COST TO MAKE: $210 (shared components with solo tarp poncho)
USE: As an ultralight 2 person shelter in dry to mild conditions
WILL I USE IT?: Yep. I have and I will continue to use it
I love my solo tarp-poncho, but what about when I want to camp with my man? That’s what this amazing, insanely light 2 person tarp is for! It’s simple, easy, versatile, super ultra light weight and compact. It weighs a measley 10 oz included stakes and guy lines.
I designed and constructed the flat tarp with 0.34 oz/sqyd Cuben Fiber (tarp body), single sided cuben fiber tape and double sided cuben fiber tape (reinforcement), 1.43 oz/sqyd Cuben Fiber adhesive material (tie outs), D-rings and mittenhooks (removable tie out hardwear), zline 1.25 mm spectra cord and micro line loc guy line adjusters (guy lines), single sided cuben fiber tape and double sided cuben fiber tape (reinforcement), and titanium ultralight tent stakes. I was able to reuse the guy line components I constructed for my solo tarp poncho.
I cut the cuben to length and attached the two pieces together lengthwise using double sided cuben tape and stitching with polyester thread for strength, then added single sided cuben tape for waterproofing.
I designed the tie outs for maximum strength. The tie outs were cut by hand with rounded edges to minimize strain. The tarp corner is sandwiched between two offset layers of cuben on either side. Tie outs are reinforced with polyester stitching. I incorporated D-rings for guy line removability. Guy lines clip to D rings on tie outs with mitten hooks.
How does it compare to commercially available gear? Zpacks sells rectangular tarps comparable in size for $255-$275 ($50-$65 more than it cost to make this one), although the tarps available are in a thicker 0.5 oz/sqyd cuben fiber.
How does it perform? Great!
Jared and I have used the tarp on the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier and on the Loowit Trail around Mt St Helens. The tarp has yet to experience rain, thanks to the dry Northwest weather. But so far it’s a success! It is incredibly spacious and more than roomy enough for the two of us and our gear. It gives us shelter when we need some buffering from the elements (we’re certain an elk came into our camp one night, but thanks to the tarp it did not stomp on us) and could be used in drizzly conditions.
WILL I USE IT?: I have and I will continue to. So far used in VT and WA. I will continue to use it on my solo ultralight adventures.
I needed a shelter for my Long Trail thru hike, so why not make a bomber super ultralight shelter/poncho to save as much weight as possible?
Instead of carrying my 7 oz rain jacket – which is great and very light and waterproof (the Patagonia M10) PLUS a 1 lb+ shelter, I can carry my tarp/poncho which weighs in at 7.9 oz INCLUDING stakes. Plus, it kind of looks like an octopus suit – with a opaque blue hooded portion and translucent body – which, let’s face it, is awesome.
I wanted an absurdly ultralight shelter that I could use to sleep under and use as waterproof breathable rain gear while hiking. There are a few products on the market that are similar (e.g., Zpacks Micro Ground sheet $175 – a ground sheet not shelter mind you, MLD Cuben Fiber Poncho $175 – no breathable portion, Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape $110 – silnylon).
The tarp/poncho was made using 0.51 oz/sqyd cuben fiber (tarp body), 1.62 oz/sqyd “Challenger” Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber-eVent (breathable hood/chest), 1.0 oz/sqyd cuben fiber (tie outs), D-rings and mittenhooks (removable tie out hardwear), zline 1.25 mm spectra cord and micro line loc guy line adjusters (guy lines), single sided cuben fiber tape and double sided cuben fiber tape (reinforcement), and titanium ultralight tent stakes.
I drew up the layout and made tests using Tyvek. I cut a large hole in the 0.5 cuben for the breathable portion and hood. The waterproof breathable portion was designed to allow heat and moisture escape the body of the poncho around the chest, head, and neck while hiking hard and exerting maximum energy. I made the hood using Challenger waterproof breathable cuben fiber eVent fabric, taped seams, and added drawcord and cord lock then fitted fitted the two pieces (tarp and poncho) together – adhered with double sided cuben tape, sewn with polyester thread, and taped with single sided cuben tape for waterproofing.
I designed the tie outs for maximum strength and durability. Much thought went into optimum design in order to minimize stress and strain in one seamless, edgeless single piece of cuben fiber. I wanted to avoid several pieces of fabric which would compromise the cuben strength by breaking the long strands of dyneema thread. I also wanted to avoid sharp edges and corners which could create weak spots in the piece. The tie outs were laser cut for seamlessness and cut with rounded edges to minimize strain. The tarp corner is sandwiched between two offset layers of cuben on either side. Tie outs are adhered to tarp corners and edges with double sided cuben tape and reinforced with polyester stitching. Ideally the tie outs would be adhered rather than taped, however, due to adhesion difficulties I opted to adhere with strong double sided cuben tape instead. I incorporated D-rings for guy line removability. Guy lines clip to D rings on tie outs with mitten hooks.
How does it perform? Perfectly!
The tarp is just big enough to fit 5’2″ me underneath on my Thermarest and sleeping bag. So, it’s cozy. But it works like a charm. Thus far I have used the tarp on camping adventures in the Washington Enchantments and on the Vermont Long Trail.
I used the tarp as shelter in soaking, humid Vermont rain and amazingly stayed dry. I cinched the hood closed and had no problems with water dripping in. Backsplash was surprizingly minimal, considering the tarp does not come all the way to the ground but instead leaves a several-inch gap (bigger at the head tapering to the feet). I also used an ultralight umbrella over the front opening of the a-frame for added rain protection, which I would continue in future rains, particularly in windy rainy conditions. The breathable eVent portion seemed to allow more moisture through the fabric pores which left the surface of the center of my sleeping bag damp after 8-10 hours overnight in steady rain – which I noticed but did not affect the sleeping bag performance even with the high humidy/inability of anything to dry. This is not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind especially in cold and rainy conditions.
When used as a poncho, it also works great. The poncho is big enough to go over and around my pack, and longer in front so when walking through wet brush and overgrown trail I stay dry. I wore the poncho in Vermont rains and stayed dry when possible (however, I also got wet in sideways wind and driving rain, but I’d expect to get wet in any rain jacket in those conditions). The waterproof breathable portion kept me from overheating and oversweating. Also as a plus I don’t have to worry about rain pants because the poncho covers my legs or about a pack cover because the poncho goes around my pack.
Overall: the Cuben Fiber Tarp/Poncho is an excellent piece of minimalist lightweight gear. The design and production went great. It performs well as both a tarp and a poncho (and pack cover!). And there are so many ounces of savings. A resounding success.
Want the most ultralight gear possible? Yes please. Shave a few grams by switching out the silnylon compression sack for a waterproof roll top cuben fiber dry bag? Why not? Keep my bag extra dry with another layer of waterproofing? Sure! I made a few pieces of gear in preparation for the rainy thru-hike that is the VT Long Trail and this is one of them.
The dry bag is made using 1.0 oz/sqyd cuben fiber, single sided cuben fiber tape (waterproofing), and one 1/2″ side release buckle. I sewed the fabric into a tube shape, sewed the middle of the bottom together, then sewed and cut the corners to create a bottom to the bag so that it has more shape than an envelope. I added reinforcement stitching so the bag can withstand the pressure of my sleeping bag trying to burst it open, and added single sided cuben tape for extra waterproofing/seam taping. The roll top closure holds shape by folding the top edge over and with an extra piece of folded over cuben fiber. The buckle is attached and sewn to the bag top.
Does it work? Yes! It fits my feathered friends egret 20 down bag perfectly. I’ve used it over 50 days of compression and going strong.
Cost to make: $16. Comparable retail cost: $50-80. Savings: around $34-64 (300-500%)
Use: As a bug net/tent when cowboy camping or sleeping under a tarp
Will I use it?: Are there mosquitos or black flies? Absolutely.
Onto my third piece of ultralight gear: a tiny bug tent designed to fit over the head/torso only. Cowboy camping or camping under a tarp? Are mosquito’s trying to eat you alive? No worries, use this amazing and tiny bug tent and turn the torture tables on those mosquitos…
There are a few bug tents and bivies out there. Most are full body. Two or three on the market are head and torso only. They tend to be fairly expensive considering most of them are made with no-seeum netting which costs less than $10 per yard, while the tents retail for anywhere from $50 to $80 each. Lame.
This tiny tent is made with 1 yard of mesh no-seeum netting. Grosgrain ribbon, very thin 1.25 mm cord, and micro line loc adjusters comprise the tie-outs. An adjustable trekking pole serves as the tent pole.
The design is based on the mesh portion of Six Moon Designs Meteor Bivy, but scaled down in order to construct the tent with 1 yard of netting. Much of the cost is in the guy lines. Two of the 4 lines can and probably will be removed and replaced with stakes in order to get better ground contact and keep those pesky bugs from sneaking under.
The urban apartment test environment bodes well for outdoor successes. The tent should provide amazing bug shielding at a minimum size and cost.
Overall – third piece of ultralight gear making was a success!
Next on the horizon: 2 person tarp, bivy bag, and solo tarp/poncho…
Cost to make: $6. Comparable retail cost: about $10 (not really a comparable retail product though, it’s mostly DIY or a flat ground cloth). Savings: around $4 (40%)
Use: As a ground cloth when cowboy camping or when sleeping under a tarp
Will I use it?: Yes! Especially now that I have a Thermarest NeoAir for super plush sleeping
So here’s my second piece of lightweight gear: a Tyvek ground cloth complete with toe and head splash guards.
You might be wondering what’s up with tyvek…Yes, it’s a building material. And it also just so happens to also be a perfect lightweight and durable material for ultralight gear. According to the ZPacks website (another great ultralight gear maker): “Tyvek ‘Home Wrap’ is an ideal material for ground sheets. It is waterproof, and very abrasion and puncture resistant. Tyvek is stiff, and foldable like thick paper. It will not bunch up or slide around under you like other fabrics. It can be cut with regular scissors, and the edges do not fray.”
Most thru hikers use a Tyvek ground cloth. It’s cheap, light, durable, waterproof, easy to find, and perfect for throwing under your sleeping pad if you’re cowboy camping (look, Ma! No tent!) or using a tarp (aka a shelter without a bottom). Some of the extreme ultralight folks out there use polycro as a groundcloth instead of Tyvek, a material that’s super super light and more like saran wrap. I decided to go with Tyvek because I just got a new sleeping pad – a luxurious and plush Thermarest NeoAir because I toss and turn and side sleep and need more than just a thin foam pad. However, NeoAirs are rumored to puncture fairly easily, so I wanted a groundcloth that would give me durability and substance – a good buffer between my delicate sleeping pad and any sticks or rocks – while still being lightweight. Hence Tyvek.
Why the toe and head splash guards? No splashing – duh! Well, you can imagine camping under a tarp in a thunderstorm. Sure, a simple A-frame simple tarp will keep you dry and cozy from overhead rain, but what if it’s windy? And what if the rain drops are so huge that they’re splashing back up from underneath the tarp edges? That A-frame allows a lot of room for drops to snear near your bag. Solution: splash guards! The splash guards at the toe and head will protect from water splashing back, and the construction means that the ground cloth creates a bathtub shape along the sides, further protecting you and your fragile down bag from any rogue water droplets. Less wet down means no soggy bag and less dry time. Last year on the PCT Jared and I got caught in a few doozy thunderstorms in the Sierras. If we’d had a tarp, we surely would have needed protection from monster raindrop backsplash and would have made good use of this ground cloth.
The ground cloth is made with two pieces of tyvek, each about 34″ wide. The two pieces are sewn together and seam sealed. Then the edges are folded over, envelope style, to create the toe and head splash guards. The corners are rounded to reduce excess material and weight. Attachment points for the toe guard are reinforced with extra fabric and stitching to prevent tearing. All seams are sealed with SeamSure, a simple water based seam sealer.
So far, the ground cloth is faring well. I have yet to put it to the test and use it outside, but urban apartment camping tests bode well for future successes. It should give me just the abrasion and dirt protection me and my sleeping pad need. And it should also protect my down bag from any splashing (especially under those tarps that I have in the works).
Overall – second ultralight gear making was a success! Next time around, I’ll add a few inches to overall length (it’s just barely long enough now…a few more inches would reduce stress on attachment points), but will otherwise keep the design consistent.
Next on the horizon: tiny bug mesh tent, 2 person tarp, bivy bag, and solo tarp/poncho…
Cost to make: $10. Comparable retail cost: $20-$30. Savings: about $10-$20 (100-200%)
Use: Dry bag for quilt, clothes, or small sleeping bag.
Will I use it?: Yes, as soon as I make myself a quilt! Right now my sleeping bag is too big to fit inside…
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this post is about gear making (Aka MYOG, or Make Your Own Gear). I confess – I haven’t been in the mountains much lately. Instead of hitting the hills, I’ve been climbing indoors at Vertical World, running (including a hilly 5k in Interlaken Park), and making gear for my next adventure! Yes, I’ve officially caught the ultralight bug.
This is my first piece of ultralight gear – a Cuben fiber roll-top dry sack with the lightest possible cuben fiber out there (at 0.33 oz/sqyd).
So what is cuben fiber? It’s an amazing super light fabric used in ultralight gear making, among other things. “Cuben Fiber is a high-performance, non-woven, rip-stop, composite laminate developed in the 1990s by a nuclear weapons physicist and an aerospace composite engineer. Originally designed for use in world-class sailing, it is ideal for certain applications in lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear due to its unmatched strength-to-weight ratio”, according to lightweight gear makers at Hyperlight Mountain Gear. “Technically speaking, Cuben fiber is a laminated fabric made using patented technologies with unidirectional prepregnated tapes of in-line plasma treated fibers that are spread into mono-filament level films. In more simple terms, Cuben fiber is made by sandwiching Spectra or Dyneema polyethylene fiber filaments a thousandth of an inch thick, in various arrangements between thin outer layers of polyester film. The “sandwich” is then melded together in a high-pressure autoclave. Cuben fiber is lightweight, highly durable, and is 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and allows flex without losing strength. It is also less than half the weight of silnylon, has low specific gravity (floats on water), high chemical resistance, excellent UV resistance and is 100% waterproof.”
In short – ultralight, ultra strong, and waterproof. Perfect for tents, tarps, dry bags, stuff sacks, etc. It comes in weights ranging from 0.33 oz/sqyd-1.43 oz/sqyd plus as a hybrid with other materials.
This dry bag is constructed with the lightest possible cuben – 0.33 oz/sqyd. Most of the seams are taped with double sided cuben tape. I folded the bottom and sewed the corners in order to get a box like shape, then taped the outside with single sided cuben tape for waterproofing. The top edge is reinforced with more 0.33 oz/sqyd cuben rolled/folded over, then taped with single sided cuben tape on which a buckle is attached for closure.
It works well and will hold a small quilt. Because it is so likely to puncture, I consider it highly water resistant as opposed to fully waterproof. In fact, upon testing (filling with water!), there were a few teeny tiny holes through which water seeped over time. It should function well inside a pack in rainy conditions, but probably not fully submerged in a river (which I don’t intend to do).
So overall – first ultralight gear making was a success! Next on the horizon: tiny bug mesh tent, tyvek ground cloth with toe splash guard, 2 person tarp, and tarp/poncho…