Nov 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm #1282410
"Take-away: Tarps work perfectly when you don’t need any shelter. Get a sub-five-pound, two-person, double-wall tent and rejoice." – Mark Jenkins, BACKPACKER Magazine, Oct 2011
Please read this guy's description of a three-day backpacking trip he took, during which time his tarp "tore in two and was quickly shredded." Also, he's shocked his TARP doesn't keep bugs away from biting him. It's a pretty ridiculousness article.
Perhaps one of the experts here at BPL could give this poor guy some pointers on tarp camping, so he doesn't have to bother anymore college kids.Nov 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm #1805601
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
If you don't want your tarp to get ripped in two by the wind, you can build a frame using wooden poles, an a-frame works best, like you were about to create a natural shelter. Then you drape the tarp over and ideally secure to the poles, not the ground. That will make it more stable than any 4 season tent. Obviously you need to be careful though and the wood might be rough on a cuben tarp.Nov 26, 2011 at 2:26 am #1805614
cant attract advertisers if you arent trying to sell those $$$$ tents … snow caves bring in no money … and those cuben tarp makers dont advertise with you … of course if i could find an excuse to hop into a tent with a college gurl, id rip my tarp in two with my teeth (blame it on a bear)
note the pimping of titanium utensils … gotta love backpacker …
We used a tent on that Winds trip, unlike my first traverse of the grand range, when I took a tarp. At that time, backpackers were all bragging about the beauty of the tarp. The first night, I draped it over a boulder and spent an hour lining the edges with rocks, and I was still eaten alive by mosquitoes. By morning, my entire body was covered with itchy, red bumps.
The second night, I used my trekking poles to hold up the tarp. It started pouring at dusk and didn’t stop until dawn. By midnight, there was a slurry of sleet running beneath my sleeping bag. I only kept from dying of hypothermia by viciously scratching my mosquito bites.
The third night, the wind was so strong that the tarp flapped itself to death: It tore in two and was quickly shredded. Thank God! I bummed a bunk from a pigtailed college girl who’d been smart enough to bring a tent. 
Take-away: Tarps work perfectly when you don’t need any shelter. Get a sub-five-pound, two-person, double-wall tent and rejoice. (Also worth noting: Two bivy sacks are the same weight as a tent, and waterproof/breathable tents don’t work in warm rain.) And while I’m on the subject of shelters: Unless you’re building a basecamp, snow caves are nonsense. 
Disease is often spread by unclean hands handling unclean cutlery and dishware , so I carry my own large titanium cup with lid, and titanium spoon (plastic is pointless; it breaks and melts).Nov 26, 2011 at 4:34 am #1805617
HA! Good find, Eric. I didn't notice that Ti plug on my first read of the article. As we all know, "plastic is pointless."
Seriously, this guy doesn't seem to understand how to identify hazards. This line cracked me up this morning: "We dug out a tent platform on a cone of ancient avalanche debris. Nothing had slid here for ages. That night a freakishly warm wind swept in, and the cornices 4,000 feet above us started avalanching. Chunks of ice tore through our tent." HUH!? Well, luckily, he was in a tent, rather than a tarp. Otherwise, he might not be here today.
"….we were hit by an unprecedented avalanche." Huh!?Nov 26, 2011 at 6:15 am #1805623
I also read that article and was not impressed in any way. Seemed more like a macho list of adventures than anything practical.
There are plenty of people with a shorter wilderness resume than this guy who can reliably pitch a tarp in horrible weather and survive the experience. If this guys an "expert" because he knows gear to buy rather than relying on skills that have kept woodsment alive for centuries he has no business writing about survival.
Edit – Just saw another one "If you can't get your @$$ out of bed by 6 AM you can't be a backpacker." Seriously! What kind of arrogent balony is that? I know lots of backpackers who sleep in and are fine. Somehow they survive the terrors of breaking camp at 8 AM.
He mentions his wife feet looking "flayed" like they'd been "whipped" after a 25 mile day. Um I've hiked 25 miles in a day with little conditioning beforehand and the next day I did it all over again. Does he know how to take care of feet?
Edit – It took him an hour to weight the edge of his tarp down with rocks? And slurry running under the tarp? Isn't that what bivys/groundclothes are for? Never mind the fact that if you choose your site well you shouldn't have stuff running under you.Nov 26, 2011 at 8:10 am #1805647
@bster13Locale: Norwalk, CT
"Unfortunately the author is most likely better suited to talk about the Troubled Asset Relief Program than Tarp shelters….that's unfortunate for backpacker readers who probably won't try them and enjoy the openness with the outdoors, lighter weight, better flexibility and lower cost. Sell on Backpacker Magazine, sell on!"Nov 26, 2011 at 8:30 am #1805654
I don't begrudge Backpacker selling stuff or promoting products. On the other hand I'm surprised people still buy the it (I don't I occasionally read from someone else's subscription). Backpacker may be the most "commercialized" outdoor magizine I've ever seen which is funny considering that a lot of their readership seems critical of commercialization in other areas. It seems more designed to be read in a doctors office waiting room than by serious outdoorsmen.Nov 26, 2011 at 8:34 am #1805658
@bster13Locale: Norwalk, CT
No, I don't have anything against them selling stuff, but it would be nice if they interviewed an UL or SUL guy once in awhile. We have retailers too (though prob not in a position to pay for advertising). :pNov 26, 2011 at 8:35 am #1805659Nov 26, 2011 at 9:09 am #1805666
One article does not a person make. Thanks for the link, Dave, it seems to me he's probably done much more adventuring than most people on this site (notice I said most…..). He's also prompted at least one BPLer to start thinking UL:
"My first exposure to UL can with an April, 1994 article in Backpacker Magazine by Mark Jenkins entitled "Less is More". While backpacking through Europe with a companion, Mr. Jenkins had his gear stolen in Italy. With just the clothes on his back, a down coat, a jackknife, a plastic cup and a metal spoon, he and his partner continued their vacation by hiking throuh Western Europe for the next six months living as vagabonds. This article really struck a chord with me."
Yeah, this particular article seems a bit silly to 'us,' granted. Perhaps he's patterned his adventuring career after Tim Cahill or Redmond O'Hanlon (one of the funniest, craziest writers I've ever had the pleasure to read).Nov 26, 2011 at 9:20 am #1805668
I personally know Mark Jenkins from Tajikistan in 2005. At the time, he and some compatriots made their way across Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor by going from "warlord to warlord" over some of the most remote and inhospitable territory on this earth. He then crossed into the Tajik Pamir Mountains along the Tajik-Afghan-Chinese border (again, land few ever end up in, locals included) where our paths crossed.
I didn't react well to his description of tarps, as a beloved tarp user myself. But I know that he is a one of the most accomplished, hardcore folks out there.Nov 26, 2011 at 9:27 am #1805670
You have a point Dougles. To be fair to the article and to the author this would be entertaing for someone to read in a waiting room or someone grabbing it off a maginzine rack for a plane ride. It seems to be they do well at writing stories but are very superficial at teaching real skills. If their goal is to market magizines to people in airports or waiting rooms while selling advertizing they may be doing just fine, its just that we aren't really their intended audience.
As far as experience goes the author (and others at Backpacker)must have a lot but that doesn't always make you an expert. As my brother says "Sometimes 20 years of experience just means you had one experience and repeated it over and over again for 20 years without learning much new."
I'm sure Mark Jenkins could school me at any number of outdoor pursuits but his backpacking skills may not have progressed as much as his others which is fine. You don't have to be a gram pincher to bike across Russia or climb Everest but my interests are different.Nov 26, 2011 at 9:37 am #1805673
"I'm sure Mark Jenkins could school me at any number of outdoor pursuits but his backpacking skills may not have progressed as much as his others which is fine. You don't have to be a gram pincher to bike across Russia or climb Everest but my interests are different."
Very true, Luke, most of our interests are different. But then, he didn't write this story for BPL, didn't post his tendency to eschew tarps on BPL, etc.Nov 26, 2011 at 9:49 am #1805674
That is why I am glad BPL is the way it is and I hope it stays that way.Nov 26, 2011 at 11:48 am #1805706
@williamlawLocale: SF Bay Area
Hate to sound the heretic, but I think Mark Jenkins is spot on. If only he had said "sub-3 pound double walled tent."
Ignoring some details of his tales of adventures (rhetoric intended, I suspect, more to entertain than to make his case against tarps), it seems pretty indisputable that tarps are fussier to set up, don't stop mosquitoes, and don't protect as well against inclement weather.
Not that any of that should stop one from using one; go for it.
rejoicing in his sub 3 lb double wall (freestanding) tentNov 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm #1805723
Here's what bugs me. Tarps aren't always ideal, I can agree with that. But to try one once and than make a blanket statement that tarps are useless displays either complete ignorance of a whole field of backpacking knowledge, arrogance or its just hyperbole. Either way its inaccurate. Lots of people have used tarps under less than ideal conditions and been fine.
I'm not beating on Backpacker because they sell advertizing or because they don't count grams. I just am not impressed with their product.
In my opinion the real "experts" are people like Andy Skurka who have used ultralight gear (including tarps) and done long trips under challenging conditions. These are the folks that are on the cutting edge of actual BACKPACKING I can look at what they are doing and get ideas. When was the last time someone at Backpacker did somethign crazy like a 600 mile unsupported hike or a crazy loop through Alaska and Canada? People on BPL do stuff like that why can't Backpacker send someone on a crazy expedition now and than? If they did I'm sure with the creatvie authors they have they could turn out an awesome article or two. Some of these people may have impressive resumes like biking to the South Pole or whatever but their knowledge of actual cutting edge BACKPACKING seems much more limited. I respect their overall outdoor skills and accomplishments but they have little to offer me as far as backpacking knowledge.Nov 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm #1805725
drowning in spamMember
Exactly Luke. He didn't even try. Tarps are not bad. It's this guy that is bad at using tarps. I've camped with many people that think their tents suck. Does that mean all tents suck? No. What the problem was was that these people did such a terrible job of setting up their tents that their tents couldn't work like they were designed to work. It's like any piece of gear. You have to know how to use it or it's worthless. His comments make it seem like he doesn't understand that, so I suggested that he stick with car camping so that he can carry a plethora of idiotproof gear and hope he finds something that works even though he doesn't know how to use it.Nov 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm #1805728
Eugene I editted my post a bit while you were putting yours up. Basically I'd draw a distinction between a guys outdoor skills in general and his backpacking skills. I get the impression Mark Jenkins knows his way around the outdoors and is probably very skillful in other areas.
Point is while I respect that I'm not looking for a mountaineering expert or a whitewater expert. I'm looking for someone whos on the cutting edge of the best BACKPACKING practices to learn from. Backpacker just isn't there at the moment which is a shame.Nov 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm #1805734
he must be pretty crazy to be breaking stuff all that lexan/hdpe cutlery all the time
i dropped my nalgene from 3 pitches up once … when i got back to the base of the climb it was still intact and the water still tasted just as good
very odd … on one hand we have an active thread somewhere where people insist UL rain gear and shelter can be used more or less anywhere … but backpacker is telling use it cant and we need titanium cookware
who is someone to believe ;)Nov 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm #1805792
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And their own display of shear danged cussedness. His is *exactly* why I tried subscribing to the magazine, then quit. Never to even buy the mag again…and laugh when it is mentioned.
This is not so much a competition as a matter of helping each other out with ways that work. If your base weight is under 20 lb, it's light. If your base weight is less than 10lb it's ultra light. Under 5…SUL. It takes knowledge and understanding to get there. Did I miss something?
Ti utinsels, yes. I use a single ti spoon. But, I don't knock plastic.
Experts are great. But, I am not sure that I want the equivalent of their gear if they can shred a tarp. I am a hiker and cannoer … not an expert at anything. I thank my lucky stars for that! I do NOT want to get caught in the woods with a shredded tarp.Nov 27, 2011 at 8:19 am #1805922
I think it's funny he left home in a blizzard for a day hike and obviously didn't even take the 10 essentials. But what I can't figure out is if he's such a great survivalist why was he not utilizing his map and compass and then when he did look at them, why did he not belive them? If he's so skilled, he should have know the mistakes not to make when lost. Then again, I guess if you're so macho that you won't even admit your lost despite glaring evidence…Nov 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm #1806095
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I've used "plastic" (Lexan) utensils for backpacking for decades and like 'em and they NEVER broke – just got lost sometimes.
This author must have been a Marine at one time to be able to destroy that much equipment. If your tarp does not have enough tie-out loops then it follows, don't use it in alpine conditions.
I do not use ti utensils for many reasons, all practical. But I do like my ti Sidewinder/Inferno stove. Ti has its place but anodized or anti-stick coated aluminum pots and plastic cups and plastic utensils actually work better than ti counterparts, and cost less.
I do covet a titanium rifle barrel for a Desert Tactical .338 Lapua rifle. Maybe the Dep't. of Defense will sell a few on surplus – or not.Nov 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm #1806158
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I bet a lot of Backpacker readers really enjoyed the article. And that was his intent. He makes a living doing it. Know your audience!Nov 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm #1806188
"I bet a lot of Backpacker readers really enjoyed the article."
Suffice it to say, wouldn't Backpacker readers be for the most part, backpackers? Yes, their audience is a bit different than ours, but some of that "wisdom" was absolute crap!
"And that was his intent. He makes a living doing it. Know your audience!"
Anything to make a buck, even if it means selling out your employer's namesake. Nick, you may be right, but it undermines the credibility of both the author and the magazine.Nov 28, 2011 at 7:12 am #1806241
I got the impression that Mark was using a tarp above treeling in very inclement weather, specifically in the Wind River Range. If so, I woudn't use a tarp in those conditions either.
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