"I pass my life in preventing the storm from blowing down the tent"
September 10, 2018 8:23 AM   Subscribe

While expensive space-age materials make up the newest and lightest camping tents, sometimes all you need is a tarp (and cord, and stakes, and walking sticks). Pitches range from the simple A-frame to the origami-like Open Bin to pyramids, tetras, hammock-specifics, and other useful shapes. David Macpherson has more. posted by the man of twists and turns (20 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
When hiking in buggy areas, look for campsites that are both breezy and not too close to water sources

So in NA this means mostly west of the Pacific range of mountains then (and not including parts of Vancouver Island).

I've slept under canoes in a pinch in Northern Ontario. Yeah, no, I've brought a tent ever since. And I don't bitch about it.
posted by bonehead at 8:32 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Very nice. We called it 'tarp-geneering'. 3 months kayaking in Patagonia living under a blue tarp (and sleeping in a small tent) we learned:
- The taut-line hitch is the shit, as one of the articles mentions.
-Take some rubber adhesive and spare tarp material for repairs on long trips.
-A pebble in the corner works to tie around when the grommets blow out.
-Don't be a dummy and paddle off leaving your ridge line tied up between trees only to remember 11 miles later.
-Ten foot deep mussel shell middens make great tarp sites, and there will often be potatoes growing around them, and fresh water nearby.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:43 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


during college I was a camp counselor in northern Wisconsin. I did three week-long canoe camping trips. The kiddos got tents, but us counselors got two tarps and a mosquito net.

I still remember that as the best, best camping experience I've ever had. So simple and elegant.
posted by rebent at 8:44 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]




This is relevant to my interests since I'm going tent camping on the Oregon coast in early October!
posted by vespabelle at 9:24 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I've gone backpacking with folks who used tarps as part of an ultra light setup. In lovely weather, in a place where the ground is accommodating of their hiking poles being used as support or between trees, I'm envious of them, but as soon as the weather turns, or we find ourselves in a rocky or sandy area I'm always reminded how happy I am to have a tent with a bathtub... and that quite frankly, a bivy is far superior to a tarp at keeping you dry and warm. I've been caught out in too much weird weather, and had too much type 3/4 fun, to ever go hiking without a tent; but every once in a while I'm tempted to embrace the tarp life. It makes for great pictures.
posted by larthegreat at 10:29 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I'm a big fan of this tarp setup. Worked brilliantly for me in a thunderstorm from that rolled along the ridge I was camped at and was at least 10 hours of heavy rain. I was more worried about the wind taking down a tree and crushing me than about the rain.

Mind you, I use a bug net tent under the tarp because NY state is rotten with mosquitoes and biting flies.
posted by kokaku at 10:34 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Personally, I would much rather be under a tarp, which I can rig as a rain-proof shelter (even with closed ends, ooh-la-la), than to be one of those lunatics in a bivy bag, laying on the forest floor like a take-out bag for bears. :7)

But I agree, larthegreat, I would MUCH rather be in a tent with sides, than simply laying in the dust, once the rain starts! As much as I mock a bivy, at least it has sides to keep the streams out of your bag's insulation.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:03 AM on September 10


A lot of camping gear benefits from good materials, careful construction, and good customer service. At the same time, one of the nice things about the rise of super-cheap Chinese knock-off products is the wide variety of pretty-darn-good tarps.

With names like Chill Gorilla and Nature Hike and Free Soldier, it feels goofy ordering from them, but the items are not bad at all. Some of these are probably rip-offs of a small company whose IP is being pillaged. Then again, a lot of them are just...nylon tarps with some tie-outs, you know? But there's zero chance that I could buy all the materials, plus get someone to assemble them for me, with accurate, well-taped catenary edges, for that little money.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:14 AM on September 10


People who swear by tents probably haven't tried hammock camping with a good tarp system and a good hammock. I get like 2-3x the square footage and my tent has a couch/chair/bed built into it, and there's none of the unpleasantness of sleeping on the ground, wet or dry.

There's also almost nothing to break as it's all rope or fabric under tension. No poles or pole sleeves or clips to break or bend. I also often don't even need stakes for my tarp/fly because you can just tie 'em off to whatever logs or branches are laying around.

One of the other major benefits to tarp-based camping is you can put up your rain shelter first even in a total downpour and deluge, before even unpacking anything else and exposing it to the rain. In heavy rain I can put up my rain fly and get shelter and hot coffee or tea going and let the footprint area dry out a bit before setting anything else up, and doing take downs in the rain is similarly easy and much drier than wrassling a wet tent back into a bag.

Yeah, bugs are sometimes a problem but that's what mosquito netting and full strength DEET is for, because fuck ticks and Lyme disease.
posted by loquacious at 12:32 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


I'm more of a traditionalist. I only go camping in a 200 sq. ft. medieval pavilion with about 500 lbs of solid oak furniture.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:05 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


I'm more of a traditionalist. I only go camping in a 200 sq. ft. medieval pavilion with about 500 lbs of solid oak furniture.

I'm glad this is the only snark here - I'm on several hiking related fb groups and subreddits, and people who moralize 70 lb packs and heavy boots have been an exhausting trope for a number of years.

My setup without food and water is about 9 lbs in a 45L pack, so kind of on the edge of what is considered UL. It makes a huge difference versus my older setups that were probably in the low 20s without food and water, and honestly it's the simplicity and mobility as much as the ability to do more miles. My stuff isn't crazy expensive - I have a tarptent tent (no cuben fiber so it isn't insanely expensive) and a quilt instead of a full sleeping bag from Enlightened Equipment. Quilts are genuinely superior in my opinion, not just because they are lighter - I used mine for the first time in the boundary waters last year during a humid and rainy weekend, and didn't end up in a damp sweat like I usually do, because you can set up the quilt to your liking to get juuuust enough airflow running through to keep you dry.
posted by MillMan at 3:02 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Mind you, I use a bug net tent under the tarp because NY state is rotten with mosquitoes and biting flies.

Ahh, the Adirondacks.

There was a year, not so long ago that they closed the school for a couple of days because the black flies were so bad.
posted by cedar at 3:58 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


to ever go hiking without a tent; but every once in a while I'm tempted to embrace the tarp life.

When I am planning on staying in a campsite for more than one night, I rig a tarp for activities and use the tent for sleeping.
Being able to sit under a tarp and read or relax but still be able to see your surroundings while being protected from sun or rain is much nicer than being cooped up in a small 1-person tent.
posted by madajb at 7:15 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


People who swear by tents probably haven't tried hammock camping with a good tarp system and a good hammock. I get like 2-3x the square footage and my tent has a couch/chair/bed built into it, and there's none of the unpleasantness of sleeping on the ground, wet or dry.

The sagebrush where I generally camp is not known for its excess of trees...
Though I have pondered the idea of rigging a hammock from the canoe racks on the truck, just have to work out the right approach.
posted by madajb at 7:20 PM on September 10


My ultralight shelter is a minimal bivy sack, just an envelope of waterproof-breatheable fabric basically. You can tie the face part off to a branch or whatever, if there's anything overhead. Unlike a tarp it doesn't require poles, so you can sleep on bare rock in it, under the open stars. For a ground sheet, I use a Frost King patio door insulation kit—basically just a 6'x8' piece of heavy saran wrap, basically. You can also rig it as a rain fly to give you a bit of extra weatherproofing, like so.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:35 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


And yeah, I did a whole summer in a hammock with tarp and bug net, once. In a rainforest, even. There were a surprising number of times when it was a pain in the butt to find a decent spot to rig it. With a bivy, you just need a small patch of flattish ground. A hammock has the advantage on a steep, densely-forested slope though. Different shelters for different situations.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:39 PM on September 10


And yup (sorry), ultralight is ultra fun! I can carry a heavy pack (lugged a 7lb tripod up more than one mountain) but on a solo overnight I like to keep it at about 20lbs including food, water, and camera gear. (Never weighed my pack without that stuff, because… why? It's not like I'm not bringing it.) It just saves energy and is all around faster and more nimble.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:43 PM on September 10


Being Norwegian and ex-military I of course use the Jerven multipurpose tarp/bag thingy. Sorry, no idea if it has an established name in English. It's got zippers along the edges and grommets here and there, and can be used in a variety of different configurations. It allows me to bring a lower-rated sleeping bag than the temperature otherwise indicates, offsetting some of the weight.
posted by Harald74 at 4:01 AM on September 11


I'm more of a traditionalist. I only go camping in a 200 sq. ft. medieval pavilion with about 500 lbs of solid oak furniture.

I'm glad this is the only snark here - I'm on several hiking related fb groups and subreddits, and people who moralize 70 lb packs and heavy boots have been an exhausting trope for a number of years.


I don't really care what people camp with if they're comfortable with packing it in and out. I just saw a six person tour bike tour crew rolling around on what must have been 25k worth of tandem touring bikes, touring trailers and camp outfits - per couple. They had matching chairs and stoves and mess kits and everything. They were rolling around with coffee presses and dutch ovens.

I've also seen ultralight, ultracheap campers that go around with little more than string, tyvek sheeting and a good synthetic or synthetic treated down bag and their bare feet.

While hammocks have issues in some places, they definitely seem to hit a sweet spot of weight/cost and utility and comfort that is to me similar to a bicycle in how clever, elegant and efficient it is. In the same weight or less as a traditional backpacker's tent you get a great deal more comfort and flexibility and ease in camping.

It's really impressive how much of an improvement it is over even a good tent, and all you need is a good hammock and pretty much any tarp.
posted by loquacious at 1:40 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


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