Shit that works week: a Flat Tarp

There is no substitute for a simple, flat (no curve in the center seam), rectangular tarp. It is the most versatile and pleasing of backcountry shelters.

IMG_0580 2

But I’ll get ants in my pants! Don’t camp on an anthill, genius. If the skeeters are bad camp on high ridges, gravel bars in wide valleys, and little high points in the midst of big meadows (see below). If the bugs are really bad bring along a 3 ounces Nano.

But I’ll get wet when the rain blows!  No kidding.  Vary your pitch and most of the time, even with a smaller tarp, you’ll be fine.  Sometimes you’ll get it wrong and have to get up in the rain and repitch, which sucks and will make you better.  If the weather is going to be really bad make sure you can camp down in some trees or pack a mid instead.

Need further convincing?  Joery wrote the definitive account back in 2011.


My flat tarp is 70 inches wide and 80 inches long, which isn’t quite long enough.  I built it out of spinnaker fabric I got cheap, and had to run what I got.  This summer I committed sacrilege and put a wall on one end, giving up versatility for a little more weather protection.  For a tarp which will be a sleeping shelter for one and a cook tarp for 2-4, 6 to 7 feet wide and 9 to 10 feet long is a good size.  Do not skimp on tieouts, especially a few in the middle of the ridgeline.

If I were to buy myself a tarp today, I’d get an Oware 1.8 flat tarp in silnylon.  12 ounces, 90 bucks, and 12 tieouts in all the right places.  The well known ability of silnylon to sag over the course of a steady downpour is a drag, and the fact that my spinnaker tarp doesn’t do this is awesome, but I’d have a hard time paying 215 dollars (Zpacks) or more for a similar tarp in cuben, even if it is half the weight.

Used as a primary shelter a tarp will build skills and foster a neater, closer camping style.  Used as a utility item a simple tarp is good as a tent vestibule, picnic shelter, sun shade, and drop cloth to keep bloody game bags off everything else in your trunk.  Everyone should have one.


13 responses to “Shit that works week: a Flat Tarp”

  1. When the BT2 will be reviewed?
    What do you think about asymmetric MLD Duomid XL (compared to LBO, BT2)?

    1. I’ll post updates on the BT2 as soon as I have something worth sharing. Reasonably soon, I’d expect.

      The theoretical issue with introducing asymmetry into a rectangular mid is you make one side or the other more vulnerable to either snow or windloading. It looks like MLD decided to deal with that issue by making the Duomid XL a lot taller than the standard version (10 inches!). The back panel is a big piece of unsupported fabric, but should be steep enough to shed snow and tensionable enough to shed wind.

      The reason I anticipate the BT2 working so well is that it’s a very steep and near symmetrical hexagon. There aren’t any big panels to grab wind, and the thing is steep enough for snow to just not be an issue.

      Both certainly represent welcome refinements.

      1. The main reason for attractiveness of the Duomid XL for me is that it allows of using double sleeping bag. But i’m in doubt about stormproofing abilities.

      2. What do you think about TT Stratospire 2? Or about similar (DIY) version with poles standing not diagonally at corners but in the middle of the sides?

        1. Not a big fan of two pole mids for two reasons: they require two poles, and they tend to be less windproof (as demonstrated in the video). And the Strato is ugly.

  2. Ripstopbytheroll is selling 1.1 Oz. Silpoly, which should be more UV resistant than Silnylon and shouldn’t stretch. I’ve got some on order and plan to make an 8′ X 10′ Tarp when I get it. I made one out of Silnylon . I put nylon shoelace ties on the top of the ridge and a 1/2″ grosgrain daisy chain under the ridge line to hang stuff from. Each end of the ridge has a grosgrain loop with a brass grommet for a trekking pole tip. If I hang it from a ridge line cord, I run the cord over the tarp and hang it by the ties so that water doesn’t run down the ridgeline and drip under the tarp.

  3. Loving this series: Simple, to the point and not too many gear wonk details. Just as a series called “Shit that works” should be.

    1. Thanks Paul. I exorcised my wonkitude on an article I finished Saturday, so levels have been low.

  4. Seen the new Kifaru tarp shelter?

    1. I have indeed. I’m sure it is very nice, but it’s also a good example of why I find it hard to not be cynical about Kifaru.

      A 60″ width just happens to be the max you can stretch out of a 62-3″ wide roll of fabric, so with a 5 foot wide tarp you’re paying for ~4 yards of fabric, four straight lines of stitching, and whatever tieouts you put on it. The Kifaru has two center tieouts, which is a good idea, and I’m sure adds a bit of construction time, but they’re still asking 108 bucks for a very modest amount of material at wholesale and a very, very modest amount of build time for a pro.

      Compare this to an Oware, which less a foot of length and the two mid tieouts is also less than half the price, and also sewn by real people in the USA.

  5. […] flat tarp isn’t always the shelter I pick, but it is my favorite.  Most of the time I like the […]

  6. […] Dave C said of the simple flat tarp, “it is shit that works“.  Simple. Effective. Light. Comes in options from a nylon tarp found at Wally World or a […]

  7. […] was sleeping in this tarp, with the wall end fortunately facing dead west.  That end was propped up by my Shuna, with the […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s