Ultralight Tarp Practice

I got some more practice today setting up a tarp and I’m finally feeling confident enough that I could actually use it as a shelter on a section hike if required. This time around, I practiced with an 8 x 8 ft square silnylon tarp that I own for hammock camping, instead of a shaped oware tarp with a catenary cut.

I’ve read that the best size tarp to use for tarp camping is a 10 x 12 ft tarp, but I don’t own one and I’d rather not buy one just now. So today, I spent some time testing whether I could fit a sleeping pad and mummy bag under the 8 x 8 ft. tarp and have a reasonable chance of staying dry in a blowing rain storm.

Ultralight Tarp Pitch Pratice
Ultralight Tarp Pitch Pratice

The first tarp configuration I set up was an A-frame between two trees. This went up pretty fast and gave me a tight ridgeline. I staked out the sides about a foot off the ground for good airflow, but could have staked them lower in the event of blowing rain. There is plenty of space in this configuration to fit a 6 foot sleeping bag lengthwise or diagonally.

The second configuration I set up used one pole and gave me a slightly tighter pitch than the A-frame configuration. As you can see the sides are closer to the ground. This would be a good configuration if the tarp opening was facing in a different direction from oncoming wind and rain

The final configuration I set up used the 10 foot diagonal seam as the ridgeline and uses two poles, a hiking pole up front and a short tree branch in the rear to improve headroom under the tarp. Diagonally orienting my sleeping and bag provides me with an enormous amount of room in this configuration, but an accurate assessment of wind direction is necessary for maximum stability.

On this tarp, I’m using some very lightweight shepards hooks and Aircore 2, Spectra accessory cord for my tie-outs. These can be purchased from the Backpackinglight.com store. The Aircore cord is expensive but it is very strong and very lightweight. I’m not using tensioners on this tarp because I don’t have any at the moment, so I’ve tied loops into the lines at different lengths to get the adjustibility I need for a taught pitch.


  1. what do you do for bugs?

  2. Check out my review on the Gossamer Gear Bug Canopy. I reviewed it this week. It's a steal for $30.

  3. thanks looks nice.

  4. Earlylite… as you know, I LOVE tarps and am still very happy with the MLD Grace Solo (Spectralite). Lately, whenever weather permits, I've been keeping the tarp in my pack and just using a bivy (MLD Soul Sidezip). Not only does it provide protection from wind, moisture, and bugs, but it's also quick to set up and then to pack in the morning. If unexpected rain hits, it takes under 2 minutes to get the tarp set up. You are totally correct in saying that practice before heading out is essential and that short hikes between the long ones keeps one tuned up.

  5. In fact, I'm planning on practicing with my new MLD tarp this weekend. Thanks for all of the info you sent me last week. It will really help.

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