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SectionHiker’s Gear Closet: Tents, Hammocks and Tarps

SectionHiker’s Gear Closet: Tents, Hammocks and Tarps

I have a small list of tents, hammocks, and tarps in my personal gear closet that I love using and consider best-of-class for my needs. 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. 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.

1. Durston X-Mid 1P Tent

X-Mid 1P Tent
X-Mid 1P Tent

The Durston X-Mid 1P, sold by Drop, is a 27.9-ounce two-door, double-wall, trekking pole tent that is exceptionally easy to set up. It’s a strong, wind-worthy shelter, with plenty of internal gear storage and space for cooking in foul weather. I tested out several other tents including the updated Sierra Designs High Route and the TarpTent Stratospire 1, before choosing the X-Mid for backpacking across Scotland. These three tents are very comparable, but the X-Mid is by far the easiest to pitch when the wind is howling. I still like the X-Mid 1 for use in New Hampshire and Maine, but it requires a fair amount of space to set up and is more appropriate for treeless locales instead of dense forest. Read my X-Mid 1P review. 

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2. Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock

Warbonnet Blackbird

The Warbonnet Blackbird is a single layer mosquito hammock with a fully integrated bug net. I use it for 3 season backpacking in New England because we have so much forest and it makes finding good campsites so easy.  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. 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. I usually use the Warbonnet with a 3/4 length Loco Libre Synthetic Underquilt (40 degree) or a full length UGQ Zeppelin Down Underquilt (20 degrees).

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3. Tarptent ProTrail Li Tent

Tarptent Protrail Li
Tarptent ProTrail Li

I just bought a new 17.7 oz (Dyneema DCF) Tarptent ProTrail Li, which is so new that I haven’t taken it out yet. But I’ve reviewed the silnylon version and know what to expect. The ProTrail Li is a narrow 1 person trekking pole tent that good’s for camping in forests where there isn’t much open space. The tent is one step up from a tarp and bivy, just more spacious. I’ve owned a half-dozen tents made by Tarptent and really admire their thoughtful and original tent designs. Read my Tarptent ProTrail (Silnylon) Review.

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4. Black Diamond Firstlight 2P Tent

Black Diamond FirstLight Tent
Black Diamond FirstLight Tent 2P

The Black Diamond Firstlight 2P Tent is a freestanding, 4 season tent that I mainly use in winter or when I want a freestanding tent to pitch on a wooden platform. Weighing just 2 pounds 11 ounces, the Firstlight packs up very small and pitches with two collapsible poles. While Black Diamond says that the FirstLight is not a waterproof tent, I’ve had it out in countless torrential rainstorms and it’s never once leaked 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. Read my FirstLight review.

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Black Diamond | REI | Moosejaw

5. Hammock Gear Dyneema Fiber Hex Tarp 11′

Hammock Gear Dyneema Hex Tarp
Hammock Gear Dyneema Fiber Hex Tarp

The Hammock Gear Dyneema Fiber Hex Tarp is an ultralight hammock tarp weighing 5.14 oz. It doesn’t have doors like my last hammock tarp, but I’m ok with that because I wanted to reduce the amount of weight and gear space it used to occupy. This hex tarp has 4 corner linelocs and 2 linelocs on the ridgeline, along with 2 optional sidewall pullouts. I’ve added two HG Titanium Clips to the ends of the ridgeline so I can have a knotless setup since I prefer a split line tarp set up over an adjustable one requiring prussic knots. Read my Dyneema Fiber Hex Tarp review.

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Hammock Gear

6. Jacks R’ Better 8′ x 8′ Square Tarp

JRB 8x8' Square Tarp
JRB 8×8′ Square Tarp

This square silnylon tarp is the oldest shelter I own. I originally bought it in 2007 as a hammock tarp, but mainly use it as a UL tarp with a bivy sack 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.  Jacks doesn’t make this tarp anymore; probably the closest ones available are the 9′ x 9′ REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp or the 8’6″ x 8’6″ Big Agnes Onyx UL square tarp. I prefer square tarps to rectangular ones because I find symmetric tarp shapes easier to visualize. Read my JRB Square Tarp Review. 

Wrap Up

I obviously have more tents and tarps than I strictly need. I rationalize keeping all of these by using them in fairly specific circumstances depending on terrain and weather. None of them are “general purpose”, however. For example, I wouldn’t use my Warbonnet Hammock in winter weather because it would be too cold or my Black Diamond FirstLight in humid summer weather because the interior ventilation isn’t that great. If you backpack in a fairly narrow range of terrain and weather, you can probably get by with just one tent or shelter. These are the ones I enjoy using and have a place in my gear closet.

Last updated 2020.

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  1. I’m considering the xmid, stratospire, and high route for my next solo shelter. Im pretty tall at 6’2″, so was leaning towards the high route or stratospire. I live in the PNW. Having used and like them all, any thoughts on what might be the best fit? Or if that’s not enough info to comment, perhaps just some words of comparison?

    • I like the stratospire a lot more than the high route. It has workable vestibule space while the high route is pretty bad in that respect. I also don’t like the side hatch they have in the inner tent. Why not a door? It’s just too cute, along with the circus colors. Given that you’re in the PNW, you’ll appreciate those vestibules when it’s pouring rain. Hope that helps.

    • I am also 6’2”. 180 pounds. I have the X-Mid 1P and find it works well for me. Is it like having a 2P tent? Of course not. But I really do like it.

  2. Which UL bivy do you prefer? Also, now that you have have the Protrail Li, which is very close in weight to tarp and bivy setup, in what situations do you think you would still choose to.take the tarp?

    • I have a 10 year old MLD superlight bivy sack which I still love. If I were buying now, I’d probably go with a Borah Ultralight, just ’cause it’s so much less expensive. I’ll still carry a tarp and bivy when I’m feeling nostalgic or want to play around with tarp shapes. It’s a challenge that I enjoy periodically, including creating organic pitches that incorporate elements of the environment. The bivy is also useful as bug/mouse protection if I want to use an AT-style shelter, whereas the Protrail isn’t. But you’re right, that ProTrail Li is a direct substitution for them both in many circumstances.

  3. What is your opinion of the Dream Hammock Sparrow vs. Warbonnet Blackbird? I had my eye on the Blackbird, but love the Sparrow’s color options and accessories. As you mention above, it’s not the lightest, but comfort and style are more important to me. Would pair it with a Penny Pincher tarp from UGQ.

    • Both are superb. The Warbonnet ‘shelf’ is patented and I happen to like it a lot though you could probably get by with a ridgeline organizer. I can’t remember if the Sparrow has a removable bug net, although I bet its an option. I always need bug protection…ymmv.

      The UGQ Penny Pinchers are awesome. Great choices.

  4. Hello, anyone use the Tarptent Protrail Li yet?

    It looks tempting especially since I have a Tarptent Contrail that is just about worn out.

    I be curious to hear feedback on the Protrail Language.

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