Gear Closet: Tents, Hammocks, Tarps, and Shelter Accessories

SectionHiker's Gear Closet Tents, Hammocks, Tarps, and Shelter Accessories
Section Hiker’s Gear Closet Tents, Hammocks, Tarps, and Shelter Accessories

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.

JRB 8x8 Square Tarp pitched as Adirondack Wind Shed in the 100 Mile Wilderness
JRB 8×8 Square Tarp pitched as Adirondack Wind Shed in the 100 Mile Wilderness

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.

Ultralight Bivy Sack under a floorless pyramid trap
Superlight Bivy Sack under a floorless pyramid trap in Scotland

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.

Black Diamond Firstlight Tent
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent

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.

Warbonnet Blackbird Mosquito Hammock
Warbonnet Blackbird Mosquito Hammock

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.

Warbonnet Superfly Tarp
Warbonnet Superfly Tarp

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.

Dutchware Stingerz

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 Stingerz
Dutchware Stingerz

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).

Tarp worm and self-tensioning guyline
Tarp worm and self-tensioning guyline

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.

MSR Needle Stake
MSR Needle Stake

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 sells them for $2.50 each. They weigh 0.5 each.

Easton 8" Aluminum Stakes
Easton 8″ Aluminum Stakes

Parting Remarks

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.

See Also:

Written 2017.

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  1. Just a note: while the ridgeline doesn’t need to be, the panel pulls on the superfly should be sealed.

    I snapped 2 tarp worms two weeks ago. Fleaz for me now.

  2. Do you find the aluminum Easton stakes are susceptible to bending? I was happy to get a set with my new Tarptent, but one of them got bent slightly just setting it up in the back yard. I will carry them with my array of stakes (about three other kinds) for varying soil conditions, but wonder what your experience is with them encountering subsurface rocks…

  3. Walter Underwood

    For flat tarps, I recommend Tundra Tarps from Cooke Custom Sewing. They have more tie-outs and the center “quad loop” is great for using a trekking pole or canoe paddle as a center pole. They’ll make any size you want. You can even choose a mix of colors.

  4. I’ve owned a black diamond light house just as long , wanted the first light but it was a little to short for me . Truly a great winter tent .

  5. I’ve been using the MSR Needle Stakes for about 10 years. Good stuff! Although they’re light enough to carry a couple extra, my couple extra are the Easton Aluminum ones that came with my Tarptent or Mini Groundhogs. Those grant extra holding power, if needed.

  6. Hi Philip, I’m hoping to invest in a hammock at some point, tried a friend’s last summer backpacking and loved it! I had my sights set on the Warbonnet Blackbird, but now I see Dutch has one coming out soon that he funded via Kickstarter this winter (missed the earlybird funding special, darn!). Do have an opinion of it yet or will you wait until it starts shipping to test it and post a review?

    It’s not available on the website yet, but the description is on Kickstarter: Derek Hansen has a review on his Ultimate Hang website:
    I think the only thing missing is a gear shelf/internal storage…otherwise, I like it!

    • The gear shelf is patented by Warbonnet so Dutch can’t use it. It looks identical to the custom hammocks popularized by Dream Hammock and I was thinking about getting one, but I need another hammock like I need a hole in the head.

      • LOL! So would you still recommend the Warbonnet over the Chameleon? I’m sure Dutch will let you have one to test/review for us! :)

      • How can I? I like my Warbonnet. Never tried a Chameleon. But Dutch makes awesome gear. Chances are its very good.

  7. Philip…Have you ever tried the Warbonnet Ridgerunner? Trying to find some reviews of it. I have some knee and back issues that I thought a bridge style my alleviate.

    • Yes. I didn’t find it terribly comfortable and the extra bars were a hassle to carry. Try the regular Warbonnet. It’s astonishingly comfortable. If your knees are bad, just put a jacket or inflatable pillow under them.

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