How I found my way into Tarp Tenting

Well yeah, of course I used to want the security of mesh walls zipped snug around me when sleeping outdoors. What would harm me in there if nothing could get in? I was safe from it all – safe from the outside.

And then it hit me, I was out here for the outdoors! I was no better inside those ‘safety walls’ then outside of it. Mesh was mesh after all and what was it really protecting me from aside a few mosquito bites anyhow. With the rain fly on I couldn’t see a damn thing out there anyways. I was stuck, inside, with absolutely no connection to the reason I was out there in the first place. I was there to experience the outdoors and I was secluding myself at an arms distance from all it had to offer. So I took it upon myself and embarked upon a journey to feel comfortable among the crawlers of night. No mesh, no barrier. I learned how to tarp tent.

I was first introduced to the idea two years ago when backpacking Virginia’s Mount Rogers with a new friend of mine. For a six day loop, I packed a single layered lightweight tarp tent. Our first night out there wild ponies came galloping into camp, babies in tow, lingering for a few minutes. Only I didn’t see them as my tent’s opening was facing in the other direction. The second and third night, there was the brightest moon shinning over head illuminating the pine forest in magical ways. Yet my enjoyment in seeing it was limited due to tiredness. By the fifth night, the storms had rolled in and it was a fight to even stay upright with the winds whipping so harshly on the ridge. Heavy rain eventually had overtaken our camp and I was summoned to my quarters, quarantined until the downpour lifted. Eventually, I had to make my way into the harsh reality of Mother Nature as my bladder needed to do it’s ‘thang. I unzipped my barrier only to see my friend was cowboy camping deluxe-style across from me. He had already eaten his dinner, was sitting upright snug in his sleeping bag and basking in the beauty surrounding us. I looked around us, it was indeed beautiful – a 360 degree view of the storm flogging us. He clearly had the better deal. I joined in and we sat there for hours enjoying the closeness of the storm’s grandeur while staying completely dry. The winds whipped loudly about us though we weren’t at all effected, a wall of water fell in front of us though didn’t soak us, the clouds whirled about and witnessed the ever-changing anger in the sky. That night was one of those beautiful experiences that remind me of exactly why I love The Great Outdoors. The next morning was no different – though the wind had died down and the fog had rolled in, the rain was still steady. Being our last day on the trail, we were in no rush to leave. After enjoying two cups of coffee comfortably under his shelter that morning, I knew that tarp was gonna be a game changer for me.

Though despite all I enjoyed about it, I still remained cautious to sleep in the open. I wouldn’t actually attempt to remain under it overnight for another few months. I had learned over the years to fear the idea of bugs at night. Though only at night. I’m unsure exactly why, perhaps it is the idea that one fears what cannot be seen. Or simply, my history of bug bites and laundry list of allergies attached to them. The idea of them crawling on me and not knowing freaked me out. Regardless of why, it took me time to build the confidence for action. I knew if I wanted the experience the tarp provided, I’d have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And therefore, one night, after everyone had already tucked themselves in for the night, I found that confidence to just go for it – I was gonna sleep out in the open! I approached my friends tarp, nudging him on the shoulder unknowingly waking him up seeking a spot beside him. He agreed. Once settled, I leaned in close whispering the words ” just so that you know, I might freak out”. Well. Likely not the best thing to say to someone half asleep. He shot up, inquisitively demanding I explain just what that means. Although I wasn’t sure I could, I wasn’t even sure I knew. I think it was because of bugs – the multitude of bugs I had been watching crawling about earlier. Despite his sleepy state, he was overly kind to have eased my mind by spraying bug spray about the circumference of my sleeping pad. And after one extremely restless night later, I had survived! Not a single bite.

It took many uncomfortable nights of sleeping underneath that tarp before I now can honestly admit I absolutely love everything about tarp tenting. Since then the tarp has provided countless memorable experiences, both solo and with friends. Protection from above, adventure below. The tarp is my preferred sleep system. It is everything I want and need. And after countless bag nights over the years, only twice have I ever woken up with a story to tell otherwise. Here is how I see it, a few spider bites to the hand cannot compare to a payoff of sleeping more exposed to nature. The views, the airflow, the exposure to what I love about nature.





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Comments 1

  • TBR : Jul 25th

    Tell us more about your tarp rig.

    During my time hiking a chunk of the trail I carried a tent but as the nights wore on I came to like cowboy camping.

    Post-trail hikes, I used a tarp if the weather was threatening. Worked well for me (though I did have a badger come through one night).

    I found tarps were lighter than tents and just more fun (I hike and camp mostly in the fall and spring, when bugs are not a big issue).

    I’d like to know how other folks are doing this.

    Thanks for the nice report.


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