View Full Version : Ultra light tarp to use with tripod for backpacking shelter ?

QT Luong
24-Aug-2010, 02:12
Although I have quite a light tent, I am looking to lighten my load further on backpacking trips. Most ultra-light folks seem to use tarps. One thing which is particular about a (large format) photographer is that he has a nice tripod which provides more solid support than a pole. Given that, is there any commercially-made tarp that works particularly well with a tripod ?

Dave Jeffery
24-Aug-2010, 03:47
I'm guessing that the tarps that would suit you needs would be the light and strong ones that are designed to be used with hiking poles. There are a lot of designs.




Just some sample links and I am not familiar with the specific products.

Thanks as always for the LFPF!

Robert Oliver
24-Aug-2010, 07:48
hadn't thought of that.... great idea

Robert Oliver
24-Aug-2010, 07:50
I'm trying figure out a way to use two of my feisol tripod legs as trekking poles to save weight....

Drew Wiley
24-Aug-2010, 10:15
I think I'd rather use an old-time tube tent as an emergency shelter instead of an
ultralight tent. At least you get an integral floor to keep rain from blowing in at the
bottom. Wouldn't last for long, but cheap enough to replace periodically. When I traveled ultralight as a youngster I simply used my big rain poncho for the tent, and
the ice axe to support it. None of these things work very good above timberline in the
wind, but are easily jerry-rigged if you have a few trees around. Recently I've carried
a simple paint-store type reinforced tarp with grommets. Only costs a few bucks and
weighs one pound; but it's only for emergency use under otherwise clear weather
forecasts, when I'm just out a few days. In the Spring or Fall I always take a real tent.

24-Aug-2010, 11:11
The best tarps I have are made by Cooke Custom Sewing. The 1.1 oz silnylon fabric is like gossamer but completely waterproof and durable. The 1.9 oz cloth is less expensive and very solid. I have there tarps and a Lean 3. For your purposes, one of their "Lean2" tarp shelters would be ideal. They are really great and provide a lot of space for storing gear.


ret wisner
24-Aug-2010, 12:43
army basha

Ken Kapinski
24-Aug-2010, 14:28
I have been using a Outdoor Research Helium Solo Awning (http://www.outdoorresearch.com/site/helium_solo_awning.html) for a few years now. It offers many different pitch options and is very light. I only use it when I am reasonably sure its going to be dry and when the swarms of bugs have subsided. I don't like bugs! I use hiking poles to set it up but a tripod would probably be a bit more stable?


Brad Rippe
24-Aug-2010, 15:57
QT, I use a really cool Sierra designs tarp called an Origami. Mine weighs about 1.5 lbs and is really well made. Heading to Yosemite later this week to use the last of my Fuji Acros Quickloads......



24-Aug-2010, 19:03
You can buy a 3 season tent at under 3lbs. The only thing between you and the wildlife. Go for a tent. Check out GEARTRADE.COM. A lot of good used stuff. COOD LUCK

John Kasaian
24-Aug-2010, 20:33
I've used one from Harbor Freight ( I think it cost five bucks.) A really slick solution would be to have one sewn up out of gortex, two sided white (or another color)and black to multitask as a focusing cloth/rain poncho/changing bag
Another option would be just the rainfly off a Eureka 2XT or similar backpacking tent

Bill Burk
24-Aug-2010, 20:58
I spent some time tinkering with a shelter that would wrap around a tripod with its legs out and found that it was going to weigh too much, the area under the legs was awkward and the whole thing still blew over in the wind so I abandoned the idea.

Most lightweight backpack tarps/shelters require two trekking poles, but I carry the tripod in my walking hands so I'm not about to carry trekking poles too.

Then I bought a Gatewood Cape by Six Moons Design. Its designed for a single pole, and a tripod with one leg extended as needed works fine, the other legs stay folded. 11 ounces and it doubles as raingear. I tied a 1/4-20 socket to the harness where I attach the tripod so it doesn't slip off.

24-Aug-2010, 23:06
You might want to try ripstop nylon. You should be able to get it at an upholstery store. Spray it with waterproofing on it that is used for tents. Really light. Really cheap. I have been thinking about doing this to cover a hammock when I am out in the boonies.

25-Aug-2010, 02:00
I highly recommend MLD. Ron is a UL hiker himself, and an all around nice guy. He is very helpful if you want to call up and ask questions. He is also willing to customize any of his gear for an additional charge.
If you want lightweight tarps, check out cuben fiber or spinntex. They're lighter, but come at a premium. I've got an MLD Grace Duo (spinntex). It isn't as light as the cuben offering, but it's plenty big enough and works well for my needs. I tried a cuben solo tent a couple of years ago (before the colored material was available), but was turned off by how much light passed through it. Not much shade on those sunny days!
I've not been out on a hike in quite some time, but the poles are good to help in balance, as well as shelter support. Maybe some of you just need lighter poles! If you're looking to leave the poles at home, why not just carry more line and tie off between two trees? Of course this only works if you're below the tree line... not a problem on the east coast. For those of you to the left, or points higher up, you'll need to find what works for you.

Richard Mahoney
25-Aug-2010, 02:53
Although I have quite a light tent, I am looking to lighten my load further on backpacking trips. Most ultra-light folks seem to use tarps. One thing which is particular about a (large format) photographer is that he has a nice tripod which provides more solid support than a pole. Given that, is there any commercially-made tarp that works particularly well with a tripod ?

Not sure but round here there's a bit of a tradition of making do with what's closest to hand. Just the other day I was making a note on how pleased I was with my oilskin riding cape cum camera shelter:

Out in the field with a large-format camera when it starts to rain ...

With the beast off the top, and assuming one didn't have leg braces, then I'd say it would provide reasonable short term shelter. If it was wet and I wanted to spend the night out without bothering with a tent then I'd probably resort to the old oilskin sleeping bag cover now living in one of the sheds (ex standard issue I think). This cover has also seen decent service as a ground sheet. Possibly not as light weight as some of the synthetics now available but extremely durable and, as with the riding cape, easy to reproof.

Best, Richard

Brian Stein
25-Aug-2010, 05:54
Id second mountain laurel. It might also be worth asking at backpackinglight.com

25-Aug-2010, 11:00
As someone who has "been there - done that" over the past few years, because of increasingly arthritic knees, I can offer the following specific observations:

Tarps are the "hot" UL shelter gear of the moment. Read up on them and their uses before committing to one. (i.e., RayWay (http://www.rayjardine.com/ray-way/Tarp-Kit/index.htm) - Ray Jardine, arguably the grandfather of the light packing movement, and someone you are likely to already be familiar with -- although, I was doing what I called "rucksacking", sans camera, in the late 60's and early 70's in virtually the same manner, without the expensive, unavailable, high tech gear.)

The shelter comments on the sites are from hardcore users and should be taken seriously.

Tarps pitched on a single point will suffer immediate condensation. Tarps pitched with open ends will expose your sleeping bag to backsplash, unless very large and pitched just right. This suggests the use of a bivouac bag as well. Even without bugnetting, you're already up to the weight of several commercially available ultralight pitch-anywhere, screened, self-supporting tents (i.e., 3 - 3.5 lbs.).

Most such UL shelters are intended to be pitched with trekking poles, which I now use anyway whenever carrying a pack multi-day, to alleviate stress on the knees. I don't see how one could lie beneath a spread tripod and move at all, unless it were a very large one (more weight).

The other issue about the use of a tripod for tarp support, is that the occasions when I need the tripod to shoot pretty much coincide with the occasions when a support is needed for my abode.

While fine for hiking and covering terrain, I have found them to be generally incompatible with photography as a primary backcountry pursuit. The inevitable slowing of waiting for good light, in sometimes less than ordinary optimum hiking conditions, means stagnating in one spot for long periods. For me, this suggests more comfort, and a basecamp approach to life in the wild, than the UL ethos can provide.

The above noted, if you're a gearhead (I'm not), you will undoubtedly have a great time figuring this out, with so many options available.

My solution to this dilemma of load lightening is to attack the problem from the camera end of things. As of 2009, I no longer carry LF on multi day trips, as I cannot justify the advantages over MF (120) and a limited number of lenses in the field, given fine grained films.

Brad Rippe
1-Sep-2010, 22:45
Heres my Sierra Designs Origami tarp tent in Maclure Basin in Yosemite last Sunday. We got nailed by two days of wind, very cold temps and snow! The tarp tent worked great using a walking stick for the center support. If I knew it was going to snow, I would have brought a more substantial tent, more clothes and more whisky!


2-Sep-2010, 08:54
I've looked into the tarps here too, but at the moment I cannot say that I think they would work for me. For one, in the areas I tend to camp, the mosquitoes are horrid, so netting is a must. Then the splashing issue comes into play and a floor would be needed. With all the components that are involved, the tarp+floor+netting is suddenly up around 3+ pounds, and my old North Face NHP isn't much more.

I personally don't use trekking poles when backpacking. I agree that they can help the knees, but they just get in my way, often deflecting on rocks into my footpath.

One line I haven't seen mentioned here is the Tarptent line - which seem to be very good single wall silnylon shelters. But this ultrathin silnylon is not a durable as traditional tent nylon and may only last a few seasons if subjected to harsh weather.

2-Sep-2010, 13:21
One line I haven't seen mentioned here is the Tarptent line - which seem to be very good single wall silnylon shelters. But this ultrathin silnylon is not a durable as traditional tent nylon and may only last a few seasons if subjected to harsh weather.

Silnylon isn't meant to be durable. It and other materials in the ultralight niche are designed for lighter weight. Some people, myself included, are willing to compromise durability for reduction in weight. I figure if my time under it is little, then so is my time spent concerned about it. I've got a good plan for most possibilities when I'm in the backcountry. My only real concerns (which vary by locale) are bears and lightning; neither of which are stopped by other shelter materials. The weight reduction from this lighter material, combined with other strategic weight reduction in my backpack, makes a hike much easier on my knees, causes less fatigue and allows me to walk longer than I used to back when I was lugging around a 40-50 pound pack. Without camera gear, my load for a 3-4 day outing starts out at a little over 12 pounds. It could be less, but this is my comfort zone for a long weekend. Everyone has their own level of comfort, and it should be determind in short trips before committing to an extended trip away from the safety of home. If you prefer a heavy duty 4 season tent, get what fits your level of comfort and have fun!

Drew Wiley
8-May-2018, 09:40
Tarps have to be frequently replaced. You can still buy plastic tube tents. Neither are much good above timberline, but are better than nothing in an emergency, unless wind shreds them to bits. You can get oversized nylon ponchos that are stronger. Been there, done that as a kid. No more "Motel Six" shelters for me!

8-May-2018, 11:53
Back in my Army days as an infantryman we used our rain ponchos which are rip proof and waterproof as "lean-to's" like hetuglar posted above except that we used available wood/foliage/rocks to anchor. The army surplus tropical rain poncho is extremely light (couple of ounces) and serves as a rain poncho (down to your shins so the boots get wet) and ground cloth for the tent (I regularly backpack/bicycle tour with one wrapped around the air-mattress) and two will snap together to form a tent - add a third and you have the floor.


Drew Wiley
8-May-2018, 14:33
A friend of mine was given a super-duper prototype ultralight shelter to test by one of the big name companies which I won't identify. It was truly roomy, and the fabric was tough. As usual in such cases, to save weight, you just use your trekking poles to set it up. But what happens if you need to use those poles in the meantime? That's the catch. We were in a remote off-trail basin and had to hop creeks even a few yards from camp. He slipped and injured his foot, and sent his expensive Rollei 6X6 into the creek - and he's highly experienced. I could recite similar horror stories about the "latest and greatest" ultralight tent some friend or another was given the opportunity to be the Guinea pig for testing, which I witnessed in person.
The very first "no rainfly needed" pup tent was made by Sierra Designs, or should I say, "Sierra Half-Baked". Back then, the original store was a stone's throw from where we worked. We were up around 10,500 that Oct and a storm moved in, and my friend got downright miserable in that tent. Curiously, just a couple months ago the man who "designed" that darn thing was walking right past my house returning from a hike in the canyon behind me. He was too old and wheezy to ever go to high altitudes again, but had some wonderful Sierra stories. I reciprocated my own story, the official "review" of his invention,
forty years late.

9-May-2018, 05:50
When I was backpacking many years ago and carrying my LF camera equipment, I used a Sierra Designs Sphinx tent as recommended by Colin Fletcher. I went the ultra-light way except for the tent and my camera equipment. One night in the Adirondacks we went to bed with a clear sky, and about midnight the sky broke loose with the rain falling what seemed to be horizontally to the ground. Fortunately we had pitched the rainfly over the tent just in case. Our first choice for setting up the tent had about 6 inches of standing water in it come morning. Luckily we chose a higher place to pitch the tent. If we had been using a tarp or anything less than that Sphinx, we and the camera equipment would have been soaked come dawn. Current tents equivalent to the Sphinx out there now have to be half the weight of the Sphinx and a lot more durable. Our way of conserving weight was to really bulk up on water before starting to hike. Would plan on rehydrating at noon and in the night's campsite. Fortunately for us here in New England, streams are a common place.

Drew Wiley
9-May-2018, 11:24
The only lightwt tents I believe in are the true Bibler design - triple-layer fabric, true expedition grade. Been thru hurricane-force winds and heavy blizzards in em. But for basic Summer/early Fall use, I substitute a Big Agnes at half the wt due to my age. It's OK for fairly heavy rain or snow storms, but if wind is going to be horrific, I want at least some trees or giant boulders around. It's not as warm either. Ironically, some very simple shelters work in cold winter snow that would fail quickly in warm wet snow or steady rain. Some lightwt tent fabrics are nothing more than conventional house wrap.

9-May-2018, 13:02
I have a light weight tarp (MSR, I think). I have started to take hiking sticks just for the tent. If I am away from camp I tend to have a tripod with me, so normally don't take the hiking sticks with me. Fine for coastal weather...the below photo was taken on a wet weekend in July along Redwood Creek. Wet, but more of a constant heavy mist than rain. And fine for afternoon thunderstorms if the weather improves in time for dinner.

10-May-2018, 10:55
I've got a pyramid style tent (Black Diamond Megamid) that I prefer to use 99% of the time. Its fairly light and provides a lot of shelter space.

Although expensive, I've heard good things about this company: https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/ultralight-backpacking-shelters-tents.html

Drew Wiley
10-May-2018, 17:24
The nice thing about that Megamid and other hyperlite you linked is that they come equipped with a free indoor shower or bathtub, or sometimes both.
I'd let a friend or two post a review, but their choice of adjectives would probably be banned. That remaining 1% of the time, as you refer to it, can seem
awfully awfully long if you have to endure it.