Ray-Way Tarp Kit Review

Ray-way Tarp Kit Review

The Ray-Way Tarp Kit is an excellent introduction to MYOG (make-your-own-gear) and for a reasonable price, makes a lightweight and highly-packable shelter which is flexible for many situations. I have used a Ray-Way Tarp as my primary solo and 2-person shelter since 2011.

Specs at a Glance

  • Type: DIY kit to make a 2-person A-frame tarp with end beaks. (A one-person kit is also available).
  • Weight: 16.3 oz (seam-sealed, including guylines and stowbag, as weighed by me on my kitchen scale)
  • Dimensions: 104 inches x 104 inches plus 16 inches of beak length at apex on each of two ends (264.16 cm x 264.16 cm plus 40.64 cm of beak length at apex on each of two ends)
  • Number of guy-outs: 4 corners, 4 side (2 per), 2 ridgeline, 6 beak (1 apex and 2 sides per beak), 4 mid-panel: 20 total
  • Material: Silnylon
  • Contents: Tarp fabric, webbing for tieouts, 3 kinds of guylines, mid-panel tieout patch material, detailed instructions
  • Additional tools needed: Sewing machine, thread (available from Ray-Way as well), silicone seam sealer and brush
  • Stakes not included with kit

The Construction Process

If you’re interested in exploring the world of MYOG, the Ray-Way Tarp Kit is a great way to build your skills and confidence. When I got the kit, I hadn’t touched a sewing machine since middle school home economics class. Ray writes the instructions for novices, with lots of tips, and while I wouldn’t say it was a quick and easy project, I was able to end up with a tarp I’m very happy with despite my previous lack of experience. The instructions are clear, detailed and include illustrations, with explanations for why certain construction techniques are being used.

Measure twice, cut once!
Measure twice, cut once!

These techniques–balancing the bobbin and thread tension for different weight fabrics, sewing lightweight and slippery fabrics, flat-felled seams, reinforcement patches, and more, jumpstarted my MYOG obsession by building my toolbox to tackle more complicated projects of my own design. I also feel confident that since I understand how the tarp was constructed, I know what to do to repair it.

The Ray-Way Tarp kit does not have a catenary cut (a built-in curve to reduce sagging) so all the cutting and sewing are in straight lines, with the exception of the round mid panel tie-out patches. However, you are sewing long pieces of slippery fabric, so there is a learning curve to feeding the fabric through the sewing machine and keeping things aligned. Don’t take shortcuts!

Lessons Learned

There are four things that will save a lot of frustration if you undertake this project:

Tip 1: Work in an area with plenty of clean floor space to spread the fabric completely out, smooth out the wrinkles, and measure, mark and cut with precision. When I started the project, I was living in an apartment, and there was simply not enough space to work with the fabric. I was also right in the middle of house cat traffic, and one of my cats’ claws made a slice in the fabric that I had to patch before I had even assembled the tarp.

Tip 2: Take the time to practice sewing with scraps of the fabric until you get a balanced stitch on both sides. This upfront investment will be time well-spent, saving you hours of seam ripping and bird’s nests of tangled thread.

Not enough space to measure and cut
It’s important to have a large enough work space to spread out. That was an important lesson learned (I didn’t).

Tip 3: Don’t try to rush to get the tarp done for next weekend’s trip. You will inevitably measure something incorrectly or skip a step. Take your time, take breaks when frustrated, and work deliberately in small, focused chunks.

Tip 4: Recognize that your project will be useable, but will not be perfect. Don’t let the desire for perfection impede you from moving forward and experiencing the joy of learning new skills and the pride of sleeping outside in something you made yourself.

The Ray-Way Tarp pitched in a tight spot.
The Ray-Way Tarp pitched in a tight spot. The mid-panels help expand the interior volume and provide extra stability flexibility in a wide range of settings.

For one person, the tarp is absolutely palatial, and even with two people, it provides extensive coverage. The silnylon is of excellent quality–I have never experienced misting through with it. Loops are sewn under the ridgeline to rig up a net tent, a bivy, a clothesline, or to hang your glasses or headlamp from. There are no plastic guyline tensioners (linelocs); the guylines are tied directly to grosgrain tieouts and you’ll need to tie tautline or truckers’ hitches around your stakes. The tarp has a ton of tieouts along the sides, the beaks, and mid-panels, 20 in total, which give you options for guying out over obstacles and let you batten things down in the wind. The mid panel tieouts significantly increase the feeling of spaciousness under the tent when used by two people.

Beaks at the tarp ends provide extra rain protection
Beaks at the tarp ends provide extra rain protection

The Ray-Way Tarp is an A-frame tarp whose unique feature is the “beaks” on either end. While not completely flexible like a flat tarp, the Ray-Way tarp’s “variable geometry” (Ray’s words) means that the lower and wider you pitch the tarp in stormy weather, the more the beaks close off the ends. For even more coverage, Ray sells a BatWing kit for one or both ends, but the tarp is so spacious (even for two) that the beak coverage has been more than sufficient without it, even in torrential rain. I prefer having the ventilation anyway.

Three different types of guylines are included with the kit–a robust black ridgeline, round white cord for the corner and side tieouts, and an interesting flat line for the mid-panel tieouts and the beaks, that looks like a rubber band (but is not stretchy) and feels like paper, yet is very strong and tangle-resistant.

The Ray-Way Tarp provides an amazing amount of flexibility in an amazing variety of situations
The Ray-Way Tarp provides an amazing amount of flexibility in an amazing variety of situations

Originally, I left the mid-panel flat line off to have less guyline spaghetti, and just tied on some extra round guyline when I needed it in the field. However, the materials are specifically matched, and I found the round guyline sawed part of the way through the tie-out patch. The flat ribbon is much less abrasive. I now leave the mid-panel flat lines tied on to be there if I need them, and just quickly coil and tie off the other guylines as I’m taking the tarp down in the morning. I haven’t had any more problems with abrasion since going back to the flat lines.

When using the Ray-Way Tarp with a hammock, you have three things attached to the same tree–the tarp ridgeline, the beak guyline, and the hammock suspension. Initially it can feel like the beaks get in the way of the hammock suspension, but you just have to pitch the tarp a little higher than one normally would with a hammock. The coverage is so good that a higher pitch is not a problem. However, I’ve heard of people modifying beaked tarps for hammock use by cutting the beaks down the middle and sewing velcro to either side, so you can run the hammock suspension through the top of the beak and seal the rest of the beak below the suspension.

As mentioned above, Ray offers a BatWing kit to close off one or both ends, and a few different versions of a NetTent (with or without zippers, at three levels of sewing complexity) for mosquito and tick protection. Also, the Ray-Way Tarp Essentials Book Essential has over 300 pages of knots, pitching and site selection tips, troubleshooting, weather considerations, questions and answers and history.

Ultralight backpacking with a Ray-Way Tarp
Ultralight backpacking with a Ray-Way Tarp

Recommendation

The Ray-Way Tarp Kit makes a versatile lightweight tarp whose beaks add a lot of utility. I love that I can use one shelter solo or with a hiking partner, on the ground or with a hammock, spread out wide for more coverage or high and narrow when ground space is limited. But its hidden value is in how well the instructions build the skills and confidence to make your own gear. The time it takes is time well-spent.The Ray-Way Tarp Kit is only available for purchase through Ray Jardine’s website, www.rayjardine.com.

About the Author

Greg Pehrson is an ultralight backpacker who was bitten hard by the MYOG (make-your-own-gear) bug. He repairs, tinkers, and builds gear, often seeking to upcycle throwaway items or repurpose things from outside the backpacking world.

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9 comments

  1. Works for me. Try clicking harder next time.

  2. Nicely written article-very informative on the how-to for sewing and adapting it for hammock use. Maybe a follow-up article with field-use tips on how to get the best performance in other than flat, level, well protected sites is in the future?

    I’m neither MYOG nor a ham mocker, but I really enjoyed your article!

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Glenn, and for your idea for a follow-up. I can quickly say the following in response: while I think hammocks are ideal when I know I’ll be in a densely forested area, on uneven/ rocky/ root-filled ground (and my home mountains are in New England–so this is my norm), I have definitely pitched it as a ground tarp in some less-than-ideal sites as well, notably on one slope surrounded by rotting deadwood where the tangle of downed logs prevented me from rolling down the hill. The size of the tarp means you can pitch it over small vegetation, rocks, or other obstacles–as long as you have space to lie down, you can have the small trees etc. under the tarp with you. On uneven ground, I tend to tie the ridgeline to trees rather than using trekking poles to pitch, and even guy out the corners to trees instead of stakes if they’re available. This makes it very stable, and allows you to more easily have the two sides of the tarp pitched to somewhat different heights. In strong wind and rain, I think the extra side tie-outs and mid-point tieouts are your friends, and I’ll even stake out the extra side tie outs directly to the ground (no guyline). But, yes, definitely more technique to cover! I think Ray’s Tarp book also does a good job of detailing different pitches for different conditions/ situations.

  4. Nice job! Very encouraging for us shy DIY novices on our first steps

  5. Greg, What kind of equipment do you need to buy to make a project like this? Can you recommend specific items?

  6. Re: equipment: It seems like a long list but if you have anyone you know who sews, they will have the majority of this stuff.
    -Sewing machine–the tarp project doesn’t require any zigzag or bartack stitch capability–only standard straight forward and reverse stitching which any machine will have. I used an all-metal Singer Featherweight from the 1940s that belonged to my wife’s grandma. If you can find an older all-metal machine (which are all over Craigslist) it’s often worth it to get one then get it tuned and repaired, as they break down less than a lot of modern computerized machines.
    -A yardstick and long retractable tape measure (like for construction projects)
    -A sharpie marker to mark where you’ll cut
    -Some canned goods to hold the material in place while marking and cutting
    -For seam sealing– Permatex Flowable Silicone Windshield and Glass Sealer and a small foam brush
    -Sharp scissors that you don’t use for anything else but fabric. I like Singer or Fiskars brand, and the Fiskars SoftGrip are nice for when you’re doing a lot of cutting. Also a second small pair of sewing scissors/ thread nippers makes trimming the threads closely a lot easier than it is with big fabric scissors, but they’re not totally necessary.
    -A seam ripper, Dritz is an easy to find brand. You will use this!
    -Pins for aligning the fabric–I like the Dritz Color Ball pins because the colorful head makes them easier to find when you drop them, and less likely that you’ll leave a pin in the fabric accidentally, although it’s best to pull out the pins as you sew.
    -Thread–I used Ray Jardine’s thread from his website for this and a bunch of other gear. A single spool can make several projects, it’s strong and somewhat slick.

  7. Very inspiring article. I have dabbled in MYOG clothing , but never anything so large. 2 questions:-

    (1) I’ve never used seam seal tape, only Seam Grip Seam Sealant Glue. For such long seams glue would just be too messy. I know the tape seals with heat from an iron but how easy is it to use without massive tangling?

    (2) I generally use handsewing -it’s slower, but less mistakes so a lot less unpicking – net result probably not much slower and a lot less frustrating. Has anyone out there ever made such a large item by hand?

    • Hi Adrine, Thanks! What clothing items have you MYOG’d? Did you work from patterns or design them yourself? I’ve got a few hiking clothing projects in the sewing queue…
      About your questions—
      1) If the tarp is pitched taut, and you use something like Permatex Flowable silicone and a foam brush (or even your fingertip) the seam sealing is pretty easy. The taut pitch keeps all the seams visible and isolated from each other and you leave it pitched until dry. Martin Rye’s method of using a template is also good for keeping things neat. It is quite hard to find tape that sticks to silnylon. Most tarps and tents that are taped have a PU coating on at least one side that tape can stick to. Roger Caffin writes about using permanent siloxane tape for silnylon–but this is not the easiest to find (most are not permanent). If you google his name and siloxane tape you can read more about it.
      2) I’ve definitely read about some large gear items that were handsewn. Don’t know why you couldn’t as long as you lockstitch the thread at the beginning and end and sufficiently reinforce the ridgeline and tieouts. Let us know if you do, and good luck!

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