Sunday, June 24, 2018

How I Pitch Tarp Shelters

A few weeks ago I watched a great how-to video on pitching a tarp by Joe Brewer that inspired me to finally get around to making my own take on this type of video, which we'll get to soon.  But first some context can be helpful.  I mean, if there's already one good video on this subject, why bother making another one?  Well, there are all sorts of different versions of this video on Youtube, because if you ask 10 different outdoor enthusiasts how they pitch a tarp, you'll likely get 10 different answers.  

There are a lot of details and nuances that go into setting up this kind of shelter.  For example, there are all sorts of different kinds of tarps, from a wide variety of fabric, to what size they are, and then down to nitty-gritty details like number of tie out points, flat or cat-cut, weight, etc.  Adding location and application to the mix, and one can see just how complicated this can be, especially for someone who is inexperienced with the outdoors.  

So I often find myself explaining to people just how I can sleep under what is essentially a big piece of waterproof fabric.  Many people think of tents when they think camping, and tents certainly have their place.  For instance, when I take trips where I am mostly hiking above treeline, I will opt for a tent rather than a tarp for pragmatic reasons.  Without any trees around, and because I don't use trekking poles, I find it easier and more convenient to pop up a tent--but it is worth noting that a lot of hardcore tarp users pitch tarps all over the place, even above the treeline in the mountains.

However for trips below treeline, my go-to shelter is a tarp plus a bivy or a net tent.  And seeing as where I live and hike here in Scandinavia is roughly 70% forested terrain, this is where most of my hiking and camping is done, so my tarps get a lot of good use.  But the question I then get from people not-in-the-know is: how do you set it up without any poles?  I have even had fellow UL backpackers on forums ask me how I set up my tarp without any trekking poles on occasion.  The short answer is trees, or more specifically two trees with some flat or flat enough ground between them.  Well, most of the time, that is.

Often it's much easier to show someone what you mean rather than tell them, so for a while now I've been meaning to shoot a video showing off how I pitch my tarp.  And in a great kill-two-birds-with-one-stone moment, I've also been meaning to teach my oldest son how it's done as well.  So we went on a lovely day hike, taking a break in the middle of it to pitch a few different tarp shelters, and also pick blueberries, of course.  Here's some pictures of our hike:

Here's the specs in detail on the gear in question:
  •  Zpacks 6x9ft / 180x270cm flat tarp, 1.0oz Cuben fiber, 6 tie-out points, 230g/8.1oz
  • 6 guy lines (attached to the tarp), 2mm Dyneema Z-Line, each 1m/3ft in length, 90kg/200lb breaking strength, 10g/0.4oz
  • Stuff sack for the tarp, silnylon, 10g/0.4oz
  • 2 Ridge lines, 2.3mm Dyneema reflective Z-Line, each 3m/9ft in length, 108kg/240lb breaking strength, 25g/0.9oz
  • 2 mini-carabiners, 6g/0.2oz
  • 2 extra guy lines (same as above), 3g/0.1oz
  • 4 regular shepard's hook titanium stakes (for tarp sides and vestibule), 24g/0.8oz
  • 4 thick shepard's hook titanium stakes (for tarp corners), 32g/1.1oz
  • MLD Cuben fiber large stake sack, 6g/0.2oz
  • Ground cover, trimmed SOL emergency blanket, 70x210cm / 2.3x7ft, 40g/1.4oz
  • GoLite poncho/tarp, 4.5x8.5ft / 135x255cm, 15D silnylon, 6 tie-out points, 200g/7oz
Missing from this shelter to make it complete is either a good bivy or net tent, of course.  I generally take a bivy in the spring and the fall, and a net tent in the summer and winter.  The three pitches I use are the lean-to, the A-frame, and the "storm mode" A-frame.  Below in the video you can see the two A-frame pitches in detail, along with the various nuances of my pitching methods.  

My version of the storm mode A-frame I have yet to see on Youtube, but it's something I've been doing for many years, and have posted about it here before.  I don't get why this vestibule addition to the tarp shelter is not more common.  It has performed quite well for me in more inclement conditions, keeping both me and my gear more dry and protected.

Alright, that's quite a bit of context, info, specs, and more.  So now here's the video if you haven't seen it already.  Hope it will be helpful.  Now get out there and sleep under a tarp.  Peace out!