Posted by: litehiker | December 10, 2007

Backpackers Club Christmas weekend

The weekend with the Backpackers Club was brilliant; I wish I could say the same of the tarp! For anyone who does not know, I have a Golite Cave. I pitched it in the dark and, because rain was expected, I pitched one end and the sides completely down to the ground. The entrance end was at normal height (although, because one end was really low, the entrance was lower than usual), using a trekking pole fully extended. Although the rain kept out, the tarp was too low for reasonable use because:

  1. Condensation formed and, whilst not enough to drip, nevertheless was unpleasant and it came into contact with my new down sleeping bag.
  2. The entrance was really too low to comfortably get in and out of the tarp and I tended to pull one of the front guys out whenever I went in or out.
  3. It resulted in insufficient usable space, particularly at the lower end.

Anyway, I survived. In the morning, I adjusted the tarp by increasing the height at the foot end which appeared fine and, as a precaution, I put my down bag in the car which was nearby. I then went off and left it for a few hours. This was a bad move. The weather took a turn for the worse. It was windy and there was blizzarding snow, followed by rain. When I returned, I found that although the main guys at either end were still firmly in place, the two pegs at the foot end had pulled loose in the wet muddy ground and the guy points had lifted off the pegs. The end of the tarp was flapping in the wind and my Thermarest was wet. As the car was there, I packed up and slept very comfortably in it that night.

I’ve used the tarp a lot over the past five years or so but only over the summer months (apart from the Dartmoor trip a month ago when the weather was calm) and so this was my first experience of using the tarp in really inclement conditions. One of my reasons for testing it is to check whether it is likely to be suitable for my LEJOG in May 2009. The jury is definitely out on this at the moment.

More robust pegs at the corners of the tarp are called for, I think (I now use stout plastic T-section ones for the guys at either end and these are very effective). This might have prevented the problem of the flapping end.

Although pegging down to the ground at one end kept the weather out, I would prefer not to do this. Maybe pitching higher at the foot end with hiking umbrella opened up from the inside and secured to the ground would be feasible.

Apart from that, a sheer lack of “cosiness” was evident – the tarp was like a wind tunnel! When it’s really cold and horrible, I can’t see myself looking forward to spending night after night in a wind tunnel (although the LEJOG won’t start until May and it won’t be as cold).

However, I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe a bivy bag (perhaps the Alpkit Hunka for £25) would be sensible, for a fraction extra warmth and to prevent the sleeping bag getting wet. Comments/suggestions from folk would be most welcome. I wonder if anyone uses a tarp all year round in the UK.

A couple of short walks rounded off the weekend – one at 7am on Sunday, down Biggindale some distance and then back along to Dalehead and the other stopping off on the way to Ashbourne and parking the car at Milldale and striking up to head down Hall Dale to the Dove and back to Milldale – both only about three miles each but at least it wasn’t raining.



  1. Geoff,
    great piece, as you know I always take a bivvy bag for use with a tarp. It just gives that extra bit of protection for the down bag.
    I use the Rab Survivial Zone, but also have the Alpkit one that I haven’t tried out yet.

  2. Hi Geoff

    I thought your tarp looked the real deal at the Blogger’s Meet on the Black Mountain, but I see what you are saying about the wind tunnel / condensation conundrum.

    I agree with Big D that a bivybag might sort out these problems but that starts to put the weight up – so in my mind it would seem that for consistent weather protection on a long walk, like your up-coming LEJOG, I would be going for a tarptent rather than a tarp and bivvy bag solution. Trouble with that though is still the condensation in poor weather (only for a long walk though – for a short trip it would be okay).

    Honestly, on your LEJOG you will be monstrously fit in quite a short period of time, so I would put up with the extra one pound in weight and go with a Warmlite tent – that way you will always be safe, secure and dry throughout your walk.

    Don’t get me wrong Geoff – I love the idea of a tarp – but I think this weekend you have found the drawbacks over a long walk.

    Good luck with your choice – I know you are committed to maximising your experience of the outdoors and a tarp does maximise that experience. The touble is you also want to complete your LEJOG!

  3. Sorry Geoff – that last comment was from me


  4. Alan beat me to it – I was going to mention the word ‘Warmlite’ too (just in case further experimentation draws you away from the tarping plan)!

    I know that it’s moving completely away from tarping, but they do offer light weight (even our 2R is only 1300g), stability, weather protection (unless you pitch in a puddle!) and limited condensation in the middle section.

    I concede that we’ve not had a roaring success with ours yet (although, like you we’re testing her in winter for a summer trip), and I’m unconvinced as yet that she’s suitable for our LEJOG – but I do think that she would be my choice if I was to go on a long solo trip.

  5. i think that even in bad british weather a tarp can work but you need to spend a bit of time finding the ideal i fiound out in germany when i awoke to the tarp being pressed down on to my body by a very strong wind.but like alan said you will be super fit doing your ene to end so you could take a small caravan with you!lol

  6. Good report thanks Geoff,
    I have read a lot about the positives of using a tarp and it was nice to read someone who had written about a negative experience.
    All the things that happened to you are the things I have always been concerned about. Lucky you had your car there……

    I get a few hits on my blog about tarps and will add a link to your post so people get an alternate view. This is the post I will link too

    Forecast 35 degrees C here today. Our main worry is the flies and mozzies and a tarp won’t keep them out!!

  7. […] become more impressed with the tarp with each outing. I know I had problems back in December – see there are so many advantages with a tarp. I really must do an in-depth posting about this when time […]

  8. […] If you are interested in tarps and using them as a light weight option, check out this post at Litehiker There is an interesting report on using a tarp in bad English […]

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