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Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment.
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Travis Higdon
(life-goes-on) - M

Locale: PNW
Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/08/2014 22:21:27 MST Print View

I'm in the market for an ultralight shelter for seated, daytime activities during heavy rain trips in the PNW. I would use it primarily with 2 people, rarely 3, and probably never solo. I would use this for long "day" trips (under 24 hours with no planned camping) and it would be my primary emergency shelter.

Here's my wish list:
-Ultralight, preferably under 6 oz with tarp, lines, stakes.
-Sets up VERY fast with one or two trekking poles. It has to be so easy that I'll actually use it.
-Packs very small.
-Reasonable 3-season rain protection with some exposure or light winds.

I do not need:
-Bug protection
-Ground cover
-Doors, beaks, or other features

The Z-Packs Pocket Tarp is probably at the top of my list. For light use such as this I think the 0.34 oz/sqyd cuben is just right. I'm really only concerned about the head room for 2, and it certainly would be tight or useless for 3. But maybe in the seated position there's ample room. I spoke with Joe about this and he indicated that two people under 5'8" could sit comfortably. I'm 6'. I wonder how easily it could be pitched in a higher position.

I'm also looking at flat tarps. I'll lose some simplicity, but gain some flexibility. MDL has the Monk which is 4.3x9' (pretty narrow) and even the Dog might work (5x5'). Or I could just have a custom size made from the 0.34 cuben from Z-Packs.

Does anyone else use a shelter for this purpose? What are you using? I'd love some real world experience.

Edited by life-goes-on on 01/09/2014 13:26:06 MST.

Matthew Perry
(bigfoot2) - F

Locale: Oregon
Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/08/2014 23:19:54 MST Print View

YMMV, but, that said....a tarp (with doors) and a hammock has worked much better than a tent ever did for me at least, for the last several years here in rainy Oregon. My total pack weight for two days is 11 pounds (with some luxuries), so it can be done ultralight. I use cuben and sil tarps, depending on my mood and the trip. No condensation, stand up room,no wet dog in the tent (sleeps under my hammock), breakfast from the hammock, etc. Even if you don't use a hammock, i'd still go the tarp with doors route while sleeping under it on the ground. This system would easily accommodate your needs during the day for three people (just pack up the hammock), and double as a luxuriously roomy night time sleeping area. Based on your weight limits, cuben would be the way to go. Not exactly what you were asking for, but it's what works for me in the rain.




Or just go all the way and get a Smokehouse Outfitter winter tarp:



Edited by bigfoot2 on 01/08/2014 23:45:15 MST.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/09/2014 00:20:08 MST Print View

I agree with Matthew.

There is nothing better than a hammock + tarp setup when backpacking in continuous rain in forested areas (like the PNW). The biggest issue with hammock camping is dealing with treeless areas and also figuring out a system for couples hammock camping. I still haven't been able to find a suitable hammocking system for my wife and I, so we have gone to ground for the moment... such a shame.

Anyway, back on topic. Your daytime shelter is obviously going to be a tarp, and with your weight requirements, it's almost certainly going to be a cuben fiber tarp.

With that said, I'd recommend a flat tarp, because it will allow you to set it up high between two trees and actually walk around under it and comfortably sit under it as a group. I can't stress enough how important this is going to be for your enjoyment. Crouching under a low pitched tarp is going to get really old really fast...

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
check out a bothy on 01/09/2014 12:57:26 MST Print View

This may not satisfy your criteria for compact or weight, but you can't beat how fast it is to deploy. Videos on youtube show folks in the UK using them with stoves inside for tea breaks.

If it's really coming down, who wants to take time to pitch a tarp?

Matthew Perry
(bigfoot2) - F

Locale: Oregon
Bothys on 01/10/2014 00:12:54 MST Print View

No way would I be comfortable in one of those condensation coffin "bothys". I sure as heck would not try and cook in one. That's just asking for trouble. YMMV.


Edited by bigfoot2 on 01/10/2014 00:13:32 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/10/2014 00:31:18 MST Print View

You just need the UL equivalent of the blue poly tarp, like an 8x10 or even larger silnylon tarp, or Cuben if your budget allows. Rig it from the trees like a hammock tarp to hide from the rain. Tip it into the wind and hunker down for a break. It will give lots of options for improvising emergency shelter.

If you are really on a budget, really cheap blue poly tarps aren't very heavy.

Travis Higdon
(life-goes-on) - M

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/10/2014 01:10:44 MST Print View

Thanks for the feedback thus far, everyone. Imagine my surprise when scrolling through the pictures of suggested setups to see a winter setup slightly nicer, probably warmer, and just as heavy as my living room! Makes me rethink some of that "type 2 fun" spent in much colder shelters, but getting back on topic...

I've been in a bothy bag once for wind protection on the very exposed south rim of St. Helens. It's a great wind break, and a viable option in a life-threatening situation, but I'd like something that doesn't have to be all or nothing enclosed protection. Plus, I'd need a vent to be comfortable regularly boiling water in one no matter what fuel I was using, and vents and windows start to add weight. They are crazy fast to deploy, and cheap, on the plus side.

What attracted me to the pocket tarp, in addition to the weight, is how easy they appear to pitch. However, I hike with two poles, so there's no weight penalty going with a two-pole shelter and this would probably add significant head room. I guess I balked at the flat tarp idea because of setup time, but really it's not that time consuming to pitch a diamond or an a-frame if the conditions don't dictate something specific. If I went with a flat tarp, however, I'd probably stretch my weight goal a few ounces because a little more tarp area (thinking 8x8) and a little more line means that this could more comfortably double as a planned primary shelter. I don't know, maybe the right choice is to stick with a proven system (flat, square tarp). The price difference compared to specialized tarps is small, and for about 3 more ounces I do get a lot of flexability over a pocket tarp. Which is nice, because what I want in an open lunch shelter and an enclosed emergency shelter is quite different and hard to achieve both using something that's more specialized for one or the other.

Anyone else using something other than a flat tarp for these types of activities?

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Ultralight shelter options for cooking, resting, eating, or emergencies in a continuous rain environment. on 01/10/2014 01:50:52 MST Print View

I agree with Dale...
An 8x10 foot tarp is probably the ticket for you. I don't think it's ever worth skimping on the size of tarps, because the weight difference between a tarp that is very comfortable to live in and one that is borderline too small is always just a few ounces. Not worth the hassle and the sacrifice of versatility and comfort IMO. Also, if you are ever trying to accommodate another person sleeping under the tarp with you, I really wouldn't go smaller than 8x10.

With that said, if you are really just using this thing solely for eating lunch under, then you could probably get away with something smaller.

If you do decide to get a full size tarp, you could use that as your primary shelter for overnights, as you mentioned in your post above, saving additional weight.

As far as the setup goes, it sounds like you will be primarily camping in the forest. With that in mind, you will probably being tying the tarp between two trees 90% of the time. This is the easiest type of setup, and will take you all of 5 leisurely minutes to accomplish (if that). Saving 2 minutes on your setup is not worth worrying about, IMO. Once you are setup, you will love having the extra space to stretch out, and it'll be more than worth any additional time it took to get everything dialed in.

Just my two cents.

Edited by dmusashe on 01/10/2014 01:56:46 MST.

John H
(pastyj) - F

Locale: SE US
+1 on 8x10 flat tarp on 01/10/2014 06:16:13 MST Print View

I estimate 2 min setup time to stretch it between 2 trees. You select the height during setup. Something goes not to plan and you are stuck overnight? You got your shelter. Cuben or Sil, your choice of weight v. dollars.

I just got a Borah Gear 5.5x9 Sil flat tarp to create a porch over the tent for those trips with extended rain. Borah does great work. Too bad the Borahgami isn't offered in Cuben :)

Edited by pastyj on 01/10/2014 06:18:54 MST.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Gatewood cape on 01/11/2014 09:58:02 MST Print View

Not quite the criteria specified but close --- for times when I DON'T expect it to be raining all the time, a Gatewood cape is good combination raingear and emergency shelter on a day hike. In an emergency, two could cuddle up in there as a shaped tarp.

Catch is that I'm not thrilled with it as a rain poncho; it works, but if I expect significant and/or extended precip then I'll incline to some sort of rain shell.

Even then, the G.C. isn't bad strictly as emergency shelter; total weight isn't that bad if you plan to field-expedient some of the stakes, bring a light/minimal polycro ground cloth, and are using at least one trekking pole anyway.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Gatewood cape on 01/11/2014 12:47:00 MST Print View

The cape is great as a shelter for one, but I hear the OP asking for day hike shelter for rest stops and dining for 2-3 people. You could pull it off with a poncho, but kind of crowded for two, especially in a downpour. The OP's wish for 6oz or less is pushing the edge of the envelope and definitely riding in the Cuben side of things.

The Borahgami tarp shelter has a lot of potential for this too. It has all the rigging options for more tarp like setups plus a fully enclosed shelter for two. At 13 ounces, it is not out of the question for a one person shelter and only 2 ounces more than a Gatewood.

You could buy a big chunk of window insulation film (aka polycryo) and rig it as a tarp. That would be hard to beat for weight and cost. Good views too :) When it gets tired, you could cut it down for a ground cloth.

Edited by dwambaugh on 01/11/2014 12:50:46 MST.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

UL Shelter on 01/11/2014 16:29:51 MST Print View

The small flat tarp suggestions are the only options that are going to come close to your weight goal, but they do lag a mid in set up ease.

The low weight of a cuben or plastic flat tarp means that it'll be light enough to come along every time, but you might not pull it out that often because it takes most mortals 5-10 min to setup well which means it's a hassle for a 15 minute snack break (yes I'm sure some tarp guru's can set 'em up in 2 min but I sure can't).

Something like a MLD speedmid is much faster to pitch: toss a stake in each of the 4 corners and shove a pole in the middle. You can do it sub 30 seconds pretty easily. I know I'd pull one of these out a lot more often than a big flat tarp on a day hike. You can get one in cuben for 14oz and $545. Also consider stake weight. With this you need only 4, whereas a big tarp likely needs 8-10 which can be a couple ounces right there.

Considering that my pack is usually darn light on a day hike anyways, I personally would accept this weight penalty in exchange for the faster and simpler single pole pitch. This is also going to be far more capable in tough conditions. If you want to hunker down on an alpine ridge you don't want a few guys under the Zpacks pocket tarp. Then again, this would be overkill in other circumstances.

Edited by dandydan on 01/11/2014 16:31:16 MST.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: UL Shelter on 01/11/2014 16:44:19 MST Print View

Tarp has raised edges. If it's windy and rainy, rain will blow in. If you have bivy it can accomodate this but that weighs more.

Mid with edges close to ground is much better. Depends on conditions and what you feel like.

Travis Higdon
(life-goes-on) - M

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Gatewood cape on 01/13/2014 12:50:11 MST Print View

Thank you all for the continued input.

Yesterday's trip is a good example of what I need and why I need it. 18 mile out and back day trip in the Columbia River Gorge. Elevation 200ft to ~4000ft. Environment ranged from 30-35 degrees F, light to moderate rain became wet snow including 1L size slush "bombs" falling from trees 50+ ft overhead. Minimal wind in tree protected areas. Break location options ranged from bare rock to mud to 4" deep slush to 6" snow. So these are not bad (ie. dangerous) conditions by any means but remaining relatively comfortable takes a sense of humor. At higher elevations, I was very much aware that I had little interest in crawling along the ground to get in and out of a low pitched shelter. If I had had a pocket tarp in my pack, I probably wouldn't have used it for that reason. Two people plus gear huddled on wet ground is one thing, but the same situation in very wet snow or slush is another. I would at least want to be able to be on my knees to access pockets and change clothes. I had plenty of trees to tie line. We agreed we wanted a tarp and I think it would have been great under those conditions. Instead, we kept moving pretty much all day.

Regarding true pyramid use, I think that would be great, just heavy. I'm on the verge of purchasing an HMG UltaMid 2 as my next shelter and I might consider bringing it on day trips with 3-4 people if I anticipate longer breaks or nastier conditions. Now, the idea of using polycryo to make a tarp for this purpose is actually a really good one. Like most people I briefly looked at that for shelter building but never took it seriously due to strength concerns. But for trips like yesterday, that might have been perfect. It wouldn't always work as I would need this in some more exposed locations, and pitching it might take a little while because you'd have to be super careful not to be too rough with it or over tighten it. But still, I might give that a try. I wouldn't be too upset about replacing it vs. a cuben tarp made of the lightest material. Off to go research polycro tarp building.

Ryan "Rudy" Oury

Locale: East Bay - CA
re: polycro tarp construction on 01/15/2014 09:35:47 MST Print View

I bought the GG large (6'x8') polycro tarp ~4 months ago and fashioned up a decent tarp out of it. The polycro is relatively fragile and if it fails, it does so "catastrophically" (ie, a rip starts and doesn't stop until it hits an edge or added reinforcement). Taking this into consideration, I reinforced w/ 3/4" wide packing tape (the kind w/ the fibers running longitudinally in it) at each edge, across the middle at halfway point each direction and diagonally. Each bisecting reinforcement continues out past each corner and at halfway of each edge to create 8 tie-off points. I can give you more details/pics of exactly how I did it if you like, but there is a fair bit of info in the MYOG section where people have done this basic idea w/ lots of iterations on reinforcer, location and material.

Final product came to tarp plus tape ~6.5oz... add mason's line guy lines (~60' total) at <1 oz and 8 "shirt-hanger" stakes at <2 oz for total kit weight = 9.5oz. If I'd been a little smarter about how I did the tape in the first place, could probably drop another .5 oz w/ no loss in strength/function. Let me know if you want any pics.

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
GOLD Gear on 01/15/2014 15:54:31 MST Print View

Hi Travis,

There is a company on Etsy that makes polycro shelters. He'll even create a closed-end shelter with zippers if desired. This may assuage your concerns on the fragility of polycro. Note, I haven't used polycro in this application, nor have I used or are affiliated with GOLD Gear. I have however heard good things regarding their products, used with due care of course.

It makes we want to make a polycro tarp! I would love a really light cuben tarp for summer trips but have been unable to afford the steep prices for something that would be used infrequently, and it would be heart-breaking to damage an expensive .34oz cuben tarp. With polycro, I can afford to make a new one whenever it fails.



Travis Higdon
(life-goes-on) - M

Locale: PNW
I think this may be the answer, for now. on 01/22/2014 10:52:08 MST Print View

Well, since I'm still trying to figure out what configuration would work as the best balance between function and ease of use, I think this polycryo (used as a generic term for any number of plastic) tarp idea is a really good place to start. It's dirt cheap compared to cuben so I can repurpose any designs that don't work out due to size or shape. The existing knowledge base and threads on poly tarps is huge and I've been reading through them slowly. Once I find a design that works well for my intended purpose, I'll either keep using it if durability is good or I'll have it duplicated in cuben. Or, maybe not. I may end up loving the view out of a clear shelter.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
"tent/tarp" on 01/22/2014 12:25:39 MST Print View

After selling my single wall TT Moment I'm ordering the Moment DW.

I can use the fly alone as "tent/terp" It's light, wind stable, well-vented and very fast to pitch.

Your 2-person requirement can be satisfied with a TT Stratospire (2 fly alone) using your hiking poles for supports, as it was designed to do.

AFTERWORD: I've had my time "tarping" in the '70s and in my golden years like the speed of setting up tents virtuallly anywhere it's flat enough to camp. I have the skills to tarp, and even the tarps, but not the desire.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/22/2014 12:29:16 MST.

John H
(pastyj) - F

Locale: SE US
re: fragile Polycro on 01/22/2014 13:16:59 MST Print View

My experience with the GG Ploycro would not lead me to call it "fragile". Admittedly, I've never used it as a tarp, but I have tried to rip it...started at an edge...did my best and got nowhere. I would actually call it pretty bombproof.

It IS awfully light...Polycro in the wind is definitely a flag, or even a sail (depending on the size). It's also hard to handle when sticks to itself something awful.

Recently found the 2x thick window film at Walmart and gave it try. It's definitely easier to deal with in wind and wet, but also 2x the weight (go figure). Since my ground sheet is small, it only adds ~1 oz so I'm going to call it a win.

I think it would definitely stand up to being used as a tarp...Ryan's idea to use packing tape seems right-on.