Tarps. They’re the simplest form of shelter available. When people are looking to get started or are not quite sure what to get, they’ll sometimes just settle with a piece of plastic, poked with a few grommets, to tie off to a tree and keep the morning dew or a gentle rain off their sleeping bag. After trying bivvy tents, bivvy sacks, lightweight tents, among the dizzying array of possibilities, sometimes we need to refocus on the simple setup of a tarp. How do you go back to a tarp without sacrificing all the advantages of high end shelters? The Hyperlite Mountain Gear shelter is exactly the kind of advanced tarp that brings shelters back to that original simplicity of sleeping outside.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear flat tarp is made in Biddeford, Maine, constructed from Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber). The Dyneema fabric is made from thin polyester that is carefully layered to increase the thickness to make it more durable. This technical fabric has a higher strength to weight ratio than silnylon, making the 8’6” square tarp reviewed come in at a paltry 8.5oz (without guylines or stakes). The material feels thin to touch and is quite noisy when ruffled with (although not as noisy as Tyvek, but not as soft as silnylon). The material does have some stretch to it and will relax, especially under weight in the rain (more on that later).
The tie-outs Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses are quite handy. The tie-outs require no knots, but to simply thread through and the plastic tie-out bites down on the working end. This makes set up a breeze, leaving the guy-line tied to the stakes, or using a loop to pull through around static objects. In the morning simply pull up on the lever end of the tie-out and the guyline slides right out. The 8’6” square tarp comes with 16 of these capable tie outs. Along with these technical tie-outs there are four additional basic tie-outs along the topside of the tarp; I never found a use for these, but it’s nice to know that they are there, possibly for tying the tarp back, additional support for rain runoff, or possibly even flipping the tent and hanging a mosquito net from. All of the tie-outs are supported with an additional layer of fabric.
I reviewed the Hyperlite Flat Tarp on the Baja Divide trail. My two biggest concerns for the tarp along this trail would be the durability of the fabric and the ability to pitch it with few trees in the Mexican desert.
The durability never felt like an issue. While the fabric feels light and thin, in practice the material was very strong. The Mexican desert is chock full of thorns, thick branches, and sand that has an ability to work through material. Through 3 weeks of camping out on this rough terrain the tarp didn’t suffer a single tear, hole, or scuff. The fabric has some give to it, which is noticeable as the fabric will sag under tension after a while. It was worth it to set up the tarp right away at camp, then allowing it to rest before giving it one more pull and calling it a night.
The tarp is designed around the simple A-frame pitch, which requires two poles. For thru-hikers carrying trekking poles this is not an issue, but for bikepacking, with the goal of minimizing kit (the whole point of a tarp over a tent), I only brought one pole. The lack of trees in the Baja desert had me on the regular pitching an A across my one pole and the wide bars of my mountain bike. One big exception to that was when we got caught in inclement weather along the Pacific Coast west of Cataviña. Using another rider’s pole, we pitched an A-frame which was enough for three of us to cook dinner in and two not so short riders to sleep under. Through the night the weight of the rain caused some sagging on the material, but the easy to use tie-outs meant a simple pull and the tarp was back in tension. I never once worried about it falling down. We stayed incredibly dry that night, which is more than I can say for some other lightweight setups.
One other difficult pitch was in a windy setup. Pitching a lean-to into the wind pushed the fabric into me a few times throughout the night. Thankfully it was dry that night, but could be problematic if it were wet. A stiffer pole (I used Easton carbon fiber poles) might help in that situation, or even just stiffer trees to tie off to.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear flat tarp is not your beginner’s tarp. This is not a piece of nylon with grommets. Using thoughtful tie-outs on high end material, along with fine craftsmanship, this tarp is an extremely lightweight and capable option. While we only got hit with rain once, knowing the capabilities of this tarp in the wet I would not hesitate to suggest this tarp even in the expectation of inclement weather (but extra stakes and stiffer poles would be recommended). The tarp is available for purchase at www.hyperlitemountaingear.com for $315.00