24 responses

  1. Blitzo
    July 13, 2011

    Wow, I thought I knew alot about tarps. I'm truly humbled.

  2. Earlylite
    July 13, 2011

    It's an eye opener for me too. I really like the skill aspect of all this. While a pre-shaped tarp takes all the guesswork out of a pitch, it also takes all the skill away. You don't have to decide which is the best pitch for the weather, lineloc tensioner eliminate the need to tie knots, pre-guyed tie outs prevent you from interesting folds or using your tarp as a cover and a groundsheet. Nope, this is not boring at all!

  3. David
    July 13, 2011

    Fantastic info there in the pdf. I have been guilty of using the same couple of tarp set-ups whenever Im out. I've kept meaning to look into alternative pitches but never got around to it. Particularly like the easy idea of practising out some origami techniques first.

  4. Earlylite
    July 13, 2011

    I spend a lot of time fiddling with A-frames, but some of these pitches go up even faster. You really only need to learn 3 or 4 more to have lots of variety and it's worth a few hours in the front yard to learn up on them.

    The paper models really help. It was very difficult for me to understand how to pitch the low tetra, but playing with the model and simulating the steps made it possible for me to figure out an easy sequence of steps. It's also fun folding them.

  5. Pat
    July 13, 2011

    There are a lot of good ideas on how to pitch a square tarp on http://www.bushcraftusa.com under the Shelter section.

  6. Walter Underwood
    July 13, 2011

    If you are going to get fancy, I think a 10×10 tarp is a better choice. That allows you add some corners and still have decent coverage overhead.

    This inspired me to collect some photos and write up a description of my favorite tarp pitch, The Cave:


    While I was at it, I also posted about the A-Frame pitch:


  7. Earlylite
    July 13, 2011

    I was looking at the kennel pitch today and pretty much agree with you. Need a bigger tarp for that one. Although there is one thing I want to try…

  8. Constance
    July 13, 2011

    wow, i love it when people totally geek out on stuff like you have in this post – i mean this as a compliment! your photos are useful –

    I downloaded DBM's pdf a couple of weeks ago when was contemplating using a piece of Tyvek as a last minute backup for my somewhat inadequate tent…it was a very distracting endeavor: i spent hours in the backyard with a tape measure, knot book and ropes…ok, guess I just proclaimed my own geek status online

    I hadn't thought to make paper mockups!
    thanks – i know what i'm doing my next rainy weekend day!

  9. Earlylite
    July 16, 2011

    I've been thinking abut making a tyvek tarp myself. If only to prove that it can be done, and so I can tell people how much it costs. The models are a must have – and they're fun to make.

  10. Laural
    July 18, 2011

    I found some cheap silnylon on eBay – time to learn how to use a sewing machine!

  11. Tyke
    July 23, 2011

    Hi, thanks for your super site – great stuff. I need a favour(!) could you upload (or email me direct) additional picture/s / instructions of the low tetra with vestibule – I am stressing out trying to config the vestibule as per the online pic. I am able to form / set up the pyramid shape and I have the 'spare' available to form the vestibule but, try as I might, I can't match your (opened up) layout! I am using a 10 x 10 tarp with 5 loops on each side. Looking forward to the vids!!

    Best wishes



  12. Earlylite
    July 23, 2011

    The vestibule was really a whimsical attempt to make the low tetra work with an 8 x 8 sized tarp. Having the right tie-outs is really important, as I'm sure you've found out. I just sent you a few more photos of the vestibule. All I really did was pull the two extra half sides out (from the hidden 4th side) and guy them out.

    This is a funny shelter with an 8 x 8 because you can't really get in our out, with the regular low tetra!

  13. Jeffrey G
    August 24, 2011

    Fascinating. Do you have any thoughts on the suitability for seasons? For example, would you try this in snow or below freezing temperatures?

    I think when I get my 8×8 (or 10×10) figured out, I might draw some folding lines in various Sharpie colors to help when I'm out in the field. Red lines for Kennel, Blue lines for Half Tetra Wedge Cover, etc.

  14. Earlylite
    August 24, 2011

    I think most of these pitches are good for 3 season use although you need to pitch them in the right direction to prevent getting wet in rain and some are more tolerant of wind than others. None of that really bothers me of course, because I like the decision making process involved in picking the right pitch. The skill element fascinates me.

    For winter and snow use, wind is a factor, but more importantly will be the number of snow anchors you need since these can take some time to harden. Some of the pitches require a fair number of guy out points – although now you've got me thinking about ways in which you can augment some of these structures by simply building a snow wall in front of the opening.

    Oh – and I'd skip making lines on your tarp. Just practice the pitches and you'll remember how to set them up, or bring the paper models as a reference.

  15. jchens
    August 6, 2013

    I just stumbled upon this old post as I was looking at square, flat tarps online. I love the versatility. Do you find that the 8’x8′ tarp provides enough length to keep your head or feet dry in stormy conditions? I am under 6′ tall and would be using the tarp as a solo shelter.

    I have considered going to a larger size, but silnylon begins to get fairly heavy (I would rather not pay a premium for cuben fiber). Any thoughts?

    • Philip Werner
      August 6, 2013

      I am toying with going to a 9×9 for slightly better weather coverage. While size matters, you also need to figure out where you want the timeouts. On a square tarp, I find that it really helps to have symmetric timeouts, but many manufacturers don’t provide them.

      I’m not tempted by cuben. It’s just not worth the money. I am tempted by tyvek though. Terra rosa in Australia makes a nice tyvek tarp, but I will probably go with plain old silnylon or one of the newer ripstops fabrics available in 20 denier that give cuben a run for its money in terms of improved durability with low cost and weight.

      If you can wait a few months, I’ve had a manufacturer offer to make a tarp series on my spec…I have some ideas about square tarp pitch flexibility and tie outs I want to test out.

      Square or rectangular tarps are the way to go in terms of versatility. Cat tarps just don’t give you the flexibility you need when you are off trail and wilderness camping.

      • Walter Underwood
        August 6, 2013

        If you want tie-outs, I highly recommend a Tundra Tarp from Cooke Custom Sewing (http://www.cookecustomsewing.com/tundratarp.htm). The quad-loop thing is especially cool, because it stabilizes the top of a paddle or trekking pole used as a center pole.

        They do custom sizes and colors.

      • Philip Werner
        August 6, 2013

        That is a cool spec diagram they have. Lots of tie-outs, but it also needs panels pullouts. How ever, I am not getting the point of the quad loop. What shape are they talking about?

      • Walter Underwood
        August 6, 2013

        If you want more tie-outs, ask, because their name is “custom sewing”.

        The quad loop is webbing overlapped to proved four opposed loops. One cord is run through all of them to cinch them up around something.

        Their explanation is on page 7: http://www.cookecustomsewing.com/images/tundratarpsetup.pdf

        This customer has a couple of good photos of the quad loop, scroll down:

      • Philip Werner
        August 6, 2013

        That customer photo was very helpful. That’s what I thought it was for but I never carry a paddle, yet at least! Thx!

      • Walter Underwood
        August 6, 2013

        It works fine with a trekking pole, too.

      • Grandpa
        August 6, 2013

        I came really close to buying one of the Cooke Custom Sewing tarps a couple years ago and then bought a used silnylon tarp from some guy who hikes the Whites and blogs about it…

        It’s not square (it’s 8 x 10) but I’ve really enjoyed its flexibility. Last month, it made a visit with my wife and me to its old stomping grounds while Philip was down here in Texas.

      • jchens
        August 6, 2013

        Thanks for the feedback. I’ve thought about 9×9 as well and even about splitting the difference at 8.5×8.5. I’ve got a bivy I could use that would add some extra protection. I would really like to keep my tarp under the 1 lb mark, which seems tough to do with silnylon once you add cordage and stakes.

        I do have a tie-out configuration in mind. It may be a little overkill (lots of tieouts and panel pulls), but I like having options.

      • Arlen
        May 17, 2014

        A tarp that is not pitched nailed tight to the ground and completely closed in is useless for cold windy weather. Camping without a chimney in winter is to rough for me. chimpac

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