3 9.5'x9.5'. Seems like a winner!


Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: LNT issues on 10/19/2012 10:48:52 MDT Print View

I guess I just don't get the name calling and belligerence that seems too prevalent on BPL these days. Tim brought up a valid concern, Jason answered with some very valid points as to why things might not be what they seemed. Agreeable disagreement. Good discussion. I love having varying sides of an issue brought forth.

But then some folks feel the need to start calling names and such. Why? What does it get you? WV Hiker, you bring up valid points about how telephoto lens can distort distance, but feel the need to end your note with an unnecessary poke in the eye? I don't get it.

Seems like a lot of angry folks on here these days. At least y'all sound angry.

Adam Klagsbrun
(klags) - MLife

Locale: Northeast US
Re: Leave no trace on 10/19/2012 10:50:15 MDT Print View

BUZZ KILL! Tim, you are so cool for pointing out how close Ryan's tarps appear to be to the water, without even knowing if your "facts" are correct. In addition, I would assume Ryan practices LNT and teaches it to others. I for one am all about pitching your tent or tarp wherever you can do the least damage, regardless of rules. Nobody is going to do damage sleeping near water, regardless of the laws, as long as they don't cook or go to the bathroom there. Furthermore, as someone who has been ticketed by a ranger at a campsite where I chose to camp on an already impacted site rather than the legal distance from the lean to, we all know the laws don't adequately protect the wilderness. Where I live they'd rather you create more impact in a fresh site, creating more damage than if you were to simply set up on the same already impacted sites in the lean to and campsite areas. The laws on the trail sometimes make it impossible to enjoy yourself camping by preventing an adequate campsite. I'd rather break the law any day, enjoy myself, leave no trace, then pay a ticket if I get caught. But thanks for being the LNT nazi Tim, you had such great input here that nobody ever thought of before...

Daniel Benthal

Locale: Mid-Coast Maine
Oware Tarp on 10/19/2012 13:52:51 MDT Print View


Just be aware that the 9.5 x 9.5 tarps currently listed are all heavier fabrics. "Normal" silnylon is the 30 denier fabric available on the 9x9 tarp.

Edited by DBthal on 10/19/2012 13:53:44 MDT.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Condition on 10/19/2012 14:54:28 MDT Print View talks about camping, washing up and cooking 200 feet from the water. A recent video frown Ryan shows a group cooking by a lake. They look to be about 200 feet away. The main thing that struck me about the video was how fantastic it was to see these young kids getting outside.

The campsites Ryan has chosen don't seem a problem to me. Also unless you were there it seems difficult to make a good judgement.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Leave no trace on 10/19/2012 15:20:34 MDT Print View

The Forest Service has no credibility in asking for, much less having regulations that demand anything resembling leave no trace. Their idea of leave no trace can be spotted from any aircraft flying over Southeast Alaska and the western United States. My fire pit along a beach can't be compared to the destruction they have brought to the national forests.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Leave no trace on 10/19/2012 15:23:05 MDT Print View

The big difference is that they get to make the rules and you don't.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Leave no trace on 10/19/2012 15:33:25 MDT Print View

Fortunately, there are no rules where we backpack and kayak, which is why I"ve never paddled in Glacier Bay though it is just a couple of day's paddle from here.

Ron D
(dillonr) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: Leave no trace on 10/19/2012 15:39:18 MDT Print View

Tim is right on the LNT issue, BPL is in an established leadership and training role in the backpacking community. The individuals posting here have virtually no impact beyond that of their individual campsite, BPL reaches and influences thousands of backpackers. BPL is subject to a higher standard for issues like LNT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Condition on 10/19/2012 15:58:34 MDT Print View

If someone is doing something that is technically illegal, but what they are doing is respectful not harmful to the environment they are in, then it's really nobody's business to call them out on it. If they get in trouble, it's their problem, not yours.

Leave No Trace is a great organization that provides guidelines and suggestions for not leaving a trace is high use areas. Stop acting like they are some kind of law. It's like a bunch of sheep yelling "but... but.... you are violating LNT! LNT LNT LNT!" These things can and should be open to personal judgement based on the area and it's level of use.

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/19/2012 19:53:46 MDT Print View

Great article - and I'm not even a tarper. Love the technique stuff and enjoy the quality writing. Thanks!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: LNT issues on 10/19/2012 21:11:35 MDT Print View

"But then some folks feel the need to start calling names and such. Why? What does it get you? WV Hiker, you bring up valid points about how telephoto lens can distort distance, but feel the need to end your note with an unnecessary poke in the eye? I don't get it."

It starts every year about this time, Doug. People start warming up for the flame war season as the sun sinks lower in the sky and SAD begins to set in. Wait a month or two and then watch the fur fly.

Lordy, how I miss the early years of The Great Carbon Flame War. Back then it was an art form. Now it's just plain bad form. ;o]

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/20/2012 19:49:02 MDT Print View

Good article, nice to see BPL going back to its roots and talking tarps. Good advice too.
I never cared for cantanary cut tarps. They are specially designed to maximize my least favorite pitch, the A frame and on top of it the added complexity and cost is only to make it easier to get a taught pitch which is not hard to do anyways with a flat tarp. Why ruin one of tarps best strengths, its flexibility?
I like the square-ish idea. I don't personally think 8 feet is long enough for me and wouldn't recommend it. I prefer a 9 or 10 foot length.
Other pros for a simple flat tarp is the cost, the realistic possibility of MYOG, and the ability to cook in the rain and get out of the rain with muddy shoes without getting your floor dirty. You can also easily separate your wet and muddy shoes and gear underneath.
I think tarps work great in the White Mountains because the forest is thick and you literally have to go out of your way to go above treeline and most likely violate regulations to camp in an exposed area. Tarps can also be pitched over vegetation and rocks so you can find a suitable camp spot easier in the forest.

Gregory Allen
(Gallen1119) - M

Locale: Golden, CO
Fabulous article on 10/20/2012 21:35:47 MDT Print View

New new UL and was looking at different replacement options all summer for my freestanding not-so-light tent for wife and me. Now I'm pretty sure ill get a plain ole flat tarp sometime this winter. Maybe even MYOG! Couldn't have come at a better time. Love all the pitch options. May need to add net option for midsummer trips, but option of leaving net at home when bugs not out and shedding weight is very appealing. Seems that nothing beats flexibility of going old school! Thanks for the inspiration.

Adam Klagsbrun
(klags) - MLife

Locale: Northeast US
tarps from photos? on 10/21/2012 23:06:53 MDT Print View

Does anyone know who makes the tarps in the photos? (maybe they are MYOG?) I'd especially be interested in who makes the 12'x16' tarp the scouts are using...

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: tarps from photos? on 10/22/2012 06:00:21 MDT Print View

Most any place with sewing capacity can make one up. In a lot of cases, larger companies won't.

Basically, only a felled seam may be new. Often, a local fabric shop will offer classes, including use of a machine, if needed. But, it is usually not hard to find one used, for a fairly good price, ie ~$30-50USD. You don't need anything except a straight stitch. No computerized countrols, no fancy zigzags, etc...A good driver or advancer mechanism is needed. Walking feet are often used and found at the sewing shop.

Material is either coated silnylon or cuben for light weight tarps, ~60" wide (5'.)
Seconds, cosmetic, are fine for most camping, bears don't care.

I have put together several. I am NOT a taylor!! Tarps are only roofs, if they stop sun and rain, it was good enough.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 10/23/2012 21:52:34 MDT Print View

Nice rehash, and what you've learned over the years is especially insightful. Thankfully, I got to that point (KISS) pretty fast. I "fear" the flying insects more than weather so hopefully I can figure a way to make my netting "door" removable so I can eat, read and sleep in peace when the skeeters are heavy.

As James Marco suggested, my corner loops are shock cord though that's largely due to my using polycryo, which isn't as strong as the other materials. As such I designed it for just one pitch (half pyramid) though I could do any pitch in good weather.

For David Pex asking about tarp tie-outs, you'd be sewing/gluing your own additional tie-out points and you should view the papers on tie-outs at

Doug Hus, I'd suspect .7 CF would be best for a storm-worthy shelter. .5 could work but may not last as long.

David Eitemiller
(DavidE) - MLife
Managing changing storm conditions on 11/18/2012 17:25:13 MST Print View

Ryan - great article as always. Have a question concerning managing an 8x8 flat tarp type setup in changing wind conditions. Mountain areas have varying wind patterns (morning to evening) or with a storm that could start and end with different prevailing wind directions. How would you adjust your setup for this referring to the main "storm pitch" technique mentioned here?

Drop front and raise back when / if it occurs? And accept that the occurrence of such a dramatic change and infrequent enough to not merit other arrangements which could add weight or complexity?

I have another question regarding cuben fiber weight / strength - but will post on separate thread to keep conversation coherent.

David Eitemiller
(DavidE) - MLife
Cuben fiber weights needed on 11/18/2012 17:31:37 MST Print View

Is there any advantage to a heavier cuben material for a flat tarp? Some manufacturers which I assuming are quality (Zpacks for example) are supplying flat tarps at 0.5 oz (CF5 I guess this is), others HMG for example at CF8 (.8 oz per square yard).

Are the stresses one would expect at failure points or puncturing susceptibility in these two weights significant enough to merit a the heavier Cuben material? Or is the same care needed for both and therefore the heavier cuben (albeit almost immaterial weight addition) of limited advantage? Or put another way, should we be looking for manufacturers that use only CF8 when purchasing flat tarps to be used in alpine, strong storm prone areas?

Edited by DavidE on 11/19/2012 14:45:41 MST.

Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions on 12/08/2012 22:34:02 MST Print View

Excellent article bringing the evolution of Ryan's tarp experience up-to-date. Appreciate it very much, but have found the following "problem" paragraph (from the section on rigging guylines in preparation for a fast storm pitch) a little bit confusing --

"To the rear ridgeline tie-out, I tie a “single length” guyline (I define “single-length” as one armspan). For a storm pitch, this guyline loop gets propped up with a short (< 24”) stick and then staked out taut. The guyline is attached to the guyline loop with a sheet bend, and an overhand loop is tied in the other end. All guylines are tied this way."

The "problem" paragraph's first sentence starts things off OK by making a pretty clear statement about tying a "guyline" to the rear ridgeline "tieout" -- but then, in the very next sentence, Ryan talks about "this guyline loop" getting propped up and staked out.

Whoooaaaa there, now! What is does this phrase "this guyline loop" have to do with tying a "single-length guyline" to the "rear ridgeline tieout" anyway?

Sounds like Ryan is saying that the "rear ridgeline guyline" is attached to a "guyout loop" that has first been tied to the tarp's "rear ridgeline tieout" (just as Ryan's paragraph immediately preceding his "problem" paragraph describes 6" loops being tied into the tarp's "tieouts" at the four corners) -- especially based on the third (final) sentence of the "problem" paragraph where he says that "the guyline" (the rear ridgeline guyline, presumably) is attached to the "guyline loop" with a sheet bend.

Would much appreciate Ryan (or anyone else) clarifying what's being tied to what with this "rear ridgeline tieout single length guyline loop" in this "problem" paragraph.

I'd probably just tie a loop in each end of the three-foot long rear ridgeline guyline, then use one of those two loops to attach the guyline to the rear ridgeline tieout, then wrap the guyline a few times around a short stick, stick a stake through the loop on the other end of the guyline, hammer the stake into the ground, and call it done.

But that doesn't sound like what the "problem" paragraph is describing. Or is it?

And if so, how does a "sheetbend" knot come into play under the "problem" paragraph?

Thanks in advance for any enlightment to come.

Edited by JRScruggs on 12/08/2012 22:37:47 MST.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: tarps from photos? on 12/10/2012 06:29:32 MST Print View

"Does anyone know who makes the tarps in the photos? (maybe they are MYOG?) I'd especially be interested in who makes the 12'x16' tarp the scouts are using..."

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: tarps from photos? on 12/10/2012 08:07:05 MST Print View

I see a 12' x 14' that you sell - must be that?

Cute - it's snowing on your blog - and the direction of the snowfall depends on your cursor position : )

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
FlatTarp5 on 12/10/2012 12:30:04 MST Print View

I believe those are the 10x14' ones that Ryan bought. I call them a FlatTarp5 since most groups use that size to shelter 5
people. In really stormy conditions, an extra ground sheet, poncho or solo tarp can be used over the open end.

Jim Milstein
(JimSubzero) - M

Locale: New Uraniborg CO
Re: Tarp Techniques on 01/09/2013 18:50:41 MST Print View

Umm, 120/5 = 24. Not 20, not 25. This is fun. Arithmetic police!

Edited by JimSubzero on 01/09/2013 18:55:08 MST.

Gabe P
(Gabe) - MLife
Tarp on 02/05/2013 13:25:34 MST Print View


Edited by Gabe on 02/11/2013 08:56:06 MST.

robert van putten

Locale: Planet Bob
Thanks! on 02/06/2013 14:17:51 MST Print View

Heh, the opening quoate with the line about "sounds of little feet scurrying everywhere in the darkness over sleeping bags" got a laugh from me! Been There, Done That. I don't mind so much except when the little buggers dance on my head...

Fantastic writeup, I enjoyed it very much, and ya got me thinking that maybe I should be packing more stakes along?
But then, I usually operate in a forest and tie tarps off to trees, bushes and stuff, and have yet to try a tarp above the tree line.

Ya know, the very idea of using a tarp for shelter is simply horrifying to many Trad campers. Some time back I started a simple post on Trailspace about tarps, and some of the comments are quite interesting. I have since come to think of that forum as "Tentspace"!

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 05/13/2013 22:49:09 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/08/2013 19:15:26 MDT.

Richard Mock
(moxtr) - M

Locale: The piney woods
Re: Great Job! on 05/18/2013 02:00:53 MDT Print View

'cribbing' I will definitely use it. Thanks (especially for hammocks)

Ryan Slack
(RWSlack) - F

Locale: Minnesota
Easy method for attaching removable lines to tarp pullouts on 07/21/2013 11:28:21 MDT Print View

Instead of using a sheetbend or any other knot to directly attach a line to one's tarp grommet/pullout, I have found it far less hassle to simply tie a small loop in the tarp end of the line using a simple overhand loop or bowline. Just like how you would attach a yo-yo to your finger, one can then simply thread the loop through the pullout and run the rest of the line through the loop (kind of a girth hitch). Knots will not be stuck on your tarp, ever, and switching lengths of line among various grommets/pullouts takes seconds. Bigger loops can be better for speed here and can double as short peg loops like what RJ puts on the corners.

One other insight: My one small bungee loop I sometimes bring for my larger tarp is used on a mid-panel guy, and is dual-purposed as an easy hairband-style closure for my pack liner bag.

Definitely agree with the simple cord management technique of a knotted loop. I have tried and have seen others try to make neat little bundles of cord, which takes a long time and doesn't always keep in a stuff sack.

My next step is color-coding cord by length.