Using a Tarp-Tent in the Southern California Mountains

4:52 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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As an avid day hiker, but a novice backpacker (only two trips, so far), I've already learned the hard way that weight will absolutely do in a little guy! Especially true if that guy has now attained "old codger" status and has a screw in his right ankle! So, in an effort to lighten my overall load, I am thinking about getting a tarp-tent.

Currently, I live in New Mexico and I'm used to hiking in the mountains of northern NM or southern Colorado. However, I will be moving to Vegas in a few weeks and I'm doing some preliminary research on backpacking possibilities just across the state line in California: Inyo, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, etc.

Seems to be a whole different ballgame out there, with the requirements for backcountry permits, bear canisters, and pitching camp on durable surfaces... and then still having to deal with the possibility of marmots eating everything on my car not made out of metal (okay, a slight exaggeration!). Hey, it is what it is and since I'm only a three-season hiker, I'm already looking forward to next spring!

So far, I've replace my bag and pad, and I'm about to replace my water filter. Now I'm looking at getting a new shelter and feel a tarp-tent might be the way to go. I'll replace the pack at the very last, once I get my total load figured out.

Here are my concerns about the tarp-tent:

For the most part, the pics I've seen show the area in SoCal to be quite rocky and I've even seen some pics where a free-standing tent was pitched right on top of a hard-rock surface, I assume, because no dirt was available for stakes.

Is this rockiness typical throughout the Inyo, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia? If so, it seems a non-freestanding tarp-tent, with its stake requirements and larg footprint, may not be the best way to go, especially given the "durable surfaces" requirement, which I guess means you can't camp on top of any type of vegetation.

Anyway, I figured I'd better get some input from those who hike that area regularly before making a final decision on the tarp-tent.


5:33 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Here is a photo I just posted on a another forum of a Tarptent Moment set up for seam sealing in my bedroom.


Now just to explain, the point is that you don't need stakes to set it up (if you can't use them...) some weight at each end (sand bags/rocks/logs) will do the trick.

For stability you then can guyout the pole guylines to some more rocks or stake into a crack , they don't need to be in a specific spot.

(BTW, to avoit abrasion on sharp rocks, put something in-between them and the tie-outs, like a stuff sack)

You need more weight than that (a brick is about 8lbs) to keep it stable.

Those guylines have a 250lbs break strength but a good stake only has about 60lbs.

About 3-4 bricks (equivalent...) will do in most weather.

To see what the Moment is really like, look it up on the product page or just go yo Google Images or You Tube.

On You Tube you can see me setting it up in 49 sec.

Note that it is in real time , meant to show that it is easy to do not that you should do it in less than a minute.

7:45 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, Franco, and did watch your video.

My terminology is probably off, but the shelter I am looking at is the HMG Echo I, which uses trekking poles for support. And since it has a tarp that is separate from the bug-proof insert and the beak, I just assumed it would fall under the tarp-tent umbrella.

8:03 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Howdy George!

Now I live up north in Washington state but maybe I can be of some help.

My solo tent is a Tarp Tent Squall 2. This is a light "two person" tent  that I think is just the cats meow as a roomy solo tent. 

Here it is pitched on the rocky summit of a local hill this summer.


This is a non-freestanding tent which needs four stakes to pitch. The front and back stakes need to be particularly firm, the sides are not as important.

For that camp I set it up well after dark and was worried I'd not be able to drive a single stake but with a rock as a hammer I managed well enough. 

I also carry a big aluminum snow stake ( one ounce ) as a potty trowel and use it as a magnum stake for loose sand, and of course there is nothing wrong with tying the front or back guy lines off to the base of a bush or tree, or adding a rock if you think the stake might pull out. 

So if it was me I'd not worry about the freestanding thing, depending upon the design of the tent of course. Some non-freestanding tents can be a bit of a challenge to pitch, but the Squall 2 is simplicity itself. 

Also, although I've ever used one I understand the popular Tarp Tent Rainbow and Double Rainbow can be set up freestanding with trekking poles. 

The Rainbow is about the same weight as my Squall 2 and I reckon is a mighty tempting solo tent. Less floor space than my tent but more headroom? 

I think the TT Notch is also freestanding with an optional pole -

Anyway, take at look at the TT web site and I bet you can find a shelter you can live with, and I'd not worry about freestanding vs non-freestanding to much.  

8:05 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Your terminology is correct, mine wasn't.

I was focusing on the easy to set up on hard ground bit, and the Moment just happen to be one of the easiest and at 34oz not all that heavy for a double wall shelter.( you can set it up fly only, otherwise inner and fly go up together. Nice in rainy weather)

Shaped tarps like the one you mentioned do need several stakes and correctly positioned guylines to work well.

Sometime getting a stake at the correct angle is not easy, if you need many it just gets a bit more difficult.

8:13 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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The HMG Echo 1? Now I had to look that up as I've never heard of it - 


Ye Gods and Little Fishes, that thing is spendy!

Now ya see how many stakes that thing takes to pitch? Compare that to my Squall 2 above, and you'll see what I wrote about "depending upon the design of the tent of course" bit.

Kinda reminds me of a Spinn Twinn tarp I used to have -


I found the Spinn Twinn way to small for two people in any kind of bad weather and boy was it fiddly for me to pitch! It was always tweak tweak tweak with that thing.  No Thanks.

My Squall 2 may be twice as heavy as a Spinn Twinn but it pitches way faster and much more solidly ( not to mention has a floor and bug netting too! ).



11:45 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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@Franco and EtdBob

I'm not married to the idea of getting an Echo I but do like the light weight and strength of the CF material and the quality. I've read a lot of user reviews on the Echo and they are all extremely positive.

I'm not too concerned about all the stakes required or even the cost. What really concerns me about the Echo is the area needed to pitch the thing, which, based on my calculations, could be as much as 6'4" x 13' or even a bit more on the length.

Due to you both being big on TarpTents (I see Franco works for them), I spent the better part of this evening looking over their website and thought the Notch looked interesting. Read numerous user reviews on the Notch and those hikers seem to really like that tent.

Did read some concerns on Nielsen Brown's blog (from about a year ago) about the Notch and wonder if those concerns have been addressed by the company. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to post links to outside sites (?) or I would do so to that specific entry on Brown's blog.

My main requirements for my next tent: It must be compact, light weight, and high quality.. can be pitched in the rain without the inner shelter getting wet... and can withstand reasonably strong wind and weather.

I thank you both for your time and your input.

1:16 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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I had a look at that Nielsen Brown blog. nice photos and a very well pitched tent ( very important with this type of trekking pole supported shelter) Looks like Nielsen had three concerns.

1) using Pacer poles. Not many would know what they are (I do...) so not all that relevant to most.

2) The bottom of fly clip. I have the same clips on mine and I can't, by hand, pull them apart when correctly pushed shut  This takes us to the 3rd point...

3) latitudinal tension. The first thing I did to mine was to add apex guylines exactly the way Nielsen did.

Doing that allows all 4 door panels to fully open also to  take the stress that the bottom of the doors (that clip...) would have without them.

In fair weather that is not needed however with strong winds or snow they are crucial.

So the first TT Notch mods were to add the guyout points at the apex and the velcro bits to hold the other door panel open. So this takes care of point 2 and 3 in one go.

The Notch is a Moment for trekking pole users. So same ends but it does take 4 stakes to stand up. I prefer to use 6,having 4 long stakes for the ends and guylines but two short ones for the door panels.Some use the same stake for both the door and the guyline.

My Notch :


My Notch  Set Up video.

Not the best of (the one on the Moment was my fastest time...) but just one take , setting it up as I do in the bush, apart from not using the apex guylines...

Note that it is in  real time, no fast motion or marking the area or any other trick to make it look better than it is...

10:59 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, again, Franco. Appreciate the info and the clarifications.

11:29 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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A tarp-tent is a good choice for lw backpacking no matter where you are headed. The country you elude to is pretty arid with lots of dry weather. It can be windy however. It is best to find protected locations for your shelter. That is not always practical. Arid locations are somewhat "rockier" than more mesic and hydric locations because of less vegetation and less organic matter.

If you don't like all the regulations in Calif, try some other closer 4 corners locations like southern UT and northern AZ.

2:10 p.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Actually, I have no problems with all the rules and regulations in California and understand and appreciate the need. It's just something I'll have to get used to.

And although I've looked at different areas reasonably close to Vegas, it appears trails located in Inyo, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon have better water sources versus places in AZ and UT, so, assuming good trip planning, I won't have to lug a bunch of "extra" water with my while I hike.

Thanks for the tips and the advice.

5:04 p.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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I live in the east and have only been to the Sierra once for an 8 day backpacking trip so I’m no expert on the area.

But, I brought a non-free standing tent and was worried about the staking situation so I brought extra guyline to wrap around rocks if needed.

As it turned out I never had to do that and was able to drive a stake in every place I camped. However, my experience was limited and really not broad enough in scope to draw any conclusions from. The fellow I went with is very experienced in those mountains and chooses to use a freestanding tent.

As a contrast, a famous adventurer (Andrew Skurka) navigated the Sierra High Route (a mostly off trail adventure keeping you on granite and talus) using a flat tarp and bivy. I saw a slide show he presented of that trip and he often tied his tarp off to rocks rather than staking.

My advice : if you like that shelter don’t let the stake situation dissuade you.

Oh and buy me one too and I’ll let you know how it works out here!

6:50 p.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Although I'm new around here, I recognize your name (as well as a number of others). You're the one who flew out here from the East Coast and went on an 8-dayer with lambertiana.

While I was researching the areas in California I am interested in, I came across, and read, both your trip reports from your trek in the Mineral King district. From the pics you guys posted, I'd have to agree with your assessment that it does indeed look like paradise. And it's good to know the area you hiked wasn't stake-averse. Unfortunately, getting around to the Mineral King district would be an all day drive from Vegas so I''ll probably focus on trails in the Inyo to start out, maybe up around the Bishop area. I have all winter to figure it out.

As far as tents go, I really do like the Echo I, although it is a bit pricey (ok, a bit more than a bit!). I started looking at the Notch last night and was reasonably impressed, but realized I had left three things out of my shelter requirements list: 1) no tent poles, other than trekking poles, 2) weighs no more than 2 pounds, preferably less, but the one that did the Notch in was, 3) must accommodate a 25" wide pad.

Oh, and I did try to buy two Echo I shelters -- one for me and one for you -- but when I tried to charge that much money, my credit card melted! Maybe some other time. ;-)

Appreciate your input.

7:32 p.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Any shelter will only work if you like it in the first place.
So if you have any doubt about one I would suggest you look at something else. You obviously like the Echo so it will work for you.

The following is mostly for other people that are reading this thread.*

The Notch does have 4 built in CF struts (strong enough to hold my 150lbs on them) Those allow the shelter to be shorter than if the fabric reached the ground but mostly are there to keep the fly taut. That is how it can hold snow without extra poles (the snow you see on mine was wet coming down and frozen in the morning, so much heavier than powder snow. On the plus side it is easier to melt for water...)
having the side entrance gives an easier entry/ exit point (for most)  than one with a pole in the middle.
The Notch also does take a 25" mat but just ,not leaving much free floor space apart from a bit in the middle and some at each end. You can store the pack out of the way under the vestibules but with still within easy reach. 
Here is a 25" Nemo mat inside the Notch :


On the plus side it has good headroom sitting up.

*I don't know about here but another forum one day had over 600 readers on line but no new threads...

10:25 p.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Did read a few reviews on the Notch where people were able to get their 25" pad to fit by pushing the sides of the bathtub floor out a couple of inches on both sides (as can be seen in your pic). Too bad there isn't a version of the Notch where the floor is 25" wide at the narrowest point.

12:56 a.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, in the end you have to decide where you want to compromise.

I posted originally (spotting the Tarp Tent bit) because I thought that stake numbers and placement was an important requirement for you.

However if say exactly how a mat fits or simply the weight is more important , than that is what you should go for.

12:51 p.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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Do not overlook the obvious. Red Rock Canyon Rec Area on the west side of town  (Las Vegas) has some great overnight hiking opportunities. I have day hiked there a lot when visiting. I would head first to the Pine Creek Forest Trail. Any time but June- Sept would be ideal with permanent water the whole. way.

There are plenty of longer trips available, but it is possible sneak away for a 24 hour trip anytime but the summer.

1:59 p.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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I've been to RRC a few times, as well as Mt. Charleston, but that was many years ago before I started hiking.

Interesting you would mention the hiking possibilities at RRC because I am going to intentionally locate myself in the Summerlin area just so I will be close to RRC and Mt. Charleston. I plan on using those two places for more frequent hiking and staying in shape during the colder months and then shift my focus to SoCal during the hotter months of summer.

I've already joined a couple of hiking/backpacking groups in Vegas so I'm getting my ducks in a row!

Thanks for the heads-up about Pine Creek. Will definitely check it out.

12:09 p.m. on October 4, 2013 (EDT)
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You have a great plan. Las Vegas is under-rated as a place for outdoor rec. You just have to avoid the summer months. I would also consider getting some kind of boat. Lake Meade has some amazing and beautiful places to paddle or cruise around, especially near the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Great striper fishing and few boats in winter.

9:50 p.m. on October 9, 2013 (EDT)
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Well, I'm not too big on (lowland) lakes and oceans. Much prefer mountains, valleys and alpine lakes. But I will keep it in the back of my mind.

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