Taking The Tarp Plunge

Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp

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).

Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp

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.

Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp

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.

Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp

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.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05795475987174674274 The Bush Hippy

    love this blog. loved the pics too, reminded me that there is life after a blizzard….sending hikin’ love from Amarillo tonight :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17919113324490223605 Hendrik Morkel

    You made a wise decision to take the plunge, Brian! The SpinnTwinn is likely the best UL Beginners tarp there is, made even better by its affordable price.

    If you get a bit cold at night, try a bivy instead of a net inner, that adds more warmth and also gives insect protection.

    Oh yeah, I like the illustration you made! Fantastic!

    In that sense, enjoy the lovely night under your new tarp =)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Bush Hippy, thanks for your kind words. I was checking out your blog and love the pictures of you camping with your dogs :-) Then as I scrolled down I noticed you also practice Jiu-Jitsu! Even though I practice Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, I love that we both have that in common. Keep rollin’

    Hendrik, I’m really happy that I took the plunge and agree that the SpinnTwinn is a great tarp. It’s kinda new to me but I can see why people get so passionate about a simple tarp, there are so many options. I was thinking of getting a MLD bivy in addition to the bug bivy so that I have a few more options, so thanks for the advice. Do you have a preference when it comes to bivys?

    Ha, you like my quick illustration. I started my professional career as a technical illustrator in newspaper infographics so when I can’t find an image of quite what I am looking for I tend to whip up a quick illustration – old habit I guess!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17919113324490223605 Hendrik Morkel

    I wish I’d have the time to learn doing illustrations like that!

    You could try to MYOG your bivy, or check the BPL GearSwap for an offer. I have an MLD Alpine bivy (event top, dyneema bottom) for tough conditions, and a LAUFBURSCHE tyvek bivy prototype which I like a lot and mainly use in winter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02587634243410402229 divb

    What about the comfort level? It seems hard to compare (no pun intended) the hard ground to a nice hammock without pressure points. By the time you buy the other stuff, aren’t you right back over 3lbs anyway?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    divb, that’s a valid point and one that I am trying to come to terms with myself. I’m currently using a combination of a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite sleeping pad for comfort and a Gossamer Gear Thinlight insulation pad to help with the cold coming up through the ground which combined add only 15oz. It seems to be working really well so far, but of course it is very different to the hammock experience.

    That said, when I sleep in my hammock I usually carry my Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite anyway because the thin material of the hammock leaves my back exposed to the elements even with my sleeping bag inside my hammock – so it’s almost a wash. As I said this is all kind new to me so I’m working out the kinks.

    If you have any suggestions for improving hammock sleeping or better ground comfort let me know, I’m definitely always open to suggestions. Thanks for commenting, I hope this kinda explains where I’m at.

  • http://makais.com/ Todd

    I’d love to try something like this, but I like to keep my dog protected in the tent with me. Otherwise she would be walking around patroling the campground all night! With a tarp set-up like this, would you leash your dog at night to a rock or something?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Todd, I’m lucky, my dog stays with me on the trail and all through the night. She only wanders off to jump in water. At night she wants to stay close, so I don’t have that issue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00647660102887883568 Tomas

    Nice post, I’m a little tarp-curious myself. I’ve rigged my groundsheet as a tarp a few times but never had a purpose-built tarp. I would like to try making one, I even have a few metres of sinylon sitting in a box here with that express purpose in mind.

    Nice to see you do BJJ, I’ve been doing it for a while now and I have to say it’s my number one favourite pastime. Hiking is great and climbing is good but where else can you choke out people for hours and not get arrested.

    Great training too, I have muscles in places I didn’t know you can get muscles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Tomas, thanks for your comments. I too have a large amount of silnylon just sitting here waiting to be turned into something useful :-) I was planning to make a tarp or tarp tent similar to the one Henry Shires has plans for online.

    I agree about BJJ being a good workout. I’m not getting any younger and every week I seem to be getting more and more aches and pains, not that I’m complaining.

    Where about in Sweden do you practice BJJ and do you do Gracie?

    Great to hear from you. Let me know what you decide to do with all that material you have, I’ll have to come up with something for mine too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00647660102887883568 Tomas

    I do BJJ at SBGi Stockholm, yeah it’s gracie style. I only started a few years ago because I moved to Stockholm and couldn’t find a Muay Thai club (which I used to practise a lot), and so I tried BJJ just to check it out, but found it was a lot more effective and a lot more fun. (And a lot more cerebral too).

    I will try and update my blog with some of the projects I am undertaking with all of this lovely sinylon and X-pac I bought, the problem is I am a terribly lazy bastard and I can never seem to have the self-discipline to finish a post. If only I enjoyed the blogging as much as the hiking :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408579400303294769 TOTHEWOODS

    Awesome post! I wanna make the plunge too. What are some of the pros/cons you have found since you got into tarping? Thanks!

    Andy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    TOTHEWOODS, the obvious pros would be the weight savings and the simplicity of setting up. I also love the view that it provides out of the open ends.

    Cons: Being more exposed to the elements, having no ground sheet, bugs and creepy crawlys.

    I’ve invested in a MLD bug bivy to solve both the ground sheet and bug issue and so far I’m very pleased with the results. I’ll post an update soon showing my tarp set up with the MLD bug bivy.

    What are the main issues holding you back from taking the plunge?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408579400303294769 TOTHEWOODS

    Nothing Really, just have never used a tarp shelter and am fearful of the bugs and other creepies on the ground. I think your bug net solution sounds good though. I would love to see it set up. I was just out in the snow this month overnight and used a simple tarp from Home depot, 8×10, and made a basic A-frame. It worked fairly well, but I had to use it with my three season tent with it due to wind and snow build up. Was fun though!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Andy, yeah it is fun and very liberating. I started playing with tents using an inexpensive silnylon 8×10 tarp that I added grommets too for set up. I mostly used it as a covered space for my hikes and not for sleeping under. It took me quite a while to make the leap to tarping for shelter.

    I’ll definitely get some pics of my MLD bivy and GG tarp setup for you, it will make a great follow up post too.

    Stick with it and let me know how it goes. There’s lots of great resources online for tips and tricks.

  • Anonymous

    Remember that a hammock is often covered by a large tarp equivalent in size to the SpinnTwinn, so there is plenty of rain protected area under a hammock.
    I have used a SpinnTwin many nights on the AT without a bivy, but a small piece of nylon only a tad wider than my sleeping bag as a ground cover for wet . A beak adds rain protection, wind protection and warmth and even more dry area.
    The directions call for the front pole to be pitched on an outward slant, not a right angle, or straight up and down. This gives you even more leg room underneath.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408579400303294769 TOTHEWOODS

    Nothing Really, just have never used a tarp shelter and am fearful of the bugs and other creepies on the ground. I think your bug net solution sounds good though. I would love to see it set up. I was just out in the snow this month overnight and used a simple tarp from Home depot, 8×10, and made a basic A-frame. It worked fairly well, but I had to use it with my three season tent with it due to wind and snow build up. Was fun though!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05795475987174674274 The Bush Hippy

    love this blog. loved the pics too, reminded me that there is life after a blizzard….sending hikin’ love from Amarillo tonight :-)

  • sygyzy

    Just curious – with the trekking pole mounted upside down like that, is the handle dug into the earth or is it just standing on top of it?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I do this one of two ways depending on the ground and how hard it is. Sometimes I’ll make a small depression for it, but most of the time I don’t because I initially set up the tarp with the bottom of the trekking pole slightly forward of the tarp. That way if anything loosens up I an reach out and pull the trekking pole toward me which straightens it up and adds a little more tension.

      Mostly the tension of the tarp and the guylines are more than enough to hold it in place.

  • sygyzy

    Just curious – with the trekking pole mounted upside down like that, is the handle dug into the earth or is it just standing on top of it?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I do this one of two ways depending on the ground and how hard it is. Sometimes I’ll make a small depression for it, but most of the time I don’t because I initially set up the tarp with the bottom of the trekking pole slightly forward of the tarp. That way if anything loosens up I an reach out and pull the trekking pole toward me which straightens it up and adds a little more tension.

    Mostly the tension of the tarp and the guylines are more than enough to hold it in place.

  • doug lynch

    Hi there Brian,
    I’m new!
    Love all the stuff you have done!
    There’s a bunch of similarities in what I’m trying to do out in Australia.
    So…. the tarp.

    I use a Hennessey Hammock BP asym. (unmodified still!) 860 gr

    I’m up in the tropics and the “tarp” is just mot dealing with the weather that well.

    I’m also in a transition phase and looking to spend more time one the ground.

    So I want to get a better tarp, I’d like to get one that works well over my hammocks. (I’ve got a GT nano 7 as the start of an ultralight hammock set up).

    But I would also like to use this tarp on the ground.

    • doug lynch

      (oops)
      I’d be very interested in your thoughts on which Tarp makes the best deal purpose option.
      There are some beauties out there; Cuben and all that!
      It will need to be able to everything from Monsoon to Tasmanian mountain top weather. So I know I’m asking a lot of one piece of kit but that’s all part of the fun!

      Ta!

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        I believe the Eno Dryfly Rain Tarp can be used with a hammock and as a standalone tarp, but the Eno Fast Fly can’t. Warbonnet Outdoors makes some pretty cool tarps that are equally as good for hammocks and pitching as a standalone tarp because of their shape.

        That’s going to be the biggest issue for you to be honest. Most tarps made for hammocks are not cut to the same shape needed for a standalone tarp. Like I said I think the Warbonnet Superfly is one that is good for both.

        Sometimes, trying to find a piece of gear that can serve two purposes is harder that it seems. You might want to consider looking for different types of tarps, but that costs a lot more money obviously. Have you looked at any brands or models in particular?

        • Doug Lynch

          Thanks.
          You make a good point.
          Im keen on the dual function as I suspect I will be forced to ground on some longer walks I have planned.
          The tarp I’m looking at is a HammockGear 4S

          • Doug Lynch

            HammockGear 4season 4Door Cuben Fibre Tarp.
            It’s a little like the superfly and I will ask for some extra tie outs to improve its ground tarp performance.

  • doug lynch

    Hi there Brian,
    I’m new!
    Love all the stuff you have done!
    There’s a bunch of similarities in what I’m trying to do out in Australia.
    So…. the tarp.

    I use a Hennessey Hammock BP asym. (unmodified still!) 860 gr

    I’m up in the tropics and the “tarp” is just mot dealing with the weather that well.

    I’m also in a transition phase and looking to spend more time one the ground.

    So I want to get a better tarp, I’d like to get one that works well over my hammocks. (I’ve got a GT nano 7 as the start of an ultralight hammock set up).

    But I would also like to use this tarp on the ground.

  • doug lynch

    (oops)
    I’d be very interested in your thoughts on which Tarp makes the best deal purpose option.
    There are some beauties out there; Cuben and all that!
    It will need to be able to everything from Monsoon to Tasmanian mountain top weather. So I know I’m asking a lot of one piece of kit but that’s all part of the fun!

    Ta!

  • Doug Lynch

    Thanks.
    You make a good point.
    Im keen on the dual function as I suspect I will be forced to ground on some longer walks I have planned.
    The tarp I’m looking at is a HammockGear 4S

  • Doug Lynch

    HammockGear 4season 4Door Cuben Fibre Tarp.
    It’s a little like the superfly and I will ask for some extra tie outs to improve its ground tarp performance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6714804 Owen Goodwin

    What would you recommend for a groundsheet? I used to use a small tarp years ago, but have no idea what’s available now.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6714804 Owen Goodwin

    What would you recommend for a groundsheet? I used to use a small tarp years ago, but have no idea what’s available now.

    Thanks!

  • Nick Rem

    Hello Brian,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now. I would like to peruse the same setup, but the catch is my pup, she likes to lay right along side of me. Any thoughts on a bivy that would allow my Viszla to lay right along side me under a tarp?

  • Nick Rem

    Hello Brian,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now. I would like to peruse the same setup, but the catch is my pup, she likes to lay right along side of me. Any thoughts on a bivy that would allow my Viszla to lay right along side me under a tarp?