Jan 5, 2007 at 2:24 pm #1221075
I'm new to backpacking. I've spent probably hundreds of nights camping, but backpacking was not an option for many years. Now, it is and I'm getting my gear together to hit the trail. However, I see no reason to carry 20-30 lbs of gear alone if it's not necessary, which led me to ultralight backpacking.
Now, with that said, I've been looking at going poncho/tarp for raingear and shelter. However, I've read a time or three that poncho/tarping should be left to the more experienced backpacker. I'll admit it, I'm a bit concerned about not pitching the tarp properly and getting wet, which is why a TiGoat bivy is on the purchase list.
However, I'm curious about the BPL community's feelings about newbies going poncho/tarp. I feel I should mention that part of my pre-trip plan is to practice several types of pitches until they are near automatic, and campsite selection is something I've been studying up on as well.
TomJan 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm #1373149
@foodLocale: Colorado Rockies
This is just opinion. I think there are many levels to your question.
Some people need to be enclosed to sleep.
Inexperienced people tend to take a lot more gear than they need and there is not enough room under a poncho for them and all their gear.
I look at each piece of gear as a part of a system. I would not use a poncho shelter and carry a white gas stove.
Testing a variety of pitches is good, but take advantage of the shelter that mother nature provides. A mound of thick duff behind a good windbreak is the ideal spot, but there is seldom enough room to make a text book pitch.
Do NOT set up in a dished, compacted site just because there is enough room.
You need a bail out plan until you are comfortable with your skill.
Yes, a bivy/poncho combination is appropriate for a beginner.Jan 5, 2007 at 3:56 pm #1373150
Douglas FrickBPL Member
There are certainly enough articles and other resources here on BPL to point you in the right direction for pitching, site selection, orienting and other aspects of tarp use, so if you read through those and set up the tarp in the back yard (or wherever) in the wind and rain several times then you should be set. The bivy would come in useful in blown rain or snow, since you don't have a lot of coverage with a poncho-tarp. After more experience you may decide you can leave that at home (or not), but it's not a huge weight burden anyway. There's no reason to buy a tarp now and then replace it with a poncho/tarp next month, unless you plan on buying a tarp anyway.
An alternative to the poncho/tarp is the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. It can be pitched very low to the ground and eliminates the need for a weather-protection bivy. (You might want a bivy of some nature for warmth, bug protection or sleeping without shelter, but those are separate issues.)Jan 5, 2007 at 4:00 pm #1373151
Roger BBPL Member
Putting it simply just do it, but use common sense.
Try setting up in the backyard and sleeping out, perhaps in windy wet weather. Or otherwise head to your local State Park and do an overnight where the focus is on Tarp and bivying and not on doing lots of miles.
Take plenty of stakes and cord so that you can try many different set ups and become master of a few.
There is not a lot of risk in an overnight and with a good bivy and tarp you really cannot go wrong and more importantly you will love the experience.
Finally you are an experienced camper and bivying is the next logical stepJan 5, 2007 at 4:43 pm #1373157
Douglas has an excellent point here … I use a Bivy with a Gatewood cape and a poncho tarp for the warmth and the bug protection. I've used the Gatewood without the Bivy as well, have used the Bivy without the Gatewood, and sometimes just toss the pad and bag down on top of the bivy and get some sack time. I can't remember using the poncho without the Bivy, however.
A lightweight bivy gives you a lot of options. A lightweight bivy with a 30 degree bag instead of just a 20 degree bag also gives you a lot of options as well IMO.
Also … if you're new to tarping, I wouldn't recommend just jumping into a poncho tarp … either the gatewood or take along an 8×10 tarp to start with. You learn a heck of a lot about tarping within the relative safety of an 8×10. Remember .. a Poncho tarp is not very forgiving if you don't have the techniques down and a heavy downpour in 40 degree temps is not the time to figure out good site selection or pitching options.
With that said … I'd do quite a few bag nights near the car, so you can bail easily if you get soaked or cold, with a good headlamp in reserve if you decide to go ahead and do the poncho tarp thing.
Lastly, Thru-hiker.com has a great article about the pros and cons of the poncho tarp … you should give it a read.Jan 5, 2007 at 5:55 pm #1373167
Thanks for the feedback folks. I'd love to get a Gatewood Cape, though I figured it to be out of my price range. However, a bivy isn't actually needed for the GC due to the coverage, right? If that's the case, I can take the money I was going to use on the TiGoat Bivy, and the poncho/tarp, and get a Gatewood cape instead.
Definately something for me to think about. Thanks again folks.
TomJan 5, 2007 at 7:24 pm #1373182
D GBPL Member
@dangLocale: Pacific Northwet
The Gatewood cape is currently (until Jan 15) 15% off.Jan 5, 2007 at 7:31 pm #1373184
Is that 15% off of the $110 shown on the website? If so, great! I get paid on the 12th :D
TomJan 6, 2007 at 4:55 am #1373225
Remember two things about the Gatewood …
No bug protection
No Floor so … you have to carry a groundsheet
Remember two things about a Bivy
In addition to limited storm protection, you get 5 to 10 degrees of warmth out of a bivy.
Can act as bug protection and a ground cloth.
You can get by with a Headnet and a Polycrow ground sheet for a couple of oz, but you'll be shopping for a bug net after you use it a few times. (The first time I ever saw a Black Widow spider was when she crawled over my hiking shoe when I was sitting outside my tent in the Sam Houston National forest just north of Houston (I would have sworn that she was as big as a hamster at the time), I've been real big on bug protection when sleeping ever since).
You'll be warmer in a GW cape than out under the open, most tents add 5 to 10 degrees on their own.
A Titanium goat bivy, at 6 oz, can replace the need for the bug net and the ground sheet (if you're not using Nano), plus add another 5 to 10 degrees to your bag. If you haven't bought a good down bag yet, this system can stretch a Western Mountaineering 16 oz. 35 degree Highlight to almost a 20 degree bag (at around $250)(I sleep warm, so my 32 degree Montbell number 3 will go down to the teens with my insulated jacket on and a decent pad under me, in my GW cape and my Bivy).
The point of all this is that I'd suggest that you take a look at your insulation, shelter, Bag, Pad, Ground Sheet, and Bivy or no Bivy as part of a total system.
I bought a Coleman Canyon 32 degree bag (more like a 45 degree bag) at 2lbs 10 oz, made a homemade bivy out of $1 a yard nylon and some $5 Silnylon 2nds on my mom's old sewing machine, a campmor 200 weight fleece jacket (on sale for $25) and then bought the Gatewood cape. I had bought some less intelligent purchases along the way as well, but this was the strategy I settled on. I then went to a Montbell # 3 bag for $260 (I need a 67 inch girth bag for my wide shoulders) at 23 oz, found a Patagonia micropuff pullover on summer clearance, and am working on a new Bivy now. (the fleece and colman bag, although heavy, act to take my system down to the single digits if I need it now)
(I have a $70 Jetboil for when I take my wife or son out, but 95% of the time I use a great little Alcohol stove and a Ti cup, I have a TarpTent for when I take my son with me, but I use the Gatewood/Bivy for solo)
The next piece of my system will be a Bivy Liner quilt and a light Climashield Blanket. The Blanket will be used for warm Texas spring hiking and the Bivy and Bivy Liner will be used with my bag to extend my system down into the single digits for only an additional 8 oz or so, over what I normally carry. (3/4 of an inch of loft plus 1 and 3/4 inches of loft (2.5 inches of loft) plus the effect of the pullover, bivy and the tent, with a fleece balaclava)
So … if you plan ahead, add up the prices for each into a grand total, and then make planned purchases when you catch things on sale, as you save up some money. But also remember that a good bag in the 30 degree range will cost less than a good 20 degree bag.
Ryan Jordan has a great article for premium members on this site on Sub Ultralight hiking …. which, even if your not looking at jumping into a 5 lb baseweight will give you a LOT of things to think about. It's worth the price of the subscription alone I think.
One last point. GossamerGear has Glen's Ultralight makeover DVD on sale for $5. He helps a (pretty good looking at that) young lady move from her normal 35 lb pack load to 8 lbs with strategic gear replacement. It's well worth the viewing IMO and cheap at $5 for the info you can gleen from it).
Good Luck and Happy TrailsJan 6, 2007 at 10:37 am #1373250
@greyhoundLocale: Sierra Nevada
I am going with a normal poncho and bivy combo for a couple of reasons:
Like everybody said, the bivy can offer bug protection.
The combo gives me the fexibilty to not pitch anything on a clear night and still keep off the dew/bugs.
I camp with a guy who uses a blackdiamond lightsabre, so a lean-to set up with the poncho gives us both a place to hang out.
I am also at the base of the poncho-tarp pitching learning curve, but I figure you have to start sometime.Jan 6, 2007 at 4:36 pm #1373291
Thanks again everyone! There's definately a lot for me to think about. I still like the Gatewood Cape for shelter, and it's a great weight savings over my previous plans overall, but I see the point about bug protection. Granted, I'm from South GA where bugs aren't just a problem, but a way of life :D
TomJan 6, 2007 at 10:55 pm #1373345
Jeffrey KucheraBPL Member
@frankenfeetLocale: Great Lakes
Don't forget it is either gonna be a poncho or a tarp. It can't be both a poncho and a tarp at the same time. All that means is that you might get a little wet when setting up your shelter after you take it off. You may also want to plan camp chores properly. For example if you need to get water you may want to get water before you remove your poncho and pitch it as a tarp. I am currently considering a poncho tarp as part of my fair weather system.Jan 7, 2007 at 4:48 am #1373353
I've thought about that, but I plan on using my DWR wind shirt (GoLite Wisp) for any "extra vehicular activities" I might have to perform after setting up. Not as great as actual rain gear, but it should work for short periods. Basically, it serves, for me at least, as another dual use item. Can't have enough of those :D
TomJan 7, 2007 at 7:23 am #1373355
Tom ClarkBPL Member
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
Ponco/tarps come up for sale on the Used Gear section often…so you can get one below retail price, and can recoup some of the cost if it doesn't work for you. It's amazing how often some people turn over equipment.
Good advice from the others:
– read on the site about its use and limitations
– practice in your backyard and on quick overnights
– take a rain jacket as back-up if rain is expected and your not sure about the dual use when setting up camp.
TomJan 7, 2007 at 7:49 am #1373359
Ken HelwigBPL Member
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Tom, what I use is this: At first I did the tarp/bivy thing. Worked well but I still wanted to get my weight down. I then purchased the Gatewood Cape. Look at BPL for the review and different pitching options. BPL has extensive photos of the product in real usage situations. That is what sold me. I used a poncho this year for my raingear. That and a windsirt with a pair of Gossamer Gear Sil Chaps had my whole raingear package down to 10 ounces. Sure the Gatewood Cape weighs in at 11 ounces but if you combine that with a lightweight ground cloth you are golden. I would go for the Gatewood Cape for this simple reason, for the $110 you are getting both a poncho and a shelter. YOU are actually saving money my friend!!Jan 7, 2007 at 7:53 am #1373360
Ken HelwigBPL Member
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Take a look at this. And on the right you will find some other poncho tarp combos. MLD has one that is around 7 ounces and Go Lite has one for 10 ounces that costs $45. Dunno how effective they are but that is some options that are available http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/six_moon_designs_gatewood_cape_review.htmlJan 7, 2007 at 10:14 am #1373378
@jjpittsLocale: Midwest US
As to whether or not tarp camping is for you I think many of the earlier posts would echo my comments. I'll say that it's not for everyone. I have friends that are definitely ultralight hikers that just can't do it. That doesn't "diminish" them in any way (I don't believe in such concepts… to me that's kind of like thinking less of someone because they like the color blue over red) it's just that they enjoy the closed shelter aspect. There are a lot of great ultralight tents out there and who can fault anyone that enjoys an evening in an Henry Shires Tarptent, for example?
That said, for sure I would "try it before you buy it". That means go cheap for your first few trips meaning borrow gear from a friend or something. Even "go heavy" on some of the components. Buying used is an EXCELLENT idea that you or someone else posted. Most ultralighters baby their gear as a matter of necessity. The only difference between new and used in many cases is that the used stuff has already been seam sealed by a pro! :)
Also, be sure to try all this out in a variety of conditions. You'll find out quickly if you like or don't like sleeping under a tarp in hard rain, for example. Be patient. A lot of factors in making a change like this are driven by experience and practice. I can't speak for a lot of the hikers here, obviously, but for me most of my enjoyment from tarping it comes from "habits" that I have built over years… little things that just come natural to me now like how I place my gear so it's ready for me when I get up or how I deal with that late night bathroom break.
I personally don't like hiking with a poncho so I only played with the poncho/tarp combo thing for a short while. Campmor has a ponch made of silnylon that has loops for pitching that is fairly cheap, made by Equinox. Here is the BPL review:
I don't know if this is still sold but it's a great "starter" tarp/ponco combo.Jan 7, 2007 at 1:31 pm #1373418
@crazypeteLocale: Above the Divided Line
Start with a 5'x8' sheet of 3 or 4 mil plastic with duct tape tie outs. Use a cheap Wal-mart poncho to see if you like hiking in a poncho. If this doesn't work out for you then you're only out about $15 or so, and you can still make larger tarps out of the roll of plastic sheeting.Jan 7, 2007 at 3:27 pm #1373431
If you decide you don't like the poncho-tarp, you will still have a light, cheap, durable peice of rain gear that doubles as a pack cover, and get whatever shelter system you want to. I would have to agree that it is good to jump into the SUL arena if thats where you plan to get to. I've wasted a lot of money (to me anyway) on unsuitable stuff. Also, learning to sew can save big money. Rayway quilts, backpack kits, tarps, stuff sacks, fleece hats, gloves, and socks, ponchos etc are all great ways to get into MYOG areas. It definatley takes a while to get into, but is totally worth it.Jan 7, 2007 at 3:59 pm #1373436
@vickrhinesLocale: Central Texas
My best advice is learn to make a half pyramid shelter with your poncho. It is bombproof and gives a secure dry area as long as the poncho and half as wide – no spindrift. Just stake out one long side and put a pole at the center of the other long side. Stake and guy the rest as needed – you will figure it out.Jan 7, 2007 at 4:04 pm #1373437
Crazy Pete has a GREAT idea ….
Hard to go wrong with $15.Jan 7, 2007 at 5:07 pm #1373445
@stephenn6289Locale: Sunshine State
Tom, I am very much like you, I am new to ultralight backpacking too. I am also in your general neighborhood, I do most of my hiking in the southern appalachian area. With my research, I decided to go with a TiGoat bivy and an Integral designs Poncho/tarp. My thinking was that the combo could weather any storm we'll see; afford the ability to hike all day, arrive at camp in the dark and simply get in the bivy without getting a "good pitch"; bug protection for my face and hands in warm weather-I hate deet; extra warmth for when its cold; and the flexibility to switch to a variable girth sleeping bag as I improve my gear set-up. The poncho would generally serve as my rain gear only because I would use the bivy. It would serve as a tarp only when a storm is ominously brewing or has already begun. The setup is much more flexible and offers better breathability than the cape. Also, I rarely go hiking alone, so the integral designs ponchotarp allows me to create an 8×10 trap from 2, mine and my sister's. This saves me the money of buying a seperate tarp for when we go together.Jan 7, 2007 at 5:39 pm #1373450
I'm currently evaluating my options. I'm actually thinking about the Gatewood Cape AND the TiGoat Bivy, just to keep options open. Nothing is definate for me though…to much to think about and I need to figure it out soon since I have set aside Feb for testing of all my gear before I hit the trail in mid-March!
Lots to think about! Thanks again everyone for your suggestions!
TomJan 12, 2007 at 12:58 am #1374083
@jcarter1Locale: Pacific Northwest
I am also relatively new to backpacking, and have similar trepidation with a poncho tarp. My fear, though, is not with the poncho; it's with tarping in general. I'm always worried that in a high wind my tarp will fly away leaving me exposed to the downpour. I've had too many stakes blow out to completely trust them (and I've tried the lightweight ones sold here, Y-shaped ones, and thick rod-types). Placing rocks over them hasn't always helped, either.
Since beginning backpacking I've purchased and used Shire's Tarp-tent, GoLite's Hex 3, and the Gatewood Cape. The only one I feel will really hold up to a storm is the Hex 3, but you still need bug and ground protection, adding weight to an already (relatively) heavy tent. I know many people on this sight will disagree with me here, that the Tarp-tent and Gatewood Cape have weathered many storms successfully, but I still can't get past the feeling that I'm trusting my life to this thin piece of fabric with pullouts about to rip out. Also, try as I might, I still spent 10 minutes setting each of these up. Again, this is my inexperience talking. But I also like to camp high, above treeline on Mt. Hood in Oregon, where the winds can really whip up and storms blow in fast. So these are real concerns I have.
Here's the compromise I've come up with that gives me a real sense of security: I'm going heavier on the bivy (waterproof-breathable) and much lighter on the tarp. I've just ordered an Integral Designs eVENT Crysallis Bivy, shown here with BPL editor Mike Martin in it::
It's 25oz, but it has no skyward facing zippers and has bug netting down to its waist. It's brand new, so it hasn't been reviewed here yet, but the other ID eVENT bivys have received great reviews on this site for their construction and breathability. It may be that in GA it is too humid for a wp/b bivy. However, forum member PJ has experience with wp/b bivys on the East Coast, and has several posts about the ID eVENT Unishelter that are worth a read.
I will add to this a tarp I am currently sewing: it is 4 1/2 ft x 6 ft, weights 3oz, and is made from 0.9oz/yd Spinnaker cloth from http://www.thru-hiker.com. It's about as easy a sewing project as you can find (just sew a hem along the perimeter and add four corner tieouts), and it should set up faster than any other tarp I've tried. I will set this up in a diamond pattern like in this photo (but with a much smaller tarp):
This will provide plenty of protection for my gear and myself up to my waist. I will let the waterproof bivy take care of my lower body. On warm, muggy nights I can deploy the tarp and leave the bivy open to the waist (with the bug netting zipped in place). On a stormy or cold night, I can zip up partially or most of the way. Since the bivy zips up behind the head (rather than facing my feet), any opening I leave in the bivy will be pointing towards the tarp, not the open side.
On nights I'm not expecting rain I can just throw the bivy down and crawl in, knowing that if it rains I just have to zip up. I can enjoy great sunrises and sunsets that way. Or for a bug-free afternoon nap, I just crawl in and zip the eVENT down to the waist. And best of all, if my tarp blows away, I just zip up completely and wait out the storm in the safety of a fully-waterproof bivy.
Some might argue this isn't completely safe, as condensation might eventually lead to loft degradation. I will have to test out the eVENT breathability hype. This is one reason I will use the tarp, so that in most conditions I can leave the head area unzipped. I will also bring the tarp for entering and exiting the bivy, storing gear, and for making a lean-to during a rainy lunch break. But I can always fully zip up when it really comes down, which really gives me a feeling of comfort.
Gear comparisons (some biases here on what I think constitutes as necessary. I live the the Pacific Northwest, where I plan for all-day rains):
Gatewood Cape, seam-sealed: 12 oz
TiGoat Bivy (L) w/ net hood: 7.5-9.5 oz depending on model
8 stakes (w/ side tieouts): 2 oz
Shock cord to hold bug netting away from face: 0.25 oz
Rab Pertex Quantum Wind Shirt (XL): 3.2oz
Large garbage bag (as rain jacket while you pitch the cape): 2oz
Silnylon arm chaps (optional, to protect your exposed arms using the cape in the rain): 0-2oz
Drop Stoppers Rain Pants (L): 4.5 oz
Gossamer Gear Pack Liner (slepping bag stuffsack): 1.5 oz
TOTAL: 32.95-36.95 oz
Homemade tarp: 3.1 oz
4 stakes: 1 oz
Chrysallis Bivy (doubles as sleeping bag stuffsack): 24.9 oz
Drop Stoppers Rain Jacket & Pants (L, windshirt not needed–see BPL editor Carol Crooker's review): 11.1 oz
So the waterproof bivy is 3.15-7.15oz heavier depending on your options, but provides a full rain suit and a fully waterproof, highly breathable bivy. Plus the bivy is a much simpler, faster system. I don't want to discourage you from purchasing the cape, as I do like the shelter and have personally met the maker. Also, many people here prefer ponchos for increased breathability. But if money is tight, and you are worried about storm-worthiness, you could put that money towards the eVENT bivy, the $15 highly breathable rain suit (almost as good as eVENT), and make a tarp for $30.00.
I hope this isn't too much info. It's just that is is very recent on my mind, and I have been in your place so recently in the past. Mind you, this is an untested setup on my part. But I wanted you and others to see that, when comparing all the related gear side by side, a fully waterproof, hightly breathable bivy with large bug netting really isn't that much more weight these days. This was a very recent revelation of mine, as I used to only compare shelter weight to bivy weight. You may prefer a more breathable bivy for your area, and you probably have may more options for tree protection in the wind than where I tend to camp. I just wanted you to know there are other lightweight options besides a poncho tarp that I feel give a much greater margin of error in stormy weather. You could always make a much larger tarp and only add 2-3oz, but for me it was a weight compromise, and keeps the tarp setup really simple.Jan 12, 2007 at 3:10 am #1374089
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
John, New England can be quite rainy and humid at times, and also hot nights (80+ degF) in the summer, with humidity up there too.
Under these conditions i would expect even eVENT bivies to get damp/wet from the inside and also in cold conditions when water vapor condenses on the cold inner fabric surface of a bivy. However, other shelters will experience this too.
Another contributing factor is when there is no breeze. This is a real problem for condensation buildup (some of my bivies allow for some cross ventilation, of sorts, if there is a breeze).
I find it really difficult to predict how much condensation i'll have. Maybe i'm just plain ole' dumb. Breeze vs. no breeze. Rain all night? Rain only in the late evening? Rain in the early wee' hours? RH? Will Temps drop to near freezing, or even just significantly fr/when making bivouac? Too many variables for my feeble mind to really grasp well.
The best way i've found to reduce it, is to make certain that my breath exits the bivy directly or at least exits through the bugmesh. This is more difficult with a hooped bivy SHELTER like the Uni since the opening is 16"-25" above the bottom of the bivy. This is far easier to accomplish with a wired/non-wired bivy SACK where one's mouth can be just an inch or two away from the mesh (not too close or the skeeters might still get you).
Even doing the above there will be some moisture in other parts of the bivy. It just needs to be wiped up. A good DWR sleeping bag can help prevent the bag from getting too wet (though if moisture pools in the bottom of the bivy and the bag contacts it with some body weight pressing down into the pooled moisture, DWR won't help too much).
Sometimes you just won't be able to completely dry out your bivy and bag if it rains down there like it can at times in New England – for several days straight. I don't have an answer for this one. If the rain stops, even if clouds obscure the sun, then one can stop during the day and spread or hang bivy and bag to air it out some and allow some of the moisture to evaporate.
For the wettest and buggiest times in spring, i'm actually enjoying a tarptent more and more – like the SMD Lunar Solo 'e' and HS Tarptents, that is, when i know i'll be where i can find sufficient real-estate to pitch one. Other times, i'm just stuck with a bivy since site selection is much more restricted (they sure have wide-open spaces out west my daughter tells me; she's amazed at how much better the camping and backpacking is out West than back home in New England).
I bivy for the simplicity – just through 'er down and climb in (or pitch a bivy SHELTER with just one or two stakes). Sometimes my bag is already in there from the night before or placed back in there after airing out in the midday sun. Also, bivy b/c of the lack of real-estate in some places (i like to "stealth"-it away from established campsites). This is probably a carry-over fr/when i was a kid/youth. I'd make a small natural material hide-a-way and roll up in my wool blanket(s) under/behind them and 'Walter Mitty'-style, imagine that i was a downed pilot behind enemy lines awaiting Evac/rescue; sometimes i'd have some edible plants that i had gathered with me to add to the "game". Yeah, i know, overly vivid imagination! Though sure needed a lot of OFF to keep the bugs away – i'd spray me and the blankets – the bugs didn't respect my imagination.
Hope you enjoy bivy-ing. ["Pocketa-Pocketa-Pocketa" – read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber – a very short one or two page story about a hen-pecked fella' and his imaginations.]
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