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Any experience with basic tarp shelters in the rain?

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Any experience with basic tarp shelters in the rain?

Old 09-18-20, 09:05 AM
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KC8QVO
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Any experience with basic tarp shelters in the rain?

I am looking in to ways of setting up a tarp as a shelter and am curious if others here have experience with using them specifically in the rain.

The 2 methods that I have in mind are a lean-to with awning and an A frame style.

I have used tarps before as a make-shift shelter, but that has always been in dry weather. Both times were sort of like a hotdog bun style bivy - I put part of the tarp down as a ground cloth then wrapped the longer portion up and over. I've done that both with and without a ridgeline, not a very high ridgeline, just enough to give maybe 4-6" clearance of me laying down.

For getting rained on it would seem the A frame would be the wisest method as it gives 2 complete walls (if the sides go all the way to the ground). However, that leaves both ends open. In air that isn't moving too much, even if the rain is fairly heavy, that would be OK I would think. However, if the wind picks up there is the proverbial "wind tunnel" going through. Has anyone experienced this? What thoughts do you have and are there methods you've found to stay totally dry in such a simple shelter?

My thoughts are to use a tarp as a quick, simple shelter, but I am a bit hesitant unless there is no risk of rain. The last thing I want to do is be in a wind tunnel at night and soak my gear.

I do have several of the SOL bivy's. I experimented with them a few years ago and I have a "breathable" one I got after the first "experiment". The first one I used was not breathable and made for quite the clammy night - so much so that I got out of it in the middle of the night. I had it layered over a synthetic sleeping bag. I figured the "breathable" one would be a lot better. Not so - I ended up with the same scenario.

As to the tarp idea - a bivy inside it like one of the SOL's would be ideal - the tarp as the fly and any water that makes its way inside doesn't get the sleeping bag wet. However, the condensation issue with the layer over top the sleeping bag makes that a no-go in my book. Even though the "breathable" bivy vents on both ends (it uses velcro closures so you can open it up) it doesn't vent enough, I don't think .Maybe if there were a way to turn it in to a more open air "fly" over top the sleeping bag that might help? Not sure how to rig it yet.
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Old 09-18-20, 09:40 AM
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I've been hammock camping for a long time... haven't owned a tent in years, and the A-frame tarp structure is life. I've never gotten wet, but I think being off the ground helps. In a true storm situation there are ways to close the ends by folding the tarp similar to a boy scout tent. Some tarps have a non-rectangular shape with this structure in mind.
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Old 09-18-20, 10:19 AM
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Next time I go camping I am planning on bringing my tent without its fly, and a tarp and some rope. I hope this will save some weight and make packing easier - the tent bag will be the same length (because poles) but pack down much skinnier - as well as be a more flexible arrangement. Maybe just a tarp would be possible this time of year (autumn) but I need protection from bugs during the spring and summer.

I have a hammock with a built in bug net, but I don't want to have to rely on finding robust trees wherever I chose to stop. It works fine in the backcountry of the big provincial parks around here, but I wouldn't want to rely on it for wild camping. I tried it once a few years ago but the only trees I could find were way to skinny and the tarp tied above sagged too much when I got in the hammock.
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Old 09-18-20, 10:50 AM
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When I was in the scouts we used to utilize Army poncho for easy one man sleeping arrangements for ultralite camping trips. They pull out into a nice "a frame" tent that covers all but your feet according to height and only utilized sticks for propping it up. Worked pretty well so long as it didn't rain really hard or select a low spot.
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Old 09-18-20, 10:51 AM
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My feeling is that once you have thrown in a ground cloth and a tarp and a rope as a main guide line, tie downs and stakes, you might not be saving yourself much weight and then you don't have a way to keep the bugs out nor a guarantee of staying dry vs. today's lightweight tent.
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Old 09-18-20, 12:12 PM
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I used a double A frame type of tarp several decades ago, but not since. It worked fine for cool weather and wet weather. This time of year when you should have no bugs, that should not be a problem. I always looked for a pair of trees the right distance apart that had reasonably level ground between that was unlikely to turn in to a pond. Used a line to support it from trees.

Have used a Whelen tarp (lean to with awning) in winter, then we used cross country ski poles or snow shoe poles as poles to support it. But that particular one that a friend of mine owned was water resistant, not water proof, so we only used it in snow and not rain.

Of the two above, the A frame would make more sense for a solo camper. The Whelen tarp worked great for two or three, but a bit big for only one person. Or at least the one we used was a bit big for solo.

I was fortunate with my tarp sleeping, never in a place with mice. But I have been in a tent in some places with mice, our tent kept them out. A tarp would not.

I have several good light weight one and two person tents, so my sleeping under a tarp days are pretty much over.
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Old 09-18-20, 01:30 PM
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I've used tarps quite a bit with car-camping and last week used one while bike touring in northern MN. We expected and had variable weather. Tarps can offer a lot of protection for very little weight. We have a 10x12 silnylon tarp that weighs in just shy of a pound. Add in setup lines & rigging lines and stakes and we're at about 2 lbs. If you take two additional setup poles that can add a half pound(for 50 inch aluminum tent-type poles) to 1.25 lbs for a pair of adjustable hiking sticks. We had hiking sticks last week.

We also had a 4.5 lb two-person tent. Lows at night got down to the low 30's..we were comfortable and had a great trip.



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Old 09-18-20, 04:28 PM
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Thanks for the input.

I have a Warbonnet hammock and tarp set up, but its at my cabins and I can't get it at the moment (at least I think it's there - that is the last place I had it). It has a nice tarp set up and door kit (doors are separate - not attached). Its worked well, but since I don't have it to use I'm trying to come up with another idea.

I was trying to make use of some 8x10 tarps earlier this year for a fly over top an A frame tent, but I figured it wasn't worth it. I have used the A frame tent backpacking and it is too small for me - can't even sit up, and especially with the possibility of condensation on a cold night - bumping the sides/roof first thing in the morning getting up and getting a nice cold shower isn't exactly my cup of tea to wake up to.

My nice tent is a Mountain Hardwear Hammerhead 2. I spent some time before my last backpacking trip seam sealing some things. I had it set up over the summer and it leaked - I suspect near the window in the fly. So it should be good to go now. I will have to set it up and test the leakproof'ness, but I think it's in good shape.

My thought for the tarp idea is a more minimalist approach to a shelter. The tent takes some time to set up and take down. The tarp idea is easier and faster. I'm thinking for stealth camping the tarp is the way to go, an that's what I've used in the past (8x10 tarp)

If I combine the tent and the tarp I have a ton of flexibility. If I have to hunker down through a storm the tent is the way to go. However, if I need to drop and put up a quick easy shelter a ridge line with the tarp would be the ticket.

This is the hammerhead tent. It isn't a light weight tent, but it is a strong tent and actually is both a 3 season and 4 season (you can seal off all the mesh with zip in panels - why I got it). So given it not being "light weight" it has some pretty big bonuses that are really nice. It is also aerodynamic all around for dealing with windy situations.




As far as the tarp goes - this is what I am working on. This is a 10x10 (actual is about 9'8" square). The extra dimensions over an 8x10 tarp are noticeable. I have it pitched as an A frame with 3 sections of the main tent poles for the hammerhead tent = double duty.





I measured half way on one pair of sides and added new grommets right in the middle. The first round of grommets ripped through the material so I lined the locations with Gorilla tape on each side to strengthen the areas. I think that will hold pretty well.

With the tarp taught it is actually roomy inside - like the hammock tarp. We've used the hammock tarp set up backpacking in the Appalachians as a group shelter. We got stuck in the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee several years ago backpacking and set it up as a meal shack. With a few people inside it worked to cook and eat out of the rain. This tarp set up here is equally roomy. If I elevate it another 8-12" the head room would be great for more people, but ground sealed like this I'm happy with it for just me.

I think what I'll do is make some "doors" on each side and Gorilla tape them on. That way I can close it off if I want to and the concern of the "wind tunnel" shouldn't be anymore.

I might put some side tie-outs on it also - sew on some strips of webbing or just a 550 chord loop. That way I can keep the sides from blowing inward even more. We'll see.
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Old 09-18-20, 04:43 PM
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You can rig larger tarps (eg, 10x10 ft) into fully enclosed pyramid-type shelters although perhaps lose some of the weight advantages. Or, depending your priorities, consider a shaped tarp (with inner net tent) which can really have some of the best benefits of both double tent and floorless tarp. I use a solo pyramid shaped tarp, usually kept floorless while awake and then double-wall while sleeping, for ~1.5lbs and 2.5L pack size.


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Old 09-18-20, 04:56 PM
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Are you trying to go cheap, go light, or both? In my quest to go light, I didn't mind spending a little money and ended up with a Tarptent, just over $200 for mine and it's light and versatile. If all you can afford is a blue tarp, sorry I can't help you.
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Old 09-18-20, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by KC8QVO View Post
...
I bought one of these years ago, it's worked well.

https://www.tarptent.com/
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Old 09-18-20, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
Are you trying to go cheap, go light, or both?
At the moment I'm just trying to make do with what I have. I'm not looking to buy a bunch of gear and go all "technical", at some point I can accumulate stuff over time. If I had my hammock available to me I wouldn't be in the same boat as I already have an awesome set up (it gets me down to 0 to -10deg F, not sure I'd want to be on a bike that cold but its held up on some wild winter camps as well as warmer weather rain storms). Personally, I don't care to be a ground-dweller after hanging for so many years now but fate works in strange ways is all I can say.

For a bit of a bonus - I got a couple of my SOL bivys out and did a leak test. After an hour and 10 minutes with a puddle of water on them neither was wet inside, not even damp under the puddles. I'd say that is a good confidence booster. I'm not sure if I'd want to risk knowingly being in rain in just a bivy, but a light passing shower if I'm crashed on a picnic table wouldn't be a night-blower with a soaked sleeping bag. Now, condensation on the inside is another story. The orange one here is the "breathable" one, the silver one is vented and uses velcro tabs so as to not seal the seams.
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Old 09-18-20, 08:50 PM
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This is the one we picked up & is pictured above..a 10x12, $135, 1 lb, packs to the size of a one liter bottle.

https://www.liteoutdoors.com/product/silnylon-tarp/

We also have a Cook's Custom sewing tarp. CCS tarps are more costly, but better quality overall and has more loops to allow different setups.

Cook has a PDF on his site to help with setup options.

On both tarps I use a Prusik knot on each side of a ridge-line with split-rings(or small carabiners) through the loops to decrease wear and tear on the loops.

This was another one we considered..but it's heavier:

https://www.shop.backpackingadventur...t-Siltarps.htm
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Old 09-18-20, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by reppans View Post
You can rig larger tarps (eg, 10x10 ft) into fully enclosed pyramid-type shelters although perhaps lose some of the weight advantages. Or, depending your priorities, consider a shaped tarp (with inner net tent) which can really have some of the best benefits of both double tent and floorless tarp. I use a solo pyramid shaped tarp, usually kept floorless while awake and then double-wall while sleeping, for ~1.5lbs and 2.5L pack size.

https://youtu.be/L8lw64__n8M
Thanks for the info and the link. I never really thought about making any "complex" shapes but that gives me a lot of ideas. Now I need to add a center point on the tarp so I can try some of those. Though, the "door" option closing off the sides of an A I think gives me the most floor space and head room.
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Old 09-19-20, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by KC8QVO View Post
... Personally, I don't care to be a ground-dweller after hanging for so many years now but fate works in strange ways is all I can say.

For a bit of a bonus - I got a couple of my SOL bivys out and did a leak test. ...
If being a ground dweller is new to you, does that mean you lack a air mattress or sleeping pad? That would be a deal breaker for me.

Bivy under a tarp might be a good idea if you have to get up in the middle of the night or to get dressed in morning, etc. It would not weigh much more than a ground cloth under the sleeping pad and if it was warm and dry out you could use the bivy for a ground cloth.

I used to bring a 10 X10 tarp on canoe trips, it was a place we could put our gear under it, and during rain we could sit under the tarp. I have lost count of how many times I cooked supper or heated water under the tarp for morning coffee to stay out of the rain. Sometimes when it was raining when we setup the tent, we would assemble the tent under the tarp and then carry the tent (with fly on it) to where we planned to put it. We did not sleep under the tarp.

Half the walerproof coating had flaked off of that tarp from a lot of usage, but it was probably three decades old when I took the photos.



Pitch it low enough that you can't stand under it, but that meant even in wind you did not get much rain under it, I usually pitched it so the edge of the tarp was usually about 3 or 4 feet off the ground so it was not too hard to get under it, but low enough to keep most of the wind out.



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Old 09-19-20, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
If being a ground dweller is new to you, does that mean you lack a air mattress or sleeping pad? That would be a deal breaker for me.

Bivy under a tarp might be a good idea if you have to get up in the middle of the night or to get dressed in morning, etc. It would not weigh much more than a ground cloth under the sleeping pad and if it was warm and dry out you could use the bivy for a ground cloth.
When I got in to backpacking in college I was a ground-dweller - for a couple years. So I have all the gear. I combine a Therm-A-Rest inflatable with a blue closed cell foam pad underneath. Extra cushion and a deflation backup.

Although... I might actually try 2 foam pads. I have another one that has the egg crate pattern (cheapie, not an accordian fold therm-a-rest). The egg crate pattern I've had for others that don't have gear, so I've actually never used it. However, I dislike the inflating and deflating of the Term-A-Rest pad I have. By layering the 2 foamies it would be a matter of unrolling and rolling back up. Less time and fuss. As to comfort - not sure on that yet. I'll have to experiment on that one. I think the egg crate pad will be softer than the blue closed cell pad so layered together might work OK.

I slept in the bivy and my bag liner last night, just inside, and it was fine. However, it wasn't cold in here so there wasn't a big temperature difference. I am thinking the condensation issue would occur with a wider temperature difference (cold outside - like 50's or lower). I'm not sure what the threshold is on the temp vs condensation, but that would be nice if I can get down to freezing without condensation in the bivy (not likely). I've used the bivys before, but I didn't pay much attention to them from a technical perspective - just that I got condensation in them at night. The silver one was on a winter backpacking trip (around and a bit above freezing) - got out of it 1/2 way thru the night from the condensation (had other gear with me in case that experiment went south, luckily). The orange one I used in my hammock in cooler weather in the summer once. From what I recall I had condensation in it also. So I suppose I can try it and see what happens. It weighs next to nothing, so not much "weight".
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Old 09-19-20, 11:09 AM
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Condensation in a bivy, on that I am clueless. I have never used a bivy. I am a tent fan, now after your comment on condensation, even more of a tent fan.
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Old 09-19-20, 05:27 PM
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I don't mind a A-frame tarp in the Summer but during cooler seasons I like a tent.
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Old 09-19-20, 07:27 PM
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A tarp is pretty handy when bugs are not a problem. My wife and I carry an 8' x 10' sil-nylon tarp on short winter ski trips, and for an emergency shelter in our ski patrol packs; we are backcountry ski patrollers. I made it, and it has tie down loops along the hem, and at strategic spots on the interior seams. We also have a 5'x7' sil-nylon tarp for winter day trips.

It can be pitched in several configurations with 25' of 7 mm cord. A couple of loops of parachute cord tied in a loop and attached to the 7 mm cord with a prusik knot will hold it taunt using, 2 small key chain type carabiners to clip it to the tarp's tie-out loops. A couple of "S" would also work.



Another way to pitch a tarp.


My wife in her bivy sack. I would not want to use a tarp as my sole protection on a tour.

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Old 09-19-20, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
I would not want to use a tarp as my sole protection on a tour.
For what reasons?

Even if there is a way to seal it off from wind-driven rain?
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Old 09-19-20, 09:06 PM
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Originally Posted by KC8QVO View Post
For what reasons?

Even if there is a way to seal it off from wind-driven rain?
I think a tent is a lot more appropriate for harsh conditions. Most of our tours are at least a month long, and I'd rather have a tent than get stuck out somewhere wishing I had one. That is my opinion; there are probably folks that feel comfortable with just a tarp. I think a tarp used with a bivy sack would keep a person reasonably dry, but a bivy sack and a tarp are not much lighter than a small tent.


It may be possible to pitch a tarp to deal with the wind and rain. I have not tried it, but it could be done. Snow is easier to deal with.
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Old 09-20-20, 02:27 AM
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I have a large camouflage tarp I use a lot. It keeps the tent and everything else dry. When it rains and I'm wanting to setup or break camp, I can do that without my tent getting wet.

I usually just run a line under the tarp and tie each end of the line to a tree. I now have 2 discs that go onto the line and sit near the tarp to prevent water from running along the line and into the area I'm keeping dry.


Cheers
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Old 09-20-20, 05:10 AM
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Not quite a tarp, but I've camped with a heavy wet snow storm using my tube tent. Normally the ends of a tube tent are open, but I was able to close off one end and orient the other to avoid too much snow coming in. Overall, I was cozy through the night. Also some nights of rain. This was spring hiking in desert areas of Utah so fairly dry air overall despite the spring storms coming through. The desert air also meant than on average condensation isn't as big of an issue as normally wetter areas. It has also meant bugs were not as often an issue.

Overall, if I am in an area of extended wet rain periods, I would still prefer my tent and have waited out a rainy day or two in the tent when otherwise the mud on gravel road would be difficult. However, for dealing with more occasional and unexpected and sometimes even severe weather, I've found the tube tent to be ok.
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Old 09-20-20, 07:23 AM
  #24  
Tourist in MSN
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Reading a post above from Doug64, I thought of this particular campsite I was in. I was the only tent camper, am in the middle of five tent sites at this RV park and campground.

Ground was very flat. I knew from the forecast that significant rain was coming, decided to stay there for a couple nights to sit out the rain. Walked around the campsite for a while to find the highest piece of ground, which was probably slightly higher from the tree roots.




I was fortunate in my tent site selection, my tent stayed dry. And much of the area had puddles that were shallower than the height of the grass, thus when walking around in the area that looked grassy, you were also walking in shallow puddles.



I mentioned above that I have some good lightweight one and two person tents, thus I have no interest in sleeping under a tarp this time of year. I think tarps are great in snow camping, but not so much for rain camping.
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Old 09-20-20, 07:36 AM
  #25  
andrewclaus
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Reading a post above from Doug64, I thought of this particular campsite I was in. I was the only tent camper, am in the middle of five tent sites at this RV park and campground.

Ground was very flat. I knew from the forecast that significant rain was coming, decided to stay there for a couple nights to sit out the rain. Walked around the campsite for a while to find the highest piece of ground, which was probably slightly higher from the tree roots.
The photos above are an excellent illustration of the importance of site selection. Site selection, and experience with your equipment, is often more important your equipment is. The newest, most expensive tent will flood when pitched in a swale. The poor guy with a tarp can stay comfortably dry a few meters away.
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