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What is a Tarp Tent?

Tarptent Rainbow
Tarptent Rainbow

A tarp tent is a single walled tent that has walls, bug netting, a floor, and often a vestibule like a double-walled camping tent, but which is significantly lighter weight because it combines the rain fly and inner tent into a single wall instead of two different layers. As an example, the one person Tarptent Rainbow, shown here, only weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces and has a large bathtub floor, a mesh inner tent, a large vestibule area than can be rolled open to help eliminate internal condensation, or closed to provide additional rain protection and privacy.

Beside its lighter weight, one of the chief advantages of a single walled tent is that it sets up very quickly in the rain because the entire tent pitches as a complete unit, and you don’t have to stand there trying to clip on the ran fly while the inner tent is drenched in a downpour.

Gossamer Gear's "The One" pitching using a Leki Hiking Pole
Gossamer Gear’s “The One” pitched using a Leki Hiking Pole

In addition, some tarp tents, like the Gossamer Gear’s The One (weighing 1 pound) can be pitched using hiking poles instead of having to carry additional tent poles. Saving weight by using items you already carry for multiple purposes like this is one of the hall marks of lightweight backpacking.

Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo

Tarp tents comes in many different shapes and sizes ranging from domes like the Rainbow to Half Pyramids like the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (weighing 23 ounces.) It also has a bathtub floor like the other tents, shown here, which is waterproof and has raised side walls that protect you from wet ground or rivulets of water. It’s fully integrated with the sides of the tent and not a separate unit, so it slides into place automatically when you pitch the tent.

In addition to single person tarp tents, two person tarp tents are also available like the popular Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo (39 ounces), the Tarptent Double Rainbow (41 ounces) or the Tarptent Squall 2 (34 ounces).

If you own a heavier double walled tent today and you’re looking to reduce the weight of your gear list, I usually recommend that people make the transition to a tarp tent first, instead of a tarp, because there’s less of a learning curve involved and there’s little functional difference between a single walled and a double walled shelter. Personally, switching¬† to a Squall 2 tarp tent was an easy transition for me to make and one I benefited from immediately. If you’re used to sleeping in a tent, getting used to sleeping under a tarp without any walls, floor or bug netting is a much more difficult transition and takes a lot longer to become comfortable with.

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21 comments

  1. Nice review, thank you.

    Now I understand why a poled bivy like the BA three wire bivy I am considering doesn't appeal to you. For a comparable weight, you can sit up in these tarp tents.

    How durable are the floor materials? Are ground cloths required?

  2. I bought a double rainbow about a year ago, it has been the best investment I've made weight wise. It is less than half the weight of my old tent and can be freestanding with the use of trekking poles. I had thought about buying a two person tarp, but my wife said she was NOT sleeping under a tarp. I think she is afraid she will wake up kissing a raccoon!

  3. The floor materials are usually just silnylon on these tents. It's pretty common to see people put a thin plastic sheet under them from a window insulation kit – which is a lot lighter than a footprint – and all you really need.

    Yes, given these weights and the room in these shelters, there really is no reason to suffer in a little bivy sack if you don't need to.

  4. I like the idea of saving weight, but I'm reluctant to give up the convenience of setting up a free standing tent. I found a happy medium with my Big Agnes Seedhouse tent. The tent is essentially a double-walled freestanding tent, but you can set it up with just the ground sheet and rain fly (leaving the inner mesh tent at home) to create a shelter similar to a tarptent. The total weight savings are significant. I like the flexibility of this system. It allows me to have a full coverage, freestanding, double-wall tent for "less than perfect" weather, and a lightweight, single-wall tent for fair weather backpacking without having to buy two separate tents. I think its a great solution for people like me who are easing into lightweight packing.

  5. I had no idea that you could do that with the BA seedhouse – that's a great system!

    • I believe most, if not all, of the REI brand tents can be set up with just the footprint and rainfly, and poles. I know at least the ones I have do. You still have to carry the poles of course, but you’re saving a ton of weight not carrying the main tent around.

  6. My Mountain Hardware Lightwedge 2 has a similar system that they call the "fast pitch" option. You need the footprint kit in order to do it.

    You use the fly, footprint, and poles to create a free standing shelter. The tent body is left at home. A significant weight and volume savings.

    You need to stake out the vestibule section of the fly and you do not have bug protection.

  7. My Nemo Losi can do the footprint+rainfly setup as well. I've only ever used it when there are bugs around though, so the tent always comes.

    My issue is I don't use hiking poles, so I'd have to take some type of poles anyway. is a tarp+bug bivy that much lighter than a tarp tent, or just a cheaper combination?

  8. My regular tarp-bivy combination is about 12 ounces. The one I used last weekend was 14 total. So yes, definitely lighter and far more flexible imho.

  9. You didn't mention many of the downfalls that tarp tents have. The biggest downfall for me is that when you pack up the tent after rain or during the rain, the floor and bug netting gets soaked from all the rain on the tarp. With just a tarp, you can pack up the floor and netting without getting it wet. That's the biggest advantage that a floorless tarp has over a tarp tent.

  10. True. So how did that tarp from Bear paw turn out for you.

  11. I like it, but I'm not sure I'm a pyramid type of a person yet. I just have 17 days on it right now, so it remains to be seen if I'll really like it, but so far I'm not seeing the draw that Jordon and others hyped up.

    It has lots of room, etc… Maybe I could do a guest post about it here. Interested?

  12. I just got back from hiking with my brother in law on the Buffalo River Trail in Arkansas. It started raining the moment I first pulled my Tarptent Double Rainbow out of its sack and continued all that night, the next day, and the night following. We had to keep all our gear in the tent and the two vestibules. I carry a small synthetic chamois in a Ziploc bag and used that to wipe up water that would enter when we opened the door and we stayed reasonably dry. Our last day was sunny and the sun dried out the tent.

    I don't know how much help my comment is on the question at hand but that was my experience.

  13. Grandpa:
    You were in my part of the world, I live a couple hours from the buffalo.

    Did you have any misting in your tent while it was raining? I was in mine during a hard rain and every once in a while I would get a couple drops. I'm not sure if it was because it was raining so hard or my seam sealing job. I went back and seam sealed it again just in case but haven't been in any more rain since. Also, I didnt get the liner for it, I think I can sew my own. Just haven't got around to making it yet. I figure that will help some.

  14. Bryan – sent you an email.

  15. Brandon,

    I was curious how the single wall tent would handle all the rain and was pleasantly surprised. There was some condensation on the inside of the fabric but very little. I do have the liner and had it installed. I didn't recall any misting or dripping into the tent. The biggest problem was that when I opened the vestibule to get in or out, it left a path for the rain to drop in. I learned to do that quickly.

  16. Ha! My hexamid just arrived today, Phillip. :-)

    Wish me luck with it!

    (And say, have I won that wonderful sounding pack yet that you were ruffling off? )

  17. Just curious what category you put the Lightheart tents into?

    Tarp tent? Hybrid?

  18. I can pitch my Hillebergs without the inner utilizing the outer and footprint.

    (Goes back to coloring book)

    :)

  19. I have pitched the fly from my 1980’s Sierra Designs flashlight without the tent in an attempt to find a lightweight shelter option amongst what I already own. It’s not pretty, but it did work.

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