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  1. #1

    Default Tarp for the desert, then tent for the rest?

    My wife and I are planning to hike the PCT NOBO in 2017, ideally starting in mid April. We're experienced tenters but have only just bought a tarp (Sea to Summit Escapist 10' x 10'). We've successfully pitched a taut A-frame in our local park, and will be adding a few more setups (flying diamond, lean-to) to our repertoire before we hit the trail.

    Our plan is to tarp until we reach mosquito country (around Yosemite I believe?), then switch to our Copper Spur UL2. The reasoning is that we'll need every possible spare ounce for water in the desert, and while we could rig a bug net with the tarp, our mental health will probably thank us for having a totally enclosed tent when the bugs hit. Also, we know that Washington can be extremely rainy, so I'm guessing the UL2 will be better suited to this environment.

    We're both experienced hikers in good shape, but this is the first hike above one week that we've done. So, my questions:

    - Does the "tarp, then tent" plan sound reasonable to people who have already done the PCT? Have you managed to stay sane in a tarp during heavy bug periods?

    - My next task is to get up to speed on the essential knots: bowline, taut-line hitch, reef knot. Any other recommendations for a novice tarp user?

    - I am guessing we will encounter many environments where staking a tarp might not be easy. Were you always able to cowboy camp? If not, how did you go about securing your tarp?

    Thanks for your help!

  2. #2
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    It's not just so much you enter "mosquito country" as a rule but the differing seasonal conditions that play the most significant role in mosquito pressure. How much snow pack there has been, timing of all that snow melting, temp increases, your dates of entering such areas, etc play important roles in what you will experience. With an earlier Sierra entry date for NOBO JMT, PCT, and other Sierra hikes in typical snowpack and rate of melting yrs I've experienced light mosquito pressure in mid June in the Sierra particularly at higher windier elevation campsites perhaps still with light snow cover. It was further north on PCT hikes going into Oregon I've felt the most mosquito pressure for PCT NOBOs.

  3. #3

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    I really like a bivy for keeping "crawlies" out.

    I use a bivy whether I am "cowboy camping" or use a tarp or a tent, except if it is a fully enclosed trnt I keep zipped up. Then, I do not leave it open.

    For desert, I think spiders. Are scorpions spiders?

    I like to use one or two hiking poles to pitch the tarp or the tent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    It's not just so much you enter "mosquito country" as a rule but the differing seasonal conditions that play the most significant role in mosquito pressure. How much snow pack there has been, timing of all that snow melting, temp increases, your dates of entering such areas, etc play important roles in what you will experience. With an earlier Sierra entry date for NOBO JMT, PCT, and other Sierra hikes in typical snowpack and rate of melting yrs I've experienced light mosquito pressure in mid June in the Sierra particularly at higher windier elevation campsites perhaps still with light snow cover. It was further north on PCT hikes going into Oregon I've felt the most mosquito pressure for PCT NOBOs.
    Agree with Dogwood, Oregon was by far the worst for mosquitoes but the Sierra was completely covered in snow. I only used a shelter (tarp) for three nights on the PCT. I cowboy camped the rest. Unless you have spent a lot of time in the desert or Western mountains you may not feel comfortable sleeping under the stars but many people learn to feel right at home without setting up a shelter. So in my case I carried a tarp the whole way because I knew I would rarely use it. I could also zip up the bug screen on my bivy if the bugs got too bad.
    enemy of unnecessary but innovative trail invention gadgetry

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    On one PCT NOBO, bunches of other PCT section hikes, several JMT thrus, many Sierra hikes, a TRT thru, Desolation Wilderness hikes...I've almost exclusively been able to cowboy camp. For example, on the PCT NOBO thru I put up a MLD Grace tarp a total of five times three of which were in Washington since by then I started to dally not finishing at Manning Park until Oct. I experienced snow and some but not much at all night time rain in WA. I too included a bivy, a MLD Superlight bivy, for a few PCT NOBO nights that has a mesh window to zip up in. The bivy was a component in the overall sleep system though. It wasn't just about bugs. For me, as a tarp(flat, cat, shaped) is typically my shelter of choice I address med-heavy bug pressure using a multi prong repelling approach but I'm always sheltering as a solo hiker. With 2 p I can see a UL mid or tent with mesh being a quite viable option to address night time bug pressure. Could save ya some 0Zs, volume, complexity and redundancy too if done well.

  6. #6

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    Some great feedback, thanks. I do love the idea of keeping the tarp through the whole trip, just adding bivies or a bug net where necessary. I guess if Washington is in its "torrential rain" mood next year then a sturdier shelter might still be desirable, but we'll see how far we can get just with the tarp. We haven't cowboy camped before, but I'm sure that once we're used to it, we wouldn't want to sleep any other way.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by camerhil View Post
    My wife and I are planning to hike the PCT NOBO in 2017, ideally starting in mid April. We're experienced tenters but have only just bought a tarp (Sea to Summit Escapist 10' x 10'). We've successfully pitched a taut A-frame in our local park, and will be adding a few more setups (flying diamond, lean-to) to our repertoire before we hit the trail.

    Our plan is to tarp until we reach mosquito country (around Yosemite I believe?), then switch to our Copper Spur UL2. The reasoning is that we'll need every possible spare ounce for water in the desert, and while we could rig a bug net with the tarp, our mental health will probably thank us for having a totally enclosed tent when the bugs hit. Also, we know that Washington can be extremely rainy, so I'm guessing the UL2 will be better suited to this environment.

    We're both experienced hikers in good shape, but this is the first hike above one week that we've done. So, my questions:

    - Does the "tarp, then tent" plan sound reasonable to people who have already done the PCT? Have you managed to stay sane in a tarp during heavy bug periods?

    - My next task is to get up to speed on the essential knots: bowline, taut-line hitch, reef knot. Any other recommendations for a novice tarp user?

    - I am guessing we will encounter many environments where staking a tarp might not be easy. Were you always able to cowboy camp? If not, how did you go about securing your tarp?

    Thanks for your help!

    I cowboy camp a lot in SoCal, and sometimes I really regret it. Mostly I'm just too lazy to setup my tent. There are some creepy ****ing bugs in the desert. If I had some extra dough I'd switch from the fly creek ul2, to a zpacks hexamid or something. Or, maybe just a big ass tarp with a large bug net. I like tarps because they do much better in heavy winds than tents.

    There are some really prime almost bug-free spots to cowboy, it just doesn't always end up that you end your day in one of these spots. Nothing like dozing off and being awoken by the sound of a giant spider crawling on your Tyvek ground sheet. A spider so big you can hear it crawling towards you. That's when I'm like "damn I wish I setup my tent."

    In mosquito country I prefer to have a large enough tent that I can set it up really fast and then just throw my pack and myself into it to escape the mosquitoes. This strategy works well with rain also.

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    I have never camped in the desert, hope to be there soon, with tents in the 18-25 ounce range, I like that barrier, no bugs, snakes, etc. Also enjoy setting it up.

    Agree that "cowboy camping" is a step out of comfort zone.

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    My wife and I switched from tarp to tent after a couple of weeks of desert camping on our PCT hike. We got scorpions on and in our gear fairly often, and one night at dusk we pitched on or too near an anthill, causing us to move an hour later. So in our experience, your expectations of desert camping are incorrect!
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Del Q View Post
    I have never camped in the desert, hope to be there soon, with tents in the 18-25 ounce range, I like that barrier, no bugs, snakes, etc.
    You see rattle snakes when hiking. What are the odds one crawls up to you when sleeping under a tarp? I'd have trouble sleeping.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sasquatch! View Post
    I cowboy camp a lot in SoCal, and sometimes I really regret it. Mostly I'm just too lazy to setup my tent. There are some creepy ****ing bugs in the desert. If I had some extra dough I'd switch from the fly creek ul2, to a zpacks hexamid or something. Or, maybe just a big ass tarp with a large bug net. I like tarps because they do much better in heavy winds than tents.

    There are some really prime almost bug-free spots to cowboy, it just doesn't always end up that you end your day in one of these spots. Nothing like dozing off and being awoken by the sound of a giant spider crawling on your Tyvek ground sheet. A spider so big you can hear it crawling towards you. That's when I'm like "damn I wish I setup my tent."

    In mosquito country I prefer to have a large enough tent that I can set it up really fast and then just throw my pack and myself into it to escape the mosquitoes. This strategy works well with rain also.
    Try surrounding yourself onto an island with a insect barrier of bug juice. It helps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FreeGoldRush View Post
    You see rattle snakes when hiking. What are the odds one crawls up to you when sleeping under a tarp? I'd have trouble sleeping.
    The risk of this is so way blown out of proportion having a snake, more so a venomous one, crawl into your sleeping bag or under a tarp in the U.S.

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    Wont necessarilly need tarp often, but as other posts allude to, I sleep better knowing Im not sharing my sleeping area with crawling things. And that makes me sleep much better. Worth weight in gold to me.

    Together with wife, sharing a few items like shelter, cook kit, fak, the weight is irrellevant for lightweight item.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 06-11-2016 at 04:08.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    Try surrounding yourself onto an island with a insect barrier of bug juice. It helps.
    Then you're just leaving a trail of poison along the trail, affecting water sources especially. Why do you think there is a endangered species frog closure? Because of the severe impact of hikers, and their proclivity to use sunscreen, and bug repellent, that contain toxic chemicals that are especially harmful to amphibians. I won't even get started on the fire retardants and water repellants contained within tents and down jackets that are unnecessary and extremely toxic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sasquatch! View Post
    Then you're just leaving a trail of poison along the trail, affecting water sources especially. Why do you think there is a endangered species frog closure? Because of the severe impact of hikers, and their proclivity to use sunscreen, and bug repellent, that contain toxic chemicals that are especially harmful to amphibians. I won't even get started on the fire retardants and water repellants contained within tents and down jackets that are unnecessary and extremely toxic.
    Good pts but that doesn't have to occur as you describe when we start thinking outside of the DEET box. I use a DIY herbal based insect repellent made from an almond or soybean carrier oil base with essences of essential oils, NOT that botanicals shouldn't be used with caution either but they are overall generally considered the most minimal risks to wildlife and humans. http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-gui...lent-chemicals

    http://tasty-yummies.com/2013/07/17/...pellent-spray/ Very easy and rather inexpensive over the long term compared to some synthetic repellents.

    If you are really interested in not leaving "a trail of poison" hazardous to amphibians might want to read up this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3059459/

    As far as personal usage of insect repellents impacting water sources under average circumstances that is highly debatable in my mind.

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    I don't quite know what the etiquette is for reviving threads, so apologies if this frowned upon. I'm just contemplating a similar choice for an upcoming NOBO PCT thru. I also am concerned about crawlies. But I'm interested more in what dogwood was getting at.

    in sum: is cowboy camping more a matter of overcoming irrational phobias/disgust (aka finding it unpleasant to wake to a spider or a centipede on you)? or are you really taking a risk that a scorpion or snake or such could do damage to you, say by you waking up and seeing it, reacting in fear, then scaring said creature into doing something bad?

    Personally speaking, and as someone with a little bit of a bug phobia, I'm inclined to just tell myself to get over it if there's no risk and it means I don't have to pitch a tent every night. Curious as to others' thoughts.

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    I like a fully enclosed tent. Do what you feel comfortable doing.
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  18. #18

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    I have been cowboy camping as my primary camping method since around 2006 and hiked the PCT that way with the exception of ~9 nights where I set a small tarp up.

    My encounters with the wildlife while cowboy camping over the past 14 or so years are:
    • 1 large frog waking me up at night when my hand landed on it when I flipped over in Lassen Volcanic NP on the PCT. I was camping next to a creek. Was only half awake and it took a little while to register it wasn't a slimely rock. Once I moved out of it's path to the creek, it went on it's happy way.
    • 1 centipede/millipede on my sleeping pad as I cooked dinner when sleeping in Oregon (on the PCT) in the middle of a lava field where I was camped in a tiny spot barely wide enough for my sleeping bag surrounded by lava rocks (only spot flat enough to camp as it was getting dark). I'm guessing it was in those lava rocks as I've never seen one in a campsite anywhere else over the years. I noticed it after dinner when I was about to go to bed so I flipped my foam pad and sent it flying. No issues sleeping afterwards.
    • 1 night in southern Washington on the PCT, found a few Grandaddy long legs crawling around me at night and one on my quilt. They didn't bother me in my sleep. They aren't truely spiders as they don't do the web thing. Only time I've ever had that experience.
    • A few encounters with ants over the years. I've learned to look for ants crawling around the area prior to stopping to camp there and haven't had any issues in recent years.
    • A couple of mice encounters over the years. 1 near Romona Falls in Oregon (on PCT) where 2 mice kept harrasing me trying to get to my food so I rolled my ground cloth and gear up like a burrito and moved 1/4 mile in the dark. Popular campsite in Washington by a lake (on PCT), 2 mice were overly friendly so I moved back up by the trail and had no more problems. They chewed into another hikers tarp tent that night. I missed the drama where I was. In Northern California on PCT, I forgot to dump the granola crumbs from my hipbelt pocket and a mouse nibbled a hole into it overnight; pack was near my head. When I did the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and was camping in a closed campground (after season in Sept), a mouse messed with my backpack near my head (food inside), so I moved a few hundred yards and had no more issues. On the AT in Maine, next to a shelter (which likely had too many to count), one got under my quilt as I cooked dinner. I saw it when I flipped the quilt up to go to bed. I flung it into the air off my foam pad and moved 20 ft further away. In AT shelters (which are 3 walled with 4th open to the outside), had many mice encounters where I heard them running around me on the floor and one once ran over my sleeping quilt.
    • Large buck deer in Lassen Volcanic NP 2 years prior to the PCT near Rainbow Lake. Woke me up and I thought it was a bear as it was pitch black in the trees where I was. I scared it as much as it scared me when I yelled at it when I finally found my flashlight. I've never had a real bear issue while cowboy camping.
    • Mosquitoes too many times. Out west, the nights are usually cool to cold so they leave an hour or so after dark for the most part unless its a warm night. So they are only an issue when you first go to bed. With cowboy camping, you notice the early light of dawn much more than when in a tent, so you tend to get up early before they are out in large numbers. At dawn, the first one buzzing near my ear (or near the headnetting on my bivy) usually will wake me up and give me the motivation to get up and get moving as I don't want to meet their friends which I know will be joining them as it starts to warm up.


    Never ever an issue with snakes and I live in SoCal and do a lot of camping in the desert. Never found a scorpian, but I do turn my shoes upside down and hit them to shake anything in them out before putting them on. Never found anything inside them though. So I think most peoples fears are overblown. Nothing better than watching a meteor shower from your sleeping bag at night.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Miner View Post
    Nothing better than watching a meteor shower from your sleeping bag at night.
    Helpful list. Thank you. This last part in particular is motivating... So the ~9 nights of the PCT you set up a tarp because of rain? I thru'd the AT with a sil-nylon tent. Recently bought a Duplex (frankly with the PCT in mind) that I've taken on a few trips already. But it sounds like I should consider leaving the Duplex at home and start looking into tarps.

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    Oh, also, for what it's worth - I see you're in Anaheim. I'm in the LA area as well now. I took the Duplex to Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, and in the San Gabriels. I have the Mojave in mind for a next trip.

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