Podcast Episode December 26, 2019

Episode 23 | Henry Shires of Tarptent




Henry Shires is the President and Founder of Tarptent, a direct-to-consumer, cottage-industry tent manufacturer known for its light, stable, and roomy shelters. In this episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, Andrew chats with Henry about his design philosophy and process, fabrics, Tarptent’s business journey, the importance of taking time away from your company to recharge, and much more.


  • Guest introduction – Henry Shires, Founder and President of TarpTent
  • Henry’s design aesthetic
  • Story of the first Tarptent
    • Original plans posted on Backpacking.net
    • The book that inspired Henry to start making his own gear.
  • Henry’s design process and signatures
  • Fabric
    • Why Henry started designing for DCF
    • The BPL DCF Podast
    • Working with DCF
      • Taping
      • The way the fabric is produced (size of the sheets)
  • Other design challenges
    • Stretch factor of fabrics
    • Failed designs
    • Combining successful design elements
    • Using CAD vs seeing how things work in the real world
  • Testing designs
    • Usability vs real-world stresses
  • How a passion for design leads to unique features
  • The business journey – from first design to present
    • Making the choice to go full-time
    • Early-days struggles
      • Production
    • Sewing in Seattle – pros and cons
  • Things coming up in 2020 for TarpTent
  • Direct-to-consumer and why it is important for Henry
  • Balancing running a business vs actually doing the business
  • Staffing a cottage business
  • An experiment with Tyvek fabric!
  • The future of shelters
    • Henry is concerned about decreasing weight at the cost of performance
    •  New fabrics?
    • Always room for new designs (but there’s only so many ways to hold up a tent).
  • Why it is important for Henry to produce affordable gear (Like the ProTrail)
  • What Henry views as the future of the cottage industry
  • Henry’s final thoughts – keep doing it until it isn’t fun anymore
    • Carving out time for hiking
    • Carving out time for family

Related Content

Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer, Host, and Editor
  • Henry Shires – Guest
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music

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Updated November 7, 2019

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Home Forums Episode 23 | Henry Shires of Tarptent

Viewing 17 posts - 1 through 17 (of 17 total)
  • Author
  • #3624185
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 23 | Henry Shires of Tarptent

    Andrew chats with Henry Shires of Tarptent about his design philosophy and process, fabrics, business journey, the importance of taking time away from your company to recharge, and much more.

    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Indiana

    Excellent interview. Henry mentioned not wanting to make DCF designs that produce a lot of waste. In a recent thread Henry stated that it’s a main reason for not producing DCF Protrails. Zpacks utilizes most of their DCF waste by making stuff sacks.

    Tarptent needs to start offering a camo DCF option just like MLD, Zpacks and Trekkertent does. I’d be on board then.

    Todd T
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Good interview.  At one point Henry alluded to the question “what haven’t we solved yet” being one driver of new designs.  I’ll offer one:  2-person, 2-door, 2-wall tent light enough and long enough for one tall dude, sorta like the Saddle 2 but not as discontinued. :-)

    Henry Shires / Tarptent
    BPL Member


    Locale: Upper Sierra Foothills - Gold Rush Country

    2-person, 2-door, 2-wall tent light enough and long enough for one tall dude,

    I hear you …


    Matthew / BPL


    “what haven’t we solved yet”

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before (meaning I’ve emailed Henry about it in the past) but the thing I want is a side entry tent that is either stuffable or has very short pitchlock struts. I want it to fit sideways in a small volume pack. That’s the holy grail, imo.

    Help me, Obi Wan Shirenobi. You’re my only hope.



    No one seems to take advantage of the fact that many people sharing a 2 or 3 person tent cary 4 trekking poles between them.  2 person trekking pole tents generally use only 2 poles.

    Seems like 4 poles could give you a more storm worthy structure with smaller panels and better tension.  It could also offer more area with a high ceiling, especially above the face when laying down.

    Henry Shires / Tarptent
    BPL Member


    Locale: Upper Sierra Foothills - Gold Rush Country

    I want it to fit sideways in a small volume pack.

    Yes, noted.  Are you ok if the pichloc(s) is/are easily detachable and foldable (and stored vertically) ?


    Seems like 4 poles could give you a more storm worthy structure with smaller panels and better tension

    We actually did that for the Saddle 2.  There are upsides (as you noted) and downsides (increased setup complexity/requirements).  My feeling is that for large (3/4 person) tents the upside can exceed the downside.


    Matthew / BPL


    Henry, removing the pitchlocks concerns me. I’d hate to drop them somewhere.

    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    Nice interview. I think a v2 of the Saddle would be pretty interesting. IMO, all of the downsides with the v1 were solvable.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Thanks, Guys, a good podcast! Thanks!

    BPL Member


    Good interview and interesting discussion. After the X-Mid came out, I thought we had seen basically all there was to trekking pole tents. And then came the Aeon Li. I’m still holding out for a non-DCF version :)

    Shelters are an interesting optimization problem, and something I’ve gone round and round with as I’ve backpacked through different environments and weather conditions. I want a shelter to be light, but still durable and storm-worthy and easy to pack. I want it to have a small footprint, but still have room to live and be easy to set up. There’s a lot demanded from a shelter. I’ve come to the oft-quoted conclusion that there is no perfect tent.

    David U


    I have owned several Shires creations and they have all been superb.

    Thanks Henry for years of producing highly usable, light, and relatively inexpensive shelters.  Both my wallet and feet thank you.

    David U


    “I’m still holding out for a non-DCF version :)”

    Me too.  I bet the weight might be 3 or so oz more but be more durable and much less expensive.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    And I’m waiting for two things:

    1. green (or tan) colored DCF in the Notch Li
    2. silpoly fabric in one or two tents to see how well it works. Polyester is more UV resistant but most importantly much less stretchy than silnylon, especially when wet.
    Franco Darioli


    Locale: Gauche, CU.

    Years ago I posted that I did not know of any  present or future (on the horizon)  tent  fabric that only has plusses and no minuses.

    One of the resident experts got his knickers into a knot about that, funny thing is that I have not changed my mind.

    But I’ll be blad when someone proves me wrong (in practice not just theory…)

    Bendrix B
    BPL Member


    I carry two Notch Li tents when there are two of us traveling together.  Some claim I snore, I sure know others do.  Setting up a few yards apart helps with that a lot.  Another trick I’ve used is to carry a dcf tarp of 8X10, and set it up spanning the two Notch Li tents.  Creates a huge space for hanging out, playing cards, boiling water, you know, when the weather sucks, or you just get lazy, or it gets dark too early.  For me two tents is the trick, not a single “two man” made is truly as comfortable for two people as two Notch Li tents.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    I just want to add my voice here to those who think highly of Henry Shires and his tents.  And I want to underscore that his customer service is also exemplary.  It’s not a surprise at all that he is here on these boards, answering questions and taking notes.  It’s how he runs his business.  thanks, Henry.

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