If you’re starting to think about camping under a tarp, you will probably come across references to something called a Ray Way tarp. This refers to a shaped tarp design developed by Ray Jardine, one of the early proponents of modern ultralight backpacking, and author of the lightweight backpacking classic, Beyond Backpacking.
By all appearances, the Ray Way tarp looks likes a rectangular tarp that is set up using an A-frame style pitch between two trees or hiking poles, as shown above. It has a distinguishing characteristic however called a beak, at the front and rear, which provides additional rain protection. These beaks can be raised to provide better ventilation and prevent internal condensation or lowered to retain more heat and warm up the interior of the tarp in chilly weather.
Ray Way tarps also have reinforced tie-outs on the side panels of the tarp, located half way between the top ridgeline, and the tarp bottom. There are useful for increasing interior headroom or preventing the fabric from bowing in heavy wind, and can be tied to trees, poles, or sticks you find in the forest.
If you want to make your own Ray Way tarp, Jardine sells a $59 MYOG tarp kit (1 Person: 12 ounces/2 person: 15 ounces), containing the materials and instructions required to make your own, like the one above, which was sewn by a backpacker name Greg that I met last weekend. Alternatively, you can buy a Ray Way style tarp from Crazy Creek (15 ounces, listed by mfg) for about $70 called the Tarp Lite.
Either way, I’m very temped to get one of these tarps myself. Those beaks like they’d be really handy to keep rain splatter from splashing back under the tarp. I guess there’s a reason why this tarp design has withstood the test of time. It really is a classic.
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