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Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013
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Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 01/30/2013 09:16:59 MST Print View

I know it has been hashed out before, but things change... perspectives, technology, what gear is being made, etc.

I am sure I am not the only one that owns both a tarp/bivy combo and a hybrid tent. As a given, let's assume the need to protect against both rain and bugs. In my case, here is what I have to work with:

Zpacks hexamid solo tarp (Ti stakes, guy lines, stuff sack), ground sheet, Ti goat bivy -- 493g all in.


SMD Skyskape X, CF poles, Ti stakes, ground sheet -- 575g all in.

I have gone back and fourth on this issue many times. For years I was a tarp guy, then when I got into UL several years ago I started to get into tents again after seeing how light they had gotten. Then when I got into SUL I got back into tarps, and for the first time bivies. I then had second thoughts about bivies due to condensation and being tricky to get in and out of them. The condensation bothered me the most, but then I got the idea to mod my bivy and put a vapor vent in the foot box where I get the most of it. Now I am planning on going tarp/bivy this summer for my SUL trips, assuming this mod words out alright. Not only is it lower weight, but also gives me more options; the two big ones are cowboy camping bug free, and being able to use the bivy in trail shelters.

So for the time being, tarp/bivy wins out for me. In the future I want to upgrade my bivy to something lighter and easier to get in and out of, like a Borah Cuben with side zipper. But for now I am saving up for a new summer bag, so new bivy will have to wait. As for tarp, once I run my Hex solo tarp into the ground, which I hope will be a while, I think I would just replace it with another one, or maybe a Hex solo plus to have more of a palace.

Anyhow been giving a lot of thought to this as of late. I wrote a big long SUL rant on my blog (link in profile) for anyone that is interested, which includes my 2013 SUL gear list. A lot of it had to do with the whole tarp/bivy choice of shelter. I am also a seemingly rare SUL person that uses (gasp!) a ground cover with a bivy, I know. But even with one (and a double one at that) my tarp/bivy combo is still lighter than nearly all tents out there, and could be lighter still with a different bivy.

Thoughts? Feedback?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
At the end of the day... on 01/30/2013 09:46:53 MST Print View

...some people don't mind the fiddle factor with tarps, and others like the ease of setting up an enclosed shelter and being surrounded by tenting. Personal preference. I use both depending on where I am going and the past couple of years or so my main shelter is a Hexamid sans any netting. It works for me and for others it may not be acceptable. My kit leans towards what you use, so I approve. But there is no right way.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: At the end of the day... on 01/30/2013 10:50:07 MST Print View

"But there is no right way."

Yes, I agree. I hope I didn't come off as though there was some "right way" or anything like that. Just wondering what other people's perspectives and opinions were on the matter.

Glad you and I agree about the Hexamid, it really is a remarkable thing, ain't it? I would imagine where you go, i.e. the desert, you don't need bug protection? I am not sure, as I have only done car camping as a child in the desert, though I can't recall there being bugs then.

Do you run into a lot of bugs, and if so, what do you do about them? If not, lucky you. I have in the past not brought any bug protection on many occasions, and actually a lot of those times I didn't regret it either, but location plays a big part in this.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: At the end of the day... on 01/30/2013 11:03:29 MST Print View

I only partially agree with the " there is no right way " statement.

for me its all about the terrain and the conditions.
most of my trips are mountain trips. yes the summer weather can be quite nice, but it can also be quite bad. going in to the mountains I tend to plan for close to worst case. for me that means a tent, and preferably one that's mostly free standing. yes slightly more weight, but as you said tents are getting lighter.
and if you go with a partner its even lighter.
the Nemo Obi Elite 2 weighs 2 lbs 3 oz (don't have one yet but maybe this year).

Ben Smith

Locale: Epping Forest
RE:"Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013" on 01/30/2013 11:04:44 MST Print View

I'm too scared to try a tarp!

SMD Lunar's are hybrid tents right? That's the lightest I have been willing to go!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: At the end of the day... on 01/30/2013 11:27:47 MST Print View

Well there aren't what you might call typical bugs in the desert -- although I have been in swarms of things like locust and grasshoppers -- so many that they darken the sky. There are some desert creatures that cause people to sleep in 'real" tents, even when the weather is nice and for me would mean no shelter at all. But it works for them and they are happy. I am not going to try and convince anyone by way is better. In the high Sierras there are mosquitoes. But I am fine with a bug net over my head and some gloves. I like DEET :)

Regarding cold weather/extreme weather. In winter I opt for a Scarp 1. Many people do use tarps like Duomids and Trailstars in some pretty severe weather. Each person needs to decide for themselves based on the worst expected conditions and their level of experience.

And yes the Hexamid is a great shelter.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Same line of thinking on 01/30/2013 11:36:05 MST Print View

I keep coming out in the same place that you do. Most nights I cowboy camp and only setup a tarp if I know it will rain. It is this flexibility that keeps me in tarp bivy. I have only had two bad bug experiences. The first was ants and the second mosquitoes on a very warm night. I had to sleep in the bivy for protection but it was a sauna. If I run into more of this, hot nights in the east, then I may reconsider my choice. I believe that tarp bivy is idle for Western hiking and I would consider nothing else for three season.

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: At the end of the day...the fiddle factor with tarps on 01/30/2013 12:02:53 MST Print View

I've done the traditional tent, hammock, tarp with bivy and hybrid tent.

In all fairness my traditional tent set up very quickly. My hammock was actually a little bit slower to set up (searching for the perfect pair of trees) and I didn't like the velcro entry/exit. I built a MYOG tarp and bivy and was quite satisfied with their performance but there was the fiddle factor involved in the set-up. The bivy had 4 staking points and a tie-out on the mesh to keep it off my face. The tie-out for the mesh was attached to the ridge line of the tarp via a piece of shock cord.

I'm currently using a hybrid tent that weighs in at about 6 ounces more than my tarp and bivy combination weighed. Yes it is heavier than my tarp and bivy but it is quite a bit lighter than my hammock & rainfly or my old traditional tent.

My hybrid tent can be used as a bug bivy with the rainfly rolled back on nights with good weather. When I do stake out the fly it is like being under my tarp and inside of my bivy. There is good ventilation.

I used my hybrid for the first time last October and had never set it up except to seam seal it. The hybrid set up quickly and easily the very first time I used it on the trail. I was done well ahead of my hiking partner who was using the same SD tent that he has had for 3 years. I attribute this to my hybrid using trekking poles for support instead of multi-sectional dedicated tent poles.

I am well satisfied with my hybrid tent's packed size, weight and performance. It is available in a 5 - 6 ounce lighter version but at a higher cost.

All this being said, lately I've had the urge to build another tarp and bivy set-up! ;-?

Party On,


John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 01/31/2013 03:26:06 MST Print View

My SMD SX setup is: 513.78 grams (18.12 ounces)

My tarp setup is: 214.02 grams (7.54 ounces)

One of them allows me a much greater amount of protection from the elements and bugs.

One of them allows me a much greater amount of visibility and flexibility.

One of them consumes a great deal more pack volume.

One of them is significantly easier to setup in the wind as a solo hiker.

One of them does this, the other does that, and the list could go on-and-on.

There is no right or wrong, better or worse, advantages or disadvantages, to this whole issue.

We each have to know what our experiences are, what the weather conditions are going to be like, what we can put up with day after day, month after month, while out on the trail, and we all have to have the skills to make it back home. A shelter, whether it is 1.13 pounds, or 0.47 pounds, has a function to perform. Know your skills, know your conditions, know your gear. Go with what works.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 01/31/2013 03:26:06 MST Print View

(sigh, website double posted my post)

Edited by JohnAbela on 01/31/2013 03:34:04 MST.

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
"Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013" on 01/31/2013 05:37:45 MST Print View

"There is no right or wrong, better or worse, advantages or disadvantages, to this whole issue.

We each have to know what our experiences are, what the weather conditions are going to be like, what we can put up with day after day, month after month, while out on the trail, and we all have to have the skills to make it back home. A shelter, whether it is 1.13 pounds, or 0.47 pounds, has a function to perform. Know your skills, know your conditions, know your gear. Go with what works."

Well said, John!

hex on 01/31/2013 10:07:46 MST Print View

There should be no need for a bivy with a shaped tarp.

A hexamid solo with full netting, cuben ground sheet, stakes and cf stake sack is 439g.
You are carrying extra wt with the bivy, have less room to move about too.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
@John and MB on 01/31/2013 12:37:55 MST Print View

John - Yes, there are always trade offs with any choice of gear, and you bring up some good observations. I would like to know more about how you got to 513g all in with your Sky X. What pushes mine up to 575g is mostly a ground cover to protect the floor, plus I opted to use a regular nylon stuff sack to absorb and wick any moisture off the tent from rain and/or condensation. Of course I give it a good shake before I pack it up, but I found the regular nylon stuff sack helps to dry it out (plus keep the rest of the inside of my pack drier). I am guessing you use Cuben stuff sack and CF tent stakes to cut more weight? Any other mods or tips?

MB - Point well taken about the Hextent. Yes, with my bivy it adds 54g more than if I were to use your Hextent set up, and yes there is more space inside to move free and such. But a few things to consider are that you don't have the flexibility that I have for cowboy camping (i.e. no tarp, just bivy--plus bug and wind protection), and perhaps more importantly for me is use in trail shelters. There are a lot of trail shelters here in Sweden, and nearly all of them I have slept in are of not bad to very good quality. Taking advantage of trail shelters offers a lot of benefits. They are often near water sources and very often have a fireplace, and all of them keep you up off the ground and protect you from rain/snow/wind but not bugs.

EDIT: In this post on my blog are several pictures of a nice example of a Swedish trail shelter in case anyone is interested:

Next is that there are bivies out there (and I do plan on upgrading in the future) that cut the weight down more. The regular size Borah Cuben side zip bivy is 4.5oz/128g. Throw in a Cuben stuff sack for another 5g, and you are at 133g, and if/when I switch out this bivy for my current one, my total would be 416g--which is 23g lighter than your Hextent set up.

But a good option to point out with the Hextent.

Edited by PrimeZombie on 01/31/2013 12:45:30 MST.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 02/04/2013 07:46:01 MST Print View

I am using the AMK SOL Survival Blanket as a groundcloth. I picked it up the day they hit the market and it has been holding up very well.

Yes I am using a cuben fiber stuff sack. I switched to a 0.54 one that I had, as the one that SMD ships with the SX is just to bloody small in my opinion.

Yes, I am using the carbon fiber stakes. Have around 1000 miles on the set I have now and still no problems with them. But, those l-stakes that SMD sales are still my favorite.

As for modifications: I have applied one-sided tape to the underside of the bathtub floor in the corners where SMD does not apply any.

I am really considering switching out the guylines with 2mm and throwing some linelocks onto it, just to help speed up setting up the shelter. For some reason it seems most of the time I set it up is when it is raining. The ability to just jam stakes into the ground anywhere and tighten it up as I work my way around the shelter, just seems worth the extra weight.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: Re: Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 02/04/2013 09:23:39 MST Print View

I seam sealed the corners and have had no issues with water getting in, though I have only used it in light to moderate rain. It really is an amazing shelter and a great option to have. I took it out on a 5 day section hike I did back in August, and now plan on using it for trips to places where there are no trail shelters nearby, like short off-trail and bushwhacking trips. I must admit I had a bit of trouble setting it up at first, but now I got it down, and it does go up fairly quick.

Are you including the weight of the carbon fiber poles, or do you use trekking poles? I am still impressed with how your SX set up is about 60g/2.1oz lighter than mine.

I have been doing more trail backpacking as of late, so the flexibility of the tarp/bivy wins out for me for trails, but it's a tough call. Then there are other fully enclosed hybrids as MB pointed out with the Hex w/net, plus there is the MLD Cricket w/Cuben floor. According to Ten Pound Backpack, it clocks in at 402g, but that's without everything included.

Anyone have an all Cuben Cricket and can chime in here on their final weight of their set up, and if/when they would take it over a tarp/bivy or not?

I'd also be interested in hearing any Borah Cuben bivy reviews--I Googled that recently and didn't find anything, just the standard silnylon ones, which were all good reviews from what I saw.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Tarp and bivy vs. hybrid tent debate 2013 on 02/04/2013 13:58:54 MST Print View

I just bought the demo bivy that Borah had at the CA GGG. I should have it for a snow trip to Desolation Wilderness in two weeks. Don't really think I need it yet, at least for bugs.:) 4.5oz. with noseeum on the top.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Small update on 03/08/2013 04:48:39 MST Print View

I have mentioned this in a few other threads, but thought I would post it here where it is most relevant.

I recently got a Borah Cuben bivy and have been toying around with it. I was happy to find out that it has more space than I expected after I got inside it along with a my Neoair Xlite (fully inflated). As some have probably seen, I have been exploring the idea of modifying this bivy with a foot vent to help deal with condensation. Then it occurred to me that I might be fixing something that is not broken. My other bivy that I have gotten condensation in--and it was only minor, I never got soaked, always just in the foot box--is made of silnylon on top. My new bivy is M50 on top, which ought to be more breathable. I did switch out stuff sacks for the bivy, opting for a larger one to make it easier to stuff and unstuff--I would have used Cuben, but all I have in my collection right now that was the size I prefer is a silnylon, though this only adds around 5g so not that big a deal even for SUL.

I have also decided that maybe my double layer ground cover is overkill. There are some people that don't even use a ground cover when they use a bivy, after all. So I will switch to a single plastic (garbage bag) ground cover and as always do careful campsite selection, plus when I use my Xlite it will be protected by the bivy+ground cover which is a double layer anyhow.

All in, my trail shelter system for my late May-early September trips will be:

Hex solo tarp w/beak, guy lines, and Cuben stuff sack - 127g
8 Ti stakes, Cuben stake sack - 50g
Borah Cuben bivy w/side zip, silnylon stuff sack - 135g
Ground cover - 43g

Total - 355g

This combo is one of the lightest full protection from elements + bugs/critters I have seen, and has the added bonus of flexibility that I elaborated on earlier. In the spring and fall when bugs/critters are not an issue, I will leave the bivy and replace the ground cover for the double ground cover. This would give me a shelter system of 265g but sans full protection from elements, not to mention the weight savings is negated and then some by the weight of a warmer 3 season sleeping bag anyhow, but still worth noting for the gram obsessed.

Next step is to get out there and put this shelter system to the test, my main concern will be if I end up modding the bivy or not, we'll see.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: Small update on 03/23/2013 11:00:09 MDT Print View

Cesar, that's a nice looking bit of kit.

How do you find the sizing of the Borah cuben bivy with the fully inflated Neo Air? Is it easy to roll around without feeling constricted, and/or are you a side sleeper?

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Big Endians and Little Endians on 03/24/2013 14:17:14 MDT Print View

Like the debate in Gulliver's Travels between two groups on which end of an egg should be opened first (big or little) the tarp/groundsheet/netting v.s. tent debate will never end.

For me, who HAD to tarp in all seasons when I could not afford a tent in the '60s and '70s, I've migrated to tents. I just love a well designed tent.

OK, I'm a 70 year old geezer who wants to keep my load light so I have the original, single wall TT Moment. It's 28 oz. with two MSR Groundhog stakes. "Notta too bad, notta too bad."

The TT Moment is VERY fast to set up, very aerodynamic and thus stable in high winds, has a nice vestibule for both my pack and for sheltered cooking and has great ventilation if I want it.

But, yes, the Skyscape X of CF is likely the lightest fully enclosed solo tent available and my first choice if the situation demanded. It has a great minimalist design that also has great flexibility.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: Re: Small update on 03/27/2013 00:08:36 MDT Print View

"How do you find the sizing of the Borah cuben bivy with the fully inflated Neo Air?"

As I said before, it seems to have plenty of space, but I have not had the time to test it in the field yet. Once I do I will be sure to report back.

"Is it easy to roll around without feeling constricted, and/or are you a side sleeper?"

I rolled around a bit with my initial indoor test, and was fine, but again--this is just a first impressions type test. I am both a side and back sleeper. I tend to move around a lot in my sleep, another reason I like using a bivy. I have woken up with a cold back in the middle of the night because I rolled off my sleeping pad completely.