When it comes to lightweight shelter, backpacking tarps are without a doubt the lightest option. Since the lightest
weighs at least 2 pounds, many backpackers prefer using a tarp. And with ultralight tarps coming in as light as 7 ounces it’s no wonder so many backpackers love them!
When people first consider the option of a tarp, they usually decide against it. Tarps appear to be too complicated and not really that great of a shelter. However, tarps can be a simple and advantageous shelter option. The video below is a good example of a very easy tarp set-up.
The Elements. One thing that people wonder about is how well you can be protected from the elements by a tarp. If you set it up right, a tarp can do just as good of a job as a tent in keeping you dry, warm and comfortable.
Weight and Size. As mentioned above, the best things about backpacking tarps are their weight and size. A tent will usually be the heaviest item you have and it can take up a lot of space. To reduce the weight of your shelter by a couple pounds or more makes a big difference.
However, keep in mind that you will add some weight to the overall weight of your shelter through rope – which is required to set up a tarp. However, this additional weight shouldn’t be too significant.
Cheap. Another perk is that tarps are usually much cheaper than a tent and are a great alternative for someone who might not be able to afford a lightweight tent counterpart.
Versatile. A tarp can be extremely versatile. You can set it up in many different ways depending on what your needs are and the terrain. Furthermore, a tarp can be pitched in areas that might otherwise be awkward for a tent.
The Openness. Backpacking tarps are also liked for their openness. It allows for great ventilation and a nice open view of the surrounding landscape. Some people say you can cook in them because of their openness, but this isn’t advisable due to fire hazard. Even though they can be fire resistant, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Some Concerns People Have About Tarps
The Openness. The openness advantage does lead to one of the big reasons many people aren’t so sure about transitioning to a backpacking tarp. While you might be protected from elements like sun, wind or rain, you aren’t protected from the bugs and potentially other unwanted wildlife.
But this is one of those disadvantages that can be overcome. Some manufacturers make a mesh shelter that is essentially a mesh tent that you can pitch under your tarp. These also don’t weight very much and can quickly solve the bug problem.
Set-Up One disadvantage, which can certainly be overcome, is that learning to properly set up a tarp shelter can be a bit tricky – especially when using ropes and knots. However, there are lots of great resources available to help better understand how to pitch a tarp shelter. With a little practice, setting up a tarp is easy.
Videos on YouTube, like the one above, are helpful. Personally, when it comes to something like setting up a tarp, I find visual instruction is much easier to comprehend than written instructions.