Over the past 4 years, I've progressively migrated from tents, to tarp tents, and finally to tarps as my preferred camping shelter. Over time and many backpacking trips, I came to appreciate the flexibility of of tarps over tents or tarp tents in a variety of different weather conditions and terrain.
Take the square 8 x 8 ft JRB silnylon tarp above. It's one of my older pieces of gear. I can deploy it in dozens of different shapes and attitudes depending on the properties of my campsite (trees, logs, roots) or the gear I'm carrying (hiking poles, tents stakes, or snow anchors.) Unlike tents or tarp-tents, I'm not limited to using the same shape shelter or pitch every time.
There's a delightful element of freedom is having the choice and skill to mix it up like this that you really can't experience with a tent. Granted, it's not for everyone, and it's not even appropriate all the time, but it's an element of trail-craft that I've really come to appreciate when I'm out and about.
Here's an excellent video I've found that explains the differences between tarps and tents, if this is a transition that you are considering. It features one of my hiking heroes, Chris Townsend, who's a widely published author, photographer, and long distance backpacker.
Chris is off on a thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail right now and he's taken a GoLite Shangri-La 1 to camp with. This is a shaped tarp with an optional bug net & bathtub floor which can only be pitched in one configuration. It is a logical choice however, given the terrain that Chris will be hiking in which includes forest as well as mountains, where he's likely to need a little bit more protection. The Shangri-La 1 is also very light, weighing just 16 oz for the main body.
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