Next to tents, the tarp is the most important bit of shelter the wilderness traveller carries. For a solo/tandem little tarp, go for nothing less than 3m long and 2m wide. Use a big tarp for groups, the bigger the better, up to about 5m max and the same wide. PU proofed nylon is pretty much as good as it gets: strong, light, compact, versatile, dries fast and you can patch it with gaffer tape. Silicon proofing is good but heavy driving rain will spit through. Avoid canvas, it’s immensely heavy, when it gets wet stays wet and if you touch it, it will dribble through. Go for webbing loops and plenty of them (look for sound bar-tacking and gate-stitch), brass or alloy grommets will rip out, especially with builders tarps
WHERE TO PITCH
In the Scottish highlands or Scandinavia flat ground is at a premium and finding any may well dictate the location. But here are some points to consider and places to avoid, a.k.a. the 5 “Ws”:
Wind. A breeze of 3 mph will keep the midges grounded – excellent! A gale will turn your tarp into a hang glider – not so good.
Water. If you can be choosy, avoid frost-hollows, cold air current gullies, moss, bogs and smooth bare earth that was once mud and will be again!
Wildlife. In the wilds avoid rigging it over a game trail! Enough said.
Wigglies. Check for insects and snakes and remember, having swept aside an ant trail it takes precisely the time to re-establish as it does for you to completely unpack and lay out your sleeping bag
Widowmakers. Look up and check for dead branches, avoid beech trees (summer branch break is a very real hazard), crumbling walls, cliff faces etc. These things may do more than just flatten your kettle!
KNOTS AND LASHINGS
If you haven’t got mini-krabs, ratchet straps, guy tensioners etc and can’t tie knots, learn! You only need:
A larks head: to put lines on loops
A wagoner’s hitch to create a taut line
A round turn and 2 half hitches to tie off on a tree or log
A taut-line hitch to fix the tarp edge to the taut line or to tension guys
And make all knots slippery, i.e. with the end pulled through in a loop to make undoing them simple and to save dragging the whole lot through when tying a short belay with a long line. Learn the Siberian (Evenk) hitch, it immediately identifies you as a ‘Tarp Meister’ and dissuades helpful comments as to how they would have rigged it differently, better etc. You can tie it even when wearing gloves.
by Jed Yarnold
True North Outdoor, Witney, Oxfordshire
01993 822 954 – 07904 144 546
Read more in the Bikepacking book