Zpacks Pocket Tarp with Doors Review

Zpacks Pocket Tarp with Doors Review

The Zpacks Pocket Tarp w/ Doors is a one-person tarp weighing 6.1 oz with guylines attached. It is constructed from 0.55 oz/sq. yard Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), a fully waterproof material that doesn’t stretch or sag when wet. I purchased this tent primarily for use in the desert southwest where shelters aren’t often needed and where zippers often clog with sand. My hope was that the Zpacks Pocket Tarp w/ Doors would feel like almost nothing in my pack and provide enough protection for those short-lived summer storms or light spring drizzles. Read on to find out if it lived up to my expectations.

Specs at a Glance

  • Capacity: 1 person
  • Type: Single-wall, trekking pole tarp
  • Trail weight (no stakes): 6.1 oz
  • Minimum number of stakes to pitch: 6 (8 recommended)
  • Doors: 1
  • Interior peak height: 47″
  • Length 107” claimed (measured 107” front wall, 93” back wall, so about 100” middle)
  • Width: 54” center, 30” ends
  • Entryway height: 29”
  • Materials: 0.55 oz/sq yd Dyneema Composite Fabric
  • Guy lines and tensioners: Included
  • Construction: Sewn and taped
  • For complete specs, see Zpacks.com

Tent Layout

The Zpacks Pocket Tarp w/ Doors requires one trekking pole to set up. The recommended height of the shelter is about 122 cm, so a pole that adjusts to at least 125cm would be ideal. The pole can also be angled to increase the space of the sleeping area.

There are Lineloc V adjusters on all eight guy-out points and the guylines are made of Zpacks’ light but strong Dyneema Zline. The peak of the tarp is reinforced with extra layers of DCF where the handle end of the trekking pole sits.

The Pocket Tarp pitched with about a 7 gap all around for ventilation
The Pocket Tarp pitched with about a 7 gap all around for ventilation

The shelter is about 107” from front corner to front corner, but more like 93” measured between the back corners. So, I might split the difference and call it 100” long. The useable interior length can probably best be measured by considering the 84” long bathtub groundsheet that can be used with the tarp. The tarp is 54” wide in the center, 30” wide at the ends, and the entry is about 29” high if pitched according to recommendations (see below). So, what do these dimensions mean in reality? As a 160lb, 5’ 11” tall man, the tarp feels a little small, but I expected it to feel small. If I wanted a palace I would have bought something else.

When you buy a 6.1 oz shelter, you know what you’re getting. That said, it’s enough space for everything but waiting out the most heinous, long-lasting storms. Tent space really only starts to matter to me when I’ve been in there for hours awake, trying to read. I found the tarp to be sufficient for sleeping along the back wall, and organizing things and cooking in the vestibule.

At 5' 11”, I have just enough room in the Pocket Tarp
At 5′ 11”, I have just enough room in the Pocket Tarp

Because the tarp is hexagon-shaped there is extra space under the point of the door, and along the back wall of the tarp right in the middle. This means you can store water, shoes, wet clothes, or other things you want to get out of the way next to your sleeping area along the back wall. The modularity of this tarp allows this space to be utilized, whereas tents with fully-integrated bug mesh like the Zpacks Plexamid don’t allow inside access to this little storage area.

Dyneema Composite Fabric: Pros and Cons

The transparency of the DCF is great for shoulder season and wet conditions because its greenhouse effect allows most residual rainwater or condensation to be baked off in the morning. If you sleep in late enough to allow the sun to hit the tent, it gets so warm inside so fast that not only will it get you up, but the residual moisture will start evaporating very quickly. As well, the non-absorbancy of DCF allows much water to be shaken off the shelter in the morning.

The only thing I don’t like about the DCF paired with the particular geometry of the Pocket Tarp w/ Doors is the noise. Because this tarp doesn’t have a catenary cut running from the peak to the corners, it can sometimes flap a bit and keep me awake. I would recommend taking earplugs with this shelter if you’re a light sleeper. Adding a catenary cut would cut down on noise but would probably add 2oz to the shelter because of seams and taping. I’m not sure if that weight gain would be worth it.

The front guyline runs from a lineloc just above the door entry
The front guyline runs from a lineloc just above the door entry

Pocket Tarp Door

The door consists of two DCF flaps with rings sewn to the corners. The doors overlap when closed and the rings attach to a double-hook clasp on the front guyline. When hooked, it’s easy to reach outside the door and snug that lineloc down, tensioning the front of the shelter. When opened, both doors can be rolled back and tied up. This gives me enough space to view a good sunrise or cook just outside the vestibule without melting anything.

The door option adds 1.5 oz to a regular Pocket Tarp and will cost you $100. That feels like a lot of money to increase overall storm protection, but I think it’s worth it. The Pocket Tarp (4.6 oz) would require more protected campsite selection, maybe positioning the door under a big spruce tree. I know I won’t always have that option so I chose to spend the extra money to have a door.

Looking at the door clasp from the inside
Looking at the door clasp from the inside

Tarp Shelter Modularity

The Pocket Tarp w/ Doors can be used alone when bugs or weather are less of a concern. It can also be paired with the 3.2 oz Solo Bathtub Groundsheet for full protection against thorns that might pop your pad, moisture rising out of the ground below you, rain pooling under you, and splash coming in under the edges of the tarp. The tarp can also be paired with an ultralight bivy such as the Borah Gear Bug Bivy for protection from ground moisture, pooling, and bugs. The latter is the option I have opted for, with my Borah Bivy weighing 6.8oz. This bivy, along with the tarp, six MSR Groundhog stakes, and two shepherd’s hooks gives me a fully modular shelter at about 16 oz.

One advantage of the bathtub option would be that it clips securely to the tarp. I have, on a rare occasion, slid a bit only to find the foot of my bivy poking out from under the tarp. The bathtub should prevent something like this from happening.

I usually choose modular tarps rather than bug-mesh-integrated, single-wall tents for two reasons. First, I like having the ability to set up the tarp alone in rainy weather and throw all my wet stuff inside, and organize it before pulling my dry clothes and sleeping stuff out of my bag and setting it up. Just a personal preference. Second, I also like being able to use the shelter without an inner to wait out the weather in the middle of the day if need be. Because the Pocket Tarp w/ Doors doesn’t have integrated bug-mesh I could sit inside with another person and cook or play cards during a lunch-time storm. Again, just a personal preference, but one of the main reasons I chose this tarp over something else like the Solo Tent.

The peak is reinforced with an extra layer of DCF
The peak is reinforced with an extra layer of DCF

Packability

While silnylon packs down smaller than DCF, the Pocket Tarp w/ Doors uses so little fabric and has such minimal features (no zippers, struts, or overkill reinforcements) that it packs down to about the size of a baseball on its own. With eight stakes and a bivy it packs down to about 5”x8”, which is tiny. Bear in mind, the stuff sack that comes with it won’t accommodate stakes and a bivy or stakes and a floor. I’m using a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 7”x10” stuff sack. Anything similar would work.

Pitching

Zpacks recommends that you start by finding the front corner with the Zpacks label on it. Stake down that corner, then pull the other front corner tight, and then come back about 14” and stake it. Then insert your pole adjusted to about 122 cm depending on how much the tip of the pole is going to sink into the soil or sand. Next, stake out the front guyline. Then, stake out the center back guyline, and make sure you’ve got about 6”-8” gap between the edges of the door and the ground. Stake out the back corners. Lastly, stake out the back walls. Zpacks recommends that you have about 6”-8” all the way around. I’ve messed around with this and it’s pretty adjustable, you can have more or less, for example, 12” in front and close to nothing in the back. However, if using the floor, you might want to follow the directions more closely.

The Zpacks Pocket Tarp with Doors is an extremely light and very versatile shelter
The Zpacks Pocket Tarp with Doors is an extremely light and very versatile shelter

The Pocket Tarp w/ Doors, with its asymmetrical design, is a little hard for me to wrap my mind around compared to perfectly rectangular shelters like the Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid. For me, the Pocket Tarp w/ Doors takes a little bit of trial and error every time I set it up. I have to reposition stakes a few times before I really nail the geometry. I don’t find this to be a huge issue, but I could see it bothering some folks.

Livability

I haven’t always used the back wall guylines but I would recommend using them. They increase interior volume and add a lot of stability. They kept the fabric from slapping me in the face during one breezy night on a ridge.

Pocket Tarp with Nunatak Arc UL 20 inside
Pocket Tarp with Nunatak Arc UL 20 inside

This tarp is typically supposed to be pitched with a substantial air gap around the entire shelter. Doing so will give you more headroom and make the tarp feel roomier. It can, however, be pitched lower if you like. This reduces overall internal space but prevents some splash from coming in. I pitched my Pocket Tarp w/ Doors fairly low in heavy rain in The Mazatzal Wilderness in early March and was pleased with its performance. With rain coming from the west I positioned the back of the tarp to the west and battened down that side almost to the ground. The door side faced east and was further from the ground, maybe around 10”. This is an effective use of this tarp if you have directional rain, or if you have some natural shelter like a group of trees on one side of the tarp. I don’t know if the tarp would be similarly adjustable if I had been using the bathtub groundsheet. My suspicion is that the bathtub groundsheet works best when the tarp is pitched to its suggested height of 47”. That way the entire 5” depth of the bathtub is fully utilized.

Additionally, the lower you pitch it the more issues you could have with condensation. On a few occasions, I would have benefitted from pitching higher, especially when camped on beaches near a river. That said, I didn’t notice the condensation to be any more or less than with other tarps given the same circumstances. Integrated single-wall tents, with their sewn-in insect mesh, could theoretically trap more condensation than this tarp.

The Pocket Tarp has no issues with evening grapple in the High Uintas
The Pocket Tarp has no issues with evening grapple in the High Uintas

Storm-Worthiness

Better than expected! I used this tarp on a six-day trip to Arizona where I experienced two nights of heavy rain. The small size is the main thing that gave me pause regarding the storm-worthiness of this shelter. I know that the more coverage you have, the further the rain will be from your sleeping area. Because I didn’t have the bathtub floor to block splash I opted to pitch the shelter lower. This worked well but reduced the overall volume of the tarp. Splashback was negligible along the back wall where I pitched close to the ground, but I did experience some splashback in the vestibule where the door was pitched about 10” from the ground. This wasn’t a huge deal as the splash was mostly just landing on my backpack which was already soaked from paddling or hiking eight hours in a downpour. Bottom line: a larger shelter would give me more peace of mind, but for 6.1 oz I’m pleased with the protection that the Pocket Tarp w/ Doors delivers.

Recommendation

The Zpacks Pocket Tarp w/ Doors is a single-person, extremely light DCF tarp that weighs 6.1 oz. It has no bulky, fiddly zippers. It sets up easily enough, though the geometry takes some getting used to. It’s a bit expensive at $299, but this could be worth it to you if the weight of your shelter is of utmost importance. It is more versatile than its sister shelters such as the Zpacks Hexamid Solo or the Zpacks Plexamid which both have integrated insect mesh. It can accommodate a variety of sleeping areas including bivies and bathtub floors. The Pocket Tarp w/ Doors is pretty small, so larger, taller folks beware. Despite its small size, it is surprisingly storm-worthy. I’ve had it out in three rainy nights and one grapple storm, and I stayed dry. The bottom line is if you want a modular fast-packing shelter with four-sided protection, the Zpacks Pocket Tarp w/ Doors should probably be near the top of your list.

Disclosure: The author owns this tent.

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About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

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6 comments

  1. I like the idea of a zipperless shelter for this environment. That makes a lot of sense.

  2. thanks for the review and find it matches my experience with the original hexamid that I use… which is a close cousin. I appreciate that you included the height of the entryway but I think a bit of text should be included… as in “29” is really low. You will have to crawl and in out of this shelter.”

    • True, it is pretty low. If the fabric is wet you have to be careful not to brush your back against it getting in and out. But again, worthy sacrifice for a very light shelter in my opinion.

  3. Excellent review. I have the Pocket Tarp w/o doors (purchased before they offered doors). I haven’t had it in an all night multi-directional rain storm so I may be unhappy sometime. That said, every tarp I’ve used has had the same potential issue. Certainly what you said about site selection is even more important with my PT. Like you, I use the bathtub floor and a bivi sack. In addition, I use a polycro ground sheet that weighs 1.7oz. This may be seen as redundant by some folks, but I’ve used it as a door and to protect gear that was just under the beak.

  4. I have the Borah Bug Bivy and am interested in hearing how you might use it with this tarp. I assume you can’t tie up the ends?

    • You can tie up the ends if you buy the stick on mitten hooks from Zpacks. I think I will probably do this at least for the head end, I’m less concerned about tying up the foot end.

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