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Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge
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Shawn Peterson
(afterdarkphoto) - MLife

Locale: Nor Cal
Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 09:39:49 MDT Print View

I wanted to start this thread off by thanking everyone in this community for the massive amount of help, friendliness to newcomers, and great information you pass on.

I have successfully, through the help of this forum and other sources, increased my base knowledge of lighter weight backpacking and making better gear choices.

With that....I have one of my last umbilical cords to sever but its the hardest one for me. I've been using a Copper Spur UL2 for the past several seasons. I have read through the forums extensively about tarp tents and the benefits, the cons, condensation, etc. As I sit here and look at my gear, how small and compact and light it has all become, at how little space it all takes, and then keep darting my eyes to that big orange tent bag, I get a sinking feeling.

I know I can get my base weight a full pound lighter if I let go of my dual walled tent and ground sheet. But I am super gun shy....Last year on the JMT I experienced 7 straight days of rain. One night a flash flood! My little tent held strong and kept me dry until the 8th day. On the 8th day it failed and the tub seeped water...but that's a story for another day (REI took it back and I got a new one-the same one to be precise).

Other reasons for my shyness- the unknown....I can handle anything..except for being miserable every night for 10-14 days this year (my long trip is in August).

I'm 6'"3 and tent floor length is a challenge with some of the smaller tents. I'm late to the game here if I decide to move to a tarp tent this summer due to manufacturing reasons.

So in nutshell: I have looked at SMD Lunar DUO/ Tarp Tent Double Rainbow/ and many others.

I am a BD Z-pole user....

I know asking on a ultra light forum this kinda question is inevitable in its answer...but I'm interested in the process.

Thank in advance.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: tarps on 07/16/2013 09:47:05 MDT Print View

Personally, I think a properly pitched tarp is significantly more storm-worthy than most 3 season tents. Why not try a few incremental steps to see if you like it? Try sleeping with your Copper Spur with the bug netting left open one night. Then try sleeping with it pitched with just the fly and no inner. That's pretty close to being under a tarp. You'll probably like it.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 10:14:51 MDT Print View

Try cowboy camping without a shelter to get used to not having a tent. If you can't sleep that way then get back in your tent. You won't know until you try.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 10:59:17 MDT Print View

maybe go on sa nice hike, and bring both. borrow a tarp, bring yer tent. set them both up. go sleep under the tarp.
you'r covered in any situation.


Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 11:00:15 MDT Print View


We sound a lot alike. The solution for me was to keep the fairly heavy Copper Spur UL1 for poor weather and use a cuben tarp/nano net for good weather. I get the best of both worlds that way. Keep in mind my trips are rarely over 3-4 days so I can get a pretty accurate weather report and pick the right shelter.

For longer trips where that is difficult to do, I suggest starting with one of the larger tarps. The extra coverage is so nice when the weather gets nasty, and will only cost you 2oz or so. I get a little claustrophobic in heavy rain with a smaller tarp.


Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
hammocks... on 07/16/2013 11:33:51 MDT Print View

Your nightmare story about 8 days in rain is one reason I use a hammock.

I have a Warbonnet edge tarp which provides plenty of cover over my hammock and I'm up and off the ground so if there is a flash flood it won't impact me.

Look at hammocks and see if this is the route you want to take. is where you should probably go for most of your info here.

They're also like 100x more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.

They're amazingly flexible too. You can camp at the trailhead with the DENSEST of trees.

One downside is that if you're at high altitude you may have a hard time finding trees but I just try to go to a lower altutude. It's VERY rare that you won't find any trees in just an hour of hiking.

Of course this won't apply if you're camping in New Mexico where it's just desert.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 11:37:15 MDT Print View

I concur on going with the larger tarp at first. You can easily make one yourself inexpensively, or simply go with a blue tarp from the hardware store (a bit heavy, but really cheap for a test, and you can use it at home for something else). As someone noted, think of it as the outer wall of a double-wall tent that keeps the tent underneath dry.

With a larger tarp you can pin one edge down to the ground in a real blow, or even both edges, just make sure the ends don't point into the wind. But even that is not a problem if you go with a Jardine-style tarp end closure (aka a "bat wing"), but I think you'll have to make it since I haven't seen any on the market.

I too had to get over the psychological barrier of not being entirely enclosed. But now we like the more open feeling, having plants under the tarp with you, ease of setup, large covered area, ability to easily and safely cook underneath the tarp, etc.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: RE: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 12:16:35 MDT Print View

In addition to what Elliot mentioned...

Slowly build up your confidence with tarps in your backyard in inclement weather, try it again on a short trip with easy bail-out options, and then move on to bigger badder trips.

Borah Gear and BPWD both sell 8x11 tarps at reasonable prices. The biggest trick imo is making sure that water won't pool where you are sleeping. I once pitched a tent in a difficult to perceive bowl and woke up in a pool.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
you've already found the issue on 07/16/2013 13:20:09 MDT Print View

Shawn Peterson, I've gone through my share of heavy rains, in fact at times I have actively sought out heavy rains to go backpacking, since nobody else goes during those times, which is also by the way why I wouldn't think for a second to use a floorless tarp in any situation where heavy weather is likely.

You've already found what a bathtub floor does, trust your experience, I trust mine, I would never head out in cold weather in winter where there may be limited site selection which exclude the luxury of finding the perfect spot where water will not pool without a real tent with a real floor. Not so easy to do when the rain is driving and it's near freezing and you just want to get that tent up as quickly as possible. I'd use a tarp with net screen in certain climates I think, just not real rain situations.

Tarp tent type tents with built in bathtub floors cover a very wide range, for example, you can have Zpacks build you a large hexamid with a built in bathtub floor, almost all tarptents use a built in bathtub floor, and the trekking pole supported ones weigh only about a pound and a half, that's 1.5 pounds less than your copper spur 2 if I read it right. I believe the main obstacle you'd hit is the zpoles, most trekking pole supported tents should have some adjustment in the trekking poles to tension things, though maybe not all need that, I don't know.

Every time I look at serious rain areas like Northern Europe, and look at the tents they are making, I see basically some type of double walled tunnel tent, for very good reason, sitting in a typical mesh edged tarptent in driving cold rain strikes me as a fairly miserable way to hunker down in cold rainy climates, but each to their own I guess.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 14:06:42 MDT Print View

Using tarps is like using anything else with backpacking gear. It takes much more skill and knowledge to use it successfully. I just returned from 2 weeks along the NPT with rain 12 out of days. I just used a shaped tarp or slept in shelters.

One of the bigest concerns I had was with the bugs. Heat dictated light weight clothing. Wet meant that mosquitoes would bite right through it...DEET & permethrin were no real help. A fire at night would chase most bugs away, but the rain would put it out in short order. This was something that was not mentioned. Bug killer, sprayed on a bandana and kept in a plastic bag, lasted about 10 days. Fleas, no-seeums, deerflies, blackflies, etc are killed by hanging this near the peak. DEET on your head and hair and permethrin on your sleeping cloths will kill most ticks/repel most mosquitoes at night. ALWAYS keep your bag/sleeping cloths dry.

Open tarps are no different from shelters. They supply a dry roof. You need to select your ground carefully to not get flooded is the only difference. A mound or higher area that can be covered is the first requirement for staying dry. Under a larger pine tree works well, too.

Weight is perhaps the bigest reason to use a tarp. A 9' long shaped tarp that weighs about 14oz (16oz with line and stakes) and one 42" trekkng pole works OK for everything except winter camping. I have woken with puddles around me after 3+" of rain during a 2 hour lightening storm in 30-50mph winds. My bag was damp, though other gear was wet. Putting a cloths line up kept the cloths out of the water (though it does not dry that way.) I will say is that tarps work.

Jeffrey Whynot
(jcwhynot) - M

Locale: Northeast
Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 14:29:21 MDT Print View

Yes, those are the two biggest issues for me in the Northeast...rain and bugs. I noticed the OP mentioned the SMD Lunar Duo in the initial post. I bought the Lunar Solo this year. Love it so far.

Shawn Peterson
(afterdarkphoto) - MLife

Locale: Nor Cal
Interesting reading on 07/16/2013 15:05:52 MDT Print View

A ton of information being thrown out here...I love it.

I see a lot of different approaches from dipping toes in the pool to test the waters to jump right in.

Thank you all for your input and please feel free to continue expressing more ideas....I welcome the input.

The Hammock suggestion is one I can say I had never even entertained. But I am now perusing the hammock if I need another distraction!

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
zpacks hexamid is the best on 07/16/2013 15:09:12 MDT Print View

John Abela did a write up with a list of the lightest shelters under 20 ounces.

The Hexamid with a built in floor gives you lots of bug free living space. Set your backpack and gear beside you where bugs wont crawl over it.

The Hexamid weighs 9-10 ounces with guylines, add a piece of polycro or use a CCF pad and you have a very comfortable tent. For $300 there is nothing that beats this at the moment.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Hammock Forums on 07/16/2013 15:09:53 MDT Print View

Hammocks have a cult following and you'll only get the tip of the iceberg here imo. Check out as well. I've spent my 2013 backpacking allowance on ground dwelling gear as I'm doing the Wonderland this year and hammocks are a no-go. Next year will be all about getting my butt off the groud again. I'm a light sleeper but there is something about sleeping in a hammock that has a narcotic effect on me.

I have yet to read it but this book gets great reviews from reputable hammock hangers.

Lunar Duo/Solo looks like a great option too.

Edit: Ditto what Mike said. I have a Hexamid Twin w/ Cuben ground sheet and so far have been really happy with it.

Edity edit: And I'm 6'3" too.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 07/16/2013 15:16:51 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: tarps and tents on 07/16/2013 16:06:34 MDT Print View

Shawn, put my vote in the jump full in camp.

I'd say spend 100 bucks on an 8x10 sil flat tarp from a good (but not super-expensive) manufacturer (Locus, Yama, Oware; not MLD). With a tarptent you'll save 16-20 oz off your UL2, likely with less functional space and significantly worse condensation problems. Keep the UL2 for bug season and especially rainy trips. It's a better fully-enclosed shelter. Embrace the tarp learning experience for everything else. Don't use a bivy. Don't get one with beaks. Only use a groundsheet if you must (i.e. if you use a fragile inflatable mat). The bar for site selection will be higher. The bar for conditions assessment will be higher. Yes, eventually you'll pitch it too high, get surprised by weather, and get a bit wet. Yes, you'll underestimate the bugs and have to sleep in your headhet occasionally. Yes, you might not sleep as well the first few times out. You'll be paid back with 360 degree views during light montane rains, midnight aurora shows without getting out of bed, and a better eye for sites and conditions.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 16:11:34 MDT Print View

Are your poles the 130cm type ?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
What Dave C said... on 07/16/2013 16:18:08 MDT Print View

Agree 100%

8' X 10' sil flat tarp. No bivy needed. No net needed. Just wear a headnet and clothes. As you get more experience you may want to try more exotic and lighter tarps.

Shawn Peterson
(afterdarkphoto) - MLife

Locale: Nor Cal
Re: Trying to push myself to make the tarp plunge on 07/16/2013 16:25:52 MDT Print View

Yes...130cm z poles...two seasons ago version without the adjustable flint lock I see they offer towards the top of the pole now.

Shawn Peterson
(afterdarkphoto) - MLife

Locale: Nor Cal
Re: re: tarps and tents on 07/16/2013 16:31:01 MDT Print View

Tempting drive a hard sale.....

I think my experience last year with the 7 days of rain has me punchy.....I couldn't imagine being under a floor less tarp in last years weather...and it wasn't expected was supposed to be typical Sierra afternoon possible thunder storms.

I might do what another poster suggested above and try it for a few nights in the backyard ....$100.00 is bad to try....better than $500!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: re: tarps and tents on 07/16/2013 16:35:15 MDT Print View

Make one out of polyethylene. 2 mil is a bit fragile but light weight. 3 mil a little heavier. Painters tarp from big box store. $10 for 10' x 25' which is enough for a couple tarps. And $5 for Mason's twine which is enough for many tarps.

Or polycro - window insulation kit from big box store

Edited by retiredjerry on 07/16/2013 16:39:13 MDT.