Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Tarps vs tents vs bivys: What's your $0.02?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Tarp w/hammock on 01/25/2014 15:41:19 MST Print View

I agree with Lance that a lightweight tarp + hammock combo is the best option in general for east coast hiking where suitable hammocking trees are almost always plentiful.

With that said, it sounds like the OP might be doing lots of oceanside camping. This opens up the possibility of having very little tree cover, and if that is the case, then a hammock + tarp will not be a very good shelter solution.

If the OP is camping on lots of sandy beaches where trees are not plentiful, I would wholeheartedly suggest a fully enclosed tent with a bathtub floor. Without this fully enclosed haven, the sand will drive you nuts. Additionally, where there is sand, there are often little nasty biting creatures like sand fleas. You will not want these little critters to be able to get to you at night, trust me!

Edited by dmusashe on 01/25/2014 15:44:17 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: windblown sand on 01/25/2014 16:33:20 MST Print View

"Without this fully enclosed haven, the sand will drive you nuts."

Amen! I've cowboy camped on a beach and gotten up in the morning with an ear full of sand, sand in my teeth, sand in my skivvies, you name it. Makes for gritty hiking! If you can get off the beach, do it.

There is a near invisible layer of super fine windblown sand a few inches over the ground that gets into every nook and cranny. I've seen cameras left on a dry blanket for safe keeping that were turned into paperweights by the unnoticed blowing sand. Imagine what it does to your clothing and other gear. Your food too.

We're used to going to the beach for a few hours wearing swimsuits and dropping a fair share as we walk back to the car, but camping in it overnight is a whole other order of things.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Sand in Cameras... on 01/25/2014 18:19:36 MST Print View


I have an Olympus TG 1 waterproof/shock resistant camers made for absent-minded klutzes like me.

So far none of Utah's Grand Escalante windblown gulch sand has got inside the TG 1. But that sand has managed to get in every other crevass, crack, orfice, zipper, water container, food bag, hair, teeth, etc.

Haven't dropped it in the "crick" - yet but have gotten it rain soaked in Denmark with no problems.

P.S. And that Utah sand came in the excellent mesh ventilation of my Moment single wall. THAT, among other reasons, is why I sold it to an easterner and am getting the Moment DW. "A man's gotta know his (tent's) limitations." to paraphrase Dirty Harry.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/25/2014 18:22:18 MST.

Tyler N

Locale: Vuur-Gin-Yaa!
Re: Re: windblown sand on 01/26/2014 01:56:57 MST Print View

"...sand in my teeth, sand in my skivvies..."
Ah yes - the ol' sandy-scratchy-short shuffle. Definitely did that dance when I was a kid. Very good point!
It looks like I'll need a more enclosed shelter for specifically beach/sandy shore camping. Ultimately I'll be investing in 2 systems; a tarp+insert for humid & buggy coastal forests, and a specialized shelter for the sand. Over the upcoming months I plan on exploring the banks of the Potomac, and then beach areas like False Cape + Cape Lookout. With those terrains I'll get equal use, and appreciate both. Most nights it's so humid a bug net is enough (w/tarp for weather insurance); but when I hit the beaches more protection will be in order. I just pulled the trigger on an HMG flat tarp the other day; still researching the shelter option for the sand...thanks again everyone

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Re: Re: windblown sand on 01/26/2014 05:11:57 MST Print View

I camp quite often at False Cape, both on the beach, in the dunes area and also bayside. Best choice is bayside. I have weathered some horrific storms in that area, beach/bayside. Here is what I have learned: for sand camping, you need special stakes. Trust me on this....winds in that area pick up for no apparent reason. As others have said, there is a fine layer of constant fine sand blowing and getting into everything. Everything. Silnylon is the worst shelter for sand. It attracts it like a magnet. I now use my free-standing Hubba for beach camping. Sand will still get inside but not as much. Also in that area, there are cotton mouths that will get into your campsite. If you use a tarp, be sure that nothing is left open for some snake to slither inside. It has happened. Seasonally are the flys, and they bite. You will need something to escape and rest from them. They like yellow and white colors.

That is a wonderful place to camp. It has much to offer in the area to hike around; ferrel pigs if you are lucky enough to see them; dolphins playing in the waves, lots of migrating birds...and pure beauty. You can take a kayak trip for a few hours with the park service and learn about the area.

I have to agree with the others here...there is no one shelter for it all. I haven't done the hammock thing yet. I get seasick on a swing!

Good luck with your search.

Tyler N

Locale: Vuur-Gin-Yaa!
Re: Re: Re: Re: windblown sand on 01/26/2014 11:03:54 MST Print View

Bingo - thank you SO much, Donna! That info is pure gold; really helps me anticipate these specific areas. This completely confirms the need for a specialized shelter on these SE beaches. At this point weight is looking like the least of my concerns with the wildlife and weather in mind; protection + stability will be the priorities. Heck, that whole Outer Banks area IS nicknamed "The Graveyard of the Atlantic" from its coastal conditions! I'm not going to be naive & assume I can just tiptoe on the beach, relying on some UL magic - only to get smacked upside the head with turbulent winds and sand spray. I'm shifting my focus a little more towards an UL tent for sandy+windy conditions. 4-season possibilities are further down on my list so I may invest in a mid later on when that hits my radar; those definitely seem to be the solution to snowfall. The UL tent will give freestanding (still staked, of course) beach support + I'll still want a mesh inner for this setup (possibly using the same one that would fit the HMG flat tarp on order). Well, now at least I have a much clearer focus - thanks again everyone! I think I just saved a few hundred $$$s w/this post

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Shelter system on 01/26/2014 13:04:30 MST Print View

The problem with questions like this is that shelters are really dependent on conditions which they are being used. To deal with this I have locked into a three piece system.

1) a solomid style tarp.
2) a net inner.
3) a bivy.

The tarp gets used year round. The inner gets used in bug season/heat. The bivy for the cold. Normally, I only set up the tarp when its going to rain or snow or occasional cold/wind. I evolved this system from a tarp bivy which I successfully used in western environments. But this system is lacking in the heat and bugs of the eastern summer. This is where the change to a bug inner makes life a lot nicer.

Edited by gg-man on 01/26/2014 13:16:27 MST.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: windblown sand on 01/27/2014 04:58:45 MST Print View

If you can afford it..go cuben. My guess is sand won't cling to it and you can bring the sides down low enough to repel blowing sand and salt...somewhat.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Tarps vs tents vs bivys: What's your $0.02? on 01/27/2014 06:10:25 MST Print View

Yeah, pretty much agree with varible conditions, variable shelter requirements.

But, don't forget the focus of this forum. This bacpackingLIGHT. Lightweight gear and it's uses are always the first concern. Tents have come down in weight a LOT over the past 5 years or so. It is possible to find a full tent for around 16oz. This is pretty remarkable considering that when I started a light tent was around 6 pounds. Most of the savings has been done recently. They are still expensive, though. Example: Z-packs Hexamid Solo, ~$430.

Only a 4 season tent will work for ALL conditions. They do not work well in summer. But are tight enough to stop most spindrift/sand. Do you really want to carry the weight? How many times are you going to need this type of shelter? If you can answer 5 out of ten, then get it. If you answer 1 out of ten, then you might consider another type. Buying a single tent for all conditions will mean carrying extra weight, the vast majority of the times you get out.

I am not above using a net tent for black fly season in the north-east. It weighs a bit more, but, I know it is worth the added comfort. I can also ellect to drop it and just use the tarp. I save about 8-12oz. That's the point of components. Thay can be added or subtracted as needed for a week long trip somewhere. Or you can have three or four tents that essentially do the same thing. These are YOUR choices, though.

Tyler N

Locale: Vuur-Gin-Yaa!
Re: Re: Tarps vs tents vs bivys: What's your $0.02? on 01/27/2014 08:18:38 MST Print View

James - I agree with your thought process in assessing the criteria for investment; ultimately 2 separate systems (component-based) are the answer. And I thought I could have it all...

"Lightweight gear and it's uses are always the first concern"
Zooming out a little bit, I realize that for certain beach trips I'll be essentially sea kayaking with a packraft - searafting? The conditions will demand shelter performance from some UL tent, but everything will have to fit within an HMG 4400 Porter Pack - so any solution will end up being UL pretty much by necessity. Especially since I'll have other gear specific for the water, I'll be trying to overcompensate by cutting weight however I can. Keeping UL principles in mind will be the only realistic way to address all the performance issues without literally breaking my back. I'll just cut back in other areas more efficiently. A fun balancing act...

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
packrafting the atlantic on 01/27/2014 12:49:25 MST Print View

Just an aside- I'm not sure I'd take a packraft on open ocean (or even a large body like Pamlico) unless I had a very reliable weather report of absolutely no wind. Sure, you can struggle your way across a fjord or inlet in wind if you have to, but wind will push a packraft around mercilessly so for a dedicated boating trip I'd recommend a more formidable boat. Folbot makes quite affordable folding skin-on-frame kayaks (by which I mean $1k-2k range) and they have a simply stellar customer service reputation. More expensive options are Feathercraft, Klepper, or Long Haul- I have one of the latter. Or, of course, a traditional non-folding boat. (One of these days I'm going to build one of the Chesapeake Light Craft kits...)

Edited by acrosome on 01/27/2014 12:53:49 MST.

Tyler N

Locale: Vuur-Gin-Yaa!
Re: packrafting the atlantic on 01/27/2014 14:20:25 MST Print View

I hear you loud&clear, Dean - definitely part of my planning. I'm proceeding very conservatively with my assessment of the packraft in larger bodies of water. "Crossings" will be more of skirting around coastlines vs. eskimo-rolling epic charges into deep sea. This year I'll be paddling nearby bays and sharpening navigational skills for more adventurous trips. Of course, I have all sorts of fantasies involving wind sails, rudders ...we'll see what actually works...
Yeah - those Folbots do look pretty sweet. Nothing more "UL" than origami technology!

Edited by mantaray on 01/27/2014 14:27:44 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
The problem with bivys on 01/27/2014 18:42:59 MST Print View

Other than special uses, such as mountaineering, I find bivys to be a band aid for something lacking in the shelter department. With poncho/tarps, it is the fact the shelter may be too small. For warm retention or wind resistance, the rest of your gear to not matched to the conditions. And bivys tend to create their own problems, such as condensation.

I have used a bivy a lot over the years -- to compensate for my dual-purpose poncho/tarp.

But with new lightweight materials, you can have a shelter, rain gear, and floor for less weight than a combination that includes a bivy.

As mentioned, a good mid can work great -- no bivy needed. There are lighter options for ground protection. I think we get over concerned with bugs... unless you live in Alaska or Minnesota.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: The problem with bivys on 01/27/2014 18:47:17 MST Print View

My special use for a bivy would be laziness. Just crawl in and sleep.

Richard Fischel
for me, beach camping = 80% of the time free standing tent on 01/27/2014 20:08:22 MST Print View

i've been very happy with my bd lighthouse on the beach. roomy interior for one, big screen door for ventilation, can stand up to to a breeze that would flatten many other tents with just 4 guy outs from the mid-pole points on each corner to dead men and is light colored so it doesn't get too hot. if you are worried about the epic fabric, take a look at the integral designs chock tents. they are not the lightest tent in the world, but they are 4-season, free standing, big screened door, solid in a breeze, event fabric skin and they are blowing them out at a lot of places for around $200+.