A few posts ago I shared some thoughts as to why a tarp is my favorite shelter for backpacking and back pack hunting. If you missed it you can read that here. In that article I mentioned that I primarily use two tarp sizes, a 10×12 and a 9×5. This is about my 9×5 tarp, which is my go to option for solo backpacking and hunting.
The Kifaru sheep tarp is a product I picked up over the last winter after having my old 9×5 tarp (Jimmy Tarps) rip apart on me last fall. Since that time, and after going through the spring hunting seasons with it, I have really come to enjoy the Sheep Tarp, and like it quite a bit better than the cheaper competitor that I had before.
I don’t think I need to explain what 9’x5′ looks like, you get the idea. However, if you’re new to using a tarp, or new to this size, the important takeaway here is that it’s small. A 9×5 tarp provides about the minimal amount of space necessary for one person to hunker down with his/her gear at either the foot or head end of the laying position. When pitched I some sort of a-frame, there is only about 3.5′ or some of width underneath the tarp. This provides just enough room for a nights sleep for one person.
I will be the first to admit that this isn’t the most luxurious size of tarp, but what you gain for giving up some room is pack space, The stuff sack that is sewn to this tarp lends it to look about like a Nalgene bottle in stature when stored. However, if you cram it into a tight spot in your pack its more like an average to slightly large apple in size. That is with the 75′ of guyline I have tied to it at all times, but more on that later. You also gain a weight savings over the larger tarps.
The Sheep Tarp weighs in at around 11 ounces with my guyline tied to it. Its closer to 9.5 ounces out of the box. That kind of weight is pretty damn impressive for a solo shelter that you can easily sit upright underneath. It’s no secret that the fastest way to cut pack weight down is to minimize the weight coming from the so called “big 3.” Big 3 meaning your sleeping bag, shelter, and backpack. Having a shelter under 1lb sets you on your way to have a sleep system that all together should be easily under 4lbs.
Now a 9.5 ounce tarp of this size is fairly average for a nylon variety, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There really isn’t a whole lot of ways to cut weight on a tarp outside of making it smaller or using lighter materials. If I was concerned about weight to a larger degree, I would opt for a cuben fiber tarp, but from what I have seen of the couple cuben pieces ive had, it’s durability as a fabric is a major concern. It would also cost at least an extra $100 if not more.
So why did I purchase this tarp over all the other options and why do I like it so much? My first answer to that question is… Durability. If you know Kifaru, you know that their products are built to last and this tarp is no different. After being underwhelmed by how my last tarp held up, I didn’t want to be dealing with that scenario again. The nylon blend that Kifaru uses is proprietary to them as far as I know, and it is very durable. When I bought the sheep tarp I knew that I was getting a very high quality, and high tensile strength fabric, which was one of my main considerations when shopping for this.
Another reason that I love this tarp is because it has so many tie out points. I wish more companies would add additional tie outs. In the scheme of things an extra 4-6 tie out loops around a tarp don’t add much more than an ounce or two of weight, and they allow you to pitch a tarp in dozens of more ways than you could without them. I feel like this is especially important on a 9×5 tarp, because sometimes you need to get fairly creative in dealing with what you have when a storm comes in. The extra ridgeline tie out points make all the difference in being able to pitch this tarp in a manner that will get you through a storm comfortably as opposed to being awake all night as the rain blows in.
Probably the most basic and easiest pitch to envision, this is one that I still use a lot when the weather is good to fair. It allows for good head height for sitting underneath the tarp, and is very simple to set up. In the picture below I have used two trekking poles to suspend the ridgeline, and then stake the 4 corners and one middle tie-out on each long side. Often I use trees to suspend the ridgeline at either one end or both if I can manage, as they are quicker to tie off to, and are more rigid and stable that trekking poles. However, if the right trees aren’t around my selected campsite then trekking poles or a couple of stout sticks are my solution.
I typically pitch in the a-frame configuration when I don’t expect much rain or just want some shade in the middle of the day to take a nap. If I expect a clear night I would also pitch this way just as a precaution so that I don’t have to get out of bed to avoid a little rain shower passing over in the middle of the night. With the sheep tarp and its size, I like to have the ridgeline at about my sternum in terms of height.
I will admit that I don’t really know the proper name for this configuration, but this is the pitch I use when I expect the weather to be moderate to shitty. I’ve heard it referred to as the tetra wedge, but I’m not so sure someone else didn’t just come up with that on the fly either. What it is though, is essentially a modified a frame. This pitch is one that I really like, and one of the main reasons I bought a sheep tarp over its competitors. Without the additional ridgeline tie outs, this configuration doesn’t work. This is also one of the best pitches I’ve found to seal out some bad weather in a small tarp.
The important thing to note when setting up this way is to place the end that is enclosed, preferably towards your feet, in the direction the wind is coming. This will seal out all of the windblown rain and keep you and your gear nice and dry. With that in mind its fairly simple, start by staking one of the narrow ends to the ground, and then suspend the ridgeline with a pole or tree on the opposite end. From there grab the ridgeline tie out closest to the end that is staked flat, and using a trekking pole or overhanging branch, tie upward tension on the tarp so that it gives room for you to lay underneath. After that is done it is simply a matter of staking out the remaining two corner and 1-3 more guyouts on each of the long sides of the tarp.
When you buy your Sheep Tarp, there is a bit of guyline included but not much, and not of a kind that I like in the least. The two things that you also will need to purchase are cordage and stakes. For cordage, I will save you the effort of looking and just tell you to order 1.2mm z-line. It took me years to discover this stuff, and honestly there is nothing else like it on the planet. It weighs less than an ounce for 50′ and its strong enough to hang at least two elk quarters from one piece (I’ve done it). It also has no stretch, and it tangles much less than other options. I have had z line on anything that I use cordage on now for years, and there really isn’t a reason to go with something else. The fact that it hasn’t made its way into REI or some place similar by now boggles my mind.
I personally have around 12′ of cordage on each of the ridgeline tieouts. I then added 6′ roughly to each of the remaining 10 tie outs around the perimeter of the tarp. Lastly, I have two 10′ sections of cordage that I keep in my stake bag to use in a situation where I implement my storm pitch from above, where I will tie a 10′ section on to a ridgline point. I leave all of the perimeter tie outs with cord attached in the stuff sack, but for whatever reason I prefer to remove the cordage from the center tarp tie outs and keep them in my stake bag. Either way it doesn’t really matter, but leaving the cordage around the tarp perimeter makes setup much faster. This is also another reason to use the Z-line I mentioned because it tangles minimally in the stuff sack.
Secondly you’ll need to buy some tent stakes, or use ones that you already have. I usually try to carry 6-8 stakes, and they are usually a mix of some ultralight carbon ones as well as some DAC aluminum v-pegs. The v-pegs are what I use for ridgelines and high tension points, and the ultralight carbon stakes usually hold side guylines in place. Whenever possible I tie off to trees, logs, or rocks as well as they usually hold far better than a 5″ stake can. Often I carry less stakes than spots that I tie the tarp off to, but between using natural tie off points, and occasionally fashioning my own stake from a stick, I’ve never been in a situation with 6-8 stakes that I couldn’t make work.