I've been toying with the idea of switching over to a tarp as my primary shelter for quite some time, but for reasons that escape me right now, I have never quite been able to fully commit to taking the plunge. My current solution is a Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asym, which is by no means a bad shelter, but it's not an especially light weight one either. The Expedition Asym weighs in at 2lbs 12oz.
Saving weight is probably the main reason why I have wanted to make the switch to an ultralight tarp, but I've also wanted to have a shelter that would allow my dog to sleep protected from the elements during the night, which is something that I can't do if I am using my hammock. I feel bad making my dog sleep out in the open while we're on the trail. She's a great trail companion, but she's not use to being outdoors at night and spooks easily.
So, a few weeks ago I took the plunge and started practicing with a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn ultralight tarp. I had expected there to be a lot of disadvantages to using a tarp, which was a large part of the reason I had never fully committed to the switch. However, I discovered that once I got into an established routine I could set up the tarp in almost no time at all and have been able to stay dry and warm with no major issues. In fact, one of the biggest mental hurdles of sleeping under a tarp (the exposed open ends), turned out to be a positive benefit by providing fantastic views of my outdoor surroundings.
The SpinnTwinn is incredibly light weight. After seam sealing and including all of the guylines, corner linelocs, and stuff sack, it weighs an incredible 10.4oz. That's over a 2lb saving on my hammock. I really liked that the SpinnTwinn came with all of the linelocs already attached and 25 feet of EZC-2 orange cord for use as guylines, although you will need to cut the guylines to length and attach them - but that is all explained in detail in their online manual (PDF).
Tarps are definitely new to me so I've had to experiment with all sorts of different ways of setting it up and taking it down. Things that I never had to really take into account with a hammock, like pitching the low end into the wind, make a huge difference when setting up a tarp. With a tarp as light weight as the SpinnTwinn you don't want to be fighting with the wind. I've also noticed that the spinnaker cloth material used to make the SpinnTwinn can be quite noisy in the wind if it isn't pitched very taught.
Even simple things like the color-coded front and back ridge-line tags make set up almost idiot-proof. The SpinnTwinn uses red (head) for the front ridge-line tag and blue (bottom) for the rear. Once you know this and what height to set your trekking poles to (45 inches for the front and 32 inches for the back - again explained very clearly in the PDF manual) you're equipped with all of the information you need to set up the tarp, well pretty much.
There's also a lot more room underneath the tarp than I ever had in my hammock, which sounds obvious now but I just hadn't thought about it before. The SpinnTwinn is large enough to easily accommodate two people and all of their gear. With just me and my dog there is plenty of room. Funnily enough, from the very first time I set up the tarp my dog took a liking to it and seemed to instinctively know that it was for her to get underneath too.
I'm still not 100 percent comfortable with the additional exposure that comes with using a tarp, so I've ordered a MLD bug bivy to hang up underneath the SpinnTwinn. The bug bivy has a full bathtub floor so I'm not sure if I will need to invest in a waterproof ground sheet just yet. If I'm not using the bug bivy then I think a ground sheet would be very useful. I'm still working out the kinks in my setup.
I'll write a more in-depth longer term usage review of the SpinnTwinn after I've had some more time to get use to my new tarp and have gotten more comfortable with setting it up and taking it down. For now it's safe to say that I'm completely hooked. I've got the tarp bug and I'm looking forward to the arrival of my MLD bug bivy to see how that compliments the SpinnTwinn. Good times are definitely ahead! If you have any advice or tips and tricks for an ultralight tarp newbie, feel free to leave a comment.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and paid for it using their own funds.
Brian is a Charlotte based backpacker, gear junkie, runner, and CrossFit(er). Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. He spends as much time backpacking as his busy work schedule and family life will allow.