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Tarptents in bad conditions
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Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/16/2007 01:25:13 MDT Print View

I read with interest the recent article regarding condensation in single wall tents. Very informative!

I would like to solicit those of you who use tarptents in harsh weather. I've experienced issues with my Squall and Cloudburst in high winds and heavy rain, both in terms of keeping the tent taut (think the lovely sound of silnylon flapping under windy conditions) and us dry (in the case of rain). Condensation was an issue when one of us would roll out bags into a tent wall, which seemed inevitable with two people sharing a tent.

Also, the invariable splashing and wind-driven rain proved problematic, especially after several days.

Any tips or first-hand experiences you could share would be most appreciated. I would enjoy learning what techniques work best and what just doesn't work at all. (I think I have the techniques that don't work at all down pat.)

Thanks for all of your help!


Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/16/2007 08:07:24 MDT Print View

I haven't had problems with a Squall or a Squall2. I have used both in moderately strong windows (say to to 45mph), in driving rain, without significant problems.

In regards to keeping the tarptent taut... when you pitch it in good weather can you get it taut? I have notice some pictures on the web were I could see ripples in the material. A properly pitched tarptent is very sleak. If you don't have a problem getting it taut under good conditions then there are three things I do. First, I modified the front guylines to be adjustable, so when the silnylon stretches I can easily shorter the lines to compensate without restaking. Second, I place the front pole at an angle initially so that I can raise the front slightly by moving the pole. Third, I have found that the back hoop pole can move around a bit making the tent less taut. I will often place a large stone in front of the rear poles to keep them from shifting.

Windblown rain? Not had a problem. I have pitched the tarptent a bit lower to the ground that normal. Splashing? I haven't had a problem. If I expect rain I make sure to select a site where I can sent up in the midst of durable vegetation such as a field of grass. Maybe if I was stuck somewhere with nothing but hardpack I would have had problems with splashing, but so far I haven't had any splashing problems.

As far as rubbing against condensation on the sidewalls... I found two issues. First, if we were on a slope I would tend to slide. I applied sil-sealer to the bottom of my pad and this no longer happens. The second issue can be moving around without keeping in mind where the walls of the shelter are. Part of this is practice. Using an even smaller shelter can really train you to be careful :-). That said, so people seem to adjust, and some people don't seem to develop the situational awareness. For example, my daughter can't seem to stop kicking her legs up and she isn't so careful in her movements. She regularly brush against the sides of the squall and squall2. I solved this problem by switching to a Double Rainbow on the trips that she is sharing a shelter with me.

Edited by verber on 08/16/2007 08:11:49 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/16/2007 09:39:44 MDT Print View

Any shelter with unsupported fabric in some areas will experience flapping, in the right conditions. Any shelter not fully enclosed to the ground will experience windblown rain coming in, in the right conditions. Taking the appropriate shelter for the anticipated conditions and choosing the appropriate campsite are important. I've experienced flapping and windblown rain with an early model virga.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/16/2007 14:16:25 MDT Print View

Good comments above. I've owned 4 tarptents and have used them a tremendous amount for several years.

I have had splash but this is mainly a non-issue with the new bathtub floors. During heavy rain, I will either pull my gear inside the bathtub or make sure they are in waterproof bags.

I've also had then in considerable wind. They are pretty taut and the dual pole option in front helps greatly, but you can get some flapping. Just a trade off- these aren't mountaineering tents. But I see this as a minor issue. Get the catenary arch roof taut first, then tighten the corners. Last, stake the sides but with minimal tension. These are secondary stake outs and can ruin the taut pitch.

In really high winds, I'll sometimes double stake the front corner by running a guyline through the loop and staking on both ends. This is a classic "pushing it with a tarp" technique.

Condensation can be a problem at times. Keeping the netting open makes a huge difference- you'd be amazed. but I usually just wipe down the walls with a bandana or pack towell when condensation conditions are ripe. Moving the tent to a slighly exposed area or at least out of a lake bowl helps a lot too.


Johnathan White
(johnatha1) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/16/2007 15:08:44 MDT Print View

Last weekend I was at 6500 feet in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. People with regular tents, e.g. Hubba Hubba, were having the stakes ripped out and flying 800 feet away (Not with them in it, mind you). One was sitting at the bottom of Goat Lake as I met it’s owners on my way out. Here I was with my Virga II floorless. I was on the edge of a cirque on a minor bench. Winds would hit me constantly from 360 degrees; First from the north, south, east, then yup, the west. Frustrated to no end, I pitched it down to the ground. This helped a lot. I was also using one pole and until I lowered the pitch, the wind nearly snapped it in half from the tent being pushed flat.
My point to all this is site selection is critical and although I was as dumb as a box of marbles, I learned a lot and was really in no danger as the night time temps were low 40s with no rain in the forecast.
It sprinkled that morning and the pitch became less taught due to the material being damp. If I was below timberline, I would simply be faced with re-tensioning the tent after it sagged and would not have to deal with wind driven rain since the trees would block most of the wind.
Oh, also, there was no damage to my amazement! – Kudos to Henry!

Oh and Doug, dude you get my vote for best Avatar!

Edited by johnatha1 on 08/16/2007 15:23:58 MDT.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Thanks gentlemen... on 08/17/2007 21:26:58 MDT Print View

For sharing your experiences. I will need to experiment...I possibly am putting way too much tension on the sides of the tent when I stake it down.

I appreciate all the good information. I, too, was stuck in those 360 degree winds in the Cascades and that is what got me thinking about better ways to keep the tent taut and upright through the night.

I appreciate all the information. I shall try to guy out the tent a bit differently and modify the tent so I can adjust the tension from inside the tent.


Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Tarptents in bad conditions on 08/18/2007 23:56:20 MDT Print View

Man, I know Goat Rocks! What a great place to pitch a Tarptent!

That's a great story Johnathan- thanks for sharing! Yeah, there is a limit to reasonable Tarptent usage, isn't there? I've pitched mine in very similar places and have also found that it works out much better than traditional tents, especially when you get it to ground level.

I have found the Virga 2 (discontinured) and Squall 2 models are way better in big winds with the dual trekking pole option. That makes a big difference.

Thanks for the compiment Johnathan- I appreciate it! That's Henry- he's been backpacking, well, basically since birth. Going out again next weekend too! We went for a great dayhike with Ryan and Stephanie Jordan today and their son Chase. It was a great time!