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”…
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 😉
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.
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.
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.