I’m going to be straight with you, you don’t need a tarp but you’ll want to have one. After all my adventures camping and backpacking for the last decade I have never needed a tarp. Tarps to me always seemed like accessories or even luxuries, nice to have but it certainly never made it on any of my own gear spreadsheets.
This year my wife and I planned our own backpacking trip with just the two of us on Snowbank Lake in the BWCA (Boundary Water Canoe Area). It was my wife’s first backpacking trip, so as I began outfitting her with the necessary gear I reviewed any shared group gear we might need, many items I have could be easily shared such as cooking gear, water purification, shelter, etc. But I didn’t have a tarp, again not being sure if it was really something we needed or not I struggled over the decision to buy one. I somewhat wanted a tarp for a while, maybe try tarp tenting, use for common area shelter in camp, etc. So with this trip coming up, it finally pushed my decision to pull the trigger and purchased a tarp.
Without getting too much into a discussion on materials themselves, tarps traditionally come in silnylon. My biggest complaint about silnylon is that it sags when wet but it is a relatively affordable material and thus the most common. I opted to get my tarp in cuben fiber, the biggest drawback of cuben fiber is the price, in general it is a more expensive material as well as being more difficult to work with thus driving up the price. However when cuben fiber gets wet it does not sag at all and remains taught, it also offers the benefit of being lighter weight. In general cuben fiber weighs less than half that of silnylon (per yard). For me personally I hate things being wet, I hate materials sagging, I hate heavy things and I generally am willing to cough up the extra cash for something that solves those problems.
Here is a short video of my ZPacks 8.5′ x 10′ Cuben Fiber Flat Tarp.
Now, I’m absolutely certain if you spend a good amount of nights outside camping you’ll use your knots a lot and they will be very easy for you and you’ll never complain about them. Most people I’ve watched setup tarps are re-tying guy lines to different tie out loops, they’re tying the guy lines around the tree or this or that and then re-tying them again. I however am incredibly lazy when camping, and by that I mean I don’t want to spend any longer than 2-3 minutes setting up anything at camp be it a tent, my cookware, or a tarp. So I’ve devised this (what I think to be an) incredibly easy and flexible way to rig a tarp. My tarp rigging is made up of the following items;
Here is a short video of how it all works;
As my wife and I completed our hike into camp on the first day of our trip it was raining on and off all afternoon, it was incredibly nice to sit out of the rain and stay dry under the tarp. Staying dry made the whole afternoon of scattered rain storms seem like a non-issue. But don’t take my word for it, see how much my wife appreciated the tarp and staying dry also.
One of the most underestimated aspects of being in the woods is what will keep your morale up? Personally, I simply hate being wet. It is so easy to get kicked while you’re down and feel defeated when you’re in the middle of nowhere with minimal gear, so anything that helps keep up your personal or group morale is worthwhile to carry in your bag in my opinion. My whole tarp setup with rigging weighs 9.7oz and for the coverage, convenience, and how happy I am being out of the rain will likely now be a staple on my gear list. Tarps do more than just shed the rain, they will also boost your morale by keeping you dry.