View Full Version : Tarp Camping--Backpacks

Bruce Hudson
08-21-2007, 20:06
This was my first year to backpack. I'm a 64 year old school teacher in half way decent shape and this year's main adventure was a two stage hike: 1) Damascus to Erwin right after school was out, and 2), late this summer, Atkins to Damascus.

I tried to keep my initial purchase of equipment at a minimum cost not being sure how much I like it. But I'm hooked and I'm contemplating two upgrades.

First the pack. After some time at my local REI store I'm down to these two (for the most part I'm not interested in additional suggestions unless you think there's something really important I'm overlooking):

the Gregory Baltoro or the Osprey Aether 70. I walked around the store with both-- first the Baltoro which felt like a great improvement over my Kelty 360 Trekker external frame pack. But then the Aether really put all the weight on my hips, and in the store at least with the same amount of weight it felt lighter (I know the pack is a bit lighter, but I think what I'm talking about is where it places the load).

The problem is I like the design of the Gregory a lot better. In the long run I think those independent suspension systems will work quite well. Also the materials in the Gregory are heavier so they require some breaking in (shoulder and hip harness). But maybe most importantly, I don't use a hydration system and to get to a water bottle with the Osprey you have to take that pack off-- already one of my main complaints with the Kelty.

Also the Gregory is going to be on-sale for Labor Day at $50 off.

That's the first issue.

The second on involves tenting. Right now I'm using an Eureka Pinnacle Pass-- weighs in at about 6lb for packing. Initially I was looking at the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 with the intention of using it strictly as a solo tent. However, watching several lists it appears that a lot of people are tarp camping-- bedroll, ground cloth and a tarp. Any information about how that's done will be appreciated, i.e. how do you stretch the tarp-- what if the trees aren't appropriately for example. Also, of course there's the bugs.

Give me your experience please.

Bruce Hudson
Raleigh, NC

08-21-2007, 20:11
A WB search for tarptents will answer your questions and calm your nerves about bugs.


The Weasel
08-21-2007, 20:18

As far as packs go, there are so many, it's hard to get good reviews, and they are as personal as a pair of shoes. Go with quality, though, and you'll never regret it. As far as carrying, I've found that having the most weight dropping onto my hips is the most comfortable over long distances, since the hip muscles are the body's strongest. (I prefer a 25 year old Jansport "suspension system" pack frame that has a semi-rigid hinged belt system. I can carry 50# in that and it feels like 25, since it just glues itself to my pelvis.

As for tarps, they are wonderful generally, with a few caveats: 1) Use trekking poles rather than trees and stake with rocks if necessary. 2) Privacy isn't ideal if that matters to you. 3) Bugs can be a problem in areas that have infestations, but usually after dusk not a big problem. 4) Can be wet in rain along edges until you get good at it (about 1 storm and you figure it out).

The Weasel

08-21-2007, 20:34

The Tarptent (http://www.tarptent.com) suggestion above is a good one. A two-person stormproof and bugproof shelter for less than 2 pounds is nothing to sneeze at.

Flat tarps can be even lighter. My full solo setup is 24 ounces, including a 6x10 foot silnylon tarp, an 8 ounce sleeping bag cover (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=15028&catid=member&imageuser=266) (bivy sack), stakes, and guy lines. If you spend some cash on exotic fabrics like spinnaker cloth or cuben fiber, that weight can be cut more than in half. But I made my own gear (rather, my love wife did all the sewing for me), and saved some money.

I use my hiking poles to pitch my tarp (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=15166&catid=member&imageuser=266). This means I don't have to worry about trees -- I can just find the proper spot and set up. So the bivy cover keeps the bugs out, and the tarp keeps the rain off, and everything is good.

If you can lighten up your shelter load, either with a tarptent or a tarp rig, then you open up some different options for your pack. Both of the packs you mention are fairly high-volume, and the Baltoro, in particular, is heavy at 6.5 pounds in size large. With a lighter/smaller tent, you can look at the Aether 60, or the Gregory Z-55, or one of the Granite Gear packs, or the REI Ultralite 60 liter pack (which may have a different name this year). Basically, cutting your shelter weight from 6 pounds to <2 pounds means you should be able to cut your empty pack weight from >6 pounds to 3 pounds or less.

I'm only in my mid-40s, and I've been cutting my pack weight relentlessly for the past couple of years. The knees just can't take it any more. There are some good resources on this site, and at The Lightweight Backpacker, and at Backpackinglight.com, if you'd like some ideas on doing this for yourself.

You could also look at backpackgeartest.org (http://www.backpackgeartest.org/) for user reviews and organized tests of packs, tents, tarps, and other gear.

Happy trails.

08-21-2007, 20:48

Consider hammock camping. Much,much more comfortable than tarp camping and not much heavier. Come on over to www.hammockforums.net and check it out. I suggest going here first for general hammock camping information:

08-21-2007, 21:05
As far as packs go... look at the Granite Gear Vapor Trail. the ULA, The luxury lite external frame, also just for kicks think about going ultralight, I liked the, homemade alcohol stoves, freezer bag or cozy cooking techniques, tarptents, and using a blanket or quilt instead of a sleeping bag in combination with an insulated inflatable airmattress, like Big Agnes or Pacific Outdoor Equipment.. also look at Frogg Toggs for rain gear.. Good Luck..
Also look for used gear on this and other forums as well as ebay...

Bruce Hudson
08-26-2007, 09:50
In case anybody was peeking in here the REI sale solved my problems. However, I learned something that may be helpful to others. In the store with REI weights in that pack at 30 lbs the Osprey Aether 70 was decidedly more comfortable with the weight than the Gregory Baltoro (and I hadn't even looked at the REI Ridgeline). The look and feel in the store of the Ridgeline was a winner. However, I seem to be carrying between 30 and 35 lbs and when I got the pack home it just wasn't big enough. Back to REI and a trade for the Gregory. Seemed great at home but I remained haunted by memory of how good the Osprey felt.

Here's the punch line-- at home, with my gear the Gregory was more comfortable than the Osprey. I guess the theme is try under as many conditions as possible. So the sale saved my $50 and I should be set for life.

As to tent decisions-- tarps might be a little radical for this old guy just getting into backpacking, but REI's sale price on the Sierra Design Flashlight takes it from $249 to $169-- room for my 6'2" 220 lb body and not a bad trade off in weight.

Thanks for all the help adn information provided by the above posts. (Now the only problem is school starts tomorrow and it'll be a while before the new stuff gets a serious trail test.)

Bruce Hudson
Raleigh, NC

08-27-2007, 09:46

At 64 hammocking reallllllly is a great suggestion....check it out...


08-27-2007, 12:26
tarp $80 - 90sqft of coverage weight 16oz+3oz in stakes

frameless backpack $65 3800cuin 14oz

foam pad $20 9oz

total cost $165 and 42oz of weight aka less than 2.5lbs--

i don't understand all the expense and clutter for hiking---save money for the beer/steak..

phuk poles there are plenty of sticks lying around the woods--

check out www.rayway.com for tarp setup...
phuk hydration systems--all you need are some plastic gatorade bottles.