The Ounce Design Tarp (ODT) out in the Elk Range. You can see Capitol Peak near the top and center of the picture.
I didn't know how to make heads or tails of this website. Was it taking a jab at ultralight backpacking culture, or was Sinclair really this eccentric? Whatever Ounce Design was doing though, it was clearly working. Although their shelters only appeared on the Garage Grown Gear’s website in late Spring, they've been consistently sold out for months. Does this tarp live up to the hype? Is it really one of the lightest tarps on the market? I don’t know, let's find out.
Testing Locations: Grand-Staircase Escalante, the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado Elk Range, and the Coconino National Forest.
Gear List: https://lighterpack.com/r/wrya7k
- 195g/6.88oz shaped tarp with guylines
- 6g/0.21oz stuff sack
- Needs only four stakes for setup
- Floor Dimensions: 106″L x 75″W | 270cm x 190cm
- Interior Peak height: 47" | 110cm or higher
- Packed Size: 10" x 7" x 3"
- One Trekking Pole Design, 110+cm
- Trapezoid Shape
- Bonded Seams
- 0.5oz Dyneema® Composite Fabric (DCF)
- Tie-out Reinforcements: 2.92oz DCF
- Waterproof YKK Zipper
Pros of the Ounce Design Tarp (ODT)
The Ounce Design Tarp (ODT) is one of the lightest shelters on the market. For comparison, at face value, the Zpacks Hexamid Tarp weighs 6.1oz (172g), while the ODT comes in at 6.88oz (195g). However, you need six stakes to set up the Hexamid, while the ODT only requires four (that’s right four, but more on that later).
Many ultralight hikers opt to use the MSR Mini Groundhog for their shelter’s stakes, which weighs 0.35oz (9.92g). Thus, at the end of the day, when taking into account the weight of tent stakes, the ODT only weighs 0.08oz or 2.27g more than the Zpacks Hexamid Tarp. No more math, I promise.
For most hikers, this minute difference in weight between products isn’t significant. But as you’ll come to see from this review, those two extra grams come with an incredible level of durability, creativity, and craftsmanship. If I had to choose one shelter for a rugged backpacking trip through the San Juans or the Arizona Trail, I would pick the ODT every time.
DCF shelter or not, the ODT can really take a beating. After extensive off-trail use in the desert, as well as in deep forest environments, all in literal thorny situations, I can say that this shelter can take all comers. During one intensive evening shower recently, it began hailing on me for about half an hour straight. Meanwhile, I was quite dry and comfortable inside the ODT, engrossed in a podcast.
When I came home from my trip, I inspected the tarp and after all I had put it through, I couldn't even find a single pinhole in the 0.50 Dyneema Composite Fabric. I know many hikers are wary of using DCF shelters. However, I think the notion that DCF is fragile needs to go the way of the dodo. I've had several DCF shelters stand the test of time, and the ODT is among them.
Lastly, I'd like to touch on how Ounce Design went above and beyond the rest of the market. Most cottage shelter designers sew DCF panels together, which introduces pinholes and points of failure into the shelter; and then they simply tape over the seams. Ounce Design decided instead to bond the DCF sheets together, making the tarp incredibly strong while decreasing failure points.
In this picture, you can see how the Katabatic Piñon Bivy fits inside of the ODT, with some room to spare on either side.
I mentioned it earlier, but the ODT's unique trapezoidal shape means that it has only four points that need to be staked out. I don't want to under-sell the ingenuity of this tarp’s shape. The lightest of ultralight shelters that are not flat tarps rely on a half-pyramid shape, often a hexagon, to create a balance between weight, livability, and storm worthiness. Yet the ODT is one of the lightest shelters on the market, and can remain comfortable even during storms, while having a trapezoidal shape. By using bonded seams, the shelter is made stronger than many of its competitors. Meaning, it can use less walls and still protect you from the elements. The fewer walls, the less stakes the tarp needs, saving weight.
The tarp material, along with its bonded seams, makes the ODT incredibly stormproof. I spent much of the Western States’ 2023 monsoon season inside of this shelter. I did not once feel a drop of rain touch my quilt. You would think its small footprint might leave little room for error, in terms of downpour and splashback. But the ODT does its intended job well. Even its one storm door is sealed with a YKK waterproof zipper. I have no doubt the ODT will remain stormworthy for years to come.
I have a good amount of room to relax in, for my needs.
Good to Know
The negatives of this tarp are far and few between. The following are minute points that are not necessarily deal breakers, just things for backpackers to be aware of. No piece of gear is perfect; it can only be perfect for you and your use cases.
The Ounce Design Tarp has a very small footprint, which is its greatest asset and weakness. Its small footprint is one of the reasons it is one of the lightest shelters on the market. You can practically set it up anywhere because of its size. For some hikers, though, they may feel like their room inside the shelter is limited, especially with the tarp door fully closed.
At 5’10”, I’m a fairly average size American male. When inside and fully enclosed, I feel fine. However, I am used to small ultralight shelters. Rain or shine, you can usually find me under a tarp and bivy. Yet I know that I am an outlier, and most backpackers need creature comforts like wide sleeping pads, room to sprawl, and lots of headroom.
I can fully sit up in the middle. You can see me attaching the head of my bivy to my trekking pole to bring the netting away from my face.
If you are a seasoned ultralighter, the ODT will feel familiar. It may even feel spacious! If you know you are the type of hiker that needs extra room and a vestibule, then you may want to look at other shelters like the Two from Gossamer Gear.
Being over 5’10” in height shouldn’t be a deal breaker though. According to Ounce Design, if you lay diagonally, a person up to 6’4” could sleep inside. You can also increase the livable space by staking out the fifth tie-out point, or adding a sixth tie-out point with a stick-on patch to the front.
Length of Zipper
Because the ODT can run small for some hikers, the doorway can be equally as small. Meaning, you may need to crouch and crawl to get into bed. However, I believe Ounce Design could easily remedy this negative by simply extending the zipper just a few more inches upward towards its peak.
I admit, this is super nitpicky. But, the magnets could be stronger on the ODT. Magnets are used to keep the door open for ventilation or a good view, and I noticed that sometimes when I bumped into the tarp while walking around camp, the magnets would dislodge…that’s it. They’re only a few millimeters in diameter, so maybe they could be larger instead of stronger? I am a clumsy hobbit though, so this could just be a “me thing”.
Ease of Setup
As someone who is well versed in a myriad of shelters (nylon, polyester, freestanding, non-freestanding, double-wall, single-wall, bivvy, etc.), I can say that the ODT has a small learning curve to its setup. Like I said, the lightest of ultralight shelters are shaped as hexagons. The trapezoidal shape on the ODT is so different that it isn’t inherently straightforward.
For example, if you have set up Gossamer Gear’s the Two before, you have a basic understanding of how to set up the Bonfus Duos 2P. If you know how to set up the Lunar Solo, you essentially know how to set up the Lanshan 1 Pro. However, there is no shelter quite like the ODT.
After a full season of use, I get the pitch right about 80% of the time. It will take some practice, to be sure. As an experienced backpacker, though, you know that comes with the territory. It’s always best to test out a piece of gear before you use it in the field.
The Ounce Design Tarp stands out as one of the lightest and most robust shelters available. While it demands a slight learning curve for setup and offers limited space for some users, its exceptional durability and innovative design make it a standout choice for ultralight backpacking.
With time, this shelter got a lot easier to use, and the benefits were worth it. Thanks for reading : )
Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work on his website.