Over the last few years, it has seemed like floorless shelters have been the hot new thing. However, my absolute favorite of floorless shelters is nothing new at all. The tarp has been around for a very long time, and for good reason. Very few things can compete with a tarp on an all around scale that involves, weight, livable space, and versatility. So, I thought I would sit down for a moment and write some of my thoughts as to why the tarp is my ultimate 3 season shelter for backpacking and hunting.
WEIGHT VS. SPACE
A tarp packs an incredible punch when it comes to this first category. I mainly use two tarps currently, one being a Kifaru Sheep Tarp (roughly 9’x5′) and a Hilleberg Tarp 10 (roughly 10’x12′). The Kifaru is under 1lb, and the Hilleberg is well under 1.5lbs after I switched guylines from what it originally came with. Its nearly impossible to find a good tent that weighs less than 2lbs, and when you do, the amount of space is miniscule compared to what either of these tarps can provide. I often pitch either of these tarps 5 or 6 feet off the ground so that I can walk in and out of my shelter, which is a luxury that’s impossible with just about any backpacking tent. A 10×12 tarp, at less that 1.5lbs, is more than a comfortable amount of space for two people plus gear.
Another major advantage that I find to tarps, is that they can be pitched in about as many ways as you can imagine. This is especially helpful in hunting situations where you find yourself far from anything resembling a suitable campsite many times. A tarp can be pitched over a deer bed for example giving enough extra space for gear, and just enough of a flat spot for one person to sleep in. A tarp also serves a good sun shade in the middle of the day, or a quick pop up shelter to hunker under in a thunderstorm.
It seems that even though I use a basic a-frame pitch most of the time, I never pitch a tarp the same any two days on a trip. Being creative to make use of a combination of trees, rocks, stakes, and whatever else you find is the real freedom that a tarp comes with. Almost any situation that I seem to find myself in, I can come up with a way to set up shelter for good or bad weather.
Not much could be more basic than a flat piece of fabric for a shelter, and the fact that there are no poles to break, no zippers to fail, and no space requirements to deal with really lets me adapt to wherever I find myself at the end of the day. A simple shelter makes for fast setup and takedown, and just one less thing to worry about while backpacking.
MY TARP SETUP
These are a couple things that I have found useful while tarp camping over the years and they have helped me become more efficient at doing so.
The first thing I will mention is having good guyline. The best that I have been able to find is 1.2mm Dyneema from ZPacks.com that is called zline. It has virtually no stretch to it, it will hold several hundred lbs, and it weighs .55oz for 50′. Its incredible cordage, and I would say that its the best utility cord/rope that I could imagine finding. For example on my Hilleberg tarp, I over half a pound by switching the guyline, and I think this guyline performs better than what was on it originally to boot.
My next tip would be in how you tie on your guyline. Learn how to tie a friction hitch, and tie one to attach the tarp on every guyline. Having the friction hitch on the top end of the guyline will allow you to adjust tension without having to re-tie or adjust you stakes or tie-down points. This makes things much faster and simpler in the field, and can save several minutes every time you set up your tarp. These knots will take the job of a line runner or tensioner, but without adding a piece of plastic to the guyline to get tangled in your stuff sack, or just add weight to your overall setup.
Finally, I try to carry a few good, strong tent stakes and couple extra 10′ sections of cord. The tent stakes are obvious as to usage, but I will say that I prefer a good strong DAC aluminum v-peg. For me, these have been the strongest and I rarely end one even when kicking them into the ground. Several companies sell them, but I am still using a set that came with a Hilleberg tent because I really love the yellow color which seems to really help me keep from losing them. The extra guyline I also keep in the bag that stores my tent stakes, and I use it anytime I want to add some length to a ridgeline, or maybe reinforce the stability of a pole holding up an end of the tarp. Having a couple pieces already cut to 10′ or so and with your stakes makes life a lot easier when you find that you need to reach a little farther to tie off.