Why bring a tarp?

November 15th, 2010 by Carl D
Breakfast under the tarp.
Coffee and breakfast one frosty morning, after a cold, wet and snow evening. The Siltarp 2 is an awesome piece of gear. Click the image above to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

One of the questions I received via email after I recently posted my backpacking gear list concerned the tarp I carry.

  • 1 Integral Designs sylnylon  8′ x 10′ tarp and MSR Groundhog stakes

Why, if I’m carrying a tent, do I also carry a tarp?  Good question.

Backpacking trips in bear country, and particularly grizzly bear country, means not eating inside a tent. Not ever. We cook, eat, do dishes and store all food quite a distance from where our tents are; the standard distance is 100 yards, but that can vary with the circumstances, IMO. Safe to say that’s a good distance to maintain. The further the better.

When the weather’s bad, the tarp feels like  a life saver. That tiny little shelter makes the world of difference when you get to camp. I can get changed out of any wet hiking gear, put on all my dry, warm layers (including some nice warm, dry socks!!! 🙂 ), to go cook and eat comfortably, warm and dry rather than wet and cold and rained on. It’s particularly nice in the morning, knowing I can get up from my tent and go make coffee under the tarp. I wouldn’t go backpacking without a tarp (or similar).

I find 2 hiking poles, or sometimes 4, works well to build a nice shelter to eat under. This is one of the reasons I like the full-size hiking poles, those that max up to 140cm. Many of the more compact lighterweight poles aren’t really long enough to do effective double duty under the tarp – they’re too short. Headroom matters!

So, given that we just use trekking poles to hold the tarp up, what extra stuff do I have to carry for this setup? Not too much. Check it out:

Integral Designs Siltarp 2, and at 14oz, it’s not a heavy additional load. I carry a small stuff sack with some MSR Groundhog stakes (Note, on their website, Cascade Designs/MSR only list the “kit”, but most retailers will stock individual stakes). Weighing 0.71ounces each, 8 of them come in at under 6 ounces.

I also have lengths of cord tied to each corner of the tarp, 2 points in the middle on the sides, and at least 2 points on the ‘back‘ of the tarp for additional tiedown options. I use Kelty Triptease Lightline. 50′ of cord weighs just one ounce. Just to give myself some flexibility with setting the tarp up, I use 100′.

So for a total of about 24oz, I have a shelter that can comfortably seat 5 people to cook, eat and rest under in inclement weather. It’s one of those little things that really makes a huge difference to a trip. Setting up to cook, eat, cleanup and wait around in the rain or snow without a tarp is a drag.

I also own and carry a smaller 5 ‘x 8’ tarp for solo trips, or trips with just a couple of people. Every little bit of weight we can shed from the pack helps make backpacking easier, so it’s worth it to shave a few more ounces when I can.

I’ll write a more detailed writeup later of the Integral Designs tarp. Suffice it to say for this post, it’s a great piece of gear.

Stay dry – bring a tarp.



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