from tent to tarp

5:04 p.m. on February 11, 2010 (EST)
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I am thinking of moving from tent to a tarp. Can anyone tell me if they had done this and if it was wierd knowing that an animal or whatever could just walk up and "get them" (thunder clap). were you able to sleep through the night? what about bugs? thanks

1:48 a.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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There are a number of websites for lightweight packpacking where this subject is discussed at great length. Do a google or yahoo search for tarps or UL camping and they should show up in the results. There may also be some earlier threads here as well, but I don't recall any recent ones.

4:01 a.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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My wife has claustrophobia, so when she decided to try backpacking with me it quickly became clear that my 2 man Coleman Cobra tent was not going to cut it. She could barely stand to be in it with the fly off let alone with it on. Good thing we had clear weather on the overnight test trip.

So the search began for a suitable solution. After trying several different tents and finding none to be adequate (thank you REI for your great return policy), we decided to try a tarp. I had been using a tarp and unishelter bivy for my solo trips for some time.

The original setup was an ID 8x10 siltarp and an ID bug tent to discourage the creepy crawlies and flying bloodsuckers. This worked great, no claustrophobia problems and plenty of ventilation. However the 8x10 tarp didn't provide a lot of extra protection for gear and the packs would get wet when it rained. We upgraded to an ID 10x12 siltarp which provided the extra protection for gear and plenty of room for cooking also. This has worked out great and you don't lose your connection to the outdoors like you do cooped up in a tent.

As for the wildlife being a problem, I wouldn't say so. The only critters to come up under the tarp have been mice and chipmunks and they scram when you notice them. One morning we awoke to a doe mule deer peering under the tarp trying to figure out what the heck was in her way. I moved slightly and she took off running. I've watched a weasel hunt for its' breakfast around a nearby log and elk grazing in the meadow nearby. It's fun to hang out under and watch the rain showers pass. I wouldn't want to go back to using a tent.

10:10 a.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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In Boy Scouts we used to use our military poncho's for tarptents. They worked pretty well, and because we were'nt seasoned backpackers we usually did'nt notice the lack of privacy or the fact that animals could walk right into our sleeping quarters. Just had to remember to close the hood hole or it could get a big drip right in the middle of the nights rain.

Tube tents also work fairly well and are lightweight.

10:23 a.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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Tarps-vs.-tents is an age-old debate.

Pluses of tarps:

Very breathable

More direct exposure to nature

Very light

Minuses of tarps

Require far more skill to set up

No bug protection

Less storm protection


One thing I would add: tents offer only an illusion of safety from wildlife -- any animal can tear/chew through tent fabric.

I've been in both camps; I'm in the tent camp these days because I'm not nuts about noodling with all the tarp-pitch variations.

12:17 p.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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Hey spulaski53,

I did the tarp thing for a while, still do on occasion.

I did some section hiking on the AT (Appalachian Trail) for a spell, and experimented with three different shelter systems during that period.

I tried a tarp, a hammock, and a single pole pyramid tent with no floor.

They all had their strong points and weaknesses.

Some things I learned with tarps are:

1. Picking the right spot is very important I learned, ideally I looked for a spot that was higher than the surrounding land, a high spot drains water during downpours and that can be a lifesaver. Look at the terrain around you and think about how the water is going to flow during a downpour if there is any chance of rain.

2. I looked for smallish trees to camp amongst, I tried to avoid trees with big limbs that looked like they could crack during storms. If you can pitch your tarp with just your trekking poles and guy lines / stakes, that gives you more flexibility for picking camping spots, but that's hard to do with large tarps in my experience. It just helps to have a ridge line between two trees. Having some shade also helps avoid UV damage to your tarp, and makes life better in warmer months.

3. I found that the tarp I started out with was not big enough, it just did not provide enough shelter for me and my stuff, I ended up with a 12 x 12 catenary cut tarp. If you get a tarp big enough you can stake the windward side all the way to the ground. This helps a lot during storms, and helps with those winter wind chills.

4. Consider getting a bivy sack for your sleeping bag, this will give you extra protection for keeping your bag dry from blowing rain, sleet, or snow. This was something I had to do in order to keep my bag dry during longer trips, your area may be more arid, just something to think about.

5. Keep your sleep area as free of food odor as possible. You may or may not be going in bear country, regardless I would recommend hanging ALL your smellables, (food, soap, toothpaste, chapstick, etc.) or using a bear canister at least 100' from your sleeping area. I also would recommend cooking & eating at least 100' away as well. This should cut way down on critters coming into your sleeping area, not completely, but it should make a big difference.

I still use a tarp at times, but to tell you the truth, by the time I set up all the things that I need to stay warm and dry with a tarp it's just easier for me to take a tent. A large part of that is because of where I backpack, we have a lot of thunderstorms with high wind. Your situation may be different and you may find a tarp works good for you. Everyone ends up with their own 'system' that works for them, and I've never seen two tarp set ups that were just alike.

You just got to get out there and do it some to develop your own personal system, however I would suggest that just like any other set up you try it out at home or close to your vehicle a couple times first. You don't want to spend the night cold and wet 15 miles up the trail with your tarp blown away and stuck up in a tree, and it's raining on you!

I saw that happen once.

You can get some good advise on tarp set ups here:

Happy trails!

4:54 p.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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Here is a link with a lot of info on tarp setups:

3:25 p.m. on February 13, 2010 (EST)
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thanks for all the good input.

11:14 a.m. on February 18, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks for the feed back. I have been trying to work out the difference on what works best for me and hearing from others really helps. Any feed back out there on Hammocks would be great also:

11:20 a.m. on February 18, 2010 (EST)
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Hammock Forums is your go-to site.

Also, if you're camping with a hammock you need proper insulation or you'll freeze your fanny off. Trailspace profiled Jacks 'r' Better quilts, which offers a nice intro.

1:11 p.m. on February 18, 2010 (EST)
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There was a good thread here on hammocks too last year. I love hammocks!! They pack really small and can be combined with a poncho or tarp but there is a learning curve.

Hammock (orange) ropes (2X12 feet 3/8 hollow braided poly) and a poncho (ID) totals less than 2 lbs.

8:45 p.m. on February 18, 2010 (EST)
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Why not try the best of both worlds. I now use a Gossamer Gear Squall Classic which is basically a tarp with a floor that attaches to the tarp with mesh. It breaths well, keeps out bugs (Important to me as the mosquitos where I pack are quite ferocious), and weights about 24 oz with tent, lines, stakes, and stuff sack. This tarp/tent will easily sleep two but it's huge for one person which is my usual complement of people on my trips. This tent was invented by Henry Shires of Tarptent fame and in fact still bears his name on one side and the Gossamer Gear logo on the other. It offers all of the advantages of a tarp and most of the advantages of a tent. I use it for all but winter camping.

10:21 p.m. on February 18, 2010 (EST)
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Love my Henry Shires Contrail tarptent. Best of both worlds.

22 oz. Woot!

11:41 a.m. on February 19, 2010 (EST)
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Have made the switch several years ago. Won't carry a tent again. Right now my favorite one person shelter is a compromise:

Wild Oasis made by Six Moon Designs. It requires only one pole six stakes and has mosquito netting along the bottom edges. (I have added two more tie-out points for a tighter pitch)

Other excellent sources for lightweight shelters:

Gossamer Gear

Mountain Laurel Designs

Granite Gear ( has plans for making your own, too)

Oware USA


PS I also have no need for a floor other than a piece of waterproof nylon just slightly larger than my sleeping bag, or a bivy with a waterproof floor.

2:10 p.m. on February 20, 2010 (EST)
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I know when I first started using tarps, it was hard to get to sleep, because my mind and heart were racing, thinking about the wild stuff that could crawl in with me. Other than ants once or twice when I didn't do a good campsite selection, I have never had a problem. I just admit that I'm thinking about it for the trip to Japan, where my hosts are warning me about 4-inch long venomous centipedes on the forest floor.

But you may find, as I did, that after many nights in a tarp, now I feel constricted in a tent. I was recently testing a tent, and it feels claustrophic, and not because it was small. I am so used to being able to see the outside, and be aware of what's going on out there, that to not have that is discomforting, a complete flip flop from when I first started tarp camping. You might see if you could borrow one, and try it MORE THAN ONCE. It takes awhile to feel comfortable, but once you do, you may find you don't like tents anymore.

1:01 a.m. on February 24, 2010 (EST)
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First - let me say that it is great when the owner of Gossamer Gear makes an appearance here! Fantastic.

Glenn, how to you minimize bug entry in situations where site selection is really not going to make a difference or during that time of the season when a lot of bugs (usually flying) are present?

4:42 p.m. on March 1, 2010 (EST)
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+1 on the Henry Shires Contrail. Nearly as light as a tarp and with much better bug protection. In places like Michigan's UP bug protection is a must. I never saw people out there using tarps. I would consider using one out here in California but sometimes in the summer when I absolutely know it isn't going to rain for a day or two I'll just go tentless. If I am heading into high country where there might be thunderstorms the Contrail goes along just in case.

Bugs do drive me crazy. There have been a few times where I got up in the middle of the night and pitched my tent because the bug were driving me up a wall.

7:50 p.m. on March 2, 2010 (EST)
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22oz? 28 completely seamsealed.

7:51 p.m. on March 2, 2010 (EST)
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You can get a 4oz cuben tarp and a bug inner tent for 12oz.

11:25 p.m. on March 2, 2010 (EST)
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Has anyone used or have any information about the Grand Trunk ultralight travel hammock? I have an ENO two person hammock but am wanting to save some weight on longer trips.

1:27 a.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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How about cost? I just got rid of my Eureka Mt Rainer with a plan of going to a tarp/shelter for solo elk hunting. Need something that is durable, light, and easy to set up. I was eyeing the kelty, and Msr tarps, but then saw the appy trails mark 3. The gosser gear and tarp tents look way sweet but also have a way sweet price tag. Also are there any books out that show different configurations of tarps with two trekking poles (pics are a must with me, visual learner). The quest continues. A lot of good info here. Thanks for the help.

10:48 a.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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Cooke Custom Sewing makes stellar flat tarps. Plenty of tie out points so you can rig them any way you wish. Not the lightest but probably the best made you'll come across. Dan sews the gear in his basement, he lives near me and I've had him do some custom work for me.

June 23, 2018
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