Jan 14, 2007 at 7:23 pm #1221231
I'm relatively new to using tarps as shelter (I've spent a total of about twelve nights under them now) and everything has worked out fine so far…because I've never encountered any "real" weather with one yet. Call it good luck, but not even a small shower, even at well above treeline (13'000+).
So i'm planning to solo the JMT this August and want to take the tarp (a small 1-man Oware Cat 1.1)…but I'm not sure I 100% trust the weather protection of it yet. I don't own a bivy: So the question is, do I REALLY need to buy or make one? Honestly, I'd rather not spend the money if I don't have to- I have enough gear. Think I could get by with a space blanket or a plastic sheet to protect my bag from spray if it's really coming down? I know breathability could be an issue, but in my experience wet "breathables" don't breathe anyway. Or should I suck it up and shell out the $$$?
I can't decide…your advice is appreciated.Jan 14, 2007 at 7:38 pm #1374380
@jjpittsLocale: Midwest US
What dates in August will you be on the JMT, if you don't mind my asking?
I say a good bivy is worth it. You'll get a lot of service after the JMT as well. It's a very versatile piece of gear.Jan 14, 2007 at 8:14 pm #1374387
As of right now, I'm looking at heading out somewhere in the last week of July/first week of August. I want to go from south to north, probably entering through Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley and cutting off about 30/40 miles: 1. I've been in the Whitney zone and on the summit recently- I want to avoid the crouds and I don't feel I need to repeat it right now. 2. Trying to get a permit at the Whitney end is a fiasco I don't want to deal with.Jan 14, 2007 at 8:22 pm #1374389
you dont have to shell out tons of cash to get a a bivy that will do the job. I am only 17, so price is important to me. I found the bivies at Tigoat (titaniumgoat.com) for only $50 and they only weigh 8oz for a large. These seem to fit the bill perfectly. Also for half the price of oware you can get an EPIC one. Bivies add warmth and protection as well as the freedom to arrive at camp late, drop your stuff and crawl inside without trying to pitch a tarp.Jan 14, 2007 at 8:39 pm #1374392
Stephen, thanks for the link to Tigoat, I haven't seen their stuff…and it is much cheaper than what I've been looking at. I'll probably go this route.Jan 16, 2007 at 6:07 pm #1374624
no problem. i just got mine in the mail today. Check out my post with pictures on "The G spot" to see more details about the EPIC oneJan 19, 2007 at 6:27 pm #1374940
Take it from someone who has never used anything but a tarp/bivy. I survived a big thunderstorm (up to 25 mph winds) in a canvas tarp. The big thing is how you stake it or tie it down. I believe there was an article written recentley on the subject by the Backpackinglight staff but I do not remember where. When I use a modern tarp I like to stake it then place pine needles or boughts or something soft inside and along the edges. If I am expecting more unpleasent weather I will use tree limbs to hold the outside edges down. I do not know what the JMT is but if you can place your tarp in an area naturally protected from severe wind. Just my two cents.Jan 19, 2007 at 7:56 pm #1374948
@mckittreLocale: Seldovia, Alaska
No advice, but a question for all tarp/bivy users.
What is the reason behind bringing a small tarp and a bivy, instead of just a larger tarp? Or just a bivy? A tarp by itself is way less weight, even if it's large enough to pitch down to the ground to protect from bad weather. My tarp that holds 3 people is still only 16 oz.Jan 19, 2007 at 10:53 pm #1374954
I agree that in most cases it does seem unnecessary, but this is my reasoning. I plan on using a poncho/tarp which I would need for rain protection and a pack cover anyway, therefore using it as a tarp only costs me 2 oz in stakes and guylines. I then us my bivy as my primary shelter and only set up the tarp when raining. The bivy then adds extra warmth, bug protection, and protects my precious down from freak storms. A larger tarp can't be worn as easily. Also, a groundsheet would be needed anyway, and a bivy only weighs a little more.Jan 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm #1374955
"What is the reason behind bringing a small tarp and a bivy, instead of just a larger tarp?"
Bozeman Mountain Works VAPR Bivy Sack 6.5 oz
Bozeman Mountain Works Stealth 0PRO 6' x 4'5" x 8'L 7.9 oz
Total 14.4 oz **excluding stakes and tie down line
Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn 9' x 7' x 9'6"L 8oz.
**excluding stakes and tie down lineJan 20, 2007 at 7:47 am #1374969
@foodLocale: Colorado Rockies
Sometimes a big tarp will not fit back in sheltered sites.
A big tarp is harder to pitch taut.
In good weather I don't pitch my poncho and the bivy keeps my sleeping bag dry in case I get suprised.
I love my 8'X10' tarp but it is overkill in moderate weather.
"What is the reason behind bringing a small tarp and a bivy, instead of just a larger tarp? Or just a bivy? A tarp by itself is way less weight, even if it's large enough to pitch down to the ground to protect from bad weather. My tarp that holds 3 people is still only 16 oz."Jan 20, 2007 at 8:16 am #1374976
Great conversation here.
In my experience, the tarp worked fine by itself MOST of the time. The bivy is critical when rain is blowing sideways or when you get spindrift. I use a quilt and the bivy also cuts the breezes and makes the system much warmer. A big tarp will minimize these problems but not as well as the small tarp/bivy combo. And you don't get the warmth.
Once when going with just my poncho-tarp, I got into cold, windblown rain conditions- I was wet and cold despite ground level pitching and was really wishing for my bivy. I'd highly recommend the combination, especially when using a quilt or overbag.
Exceptions come with fully enclosed tarp shelters such as the Gossamer Gear Spinshelter or the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. I've never used the Gatewood Cape but I know others that love it. The Spinshelter is a great shelter- I survived a pretty crazy night in that shelter. Problem with these is they're more expensive.
That said, if you're staying low and know the weather is going to be fine, leaving the bivy at home is pretty reasonable.
Best of luck with your tarp hunting!
DougJan 20, 2007 at 2:49 pm #1375009
@pa_jayLocale: on the move....
You might consider making your own bivy too, or getting someone to do it for you: a very simple 2-dimensional one, w/ a DWR nylon top, silnylon floor, and a drawcord opening would be quite effective.
Erin: "What is the reason behind bringing a small tarp and a bivy, instead of just a larger tarp?"
One of BPL's earlier articles, "Advanced Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions", is a good read on this topic:
One point not yet mentioned: A smaller tarp is especially more stable in high winds. The smaller the surface area, the less force its fabric, seams, and stakes must withstand to shed wind. My current setup is a BMW Stealth 0 Nano (quite small) w/ a Vapr bivy, and this effect has been noticable. I really enjoy the fast setup of smaller tarps too. Kept in my pack's kangaroo pocket, I can be sitting under a tightly pitched tarp before a buddy has his tent unpacked. Even pitching my 10×10 tarp seems like is a chore in comparison, and since something that big is usually pitched flush to the ground on 3 sides, I really miss the sights and sounds alot.
Of course, this has been a process for sure: I've downsized my tarps over the last six years or so, as my confidence has grown. But sleeping under a small tarp is now one of the highlights of backpacking for me.Jan 20, 2007 at 5:08 pm #1375014
Big tarps have big footprints and are extremely unstable in high wind situations unless you stake all sides to the ground, which means zero headroom unless you have a pyramid style tarps. Also, staking all sides to the ground causes bad condensation regardless of the tarp shape.
A small tarp (such as oware 1.1 or 1.5) combined with a waterproof bivy is a good solution for cold conditions. My camping season runs from April through September, meaning much of the time is in the heat of summer, when a waterproof bivy is way too warm. So the solution I came up with is to use a Oware 1.5 tarp with an added back panel, to keep rain from blowing in from the rear, plus a raincoat or poncho hanging from an added loop on the underside of the ridgeseam, to keep rain from blowing in the front, with a home-made netting bug-bivy underneath. (http://www.geocities.com/frhiking/sewing_bugbivy.htm)
Assuming I pitch the tarp with the sides and back about 3" from the ground, there is still plenty of airflow due to the gap between the raincoat and the sides of the tarp. Yet I am still well protected from rain spray even under stormy conditions. This is because the loop for the raincoat is about 6" back from the front of the tarp so that the tarp overhangs the raincoat at the front, thus providing protection from diagonally blowing rain. Diagonally blowing rain can still enter between the raincoat and the tarp, but it will hit the sides of the tarp rather than hitting me.
I don't much care for the doors on the Spinshelter or the Integral designs Silshelter since these are something of a nuisance to close. By contrast, I can secure my raincoat/front door in place by simply putting a few water bottles or other heavy items on top of the lower part. It is also possible to tie the lower corners of the raincoat/poncho to the corner tarp stakes, in case a strong wind starts blowing against the front of the tarp, though I have never bothered with this in the field.
I have no experience with using a tarp/bivy in heavy snow with considerable spindrift. I'd probably use a tent if I expected these sorts of conditions.
I will probably be replacing my Oware 1.5 tarp with a slightly smaller hand-made tarp for next hiking season, since I find the Oware 1.5 is a bit too wide, especially in the foot area. There were a number of occasions this past hiking season when I was trying to camp in spots hidden away in the bushes, and the large size of my tarp was a problem. Otherwise, though, I can highly the Oware tarps.Jan 20, 2007 at 6:51 pm #1375024
Sure size matters but so does experience and confidence.
Here is an exert from the Bozeman Mountain Works Stealth 1 PRO 7’ x 9’, item description:
“The experienced ultralighter who is competent in handling ultralight gear can successfully use a Stealth PRO tarp in very high winds, and learn to pitch it very taut”
Does a larger tarp offer more surface area over a smaller tarp… of course.
Does the larger tarp take a little more finesse to set up… maybe a little.
I’m sure we can all agree that we are all looking for the most weather protection for the least amount of weight. That’s why I stopped carrying a bivy and small tarp combination.
Some background on my decision: I pack all four seasons mostly in the southwest, I’m sure the weather can be more volatile in other parts of the country but the “relatively larger” 9' x 7' x 9'6"L 8 oz. tarp has served me well through wind driven rain, snow and sweltering heat.
Ps I still own a “relatively small” 7' x 5' x 8"L 5.8oz. tarp and a 6.5 oz. Bivy.
My 2cents, your mileage may differJan 20, 2007 at 7:08 pm #1375027
@mcelhineyscLocale: Pacific Northwest
I have to agree with Doug, the versatility of a small tarp, WPB bivy and a sleeping quilt can't be beat. The various combinations allow condensation control, moisture management and thermal regulation through 3+ seasons better than anything else I've ever tried.Jan 20, 2007 at 7:39 pm #1375036
@jjpittsLocale: Midwest US
Sometimes I pack just the tarp. Sometimes I pack just the bivy. Generally I pack both. Sometimes I pack neither! For me it just depends on the type of weather I am expecting. I guess my point is that I can control the weight of the setup by adding/removing components of this modular system to meet my needs. I love the versatility.Jan 21, 2007 at 12:05 am #1375049
@mckittreLocale: Seldovia, Alaska
Now I'm wondering why people who go for the tarp/bivy system don't just bring the bivy and leave the tarp at home? Seems like that'd be the most flexible/convenient.
I guess I don't find my 8×10 tarp to have the problems others describe. There's no condensation unless I were to lay against the sides (and if there's enough wind to need a really low pitch, condensation is less of a problem). I've not used it much in snow, but in all sorts of rain and wind (including 5 straight days of howling wind this summer). I do choose naturally more sheltered sites when it's windy. I don't find it a problem to tuck into these sheltered sites – if the wind's a consistent direction even a bush or a boulder on the tundra works fine.
I guess the biggest advantage a plain tarp has is scalability. I have used my 16oz tarp to sleep 3 people for a month. This ends up with only 5.33 oz/person, and if had something more high-tech than a sheet of silnylon it'd be even lighter. Bivys and tarps for all would have been many times heavier.
Does everyone else really always hike alone?
-ErinJan 21, 2007 at 12:50 am #1375051
Good points Erin. I do use a tarp primarily by myself and typically use a Tarptent when hiking with a partner (or a mountaineering tent for those situations).
Regarding the bivy-only approach, the tarp/bivy combination offers some key advantages. By allowing a bivy with a waterproof bottom and a water resistant/breathable top, you have much more breathability to eleminate condensation in your bag. A Quantum top is more breathable than eVENT (and far beyond Gore Tex) and is also much lighter.
But you're totally correct that given reasonable conditions and with a reasonable sleeping system, the tarp-only is the lightest option, particulary when multiple people use the tarp.
The tarp/bivy combination is brilliant when a solo hiker is pushing the limits, such as using the tarp above the treeline or in colder or more windy conditions. It also allows me to use a really light quilt without loss of heat due to breezes or rolling over. Taken as a full overnight and raingear system (bag, bivy, and poncho/tarp), it's the lightest solution I've found that can handle most conditions.
Personally, I use a BMW poncho/tarp, a BMW Vapr bivy, and a Nunatak Ghost Arc bag for most 2-3 season backpacking, layering different clothing as needed (or leaving the bivy at home when things are warm and mild).
DougJan 21, 2007 at 12:53 am #1375052
Like James, I also have taken only the Vapr bivy. This is only when the chance of rain is miniscule. If conditions change, I know I can flip the bivy upside down or find some natural shelter. But with the Vapr, I have to be pretty certain that I'm set for weather. With a full waterproof bivy it's a different story (but I no longer have one of those…)Jan 21, 2007 at 2:18 am #1375055
@dealtoyoLocale: Mt Hood
>>Does everyone else really always hike alone?
For me, yes (at least most of the time).
My system is: poncho tarp (Golite or, Gatewood Cape), Vapr bivy, and Arc Ghost (colder conditions Arc Alpinist). Since my tarp is also my rain gear, I don't consider it to be extra weight. Most of the time rain gear is a must have in Oregon. The only extra weight is the bivy (7 oz). Very close to your 5.33 oz per person weight, Erin.
I have to agree with Doug, this is the most versitile system that I have ever used. No matter if it's hot, wet, dry, cold, or any were in between, this system just can't be beat. You can adjust on the fly: tarp only, bivy only, sleeping bag only, bivy and bag, tarp and bag, tarp and bivy, all three, or none at all. That's alot of options for very little weight.
>>Like James, I also have taken only the Vapr bivy. This is only when the chance of rain is miniscule. If conditions change, I know I can flip the bivy upside down or find some natural shelter.
Doug, great tip on turning the bivy upside down I never thought of that. Not to mention that your one brave man to go with only the Vapr bivy as your sole sleep protection from the elements.Jan 21, 2007 at 8:31 am #1375074
Important to note that when I've taken the Vapr bivy only, it's been one night and zero chance of rain. Not a common occurance at all.
Do you find you need the bivy with the Gatewood cape? How do you like the cape? That shelter has always intrigued me…
DougJan 22, 2007 at 2:01 am #1375198
@dealtoyoLocale: Mt Hood
Doug, the Gatewood was just purchased, and I have not had the chance to use it yet (or seam seal it for that matter). I have set it up and played around with it. So far I love it. My intent is to use it for winter weather (sunny, dry, and very little wind). During three season outings I will use it when the forecast calls for heavy sustained rain (much better protection vs. a poncho tarp).
>>Do you find you need the bivy with the Gatewood cape?
Winter weather- Boosts sleeping bag temp rating and blocks snow drift and wind.
Three season with rain- Keeps me dry from wet ground and running water on top of the ground.
Bug protection in summer- From my experience, mosquintoes tend to collect in the peak of enclosed shelters.
For more normal weather conditions, I'll stick to my poncho tarp (light rain, showers, or dry conditions). Just in case anyone is wondering why I would carry a tarp in dry conditions, it gives me shade. Nice to have when it's 90 degrees out.
>>Important to note that when I've taken the Vapr bivy only, it's been one night and zero chance of rain. Not a common occurance at all.
Sounds like typical PNW weather to me.
PS, The Gatewood Cape might be a good choice of shelters for sustained winds.Jan 22, 2007 at 2:38 am #1375204
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Just in case this proves useful to anyone, skeeters, like most insects, have two (for our purposes) ingrained behaviors that make it sometimes relatively easy to get them out of a shelter (or out of your ear if one crawls in).
Skeeters are negatively geotactic (they move away from the source of gravity, viz. the earth) and positively phototactic (they move towards light).
Hence, if possible, open a high vent, and from the outside shine a light through the opening. Give a little shake of the tent fabric and they generally fly UP and out towards the LIGHT.
This approach, from firsthand experience, with myself, wife, children, friends, also works well when a lil' bugger crawls into your ear. Just bend & turn your head with the inhabited ear skward and shine a light in it. This is often sufficient to coax the lil' bugger, who is contemplating taking up residence, out.Jan 22, 2007 at 8:54 am #1375222
I'll step in get for a moment to share a few thoughts.
I realize that many will continue to use a bivy with the Cape, though I tried to design it eliminate the need. Personally I think a sleeping bag or quilt with a good water resistant shell makes a better solution. Fortunately with Epic, Pertex and numerous micro-weaves with DWR shells available today, that’s not too difficult. That should be more than sufficient to deal with whatever minimal spray or condensation collects on the shell.
Bivies can provide some enhanced bug protection. However, I find that when I’m in need of bug protection is so warm that a confining bivy only compounds the problem. When it’s warm or hot as in late spring early summer, I need better venting to help regulate nighttime temperatures. This is something I’ve found difficult to accomplish with enclosed bivy sacks.
Another thing I’ve discovered over the years, is that I seldom need both bug and rain protection simultaneously. Generally speaking, when I’m having bug problems it’s not raining and when it’s raining bugs have gone elsewhere. Granted that’s not true everywhere. I generally pack to deal with each problem independently instead of looking for a unified solution.
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