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Torn between full on protection or tarp/bivy/bug net combo

I need to gear up for this coming season.  Sold my ZPacks Hexamid tent last Fall, sold my 10? year old TT floorless Squall, then bought and sold a Six Moon Designs X Scape.  Considering now either something just for 2 season use like a new SMD Deschutes tarp and a bug bivy/netting combo or going with a more rounded shelter like the ZPacks Solplex at about 19-20 oz. with stakes and pole.  the Solplex would only take up little space in my closet, versus two shelter systems and money spent to acquire them both.  Thoughts?  Love the light weight of another ZPacks Hex tent at around 12.5 oz. with stakes and pole.

Duane bivy and small tarp combo was crazy-cheap and easy to make (about $150.00...about $200.00 with a Cuben Tarp upgrade)...and could work fairly well for me between the months of March and November...though the bivy would be a bit stuffy in the middle of summer (the no-see-um section is less than 1/4 of the top)...and my set-up is tiny (the tarp is less than 5 feet wide) it requires very good site selection. Worst certainly is my most uncomfortable option...since in foul weather you are forced to use the shelter in the sleeping position only. I really like the bivy and tarp combo when it is not summer...particularly when I hike for distance...and if you have terrible sewing skills you can make it for about 1/3 of the cost of the Solplex. However...if I was given a choice of only one shelter I would buy the lightest bug and rain shelter that I could afford to buy or make that: 1) large enough for me to sit-up and cook in comfortably 2) adequate storage 3) highly ventilated pitch option for warm summer this is the sort of base-level of comfort I want to have available on trips where distance is not important...which is most of the time:-)

I like the openess of a tarp, easy to cook out of any weather, but bug protection is needed most of the time here in the Sierra.  I'd have to add in ground protection from any rain.  If its windy, netting and openess gives you no place to hide.  By the time you add in weights of tarps, poles, bug protection, a full tent looks pretty nice, no fiddling.  Wanting to make up my mind here real soon.  Seems the SMD Serenity net tent is narrow.


If both bugs and weather come into the equation and they do for me I think an enclosed shelter is the way to go. I leave the fly off and have a nice bug house big enough to sit up in in good weather or put the fly on and can boil water outside the door for coffee in bed if it is wet.  By the time you factor in ground protection and bug bivy you could have a bathtub floor and a monopole for pretty much the same weight.

Duane...don't worry about fiddling...that is only a problem early on in tarp use...after a hundred pitches or so on all-types of becomes a very minor aspect. Plus...tarps have more advantages than folks often I demonstrate below.

How I would approach your decision is by first learning what I needed to deal with the conditions I experience MOST often when I go backpacking...books and others will give you a million things to try (which is good)...but in the end the exact gear-list a person uses should be tweaked to the particulars of that person...especially when and where they go backpacking most often. If you don't know what these conditions are yet...there is going to be a little chaos until you do...but unless you have a flexible work-schedule like can be quite confident that the conditions you will most often experience are the conditions like those you experience at home. Due to the work-week...most people backpack a weekender...and as anyone who has done a lot of weekenders knows...there is a strong inverse relationship between travel-time and trail-time...the further you travel the less trail you walk and the more exhausting the trip will be. get back to my original statement...all things being the same...I would choose the shelter which best fits my needs between the months of April and October...for trails that are no more than 3 hours away from my home (a loss of 6 hours sleep or trail-time...basically 1/2 a day on the trail)...but especially within 1.5 hours of my home (a loss of no more than 3 hours sleep and trail-time...basically a late-start on the trail) I will use these trails most frequently. From this initial can expand out one item at a time...increasingly tweaking your system ever more finely for the conditions you experience most often...but also gradually into areas of camping that you become curios about over time.

Here is an example of the approach I am talking about in actual practice...and one which also highlights the real value of a good tarp. A few years ago I began working on a modular shelter system...I started with the shelter I believed I needed to accommodate the trips I experienced most often. What I chose to make was a large tarp (10'x10') and bug-tent large enough to sleep two people...and for those two people to sit-up simultaneously (7x4x4). Now by accommodate two people...I mean two people who really like each other a lot! Though I go soloing often...I chose the two-person bug-tent first...because while not always...I do frequently go with other friends whenever schedules allow...and I didn't want my only shelter to preclude the possibility of bringing a friend. The end product can be seen here: In total it cost about 200.00 to make...and honestly it is the only shelter I would need for 3-season backpacking. However...I quickly added a hammock and bug-net option which I made for about 70.00 (including rigging)...and is pictured here: The addition of the hammock gave my now three-piece shelter sleep system a very comfortable solo option for relatively cheap (so much room under the tarp!). Finally...I added a bivy which I made for about $60.00 (pictured here: which combined with the tarp in a tetra-pitch (pictured here: provides what I consider 4-season protection.

So the four piece modular system creates 3 widely versatile shelter options...but more importantly it "organically" grew with my demands over-time. Had I not ever went with others the first item might have been a hammock instead of the bug-tent...adding a two-person option only when the time came that I actually needed one...and the same for the bivy option. I expanded the system further last year with the addition of a small tarp (9'x4.5')...and now I have two UL options (bivy and hammock). That is...with the addition of a single item...I have 5 options that are finely tuned to what I actually do and when I do it.

Joseph, what bug shelter is that first pic of?  After having the ZPacks Hex tent last summer, that is kinda my standard, although my TarpTent floorless Squall was 24 oz.  I like the ease of sorts of pitching a tarp and hanging the bug shelter under it, but some are too confined.  In nice weather, just set up the bug netting tent or bivy, but bivies are hard to get in and out of unless they have a 3/4 zip.  Saving wear and tear on the shelter.

I may opt for another expensive Hex Tent and use my BD Hilight tent for winters or extreme conditions in the shoulder season.  Most shelter systems I've perused, need maybe two poles and by the time you add in stakes, bivy/bug netting tent, the weight is getting back up there.  I like their versatility.


Sorry...everything pictured (including the bug-tent) was made by yours truly:-)

@#$%^&@##, nice job. :)


For areas with good weather, like the Sierras I like a tarp and use one without a bivvy. I avoid the high bug season, but have successfully used a head net and a sleeping bag for the other times. For wet conditions, wind driven rain or snow, a tent is usually worth the extra weight.

It is okay to use tarp and bivy in most if a tarp works well for you most of the time...I would go tarp. My bivy only has a small area over the face that is mesh...the floor is waterproof...the top is a WPB fabric...and the waterproof-zipper sits entirely on the top of the bag. I am not saying it is fool proof...but it is difficult to imagine needing more protection against cold and wet weather than what the two provide.

I've seen some nice, UL bivies under $200.  If I tried another one, it would have to have at least a half zipper.  I tried a Borah bivy last Spring, only used it two nights maybe, sold it.  I'll have to see if I could pick up a 7'X9' cuben tarp and another bug net, topped bivy, with a longer zipper, that would be so easy, simple.


Duane...I really like bivies (particularly late fall and early spring)...and if severe weather is in the forecast I prefer a bivy in all but the worst part of bug-season. bug-season I almost go mad in them...I need at least enough room to rest on my side to read and is amazing how much comfort such a small amount of additional feet cam provide.

I was thinking how nice it would be to only have to take a bivy (4-6 oz,) as my shelter.  Nothing to set up hardly.  Maybe instead of getting another pack, one that weights 4-6oz., get a UL bivy for the shoulder season, weekend trips, saving wear and tear on a larger shelter.  I usually have a garbage bag along for a little protection in case of a surprise shower like last Fall.


hikerduane...those are some hard choice of pack comes right after my choice of shoes. Shoes are most important because with bad feet there is a chance of becoming immobilized...where as with a bad pack I could always get creative with the carry and pull-through with a bad shoulder or back. If however...I was completely happy with my current pack and shoes...then I would certainly consider a bivy as an extension to my overall kit. With a tarp and some good site selection you can camp with a bivy just about anywhere. I personally think the bivy is best when used right before and after bug-season...drinking hot-drinks and lounging around a communal fire with others...looking up at the sky...all while fully in bed...that's a lot of awesome.

Joseph, I ordered two things this week.  Sent in a order for the Solplex, asked to use next lighter weight cuben which will save only an oz.,  and this AM, ordered a bivy.  Torn between the much extended season Katabatic Bristlecone and the ZPacks bivy which was lighter.  I think Joe at ZPacks comes close to nailing it with his bivy for summer use.  I liked his removable bug net insert and the longer zipper to enable it to be opened up more to vent heat, or at least open to the chest I believe and vent that way and still have bug protection.  The Bristlecone only had netting over the face and if one wanted to vent more, would have to unzip the bivy more then you would loose bug protection and it was a little heavier. Just need a tarp now and I'll be set for variable conditions.  Had a bite on a wtb ad at another forum, but I'll hold off unless a great deal for a 7' X 9' cuben tarp crops up.


First...the Solplex is an all-around great shelter...properly sited it would get you through most things I am familiar with. As far as the bivies go...getting one will certainly give you some very good options. With a tarp you have a UL set-up...but alone the bivy is a great piece of kit for 6-7 ounces. I bring mine in the summer when I know (think) there is a good chance of severe weather...a bivy sticks to you well when everything else is ripped apart by wind and flying debris...and dealing with saturated ground stays within the realms of sanity if you have an almost certain dry spot to escape to. In the fall and spring when the bugs are quiet I use a bivy to stay in trail shelters for what seems like cheating...or on group trips when I think there will be fire-talk to help keep me clean and dry around the fire. In short...bivies are awesome for all kinds of reasons...and at 6-7 ounces there are plenty of times that bringing one along makes sense...even if it is not your primary source of shelter.

As far as choosing between the two bivies...both have almost full bug and moisture both are candidates for me. The extended vent on the Z-pack bivy is interesting...because it is of such a size...and placed so thoughtfully...that I do not believe it sacrifices the primary function of a bivy (moisture) in any detrimental way...and yet might make a significant difference in summer comfort. At a $40.00 or $50.00 difference I would want the the Z-packs bivy to sleep me comfortable deep into summer...if not all the way through it....otherwise I would probably opt for saving the money....and putting it towards a hammock which I know will sleep me comfortable all the way through summer and is UL too.


Hanging, another set of gear acquistion. :)  Would be better for my shoulders and back.  I need to pursue more on what to get to hang, I usually forget to check out the trees where I bp to, to see if I could rig up a hammock.  I'll get with the program sometime.  Thank you for all the info and validating my purchase of the ZPacks bivy.  I think with the bug net insert removed, I can use it into winter if space inside allows a higher lofting quilt.


Though you certainly have all the shelter you need with the which the bivy only makes better. I feel like there is always something one can add or take-away from their gear-closet...mine is at least annually in a state of flux...usually only little skirmishes on the boarders...but sometimes more revolutionary rebuilding...the key is not spending when you do not need to...and getting the most awesome you can with each new gain.

I love a hammock in the summer for solo-use (lightweight and bug-free)...and also when it is really wet (off the ground)...but mostly I love my hammock because of how well-priced it was to make. I do not remember what I spent off the top of my head...but 10' of taffeta and 6 yards of nano-see-um is a fairly cheap shelter acquisition...and it takes barely any sewing skill to make a completely functional (if cosmetically impure) hammock. The rigging is where you can both save and spend money on a lot of different options...but I would at least acquire whoopie-slings. Whoopies can be made easily from Amsteel (see this: if you buy a few extra feet (approx. .25 per foot) can make soft-shackles instead of spending money on high-load and lightweight carabiners...or swinging on a Marlinespike (see this: You can get everything you need to make a hammock and/or a hammock suspension at DIY Gear Supply:

Thank you Joseph.

I've picked up over the winter, two quilts.  One for summer use and one for all but the coldest trips in winter.  Both saving half a pound over the sleeping bag I was using.

I'll have to check out the links later, would be nice to get a few hammock bits and pieces here and there.

I have no bills, so I can spend a little on new gear.  The money is  just my newer pickup fund money. :(

Back to work, off my lunch.


October 25, 2020
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