This is Part 2 of the story about how I came to make my own backpacking tarp. (For the first part, click here.) It all started when I first got into backpacking. All of the experts told me that the best way to sleep while backpacking was under a tarp. Of course, I didn’t believe them, and bought a two-man backpacking tent.
From Tent to a Backpacking Tarp
My first tent weighed in at about 3.5 lbs and cost me $240. It had a lot of space inside, nice sized vestibules, and plenty of mesh screening to keep out bugs. The problem with the tent is that it wasn’t good for anything other than sleeping in. It wasn’t big enough to hang out in on a rainy day. I couldn’t cook or eat in it. It couldn’t be pitched quickly or even kept dry while pitching in the rain.
After reading several books and blogs on lightweight backpacking, I really came to respect the virtues of a tarp. On top of being very light, a tarp is also far more versatile than a tent. You can put it up in a hurry to escape a rain shower or eat lunch under on a hot day. You can lie it down under you on the floor of dirty shelter. You can safely use a backpacking stove under a tarp without fear of carbon monoxide for fire. Set up correctly, a tarp never collects condensation. Perhaps best of all, you can put a tarp up over you but still gaze out at the world around you.
Buying a Backpacking Tarp
After a brief stint using just the fly section of my tent, I gave in and bought an 8 x 10 foot silicone coated nylon tarp from Campmor. This tarp weighs just 13 ounces (a pound is 16 ounces, if you weren’t sure) and cost me $89.99. That seems pricey for a tarp, but it is lighter, more water proof, and folds up a lot smaller than the cheaper tarps you can buy at hardware stores. (Campmor also has a budget friendly version of this tarp available for $44.99)
I brought the tarp home and immediately started playing with many ways to put it up. I went through a lot of options, ranging from bomb proof tent-like structures, to simple lean-to style rain shelters. If you ever buy a backpacking tarp for yourself, I highly recommend that you spend some time practicing various pitching options at home.
First night under a Tarp
My first time using my new backpacking tarp was a winter camping trip with my old boy scout troop. They were doing a wilderness survival theme weekend in February. Most of the boys slept in a nearby cabin, but the brave ones concocted their own shelter from an old home depot tarp they had lying around at the scout building. I helped the boys set up their makeshift shelter, then got mine together.
That night I crawled under the tarp and into my sleeping bag still a little worried. Before long, my sleeping bag warmed up and I was comfortable. What’s more, I was gazing out the huge front opening into a star filled sky. I drifted to sleep with that image and awoke with the sun in my face. It was a perfect night.
That night hooked me on tarp camping. From then on, tarp was my primary shelter and I started to feel connected with the woods I had always been looking for. On warm evenings with a clear sky, I set the tarp up in an open configuration so I would have a view. On rainy nights, I set up a little a-frame and slept perfectly snug. On really nice nights I set up the tarp, but only used it as a backup as I lay nearby watching the heavens.
Reasons to make my own Backpacking Tarp
For two years, I used my flat 8 x 10 backpacking tarp everywhere I went, and it was great. However, being a gear junkie, I’ve always been curious about trying new things. One rule I’ve made for myself about new gear is that I will make whatever I can instead buying it. Not only does this help save money, but it helps connect me to the gear a bit. That sounds funny, but think of how a car enthusiast does all of his own mechanical work. After trying a few simple projects, I decided to make my own tarp.
Not sure yet? Check out this interview with my good friend after his first night under a backpacking tarp!