Gear – The Tarping Business (a MSR Twing field review)

As late bloomers in all things (ultra)light, we only tried tarping since last summer. After some tests in our garden, we went tarping last summer in Iceland and Greenland. Tarping in the arctic? In always-horrible-wind-swept Iceland? Are you nuts? In wicked-and-unpredictable-wild Greenland? Oh, go take a break and please reconsider your “stupid” idea… People labeled us “loco”/”screw loose”…

MSR Twing Tarp with custom adapted bug net,  Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

MSR Twing Tarp with custom adapted bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

In our quest to reduce the weight of the big 3 we wanted to test what a tarp would mean as a shelter in 3-season conditions, even in the “treeless” arctic. Part of the decision to go tarping is practical (go lighter) and part philosophical (being more close to nature). Still we were quite uncertain on how a tarp could possibly replace the safe heaven of a tent, especially when it would go erratic out there.

While we were initially interested in getting the MLD Trailstar, we found a 1/2 discounted MSR Twing Tarp from a dutch wholesaler, who had it on display for a couple of days at a tent show. Tschitsching for a tarp which would otherwise cost easily 250 euros fresh from the shop!

Freestanding, it covers a huge area (6 sqm!) to be pitched with 2 walking poles (the MLD Trailstar only needs one pole!). Because of this size, you lose a bit of flexibility that you actually want to achieve with a tarp, a disadvantage of most 2-person tarps I reckon. On the other hand, the size adds to comfort. It’s a palace for 2 persons to sleep under, and still roomy for having an outdoor cooking party of 4 to 6 persons. Handy on group trips in rainy/windy environments. There are a lot of discussions on what the difference is between a tarp and a tarp-tent, well i would put this “tarp” somewhere in between the tarp and tarp-tent. … Here we go for another round on tarptent battling around the camp fire 😉

4000gr expedition tent Outside Mountain Equipment NOVA (left) and 850gr MSR Twing Tarp (right), Llinera-valley, East-Greenland

4000gr expedition tent Outside Mountain Equipment NOVA (left) and 850gr MSR Twing Tarp (right), Llinera-valley, East-Greenland

We still have to play with different possible pitches, but the standard pitch (with all stakes in the soil) is a storm pitch: the rear and side panels secured to the ground. The rear side has to be put against the wind if don’t want to wake up without a roof. With the guy lines you can however leave open vents from 5 – 20cm to the soil (you can put rocks on the panels on stormy conditions to close it completely). The front of the tarp stays open (ventilation!), but if you remove the front pole, you could find a pitch to completely shut off the surroundings. The hardest wind we’ve encountered was something around 15m/s, while bivouacing on a ridge. The wind would then pound against the back, causing the front pannel to shake with high frequency, but nothing that would let you out of your sleep (if you put earplugs in ;-)). So is it bomb proof? Probably… but still to be tested in more harsh conditions.

Is it waterproof? The tarp comes seamsealed from the manufacturer. We had some downpoors (not longer then 1 hour) and stayed bone dry!

On clear, windstill and cold nights (min. -5C min), we had negligible condensation on the ceiling of the tarp. The down sleeping bags, we kept condensation free with Rab Bivy Suvival Zone, a perfect humidity and wind barrier! We never had any form of moisture on the sleeping bags by morning!

In Greenland, we had a lot of flying, crittering friends around: midges and mosquitoes (even in windy weather). On the last gasp of setting of for the trip we found a CarePlus mosquito net on the attic (from previous trips to the tropics) and stripped it to its essentials. With some acrobatics and stones we could easily secure the bug net under the tarp.

MSR Twing Tarp with custom stripped bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

MSR Twing Tarp with custom stripped bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

So we set off to the Arctic with nothing but a tarp and we must admit it went very well with the tarp, not to say extremely well and we really liked it a lot to be so close to nature when dreaming away in our sleeping bags while the ice bergs would tuff by. We had mostly friendly weather… But as Martin Rye mentioned some years ago in his blog, the choice between tarp or tent should not always be taken too lightly (what’s in a word).

Altough our recent experience in Iceland and Greenland proved that tarping above the treeline could be quite hassle free (if the weather cooperates ), we still have our doubts for future “monster” hikes we plan to make in Lapland and Patagonia. What if the weather really gets nasty for multiple days and we are in the middle of the wilderness (above the tree line), days away from civiilization, would it not be “safer” in for example a Hillberg Nallo? The mental battle still goes on…

To finish, I would like to quote Joery Truyen’s opinion on this issue:

I think a lot of people often choose an uncomfortable bivouac spot just because ONE, they just don’t know how to recognize the signs that tell you there is a storm coming and TWO, when the wind is blowing many people just don’t seem to be aware where they can find the most sheltered places in complex terrain. If you don’t want to develop these skills and don’t like to spend the effort, I think you will more often risk uncomfortable nights under your tarp in places above tree line. At the end hiking succesfully with lightweight material is all about developing the appropriate skills and knowing the limitations of your gear and yourself.

Leaving the tarp for a side exploration, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland

Leaving the tarp for a side exploration, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland

Specs in this field test

MSR Twing Tarp 850gr (300gr heavier then the MLD Trailstar!)
Stakes + bag 80gr
RAB Survival ZoneBivy Bag 300gr
Careplus stripped down mosquito net 350gr
6sqm simply shiny plastic ground sheet 80gr.

Gear – Do It Yourself – Cleaning a down sleeping bag

We are addicted to our down sleeping bags. They give us the much needed comfort on a night’s sleep on the mountains in the cold seasons. When sweating and farting out those freeze-dried evening suppers, you can imagine in which condition the bag gets after hundred’s of nights out there. Above the odours, the feathers loose much of their elasticity from compressing and decompressing it over and over again. In the end the sleeping bag will loose comfort temperature and will look pale as an overaged rag.

Want to upgrade back your down sleeping bag to its original, new state? Just wash it! Down feathers just love to be washed. They just revive after a good wash. Goose do spent quite some time in the waters, now don’t they? Cleaning will have your down sleeping bag perform better, last longer, and keep you warmer!

When it comes to cleaning down sleeping bags or quilts, most outdoor people i talk to, are afraid they just gonna ruin their valuable and costly (winter) down sleeping bag. People tend to go to (industrial) dry cleaners, in the understanding that those business know how to deal with down. Wrong! I heard dramtaic stories from outdoor enthousiast retrieving their beloved down bag from dry cleaners in a horror state.

So here is how it goes. Prepare a full day at home to be at the side of your beloved down bag. On the drying part, your input will be repeatedly for quite some hours!

1) Ecover Delicate or a similar product is the only washing liquid usable. Other soaps will damage the feathers. Washing softeners are obvious down bag killers! Here’s one very imporatant thing to remember: it’s really easy to get soap into the down feathers, but it’s way harder to get it out.

2) Close all zippers and compress the sleeping bag as good as possible before pushing in in the washer.

Ecover Delicate

Ecover Delicate

Open all zippers

Open all zippers

3) Any home washer will do the drill as long as the volume of the washer can handle your sleeping bag! You don’t have to spend all day on one of those big street front washers.

4) Before using the washer, you should remove all soap rests from the soap collection tray!

Clean the tray!

Clean the tray!

5) Select the down or delicate program and add some Ecover Delicate. Temperature not above 30°C/86°F. Rincing minimum 800 turn/min (down sleeping bag has to be as water free as possible after washing). Never dry wash the down bag, it could be completely ruined in the end.

6) When the program is ready, be very careful! Get the completely ruined down bag out of the washer and put it slowly in a laundry basket. The sleeping bag is at its weakest now. The down will be collapsed into lumps and weighs as hell which can easily tear down the stitchet compartments ( keeping the down in place in the bag).

Carefully remove the down bag from the washer

Carefully remove the down bag from the washer

5) Bring the bag to your wash drier. Open the zippers!

Open the zippers!
Open the zippers!

6) This is the trickiest part of the process: the drying! Add all the tennis balls you can find around the house and add them with the down bag to the drier. The balls will hammer into the feathers trying to get the lumps loose.

Add tennis balls to the drier

Add tennis balls to the drier

7) Put the dryer at approximately 30°C/86°F. You will need to stop the dryer every once in a while (every hour ) to take out the down bag and lay it on the floor in full length. Remove all torsions and seperate the lumps of down by hand. Hit the bag with a flat hand, which will force the feathers to expand from each other. Put back in the dryer and repeat this step for 8 – 12 hours until the bag is completely dry and back in volume.

The result is unbelievable: the bag will look like fresh from the store, in full volume and ready for the mountains! The same procedure can be done for any down clothes (down jackets,…).

I now wash our down bags every year, with great succes!

Good luck!