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  1. #1
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    Default Beginner to Tarps

    I'm interested in learning more about tarps and tarp setups. Maybe it's just my googling skills, but I can't seem to find some really solid information for beginners. Does anyone have any suggestions on where to turn to? These are the things I'm most interested in learning about:


    • What is needed for an entire setup? Tarp, guylines (how much), bivy (what kind), etc?
    • The difference between a rectangular and square flat tarp. It seems like flat tarps are the most versatile and perhaps the square is even more so. Is that the case?
    • What's a good size for a first-time tarp? 8x10 and 8.5x8.5 have come up a few times in my searching.
    • A good resource for learning different pitches
    • Cheap tarp to experiment with


    That's all I can come up with off the top of my head now. Part of the problem is I've clicked on so many links over the past few days I can't remember which ones were actually helpful! Any advice on learning more would be hugely appreciated.

  2. #2
    Registered User Lyle's Avatar
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    Here's a good place to start if you are interested in using a flat tarp.

    http://hikinghq.net/gear/tarp.html

    My suggestion would be to try out one of the "shaped" tarps as a starting point, kinda a tent-like tarp. These are less versatile, but they offer pretty much fool-proof pitching, excellent weather protection, and allows you to experiment with tarp camping. Not everyone gets comfortable with the "Open" aspect, both privacy wise and security from critters aspect. These tarps allow you to get used to these two aspects.

    I love tarps of all kinds, and have used them all. Today I opt for something like the Wild Oasis or Hexamid Solo plus. I have both and use one of these the majority of the time.

    Another, very cheap option would be to get an 8X10 blue plastic tarp, or even smaller, and practice with it around home or on weekends. Will get you lots of experience both sleeping under a tarp and you can experiment with various pitches. Find out the pros and cons first hand. Once you decide what you like, you will be in a much better position to make a good purchase of a light weight tarp for actual backpacking. I lived part time under a large blue tarp for several months while I was working in PA - right through the winter. I used the "flying diamond" setup. Loved it.

    I've never found a bivy to be necessary and, in my mind, would add to the condensation problems you encounter whenever camping in humid, cool conditions.
    Last edited by Lyle; 02-27-2015 at 12:34.

  3. #3
    Registered User Gray Bear's Avatar
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    I'm in the same boat. I'm trying to decide between the 8x10 and the 10x10. I like the idea of versatility that comes with a flat tarp although I've yet to put in in to practice.

    Check out these guys for great prices and even better customer servise. I sent them an email this morning and actualy got a call back from them a couple of hours later
    http://www.etowahoutfittersultraligh...ckinggear.com/

    As for the bivy I'm looking at this one with a bug net top that dosnt have the condensation issues some have.
    http://www.titaniumgoat.com/Bug-Bivy.html

    I'm looking forward to to hear what other tarp veterans have to say.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bugman88 View Post
    I'm interested in learning more about tarps and tarp setups. Maybe it's just my googling skills, but I can't seem to find some really solid information for beginners. Does anyone have any suggestions on where to turn to? These are the things I'm most interested in learning about:


    • What is needed for an entire setup? Tarp, guylines (how much), bivy (what kind), etc?
    • The difference between a rectangular and square flat tarp. It seems like flat tarps are the most versatile and perhaps the square is even more so. Is that the case?
    • What's a good size for a first-time tarp? 8x10 and 8.5x8.5 have come up a few times in my searching.
    • A good resource for learning different pitches
    • Cheap tarp to experiment with


    That's all I can come up with off the top of my head now. Part of the problem is I've clicked on so many links over the past few days I can't remember which ones were actually helpful! Any advice on learning more would be hugely appreciated.

  4. #4
    Registered User Walkintom's Avatar
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    If you're going to use a bivy you really don't need a tarp except for in some really bad conditions where you probably shouldn't be out anyway.

    I'm not much of a tarp camper but I've cowboyed it a few times when the conditions were right and I tend to think of tarping as cowboy camping with a roof.

  5. #5
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    In case there's confusion, I meant a bug bivy.

    I also just bit the bullet and ordered a cheap equinox 8'x10' nylon flat tarp off of amazon (~$45) just to play around with. Unfortunately, I now have to deal with figuring out how much and what type of cord to use for guylines. I've always been a tent camper and have never had to deal with so many decisions! I ended up getting 50' of 2.4mm nite ize cord, but I'm not sure what lengths to cut it down to and whatnot. Any tips?

  6. #6
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    I use a bivy with my tarp because if it's raining I can still move around without getting soaked. The bivy is more of a wind break and keeps in a bit of warmth.

    I'm far from a tarp expert - I've only seriously started tarping in the last year and am still learning.

  7. #7

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    I would check this link out for the guyline info you are looking for: http://andrewskurka.com/2012/tarp-guyline-system/

    As someone who has used various tarps in various conditions, my personal opinion is flat tarps are not all they are cracked up to be. Yes they shine in versatility, however I find most people just set up their flat tarp in the same 1 or 2 pitches every time. I decided after trying a bit I was not skilled enough in pitching flat tarps for me to take advantage of the versatility and I wasn't interested in putting in the practice time to get good enough. There are many exceptions to this and surely several excellent tarp campers will disagree in this thread, but that is my experience. If I were you and still wanted to use flat tarps, I find linloc3s on the tie outs makes a world of difference. I have since gone to shaped tarps. I appreciate the simplicity and ease of pitching.

    With all of that said if you are willing to put in the time to learn the appropriate knots and hitches and time practicing various pitches, I'm sure you will get good enough at it. I like what you did and got a cheap sil tarp to practice with. That is what I suggest people do if they want to find out if tarps are for them.

    Also I have no idea where the guy is coming from saying if you use a bivy you don't need a tarp. He must be talking about WPB bivys (a relative rarity in the bivy world) or be from somewhere it rarely rains. For someone who enjoys cow boy camping but has to deal with rain and bugs, bug bivy + tarp is an incredibly versatile combination.

  8. #8
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LogHiking View Post
    I find linloc3s on the tie outs makes a world of difference. I have since gone to shaped tarps. I appreciate the simplicity and ease of pitching.
    Were it not for linelocs I'd throw in the towel on tarping. Makes a world of difference in terms of ease and efficiency.

    I started seriously using my tarp once I put linelocs on the lines.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by 10-K View Post
    Were it not for linelocs I'd throw in the towel on tarping. Makes a world of difference in terms of ease and efficiency.

    I started seriously using my tarp once I put linelocs on the lines.
    Agreed. Lineloc3s and a pre tied loop on the other end and you have quick adjust-ability and no need to tie anything ever. I think most cottage guys will put them on for you no matter what but one of the reasons I always check MLD offerings first if I'm looking for a tarp is because linelocs come standard (and I think MLD sews better than anyone else).

  10. #10
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    I use an Oware Catbird 2 catenary tarp - I also prefer it to flat tarps.

  11. #11
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    I saw the Surka article and really liked it. I guess on my second look through I blew past his guyline type and length recommendations and just saw his hitches. I think with 50' of 2.44mm cord that I got I should be able to cut proper lengths.

    I don't really see the benefit of having a linelock when you can just do the trucker's hitch that Surka recommends. I guess it's just the lack of knot tying? I came across a really interesting technique for using a small length of shock cord to create a great tensioner that adjusts to keep everything taut. https://www.hammockforums.net/forum/...arp-Tensioners

    I think a shaped tarp would be a good investment someday, but I'm really just looking into basics to see if I even like sleeping under a tarp. It comes down to psychology, but I have a nice peace of mind with being in an enclosed tent. I'm hoping I can break out of that habit and learn some new techniques, which is also where the flat tarp comes in handy. This is just a big learning opportunity for me, not necessarily what I think my end-all-be-all shelter choice will be. Hell, I just bought a Double Rainbow a month ago for an upcoming trip and I haven't even used it yet. I can't replace it already!

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bugman88 View Post
    I saw the Surka article and really liked it. I guess on my second look through I blew past his guyline type and length recommendations and just saw his hitches. I think with 50' of 2.44mm cord that I got I should be able to cut proper lengths.

    I don't really see the benefit of having a linelock when you can just do the trucker's hitch that Surka recommends. I guess it's just the lack of knot tying? I came across a really interesting technique for using a small length of shock cord to create a great tensioner that adjusts to keep everything taut. https://www.hammockforums.net/forum/...arp-Tensioners

    I think a shaped tarp would be a good investment someday, but I'm really just looking into basics to see if I even like sleeping under a tarp. It comes down to psychology, but I have a nice peace of mind with being in an enclosed tent. I'm hoping I can break out of that habit and learn some new techniques, which is also where the flat tarp comes in handy. This is just a big learning opportunity for me, not necessarily what I think my end-all-be-all shelter choice will be. Hell, I just bought a Double Rainbow a month ago for an upcoming trip and I haven't even used it yet. I can't replace it already!
    Yes the point to line locs is not having to tie any knots, which effectively leads to much faster set up times. If you are tying 10-15 hitches every time you set up it will take a lot longer than tying none. Also in the middle of the night when your tarp starts to sag it is much easier than to just do a quick tug on the line loc, often times one handed while still under the tarp. I've done my fair share of setting up with both. They both obviously work very well. I just found line locs saved me a lot of time setting up and hassle re-tensioning the tarp when it sags. Not to mention saved my fingers a good bit of pain in the winter.

    Otherwise it sounds like you have it all figured out for what you want. Best of luck to you. It should be fun!

  13. #13
    Thru-hiker 2013 NoBo CarlZ993's Avatar
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    I've only tarped a few times (desert camping w/ little chance of rain). At Backpackinglight.com, Ryan Jordan had an article (you can't read this article unless you are a 'Premium Member') where it showed his tarp (8'X8') guyline set up:
    Corners = 6" loop cord
    Side Guylines = 24" cord
    Rear Guyline = 36" cord (seems a bit short to me)
    Front Guyline = 72" cord (too short?)
    Rear Panel Guylines = 108" (not all tarps have rear or side panel guyline attachments)

    He had a nice illustration of the set-up. I wish I could duplicate it in case my explanation lacks clarity.
    2013 AT Thru-hike: 3/21 to 8/19
    Schedule: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...t1M/edit#gid=0

  14. #14

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    I tried linelocs years ago and decided they didn't offer me anything. I only use 3 lengths for my lines; full length, half length with the line doubled up, and the tie out directly staked into the ground. On the rare occasion my titanium stakes won't go in, I just swing the line held taut in an arc 1-3 inches either way and it will go in. Been doing this since 2006 and if it works why change it.

  15. #15

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    Tying a few basic knots should be second nature to any camper. Actually everyone. Take the time to learn. There are excellent on line resources.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  16. #16
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    Below is a link to a YouTube video on basic tarp set up. He is demonstrating using a Warbonnet Superfly tarp. I own this tarp...it is awesome! So if you're still looking you should check it out.


    http://youtu.be/UHuUmNOwBAw


    Life is full of ups and downs! Hike on!

  17. #17
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    My tent stakeouts all have linelocs - put the stake in the ground and pull it tight. If it's good enough for my tent I figure it's good enough for my tarp.

    I do know a few knots but linelocs are faster and easier - especially at night when something needs to be tweaked and I'm in my sleeping bag.

  18. #18
    Registered User Gray Bear's Avatar
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    I spent so much time on sailboats knots are something I don't even think about but I can see where a line lock would be nice. I'm just not sure I would want to have lines left on the tarp if I was going to use different pitches in different locations. It seems to me you could loose any time savings you get from the line lock by untieing and reattaching lines.

  19. #19
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    With a catenary cut there aren't many different ways to pitch it - lines stay attached.

  20. #20

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    I didn't mean to start a debate between knots and line locs (those never end well). I was just mentioning that it is one of the factors worth considering for someone new to tarps. Lots of very experienced and well known hikers use them, and lots don't. Like pretty much everything in backpacking getting answers on the internet will only get you a small percentage of the way. Ultimately the only way to know for sure is to try it. I know how to tie the appropriate knots and hitches (I spent a large part of my youth on sail boats as well Gray Bear). I just find the added convenience worth the sub 1 oz weight penalty in many cases. I also have tarps without line locs so not all cases. Just another tool in the tool box.

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