This webpage is dedicated to telling you about my mistakes so you don’t have to make the same ones. Here’s a little story about how I came to make my own backpacking tarp…
Buying my first Backpacking Tent
When I started backpacking, I went into stores like CampMor and Ramsey Outdoor to ask for advice, and a lot of people told me they slept under a backpacking tarp. I thought they were crazy. I read a book by Ryan Jordan called “Lightweight Camping and Backpacking” which touted the advantages of sleeping under a tarp. This still just seemed like extremism to me. I purchased a “lightweight” 2-man tent, thinking the space would be worth the extra weight. And that was a big mistake.
My first Backpacking Trip!
When I first started thinking about backpacking, what I really had in my imagination was just camping. I pictured an easy walk up to a campsite not too far from the road, followed by a nice evening in camp. I wanted a tent to be comfortable and spacious; to provide protection from weather and bugs, and to give me a bit of privacy. I purchased a Big Agnes Jackrabbit 2. It seemed pretty small for two people, but it only weighed 3.5 lbs, so I figured it would be great.
That weekend, I loaded the Jackrabbit, my new 2.5 lb sleeping bag, and a whole bunch of other useless stuff into my father’s old external frame pack. I grabbed my friend and my sister and we went off to Harriman State Park for a quick and easy night of backpacking: my first ever. I was pretty happy that my pack only weighed about 40 lbs all loaded out with food and water. That was weigh less than 30% of my body weight, so I should have been fine, right?
We hit the trail for our 2.5 mile hike up to Bald Rocks Shelter. It didn’t seem so bad at first, but as we began to climb the first 400 foot hill, I realized I was in trouble. I quickly went through all my water (a story for another time) and began huffing and puffing along what seemed like a death march. By the time we got to the site, just 2.5 miles in and 700 feet up, I felt like I was going to die. I was dreadfully thirsty and pretty hungry, and thankfully some nearby Boy Scouts helped me filter some water.
Once I had recovered a bit, I set up my tent, fluffed up my sleeping bag and laid down. Then the boredom set in. It was 2 pm in June. The sun would be up for another 6 hours. The inside of the tent was hot, and I couldn’t very well lay there for another 6 hours waiting for bedtime. That’s when I got out of the tent, but there still wasn’t much to do. Eventually we built a small fire sipped some whisky, and told stories for a few hours, but that was about it.
Transition to a Backpacking Tarp
And that’s when it hit me. The emphasis of backpacking should be on the hiking, not the camping. I bought a nice little tent that was great for camping, but even in camp, I only slept in it. It was too warm during the day. If it had rained, I’d be stuck in that cramped little space, probably sweating from the heat and the humidity. You can’t cook or eat in a tent without risking fire or attracting bears. When it came down to it, my great little backpacking tent was just a glorified place to sleep. All of my cooking, eating, socializing, and general fun-having were done outside the tent.
I used that little tent in its whole form a few more times before I stopped carrying the inner part with all the mesh. This saved some weight, but it was still kind of heavy and the poles weren’t very convenient to carry. It still didn’t give me a safe place to cook or eat in the rain, and there was still really no space to hang out with friends. It was time to try something else, and that’s when I bought a backpacking tarp.
Owning that little tent was something I had to go through, but it was dumb. My hope is that you learn from this. If you’re going to get into camping, buy a nice big tent with lots of space for you and all your gear. Get something you can invite your friends into for a game of cards when it rains. Get something tall enough to change your cloths comfortably in. If you’re planning on backpacking, however, save your money and get a backpacking tarp.