I have a small list of tent, hammocks, and tarps in my personal gear closet that I love using and consider best of class for my needs. I’m a four season backpacker and the shelters shown below give me a high degree of flexibility depending on my goals and the weather conditions I expect to encounter. While all of the shelters I like are pretty lightweight, I’m not as obsessed about gear weight as some people and prefer using shelters that are comfortable, affordable, and “interesting” in some way.
Jacks R’ Better 8 x 8 Flat Tarp
This square tarp is the oldest shelter I own. I originally bought it in 2008 as a hammock tarp, but mainly use it as a UL tarp in forested terrain when I want to go really light. Weighing just 9 ounces, I can pitch it in all kinds of different “shapes” to match different terrain and weather conditions. It’s made from silnylon.
I also carry this tarp when I expect to sleep in AT shelters as an ultralight fall back if the shelters are full or noisy and I want a bit of solitude. Jacks doesn’t make this tarp anymore; probably the closest ones available are the HMG 8’6″ x 8’6″ square tarp or the 8’6″ x 8’6″ Big Agnes Onyx UL square tarp.
Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack
The MLD Superlight bivy sack ($175), weighing 6.8 ounces is basically a sleeping bag cover with a bug net over the face. I use it when sleeping under a floorless tarp that doesn’t have an inner tent or nest and when sleeping in AT shelters. While it helps protect me from wind blowing under a tarp’s sides and some splash back, I mainly use it for the bug netting it provides over my face and arms.
I don’t need a full nest under a tarp because I don’t “hang out” when I’m horizontal. I just sleep. This bivy sack is also useful in very hot or humid weather as a bug proof sheet when coupled with a lightweight quilt.
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent
The Black Diamond Firstlight 2P Tent ($369) is a four season tent that I mainly use in cold weather went the ground is frozen and it’s impossible to use tent stakes, on snow, or when I want a freestanding tent to pitch on a wooden platform. Weighing just 2 pounds 11 ounces, the Firstlight is a truly freestanding, single-walled tent that packs up super small and pitches with two collapsible poles.
While Black Diamond says that the Firstlight is not a waterproof tent, I’ve had it out in countless torrential rain storms and it’s never once leaked, probably because I seam sealed it when I got it. A “two-person tent,” I’ve only shared it once with another person, my wife, who vowed she’d never sleep in a two person tent again! It’s snug for two, but a palace for one. I’ve owned it since 2008 and have yet to find its equal.
Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock
The Warbonnet Blackbird ($170) is a mosquito hammock with a fully integrated bug net. I use it frequently in the Northeast because we have so much forest. I’ve owned and used other hammocks, but I like the Warbonnet best. My single layer 1.1 Blackbird is outfitted with whoopie sling suspension system.
I usually use the Warbonnet with a Loco Libre Underquilt and augment with a piece of foam as needed for bottom insulation. At 1 pound 6 ounces, it’s not the lightest hammock available, but I’m much more interested in comfort and the quality of sleep I get using it. I can lay nearly flat on a diagonal in this hammock and it has plenty of interior space under the bug net. The bug net opens with a convenient bi-directional zipper and the hammock has a unique and patented “shelf” on the side, where I can store personal items within easy reach.
Warbonnet Superfly Tarp
The Warbonnet Superfly ($140) is a large 11′ x 10′ silnylon hammock tarp with end doors. I like it for the added weather protection and privacy it provides. It weighs 19 ounces.
I’ve owned a number of different hammock tarps, including cuben fiber tarps, but like the fact that the Superfly blocks daylight and moonlight when pitched, unlike a translucent CF tarp. The Superfly doesn’t need to be seam sealed like many silnylon tarps: the ridgeline thread expands when it gets wet and blocks passage of water through the thread holes. It’s outfitted like a hammock tarp, with plastic rings on the guyout loops. I use a number of pieces of Dutchware to facilitate pitching it, which I explain below. Dutchware isn’t limited to hammock tarps, of course.
I pitch my hammock tarp in what’s called a split line configuration, with a lines running from the two ends of the ridgeline to trees. I use a knotless method to secure the tarp to a tree, using a small piece of titanium hardware weighing 3.4 grams, called a Dutchware Stingerz ($9), that looks like a carabiner with an antenna. Knots that provide mechanical leverage are fun to learn, but I don’t use them enough to remember them. Dutchware solves that. Dutch has a good video that illustrates how to use the Stingerz to attach a guyline to a tree.
Dutchware Tarp Worms and Self-Tensioning Guylines
Silnylon tarps stretches at night, but you can keep a taught pitch by using self tensioning guylines. I girth hitch a loop of elastic cord through the guy-out points of my tarp and connect them to a static cord which is staked to the ground using a small piece of titanium called a tarp worm ($2.40).
The tarp worm is threaded onto the elastic cord through a hole punched in the top, so all you have to do is loop the end of your static line around the tarp worm so that the cord locks down on itself. To undo it, you just give it a yank and your line comes free. I leave the elastic cords and tarp worms permanently connected to my tarp, so all I have to do is stake out my cords and loop them to the tarp worms when I pitch the tarp. This makes setup and tear down super quick, the tarp worms and guylines stuff nicely, and you never have to worry about breaking a plastic line loc.
MSR Needle Stakes
I like using MSR Needle Stakes ($2) when pitching tents and tarps that have cord guylines because the line doesn’t slip off the hook. The stake body is also cut square so it’s less prone to twisting than a round stake. Each Needle Stake weighs 1/3 of an ounce and is 6.25″ long. Needle stakes don’t have the holding power of an MSR Mini-Ground Hog, but the mini’s don’t have hooks, making them less suitable for tarp guylines.
Easton 8″ Aluminum Tent Stakes
I also carry a few 8″ Easton Aluminum tent states in my stake bag. These long stakes have tremendous holding power and I use them for high tension guylines. They’ve become fairly hard to find, but Tarptent.com sells them for $2.50 each. They weigh 0.5 each.
That’s my core stable of tents, tarps, hammocks and shelter accessories. You’ve probably noticed that I don’t have a three season UL tent in the mix. I don’t really need one at the moment and I’m not in any rush to acquire one.
I do need a wind and storm worthy tent or shelter for backpacking in Scotland in 2018 and I’m actively evaluating a few options for that trip with candidates from Hilleberg, Tarptent, Mountain Laurel Designs, and My Trail Company. One of those is likely to be my next gear closet shelter acquisition.
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