Pitched as an A-frame, the Hilleberg 10UL Tarp sleeps four yet weighs 1.5 pounds.

by Andy Dappen

In 2008 when I wrote the Love of Tarps article, I lied. In that article, I said that Love of Tarps 2 featuring, quick-and-dirty methods to easily pitch a tarp most anywhere and in most any conditions was “coming soon.”

Does a two-year interval between the original tarps piece and this one qualify as “coming soon?”  Maybe … if you happened to have slipped into a two-year coma. Before this gets out of hand and another year elapses … here are four pitches that use a tarp to create lightweight shelter. Some of these pitches create a comfortable shelter in milder (low wind) conditions and one of these pitches creates a hovel that gives you shelter in heinous wind/rain or wind/snow conditions.
Initial outfitting

I recommend carrying at least six (and preferably eight) lightweight aluminum stakes with your tarp. When trees are available, some of these pitches can be done with as little as three stakes, but an adequate number of stakes makes each pitch faster and gives you maximum flexibility. If you’re traveling in winter or early spring and expect to be pitching your tarp on snow, leave the stakes behind and bring small stuff sacks made of silnylon that are just large enough to accept a snowball about the size of a softball – these will be buried and create solid staking points for your tarp. To each corner of the tarp, tie a thin cord (about 3/32” or 1/8” in diameter) that is 10 to 11 feet long. To each grommet at the midpoint between the corners, tie a similar cord that is 6 feet long. Finally, seal any seam that cuts across the main body of the tarp. Now you’re ready for these four pitches and much more.

The One-Corner Lift

Pros: Super fast to pitch, only one elevated point (tree or trekking pole) is needed for the pitch, fairly wind resistant when the low corner is pointed into the wind, pitched on the bias so the tarp pulls tauter, one person can easily pitch the tarp.

The One-Corner Lift. Note: I’ve added a center loop to the middle of my tarp and sometimes this gives an added place to pull up on the tarp and create a more wind-resistant pitch.

Cons: This pitch does not maximize the covered floor space below the tarp (not a problem for one or two people but an issue if housing a group).

A trekking pole can also provide the elevated corner for this pitch. Two guy lines to the trekking pole stabilize it. A 90-degree angle between the two guy lines is ideal but here such an angle would impede entering or exiting the tarp.

Instructions. Tie the cord of one corner around the tree or feature creating the high point. Stretch the tarp on the bias (diagonal) over the area the tarp is meant to cover, pull that corner until it’s quite taut, and stake it down. Stake down the remaining two remaining corners by pulling out (at roughly a right angle) from the diagonal roof line you just created. Fine tune all the stakes so your roof is wrinkle free.

The Two-Corner Lift

Although not as quick and easy as the last method, this is another fast pitch if you happen upon trees that align properly with the elevated corners of your tarp. Trekking poles can also be used for the elevated corners.

Pros: Maximum floor space under the tarp, moderate wind resistance if the low side of the tarp is placed at ground level and pointed into the wind.

Cons: A little slower to pitch, the tarp will flap in windy conditions, and a bit awkward for one person to pitch if you’re using trekking poles for the elevated corners.

Instructions: Stake down the lower corners of the tarp in an appropriate position relative to the trees or poles that will be used on the elevated corners (the edge of the tarp on this low side should be parallel to the line drawn between the two elevated corners). Tie one of the elevated corners up to a tree, then tie the other elevated corner. Walk around the perimeter of the tarp, tightening and loosening corners to achieve uniform tension and to create a wrinkle-free pitch. Pull out and stake the tarp at all the midpoints between corners except along the elevated edge.

A-Frame Pitch

If you have one tree on opposite sides of a flat patch of ground for sleeping, the A-Frame is a good alternative. You can also create an A-Frame very easily with two trekking poles.

Pros: Excellent ventilation on calm, rainy days or when the tarp is providing sun shelter; good use of floor space for groups; double entrance to the shelter. Groups can sleep with people placing their heads at each end of the structure and everyone’s feet facing the center. With trees you can easily pitch this roof high or low depending on weather conditions.

Cons: Need properly positioned trees or trekking poles, not good for wind protection, slower to pitch if one person is doing the job using trekking poles.

Instructions. Tie cord from center point of one edge around a tree (or trekking pole.  Tie cord from opposite edge’s center point around tree (or trekking pole). Tighten so the fabric roofline between these two points is taut. Stake out the corners, pulling down and out so each corner is taut. When done the roof should be taut and wrinkle free. Pull down and stake the other two center points.

3-Sided Alcove and Emergency Hovel

This pitch positions the back and two sides flush to the ground. The entrance here uses a trekking pole to give the structure some height but can also be pitched closer to the ground.

This is a good and fast pitch for wind protection. In winter when it’s windy this alcove can be pitched so it greatly reduces or even eliminates the spindrift blowing onto your gear and sleeping bags. The structure can be pitched at different heights — when it’s higher it’s more convenient to enter, when it’s lower it gives you better and safer protection from strong winds.

Pros: Quick way to get protection from gnarly weather conditions like blowing rain, and blowing snow.

Cons: For maximum protection, the structure is pitched very low to the ground and this makes the structure inconvenient to enter or exit.

Instructions:  Lay your packs in the center of the area where you will pitch this hovel. Lay the tarp over the packs like a blanket. Stretch out the side of the tarp facing the wind and stake it in a taut line right next to the ground (in winter) throw snow on this edge of the tarp so it’s firmly anchored to the ground. Now take the downwind corners of the tarp and pull them taut and anchor them. In severe weather you can make at least three of the four sides hug the ground so no wind comes in.  How taut the final edge is relative to the ground depends on how much wind protection you need along the lee (downwind) side of this structure. If you keep this edge loose, you  can use trekking pole at the midpoint of the edge to prop up an entrance that lets you crawl/slither in and out of the alcove. In really bad wind conditions you may opt to keep the fourth side  relatively taut to the ground and simply slither under the tarp to escape the horrible conditions. A collapsed trekking pole can be prop up the middle of this hovel and give you some head room to work with once you’ve slithered underneath.

For more about the advantages and uses of tarps, see Love of Tarps.

This article was originally published on 8/20/10.

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