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RE: [pct-l] tents...

Robert writes >>  Not quite ready to do the tarps, though.  :) <<


Making the leap from tent to tarp is one of the hardest equipment changes a
backpacker undergoes. After all how can a little tarp provide all the
protection of a fully enclosed tent. A tent is really a mini versions of our
house. On the other hand the tarp is kind of like sleeping in the car port. 

However, there are a few things to consider about the tarp vs. tent argument
before simply dismissing the tarp. The strengths of a tent over a tarp are
commonly defined as better weather protection, bug protection and additional
warmth. When added together, all of these benefits seem to justify the
additional cost and weight of carrying a tent.

Is a tent necessary? Well considering that backpacking tents have become
common in the backcountry in the last few decades, I'd say no. Pryor to the
development of nylon, few people ever carried tents. Unless they were packed
in by horse back. They were simply too heavy to carry on one's back. So
clearly it isn't necessary to walk about in the wilderness lugging along a

Now lets look at the supposed benefits of tents.

Better Weather Protection ---------------------------------------

Does a tent provide better weather protection than a tarp? Well the answer
is both yes and no. True for the novice user, a tent is easier to setup and
stay dry in than a tarp. It requires less knowledge of the terrain, surface
water flow from rain and wind. However, even a tent won't keep you dry if
setup in the wrong place. Plus many people attempting to switch over to
tarps jump to the smallest tarp to save maximum weight. In the process they
get one too small, get wet on the first rain and swear off tarps forever. 

A properly sized and setup tarp is both lighter than a tent, covers more of
you, protects your equipment better and keeps you dryer than a tent. How
does it keep you dryer? Well if you're carrying the light single wall tents,
you'll be fighting both the rain outside and the condensation inside. Each
trying to get you wet. Tarps do have condensation but not nearly as much as
single wall tents. In addition when they drip water it falls on the ground.
In tents it pools on the floor of the tent, soaking you or your equipment.
That bath tub tent base keeps water in as well as it keeps it out.

In addition, since the ground cloth used in a tarp is kept separate from the
tarp, it stays dryer than a tent floor. It is placed down after the tarp is
up and removed before the tarp is taken down. This keeps it dryer and that
results in a dryer you. A tent floor maybe dry in the morning, but once the
wet tent is packed, it'll soon be just as wet as the tent. Unless you're
able to dry out the tent in the middle of the day, that night you'll setup a
wet tent with wet floor. After several days with no sunshine everything
you've got will be wet.

Not to mention that a wet tent is much heaver than a dry tent. Often by
pounds. That makes more weight for you to lug around.

Bug Protection ------------------------------------------

True, a tent does provide excellent bug protection. But on a trail such as
the PCT, just how much bug protection does one need. Not to dismiss the
problems with mosquitoes. Where they are bad, they tend to be terrible.
However, when you consider the entire length of the trail, mosquitoes are a
problem in only a relatively few areas. Carrying a tent for a couple
thousand miles seems to be a big penalty to pay for protection for a most a
few hundred. 

When using a tarp there are several options for dealing with bugs. Now I'm
referring to those flying and biting bugs. If those walking bugs cause deep
fears in you at night. Maybe it's best for you to remain at home with a
garage full of pesticides. 

First you can add netting to the sides of the tarp to keep the critters at
bay. It's simple to add to any netting to any tarp. Or you could carry a
separate netting. This could be carried in those area where bugs are a
problem and sent home or kept in a bounce box when not needed. The last
option is bug nets and deet. While not as efficient as netting or tents,
they work. For all of the Sierras Mtns that is all we used. Camping high
will help to reduce the number of bugs.

Additional Warmth -------------------------------------

At best a tent will offer an additional 10 degrees of warmth over a tarp.
Not much considering the weight penalty. What's amazing is the number of
people that carry a heavier tent to augment a lightweight sleeping bag. This
option allows them to carry a lighter weight sleeping bag and use it in
colder temperatures. 

Considering the weight of a tent, it seems more appropriate to carry a
warmer, heaver and better bag and lightweight tarp than the reverse. The
additional warmth added to the bag only adds ounces to the weight of the
bag. Not the pounds of extra weight added by a tent.

I'd look for a good 20 degree down bag, yes I said down and with a tarp too.
You can enhance the bag by getting a good water resistant shell for the bag
using Nextec or Gortex PTFE fabric. A better sleeping bag / tarp combination
is much cheaper and lighter than a low cost bag / tent option. In the long
run you'll save more because a good down sleeping bag will last longer.

Thoughts ----------------------------------

In this last summers hike, my tarp never let me down. During the last few
weeks in Washington, rain, fog and snow often dogged us for days at a time.
My tarp/sleeping bag combination kept me warmer and dryer than most of my
tent carrying companions. 

One hiker carrying a Stephensons tent continually setup and took down a tent
wet from either condensation or rain. He was wet, his gear was wet and he
generally didn't sleep that warm in his light bag. 

Just some things to consider.

Ron "Fallingwater" Moak
PCT 2000 - http://www.fallingwater.com/pct2000

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