Oh how my shelter choices have changed!
My first shelter was a Eureka 2 man tent that weighed in around 4lbs. I found out quickly that for the weight and availability of shelters on the AT that I could have just carried a rock in my pack. So the evolution began with a purchase of an 8’x10′ polyethylene tarp somewhere in Virginia that weighed in at 22oz. Huge difference and more versatile.
Prepping for the Finger Lakes Trail in 2012 piqued my interest in updating my gear with a lighter tarp. So I purchased an 8’x10′ silnylon tarp from Campmor. Love the tarp and it has served me well on every use and weighs only 13oz.
After the little incident with my neck and a major surgery I decided that my pack weight needs to be as light a possible. After multiple evaluations of my gear spreadsheet I came to the conclusion that a new tarp was a good start.
Well, I went and finally spent real money on gear. For years I have been buying lighter gear, but only when it was on sale. Finding a cuben fiber tent on sale is not an easy chore. After all, anyone who goes light knows that the lighter the gear the more expensive the price tag.
So I bit the bullet and purchased a cuben fiber 8.5’x8.5′ tarp from Bear Paw Wilderness Designs. Costly yes, but the weight for me is worth the cost. Weighing in at 7.0 oz I have shaved 6oz off my base weight!
May not sound like much, but consider the following: My pack weight in Hot Springs, NC was an impressive 50lbs (with 3days of food)! My base weight in 2012 on the Finger Lakes Trail was 12lbs and now I am shooting for 10lbs as my base weight.
So why choose a Tarp?
- Lower Weight: Tarps are generally lighter than tents. Of course the weight ratio of a tarp or tent is dependent on the material. For instance a cuben fiber tent will be much lighter than a tent with the same specs made from Polyurethane (PU) coated fabrics or SilNylon.
- Lower Cost:
No, cuben fiber is not cheap. There are many products out there that are much cheaper and will work just fine for your needs. You can find a solid performing SilNylon tarp from $50.00 to $150.00 that will suit your needs. Again, I love my SilNylon tarp and it has never failed to perform in even the worst conditions mother nature has thrown at me.
- Space, Space, Space!:
There is no better feeling than being able to cook or change your clothes without restrictions. The ability to cook comfortably during a down pour is one of the best features. I loathe the idea of trying to cook in a tent vestibule on my stomach with little or no air flow and feeling constricted. I can also change clothing more efficiently and spread my gear out under the tarp.
There are drawbacks to using tarps that you may want to consider!
This is perhaps a possible issue when using tarp shelters, but there is a solution. Bug nets are relatively cheap and light additions. I have never had an issue with bugs using a bug net with my tarp. I use a cheap light bug net that I have cut the excess material off of in order to give me a custom fit. The bug net is also a great item to use inside of a shelter to keep those pests from interrupting your sleep.
Ease of Use
I highly recommend that your first trip into the back country not be your first time setting up your tarp. Before every trip take I spend time setting up and packing up my tarp in order to make sure I am as efficient as possible. This means reacquainting myself with different ways to set the tarp up and tying knots. You also need to know what to look for in a quality site. Is there a flat area? Are there suitable trees to tie anchor guylines or will you need to use your trekking poles?
Tarps have worked for me and just maybe a tarp can work for you, too!