Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Tarp update

Thanks to those who commented on my last post. I've gone back to the oracle - Ray Jardine in Beyond Backpacking. His view is that, whilst he has camped in all weathers using a tarp, a tarp is not a four season shelter. I think, also, some of the problems I experienced earlier this month were of my own making:

  • I didn't gauge the wind direction properly. The tarp was end on to where the wind was coming from and this produced the wind tunnel effect. I should have rotated it 90 degrees and pegged the windward side right down to the ground.
  • Apart from the end guys, the corners of the tarp are most susceptible to wind. As the ground was soft, I should have used more robust pegs which would not have come loose (hopefully).
  • It may not be a good idea to use the tarp and leave it unattended, particularly when the weather is bad. On a normal backpacking trip, as opposed to a "static" weekend, I would usually be close by.
  • It might be be better to use a tent during the worst of the winter. Unfortunately, my only tent is a Khyam Epic which is heavier than lightweight and does not pack down small. It is really a car camping tent.
  • I shall buy a bivy bag, probably the Alpkit Hunka. This should prevent the sleeping bag getting wet.
  • I plan to upgrade the tarp guys to fluorescent yellow (from black) so that I don't have the problem of others on site tripping over them.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Backpackers Club Christmas weekend

The weekend with the Backpackers Club was brilliant; I wish I could say the same of the tarp! For anyone who does not know, I have a Golite Cave. I pitched it in the dark and, because rain was expected, I pitched one end and the sides completely down to the ground. The entrance end was at normal height (although, because one end was really low, the entrance was lower than usual), using a trekking pole fully extended. Although the rain kept out, the tarp was too low for reasonable use because:

Condensation formed and, whilst not enough to drip, nevertheless was unpleasant and it came into contact with my new down sleeping bag. The entrance was really too low to comfortably get in and out of the tarp and I tended to pull one of the front guys out whenever I went in or out.
It resulted in insufficient usable space, particularly at the lower end.

Anyway, I survived. In the morning, I adjusted the tarp by increasing the height at the foot end which appeared fine and, as a precaution, I put my down bag in the car which was nearby. I then went off and left it for a few hours. This was a bad move. The weather took a turn for the worse. It was windy and there was blizzarding snow, followed by rain. When I returned, I found that although the main guys at either end were still firmly in place, the two pegs at the foot end had pulled loose in the wet muddy ground and the guy points had lifted off the pegs. The end of the tarp was flapping in the wind and my Thermarest was wet. As the car was there, I packed up and slept very comfortably in it that night.

I’ve used the tarp a lot over the past five years or so but only over the summer months (apart from the Dartmoor trip a month ago when the weather was calm) and so this was my first experience of using the tarp in really inclement conditions. One of my reasons for testing it is to check whether it is likely to be suitable for my LEJOG in May 2009. The jury is definitely out on this at the moment.

More robust pegs at the corners of the tarp are called for, I think (I now use stout plastic T-section ones for the guys at either end and these are very effective). This might have prevented the problem of the flapping end.

Although pegging down to the ground at one end kept the weather out, I would prefer not to do this. Maybe pitching higher at the foot end with hiking umbrella opened up from the inside and secured to the ground would be feasible.

Apart from that, a sheer lack of "cosiness" was evident – the tarp was like a wind tunnel! When it’s really cold and horrible, I can’t see myself looking forward to spending night after night in a wind tunnel (although the LEJOG won’t start until May and it won’t be as cold). However, I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe a bivy bag (perhaps the Alpkit Hunka for £25) would be sensible, for a fraction extra warmth and to prevent the sleeping bag getting wet.

Comments/suggestions from folk would be most welcome. I wonder if anyone uses a tarp all year round in the UK.

A couple of short walks rounded off the weekend - one at 7am on Sunday, down Biggindale some distance and then back along to Dalehead and the other stopping off on the way to Ashbourne and parking the car at Milldale and striking up to head down Hall Dale to the Dove and back to Milldale - both only about three miles each but at least it wasn’t raining.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A wet weekend coming up

Am I looking forward to the coming weekend? Well, yes and no. It's a Backpackers Club weekend in the Peak District, on the same pitch for two nights. I'm determined to take the tarp, rather than a tent and the forecast is WET. With the Lands End to John O'Groats trip coming up (albeit not until May 2009), I'm keen to put the tarp through its paces. I have to know that it will withstand rough weather. The car will be nearby if it blows away.