Tarp over tent, or better tent?

JohnAbercrombie

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In the very entertaining 'Indian Arm' thread by Pawsplus, we started to get a bit off-topic talking about tent poles and tarps, so I'm starting a new thread here.

Fire away! :)

Though a tarp is the standard shelter for a hammock, I learned about "Tarp First" from kayak campers using tents. I had never seen such a thing - a tarp over a tent that already had a rainfly. They explained that it allowed them to set everything up - and pack it up when time to go - in a relatively dry area under the tarp. That assumes there is some way to rig/suspend the tarp.
It also assumes that it won't get very windy.
My preference:
Buy a good tent that can pitch outer first and you won't be looking for trees and sticks (or carrying metal tarp poles in your kayak).
Save the tarp setup for cooking/eating (at a distance from your tent).
But I do see plenty of people putting tarps over tents. Adding up the cost (and weight and volume) of a good tarp setup and a 'mid-priced' tent gets you close to the 'exoskeleton' tent (Hilleberg, Fjallraven, Exped, etc..) price range.
And, if you decide you don't like your Hilleberg after using it for a few years, you can sell it for 75% of what you paid for it, from what I see on eBay.

You can even get a Hilleberg Allak knockoff (with lower-quality fabric and poles, more mesh, etc..- Naturehike Cloud Peak) for $250 CAD delivered.

https://www.aliexpress.com/wholesal...t=Naturehike+cloud+peak+tent&switch_new_app=y
 

AM

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I don’t always put a tarp over my tent, but I often do in foul weather. Three reasons:

1) a tarp allows me to keep the vestibule open for better ventilation and therefore a dryer tent.

2) having a generous dry area as a porch makes it easier to shed wet clothes and boots.

3) a tarp makes for a dryer rainfly, which is much nicer to pack than a soaking one.

I prefer beefy polyester tarps to silnylon. My DD Hammocks 3x3m tarp is the one that I use the most, but I have few older (15+ years) MEC tarps that I use with family and groups.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Andrew-
Good points; thanks.
What size is your tent? Does the 3m x 3m give full coverage + bigger vestibule?
How high do you pitch the tarp? i.e. can you actually pitch the tent easily under the tarp without walking around/over the tarp lines?
 

cougarmeat

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If it's not raining when you put the tent up, it is difficult to see the advantage of an "over tarp". But if it is raining, when you set up or take down, it's nice to "do the work" under the tarp and have it be the last thing you take down and pack it separately from the dry gear.

I would not pitch the tarp in the traditional "A" style. It would be more of a flat panel suspended at an angle (for drainage). I carry two REI collapsible poles to raise one side - with guy lines to the ground. So I just need two other anchor points on the other side.

There are solutions to a windy deployment - the tarps are stored in nylon sleeves (called snake skins) so you don't have to expose the whole tarp area to the wind at once. But wind is always a challenge. A battle sometimes not won.

In full disclosure, I've been using a hammock for years (but always have a Plan B ground solution). So when talking about tents, I'm going pretty much from memory. I first saw the "tarp over tent" and a kayak camping symposium - a joint effort by Body, Boat, Blade and Shearwater on Orcas around 2003 - and one of my tent dwelling paddling buddies used the technique when we had rain a few adventures back.

The ground cover, logs, trees, etc. all determine the setup. Because you are entering the tent in the traditional hands/knees style, there is no reason to try for a high suspension - but you could if the natural resources provide the necessary anchor points. Two of the corners are at the back of the tent and the two in front might go to the collapsible poles - very little to trip over.

You might be imaging a full "tarp camping" setup where you have a ridge line, and tarp sides coming down like an inverted V with four or six side guy lines in close proximity. That is NOT how I would endeavor to rig the tarp over tent. Think of it more as a flat plane at an angle.

As far as size/weight, my newest silnylon tarp (Warbonnet ThunderFly) cost about $90, is about 11 x 9 ft. weighs about 14 oz and packs to the size of a beer can. Not a problem for my kayak.
 

AM

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Andrew-
Good points; thanks.
What size is your tent? Does the 3m x 3m give full coverage + bigger vestibule?
How high do you pitch the tarp? i.e. can you actually pitch the tent easily under the tarp without walking around/over the tarp lines?
John, I use a solo tent (either an MSR Hubba or an Elixir 1), so the 3x3 works well. Pitch height depends on the circumstance, but here’s a photo from a recent canoe trio with my daughter: 2 solo tents were pitched in steady rain under the tarp. There was enough space for a small area so we could stand and get out of wet clothes before entering our tents, plus we could hang a clothesline. I favour the diamond pattern, so tarp lines are not obstructive.

I’ve always had good tents that don’t leak, so the tarp is gratuitous: I don’t really need it. That said, I always bring one because I like the option. With school groups I bring an MEC Supertarp (now discontinued, like so many great MEC products of yore - a rant for another thread), which has been useful. On our rainiest trip ever, up Indian Arm coincidentally, we pitched 2 tents at a time under it, then moved them out into position around camp.

The Camp Jubilee groups mentioned in the other post only use tarps - no tents at all.

So while they are not strictly necessary, I am a tarp guy and fully support BC tarp culture!

Cheers,
Andrew
 

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Astoriadave

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Zowie! What a great bunch of info, much of it new to me, on tarpage. I'll have to retire my Tarpman moniker or yield to one of these guys!

I'll cast my lot with John's approach. For good cooking/campsite ethics, we site our tarp as a kitchen protector, often near any campfire site, and locate tents a ways off when possible. Like John, we often can assemble a two- or one-person tent under the tarp when the sky is gushing on arrival, and reverse this on exit. Truth to tell, we use the tent for sleeping or "naps," and spend most of our camp time near the kitchen. A tarp over our tent would not be useful for food prep, etc.

Ignorant about new fandangle fabrics, I have been sticking to my Neanderthal 10 x 10 or 10 x 12 nylon tarps, all enhanced at pullout points with reinforcing, some with a central pullout for a skyhook (no center pole). I tried a Noah's tarp, but the aerodynamic profile mainly encouraged undertarp water passage. The rectangular tarps can be creatively pitched to shield the windward side from prevailing wet winds.

We take an old Marmot monster along on big group trips, which has catenary cut enhancement along the ridgeline, independent poles near the ends, and can yard one side down against prevailing mists.

Last difference for us is the use of substantial pullout cordage, typically 5 mm or better for saner pitching, easier knot untying (all taut line hitches; hate those specialized tauteners), and more kindness to tree limbs when we use them as anchors.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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There was enough space for a small area so we could stand and get out of wet clothes before entering our tents, plus we could hang a clothesline.
Certainly two 'plus' features of a high tarp..standing to change clothes and a clothesline.
 
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JohnAbercrombie

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Tarps are a great DIY project if you can't find what you want in the marketplace. Adding a sewing machine to the power tool collection allows easy addition of extra pullouts and other mods to commercial tarps, too.
I use Amsteel for ridgelines (and clotheslines) - it doesn't stretch (a.k.a. sag). The tarp can be slung under or over the ridgeline, and connected with prussik loops of 2mm Zing-It and mini- carabiners.

But, I'll never go back to a tent that's 'inner first and sling the fly over', so, for me, the tarp over the tent will be a rare thing, I think.

A pyramid tarp-tent is a real nice thing for cooking and eating if it is cold and really rainy and windy.
 

AM

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I have a 10’x10’ pyramid tarp that I use with school groups. I think they are awesome as cooking and meeting shelters. The downside is that given their geometry, they are best pitched in snow or high off the ground to provide headroom for more than one or two people. I’ll post a photo (sorry, don’t know how to post inline).
 
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JohnAbercrombie

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One useful feature of tarps in rainy weather is that usually you can collect rainwater from the runoff.

A pyramid tarp can also be put up quickly in a spot where a normal tarp wouldn't work very easily. They are a bit cramped for headroom, except near the center.

DSCN0351HarrimanCamp and Barry Glacier.JPG
 

AM

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Let see if this works. Here’s the old MEC Supertarp the morning after a terrible rainstorm. It sheltered our group of 10 and allowed us space to build all the tents.
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AM

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Here’s a couple of shots of pyramid tarps pitched for internal space. The first is pitched high with a paddle so that there is space on all sides. Note the tent inside. The second is in the snow, with benches, footwells, and a table:

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AM

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Sorry for the multiple posts: this platform does not work well on iOS. Here’s a couple of shots of MEC Guide’s tarps in action. One shot is from the Hesquiat area from a couple years back: a Guide’s tarp over two 2-man tents (MEC Gemini and Tarn 2): another shot was years ago in the BGI with my son. That was a rainy trip. The red Guide’s tarp is over our tent; the Scout’s tarp is over the fire.

Also, and in random order, we have a: a Guide’s tarp pitched on a plane (a la Designer); a 3x3 pitched gazebo style with paddles only; and a Scout’s tarp used as a sail (try that with your Hilleberg, John ;-)

Again, sorry for the confusing order, but I’m posting these from a phone while travelling. You can play “Where’s Waldo?” with the photos to find the various tarps. I have zillions of shots because, as I said, I like tarps!

Cheers,
Andrew
 

AM

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Yep, it worked. I have a picture of me lying on be back deck of my kayak and napping while under sail. My friends chatted and ate snacks while we watched the shores of Quatsino Inlet pass us by.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Yep, it worked. I have a picture of me lying on be back deck of my kayak and napping while under sail. My friends chatted and ate snacks while we watched the shores of Quatsino Inlet pass us by.
It was good luck that you had those sticks handy, to use for masts!
:)
 

BigandSmall

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Another benefit of a tarp is extending your drainage points. I recently set my tent up in a small tent pad that had poor drainage. It was also the first night I hadn't set up my tarp due to no rigging points. Woke up at 2:00 AM to what sounded like someone spraying the tent with a garden hose and had to laugh. Nothing came through the top but the pad filled and water and it came up through the bottom of the tent. With a down bag this is a major concern. The tent just fit inside the pad and drained to the edges. I had given the fly and lower edge of my tent a 2.5 cans of 3M Scotchguard outdoor fabric protector before the trip. While hosing off the footprint after the trip I could see it needed treating as well since it hadn't been done since new a number of years ago. Before putting it away I gave it a good dose of Nikwax TX direct on the footprint and the base of the tent. Hopefully it holds back the tide in the future. I will certainly be conscious of drainage from now on. Had I rigged my tarp there wouldn't have been an issue. Good tip with the paddles, thanks for sharing.
 

cougarmeat

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Couple of things - with one large tarp it would be difficult to locate the eating area away from the tent/hammock if both were to be covered with it.

Also, in any wind worthy of the name “wind” it can be a challenge to rig up a tarp with all the fabric flapping around. Hammock campers have found “snake skins” very handy - certainly has solved the problem for me. The skin is a long nylon tube that is pulled over the tarp when not deployed. Initially they were two piece - like two 6’ lengths for an 11 ft tarp (some overlap). The tarp ridgeline extends out the skins so you can attach it to supports (trees) and it looks like a long boa constrictor (or sausage for ophidiophobians). Once the ridge line is attached, one half of the tarp can be exposed by sliding the skin back on the ridgeline. That side is guyed, then the rest of the tarp is taken care of.

These days, one long single skin is favored (11+ ft skin for 11 ft ridgeline). As before, the ridgeline is set up, then the skin is pulled back allowing one pair of guy lines to be rigged before exposing the rest of the tarp.

If the weather is calm, the skin allows attaching the tarp’s ridg line but keeping the tarp in the skin for stargazing. But it can quickly be deployed if the weather changes.

When time to pack up, the tarp sides are rolled up a bit and the skin is pulled back over. That keeps wet things - the tarp - separate from dry things - what’s under the tarp. Early skins were made of nylon but todays the favor is mesh material because it takes a while for the inside of a nylon skin to dry.

With a group of people, one big tarp around an eating area might be nice. Note, I said “eating area” not “fire pit”. I have friends who just love to have a camp fire and have no concern about hot ashes flying over MY tarp.

Small tarps are great for an additionl dry area around a tent/hammock allowing you to sit in a camp chair to read a book or marvel at nature. You can cover additional gear, rig up a cover on a clothesline, etc.

When I paddle, I might have three for four small tarps (small = 11 ft x 8 ft). That’s one for each hammock (two hammocks) one for a cooking area and maybe one misc. With the additional dry space around the hammock/tent, it would be possible to cook there if necessary. I’m thinking more of site with a picnic table and having a dry area over that table. Conundrum: Why do park people not orient those picnic table so there are trees at each end so they can be easily tarpped. The trees don’t even have to be that close - just in line. Many times I’ve found a site and if they had anchored the table only 5 ft over from where it was, it would be easy to cover in a rain storm. I guess those park designers don’t want to take away all the “fun”.

I have a Noah 16 that’s been in its bag since I bought it. 1) because I haven’t needed a tarp that big yet. 2) because I’m afraid once I pull it out, it will never fit back in the bag - but it would be a natural candidate for a snake skin.

Most my tarps are designed to cover a hammock, plus living space around the hammock, or extent the dry area around a tent. Because they don’t have to be kept dry, they can squish down in those tiny left over spaces after loading dry bags (nothing sharp inside to catch on).
 
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