Tepid Tarp

by Bruce Watts
The tarp is a light weight alternative to a tent
The tarp is a light weight alternative to a tent

I didn’t die… nor did I sleep!

This is a short, yet painfully accurately reflection of my late fall backpacking trip last weekend. 

It was a beautiful November day in frosty Ontario and I was restless. I desperately needed one last camping trip under my belt before the frost sets rock hard for 4 unforgiving months. Like a kid waiting at the top the stairs on Christmas morning, I vibrated with eager anticipation. 

Let’s try something new.

I decided to bring a tarp for eco-protection and leave my tent at home.  A tent essential protects you from 4 things: precipitation, bugs, critters and wind. With bugs off the table… what could go wrong?  

I’m generally hyper prepared, my gear choices well thought out, and my goodies are checked twice before I venture off into the  backwoods. This is particularly true when adventuring solo…  there is little room for equipment malfunctions, mishaps or omissions if mother nature turns nasty and you are all alone!

First, I have only been using high loft, hydro-phobic down for my sleep bag and quilt for the last 2 years.  They have never let me down (pun intended). However because of the reduced protections from moisture with a tarp, I dusted off my old-ish polarguard synthetic fill mummy. It is rated to -7ºc… it sounded like a good choice at the time.

I packed my ultra-light tarp, a few guy ropes and some titanium pegs.  All weighing it at a miserly 500 grams.  Then I added a light water proof/breathable bivy bag for protection from the ground frost, moisture and curious coyotes. Now my shelter total was 1000 grams.  Using my hiking poles as tarp supports I was ready to go.

The hike was wonderful. The ground was dry, the fall leaves carpeted the ground in a beautiful mosaic, and the air was crisp and clean.  

I choose a wonderful campsite beside the water on a bed of pine needles about an hour before sunset. It was 4 pm… this was very early.  I set camp, cooked dinner, cleaned up, and at sunset I settled down under a tree to read a book with my headlamp. 

By 5:30PM the night was eight ball black, and the frost was moving in fast. By 6 pm it was too cold to sit outside unprotected. Normally under such circumstances, I would curl up in my warm tent for the night, read or play cards…. but I didn’t have a tent!  To keep the chill at bay, I was now wearing all the clothing I had… I was still cold. So I poured my fully clothed self into my sleep system burrito with the grace of a misfiring dump-truck.  This should do the trick I thought.

Finally settled in for the night I tried to read, however with my exposed torso, I was still cold. So I put away my book and try to go to sleep. It was only 630, way too early for my personal sleeping rhythms.

I did however sleep for about 3 hours before the cold snapped me awake.  I remained cold all night, but I never froze. Not a good night. 

The night passed and the sun did rise.  I dusted off the frost, pack my gear and left dodge without breakfast. I needed to move fast to get the thick cold blood moving in my icy veins.  Before I set off, I put a rock hard protein bar in my pocket to warm up… and about 45 minutes on the trail, it was soft enough to eat without chipping a tooth.

Next time I will bring my tent.  My solo tent weighs in at 1200 grams and the tarp and accessories total 1100 grams.   Plus with the complete hydro protections of a tent, I’m not at all concerned with using my time tested lighter down bag (curiously enough it’s 100 grams lighter than my synthetic filled bag)  All and all… my solo tent and light down bag weighs the same as the my tarp, bivy and synthetic filled bag.  Go figure.

I will be throwing my tarp and bivy into my camping gear museum and using my tent from now on! There is no better example of my mantra of “Rough it in Comfort”.

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Campologist Talk

A blog for campers by campers. Bruce is the primary contributor, with regular posts from Tracy and friends.

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