I grew up sleeping under tarps while backpacking. The summer camp I went to as a kid was located adjacent to several of Colorado's most iconic 14ers (14,000-foot peaks). As campers, we climbed the scree-filled spires, then tumbled together like puppies into a happy sleep, five or six of us crammed together under one tarp. By the time I was a counselor, I knew all my knots and could set up the ultra-heavy tarps efficiently, back then stringing them between trees.
In my 20s I carried a two-pole freestanding two-wall tent. It was heavy but worked. I also experimented with a bivy, which ended up causing so much internal condensation that I gave it away — and a single-wall tent, which I still have and occasionally use to this day.
For the last several years, I’ve been blessed to sleep in the palatial Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2-person UltaMid Shelter. It’s similar to a UL tarp system in that it also uses trekking poles for setup, but instead the trekking poles notch into a central middle point on the shelter.
Life can be weirdly circular, and in my quest to find lighter and lighter ways to adventure into the mountains, I find myself back at my roots: a tarp and bivy setup. But this time with the high-tech, uber ultralight system handmade by Dan over at Anda.
There are any number of high-quality, lightweight tarps available. Similarly, bivy systems abound. A few things that make Anda Ultralight different from the rest include …
- The tarp and bivy are designed to be a system; they are intentionally created to work together as a versatile shelter. While other brands might make both tarps and bivvies, they’re rarely spec-ed to each other.
- The tarps and the bottoms of Anda bivvies are made of 100% recycled ECO SilPoly Ripstop fabric.
- Anda is about as cottage as it gets! Dan cuts and sews everything by hand in Atlanta, GA.
OK, now onto the step-by-step beginners guide to setting up an ultralight tarp and bivy system!
How to Set Up an Ultralight Tarp
1. Get Your Gear
2. Select Your Campsite
Campsite selection is always important, but becomes even more imperative when using a tarp and bivy. A great campsite will: provide extra shelter in inclement weather; be free of running or pooling water; and have ground sturdy enough to hold a stake, but not so hard or rocky that you can’t get the stake in.
3. Use a Clove Hitch to Attach Your Trekking Pole to the Ridge Line
4. Stake Out the Ridge Line
5. Stake Out the 2 Top Corners of the Tarp
6. Stake Out the Ridge Line on the Bottom of the Tarp
Beginner's mistake, I missed step #5, and then dealt with quite a wobbly ridge line while getting the bottom trekking pole staked ; )
7. Stake the Bottom Corners & Sides of Tarp
8. Lightly Tighten the Guylines
9. Stand Back and Admire!
10. Take a Nap
How to Set Up a Bivy Inside a Tarp
1. Lay it Out on the Ground
If there are no bugs or big storms, you can just use your bivy as a groundsheet
2. Stake out the Corners of the Bathtub Floor
The Anda Burrito Bivy is designed to attach cleverly and conveniently to the sides of the Uno Mas tarp. I think I set it up a smidge taut.
3. Raise the Bug Net to Keep it Off Your Face
4. Shimmy Inside and Zip it Up
Next time, I'll attache the bug to that little bungee loop inside the tarp, so a drip of water doesn't land on my face all night : ) Learning curve! And this is why we practice!
5. Go to Bed
Tarps and bivvies are about as ultralight as it gets, shaving considerable weight and bulk off standard backpacking sleep systems. But they’re not the easiest thing in the world to use.
First, at least in the case of the Anda tarp and bivy system, there’s prep work required before you can take the gear on your first outing: including cutting and knotting several pieces of guyline, installing line locks, and seam-sealing the top of the tarp.
Then, setting up the tarp requires knowing a few specific knots, as well as being well practiced in how to tension a shelter (often this is surprisingly hard). Additionally, understanding how to pick a good campsite is essential when using a tarp and/or bivvy.
Halley wants to know where she's supposed to sleep?!?!
While UL tarps and bivvies may not be the best choice for someone who wants the easy road, in my experience, the easy road is rarely the aim of an ultralighter ; ) If you’re willing to put in the time to become practiced at using a tarp and bivy system, you may just find yourself skipping like Dorothy down the trail, thoroughly unafraid of the impending tornado, knowing you have the tools for (well … nearly) any storm.
Was that clear as mud? Watching Dan’s How-To Videos ought to help sort things out!