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What is a Ray Way Tarp?

Ray Way Kit Tarp
Ray Way Kit Tarp

If you’re starting to think about camping under a tarp, you will probably come across references to something called a Ray Way tarp. This refers to a shaped tarp design developed by Ray Jardine, one of the early proponents of modern ultralight backpacking, and author of the lightweight backpacking classic, Beyond Backpacking.

By all appearances, the Ray Way tarp looks likes a rectangular tarp that is set up using an A-frame style pitch between two trees or hiking poles, as shown above. It has a distinguishing characteristic however called a beak, at the front and rear, which provides additional rain protection. These beaks can be raised to provide better ventilation and prevent internal condensation or lowered to retain more heat and warm up the interior of the tarp  in chilly weather.

Ray Way Tarp Beak
Ray Way Tarp Beak

Ray Way tarps also have reinforced tie-outs on the side panels of the tarp, located half way between the top ridgeline, and the tarp bottom. There are useful for increasing interior headroom or preventing the fabric from bowing in heavy wind, and can be tied to trees, poles, or sticks you find in the forest.

If you want to make your own Ray Way tarp, Jardine sells a $59 MYOG tarp kit (1 Person: 12 ounces/2 person: 15 ounces), containing the materials and instructions required to make your own, like the one above, which was sewn by a backpacker name Greg that I met last weekend. Alternatively, you can buy a Ray Way style tarp from Crazy Creek (15 ounces, listed by mfg) for about  $70 called the Tarp Lite.

Either way, I’m very temped to get one of these tarps myself. Those beaks like they’d be really handy to keep rain splatter from splashing back under the tarp. I guess there’s a reason why this tarp design has withstood the test of time. It really is a classic.

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12 comments

  1. The most amazing thing about this post, to me, is that Crazy Creek sells a Ray-Way Tarp. I've never heard anything about Crazy Creek getting into ultralight backpacking gear. Odd, though… I don't see the 15 oz version on their website– just on Amazon. I hope they're not discontinuing the line or anything like that.

  2. I doubt that Crazy Creek gives a hoot about UL backpacking. But, when I stumbled up on in on Amazon, I figured I'd be doing a service by telling people. Although it's not marketed as a Ray Way, it sure looks like one, except for that third side tie-out!

  3. Big fan of Ray and his book has a honored space on the bookshelf with Colin Flectcher's.

    I went through my tarp period, but in my years now prefer a hammock to the hard ground or shelter platform.

  4. Hey Earlylite,

    Boy, now I wish I'd tightened up that pitch in the morning and neatened up my gear! Yeah, at $59 the Ray Way kit was an affordable and accessible way for me to get into UL shelters, and I feel that I learned so much about sewing–seams, reinforcements, repairs, etc. And the two-person tarp really is palatial.

  5. Greg– hah. Don't worry about it being not perfectly tight. I'm still impressed by how nicely your tarp turned out. For a first-time project, it's a beautiful shelter!

  6. Just completed a Ray Way project myself — a two person quilt (with alpine insulation upgrade, split-zip, and Gorget). Although I am a beginner sewer and the project took me several months, I would highly recommend the kits that Ray and Jenny put together. The instructions were generally easy to follow despite my lack of experience and the materials did the job. If you want to make a foray into MYOG, their kits are a good way to get your feet wet.

  7. Really enjoyed your talk at the Lite Weight for Scouts seminar in Austin last Spring.

    I have a beautiful RayWay tarp I would be willing to trade you for something else if you want to try one. I can not get over my fear of waking up with a snake (after one of my scouts found a copperhead under his pack one morning) so I am sticking with my Tarp Tent!

    Let me know if you want to see some photos.

    Michael

    • Thanks for the offer Mike – last thing I need is another tarp.
      Obviously campsite election becomes very important when setting up a trap. Best to avoid copperheads! Bet that scared you more than it did the scout.

  8. Think how he scared that poor copperhead.

  9. I sewed myself a RayWay tarp several years ago, and have used it on many trips. The side tie-outs make for a very roomy and stable space. Another nice feature is an interior line running the length of the ridge, which can be used to hang gear for drying. A classic design.

  10. I like the idea of a tarp. Tell me, does raising or lowering the beaks really help keep the interior warmer?

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