Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions

Viewing 25 posts - 26 through 50 (of 54 total)
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    No Limu, just Doug
    BPL Member


    Locale: The Cascades

    I guess I just don't get the name calling and belligerence that seems too prevalent on BPL these days. Tim brought up a valid concern, Jason answered with some very valid points as to why things might not be what they seemed. Agreeable disagreement. Good discussion. I love having varying sides of an issue brought forth.

    But then some folks feel the need to start calling names and such. Why? What does it get you? WV Hiker, you bring up valid points about how telephoto lens can distort distance, but feel the need to end your note with an unnecessary poke in the eye? I don't get it.

    Seems like a lot of angry folks on here these days. At least y'all sound angry.

    Adam Klags
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast USA

    BUZZ KILL! Tim, you are so cool for pointing out how close Ryan's tarps appear to be to the water, without even knowing if your "facts" are correct. In addition, I would assume Ryan practices LNT and teaches it to others. I for one am all about pitching your tent or tarp wherever you can do the least damage, regardless of rules. Nobody is going to do damage sleeping near water, regardless of the laws, as long as they don't cook or go to the bathroom there. Furthermore, as someone who has been ticketed by a ranger at a campsite where I chose to camp on an already impacted site rather than the legal distance from the lean to, we all know the laws don't adequately protect the wilderness. Where I live they'd rather you create more impact in a fresh site, creating more damage than if you were to simply set up on the same already impacted sites in the lean to and campsite areas. The laws on the trail sometimes make it impossible to enjoy yourself camping by preventing an adequate campsite. I'd rather break the law any day, enjoy myself, leave no trace, then pay a ticket if I get caught. But thanks for being the LNT nazi Tim, you had such great input here that nobody ever thought of before…

    Daniel Benthal


    Locale: Mid-Coast Maine


    Just be aware that the 9.5 x 9.5 tarps currently listed are all heavier fabrics. "Normal" silnylon is the 30 denier fabric available on the 9×9 tarp.

    Jason Elsworth


    Locale: New Zealand talks about camping, washing up and cooking 200 feet from the water. A recent video frown Ryan shows a group cooking by a lake. They look to be about 200 feet away. The main thing that struck me about the video was how fantastic it was to see these young kids getting outside.

    The campsites Ryan has chosen don't seem a problem to me. Also unless you were there it seems difficult to make a good judgement.

    Joseph Reeves


    Locale: Southeast Alaska

    The Forest Service has no credibility in asking for, much less having regulations that demand anything resembling leave no trace. Their idea of leave no trace can be spotted from any aircraft flying over Southeast Alaska and the western United States. My fire pit along a beach can't be compared to the destruction they have brought to the national forests.

    Bob Bankhead
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon, USA

    The big difference is that they get to make the rules and you don't.

    Joseph Reeves


    Locale: Southeast Alaska

    Fortunately, there are no rules where we backpack and kayak, which is why I"ve never paddled in Glacier Bay though it is just a couple of day's paddle from here.

    Ron D
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado

    Tim is right on the LNT issue, BPL is in an established leadership and training role in the backpacking community. The individuals posting here have virtually no impact beyond that of their individual campsite, BPL reaches and influences thousands of backpackers. BPL is subject to a higher standard for issues like LNT.

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    If someone is doing something that is technically illegal, but what they are doing is respectful not harmful to the environment they are in, then it's really nobody's business to call them out on it. If they get in trouble, it's their problem, not yours.

    Leave No Trace is a great organization that provides guidelines and suggestions for not leaving a trace is high use areas. Stop acting like they are some kind of law. It's like a bunch of sheep yelling "but… but…. you are violating LNT! LNT LNT LNT!" These things can and should be open to personal judgement based on the area and it's level of use.

    Curt Peterson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Great article – and I'm not even a tarper. Love the technique stuff and enjoy the quality writing. Thanks!


    "But then some folks feel the need to start calling names and such. Why? What does it get you? WV Hiker, you bring up valid points about how telephoto lens can distort distance, but feel the need to end your note with an unnecessary poke in the eye? I don't get it."

    It starts every year about this time, Doug. People start warming up for the flame war season as the sun sinks lower in the sky and SAD begins to set in. Wait a month or two and then watch the fur fly.

    Lordy, how I miss the early years of The Great Carbon Flame War. Back then it was an art form. Now it's just plain bad form. ;o]

    Brian UL


    Locale: New England

    Good article, nice to see BPL going back to its roots and talking tarps. Good advice too.
    I never cared for cantanary cut tarps. They are specially designed to maximize my least favorite pitch, the A frame and on top of it the added complexity and cost is only to make it easier to get a taught pitch which is not hard to do anyways with a flat tarp. Why ruin one of tarps best strengths, its flexibility?
    I like the square-ish idea. I don't personally think 8 feet is long enough for me and wouldn't recommend it. I prefer a 9 or 10 foot length.
    Other pros for a simple flat tarp is the cost, the realistic possibility of MYOG, and the ability to cook in the rain and get out of the rain with muddy shoes without getting your floor dirty. You can also easily separate your wet and muddy shoes and gear underneath.
    I think tarps work great in the White Mountains because the forest is thick and you literally have to go out of your way to go above treeline and most likely violate regulations to camp in an exposed area. Tarps can also be pitched over vegetation and rocks so you can find a suitable camp spot easier in the forest.

    Gregory Allen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Golden, CO

    New new UL and was looking at different replacement options all summer for my freestanding not-so-light tent for wife and me. Now I'm pretty sure ill get a plain ole flat tarp sometime this winter. Maybe even MYOG! Couldn't have come at a better time. Love all the pitch options. May need to add net option for midsummer trips, but option of leaving net at home when bugs not out and shedding weight is very appealing. Seems that nothing beats flexibility of going old school! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Adam Klags
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast USA

    Does anyone know who makes the tarps in the photos? (maybe they are MYOG?) I'd especially be interested in who makes the 12'x16' tarp the scouts are using…

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Most any place with sewing capacity can make one up. In a lot of cases, larger companies won't.

    Basically, only a felled seam may be new. Often, a local fabric shop will offer classes, including use of a machine, if needed. But, it is usually not hard to find one used, for a fairly good price, ie ~$30-50USD. You don't need anything except a straight stitch. No computerized countrols, no fancy zigzags, etc…A good driver or advancer mechanism is needed. Walking feet are often used and found at the sewing shop.

    Material is either coated silnylon or cuben for light weight tarps, ~60" wide (5'.)
    Seconds, cosmetic, are fine for most camping, bears don't care.

    I have put together several. I am NOT a taylor!! Tarps are only roofs, if they stop sun and rain, it was good enough.

    Michael Ray
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Nice rehash, and what you've learned over the years is especially insightful. Thankfully, I got to that point (KISS) pretty fast. I "fear" the flying insects more than weather so hopefully I can figure a way to make my netting "door" removable so I can eat, read and sleep in peace when the skeeters are heavy.

    As James Marco suggested, my corner loops are shock cord though that's largely due to my using polycryo, which isn't as strong as the other materials. As such I designed it for just one pitch (half pyramid) though I could do any pitch in good weather.

    For David Pex asking about tarp tie-outs, you'd be sewing/gluing your own additional tie-out points and you should view the papers on tie-outs at

    Doug Hus, I'd suspect .7 CF would be best for a storm-worthy shelter. .5 could work but may not last as long.

    David Eitemiller
    BPL Member


    Ryan – great article as always. Have a question concerning managing an 8×8 flat tarp type setup in changing wind conditions. Mountain areas have varying wind patterns (morning to evening) or with a storm that could start and end with different prevailing wind directions. How would you adjust your setup for this referring to the main "storm pitch" technique mentioned here?

    Drop front and raise back when / if it occurs? And accept that the occurrence of such a dramatic change and infrequent enough to not merit other arrangements which could add weight or complexity?

    I have another question regarding cuben fiber weight / strength – but will post on separate thread to keep conversation coherent.

    David Eitemiller
    BPL Member


    Is there any advantage to a heavier cuben material for a flat tarp? Some manufacturers which I assuming are quality (Zpacks for example) are supplying flat tarps at 0.5 oz (CF5 I guess this is), others HMG for example at CF8 (.8 oz per square yard).

    Are the stresses one would expect at failure points or puncturing susceptibility in these two weights significant enough to merit a the heavier Cuben material? Or is the same care needed for both and therefore the heavier cuben (albeit almost immaterial weight addition) of limited advantage? Or put another way, should we be looking for manufacturers that use only CF8 when purchasing flat tarps to be used in alpine, strong storm prone areas?

    Richard Scruggs
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon

    Excellent article bringing the evolution of Ryan's tarp experience up-to-date. Appreciate it very much, but have found the following "problem" paragraph (from the section on rigging guylines in preparation for a fast storm pitch) a little bit confusing —

    "To the rear ridgeline tie-out, I tie a “single length” guyline (I define “single-length” as one armspan). For a storm pitch, this guyline loop gets propped up with a short (< 24”) stick and then staked out taut. The guyline is attached to the guyline loop with a sheet bend, and an overhand loop is tied in the other end. All guylines are tied this way."

    The "problem" paragraph's first sentence starts things off OK by making a pretty clear statement about tying a "guyline" to the rear ridgeline "tieout" — but then, in the very next sentence, Ryan talks about "this guyline loop" getting propped up and staked out.

    Whoooaaaa there, now! What is does this phrase "this guyline loop" have to do with tying a "single-length guyline" to the "rear ridgeline tieout" anyway?

    Sounds like Ryan is saying that the "rear ridgeline guyline" is attached to a "guyout loop" that has first been tied to the tarp's "rear ridgeline tieout" (just as Ryan's paragraph immediately preceding his "problem" paragraph describes 6" loops being tied into the tarp's "tieouts" at the four corners) — especially based on the third (final) sentence of the "problem" paragraph where he says that "the guyline" (the rear ridgeline guyline, presumably) is attached to the "guyline loop" with a sheet bend.

    Would much appreciate Ryan (or anyone else) clarifying what's being tied to what with this "rear ridgeline tieout single length guyline loop" in this "problem" paragraph.

    I'd probably just tie a loop in each end of the three-foot long rear ridgeline guyline, then use one of those two loops to attach the guyline to the rear ridgeline tieout, then wrap the guyline a few times around a short stick, stick a stake through the loop on the other end of the guyline, hammer the stake into the ground, and call it done.

    But that doesn't sound like what the "problem" paragraph is describing. Or is it?

    And if so, how does a "sheetbend" knot come into play under the "problem" paragraph?

    Thanks in advance for any enlightment to come.

    David Olsen


    Locale: Steptoe Butte

    "Does anyone know who makes the tarps in the photos? (maybe they are MYOG?) I'd especially be interested in who makes the 12'x16' tarp the scouts are using…"

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    I see a 12' x 14' that you sell – must be that?

    Cute – it's snowing on your blog – and the direction of the snowfall depends on your cursor position : )

    David Olsen


    Locale: Steptoe Butte

    I believe those are the 10×14' ones that Ryan bought. I call them a FlatTarp5 since most groups use that size to shelter 5
    people. In really stormy conditions, an extra ground sheet, poncho or solo tarp can be used over the open end.

    Jim Milstein


    Locale: New Uraniborg CO

    Umm, 120/5 = 24. Not 20, not 25. This is fun. Arithmetic police!

    Gabe P
    BPL Member



    robert van putten


    Locale: Planet Bob

    Heh, the opening quoate with the line about "sounds of little feet scurrying everywhere in the darkness over sleeping bags" got a laugh from me! Been There, Done That. I don't mind so much except when the little buggers dance on my head…

    Fantastic writeup, I enjoyed it very much, and ya got me thinking that maybe I should be packing more stakes along?
    But then, I usually operate in a forest and tie tarps off to trees, bushes and stuff, and have yet to try a tarp above the tree line.

    Ya know, the very idea of using a tarp for shelter is simply horrifying to many Trad campers. Some time back I started a simple post on Trailspace about tarps, and some of the comments are quite interesting. I have since come to think of that forum as "Tentspace"!

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