After a while, shaped tarps become boring. They are cut with a particular shape in mind, and can only be pitched this way.
Flat tarps are a great alternative to the pyramid pitches and A-frames. You can have them in many shapes and sizes to help you protect from the wind, compensate your gear for missing gear, improve your view, or give you something to do in camp. Imagine sleeping under a different pitch each night for three weeks. A tarp that is older-fashioned and less expensive can be a great way to save money.
There is a catch. Because you don’t know how many stakes or guy lines you will need, you’ll have to bring extra stakes and guy lines. This is the tradeoff between generalization and specialization. But you won’t feel bored.
How to pitch Macpherson’s Tarp Shapes
Download David Macpherson’s PDF, which describes various tarp pitches, to get you started. Be aware. Macpherson lists many different tarp shapes. However, some of these are mathematical curiosities and not practical tarp pitches. Before you can use them in the field, it is a good idea to test them at home.
Macpherson’s descriptions are not always easy to apply on a tarp. Tarps don’t have the same well-behaved fold lines as construction paper and can be floppy. Make a paper model first to determine the best way to pitch a particular shape. Then simplify the steps.
To practice with, I recommend you also get a square-shaped tarp. A tarp measuring 8.5×8.5 feet or 9x9ft is ideal. It should have symmetrical tie outs at all four corners, and halfway between the corners on each side. It is also a good idea to have a tie-out at the ridgeline. This means that there should be at least 9 ties out total.
Here are some recommended square tarps
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear 8’6’’ x 8’6’’ Flat Tarp
- Mountain Laurel Designs Flat Tarp 10′ x10′
You will need 12 stakes. These should be preferably with shepards hooks. Also, you’ll need a guy line that is easy to untie, such as 550 paracord. You will man out every shape of the tarp from scratch, unlike a shaped one. For all my pitches, I use two knots: a double-figure eight on one side and a taut line hitch at each stake.
Let’s take a look at some cool tarp designs. There are many others.
The Adirondack Wind Shed
With its awning and side walls, the Adirondack Wind Shelter offers good protection against wind and rain. You can also use the space inside for storage and to spread out. The back of the tarp can be pushed towards the occupant by blowing wind, but it’s easy to prop your gear against the rear wall to stop condensation transfer to the sleeper. This pitch is my favorite in good weather. It is easy to set up.
With an 8 x8 foot tarp, the interior space is very tight. The interior ventilation is good, despite this. The tarp can be used as a groundcloth so this pitch can be used on any type of ground. The Kennel offers protection for the rear and sides of the house, but it does not provide protection against blowing rain if it isn’t positioned correctly.
Half Tetra Wedge Cover
Half Tetra has similar shape to Adirondack Wind Shed but has much more gear storage space because the rear area is pulled out to make a large triangle instead of being folded flat to create a triangular interior groundsheet. The pitch’s rear is shaped like a triangle, not a box. This improves wind performance. The Half Tetra’s side wings can be adjusted closer to the poles for additional protection. This prevents rain from entering the large sleeping area.
It is difficult to set up the Bivy bag pitch because the tarp acts as both a ground cloth and an overhead cover. The interior ventilation is poor at the rear and condensation transfer is possible where the tarp touches someone. The bivy bag shape is still very narrow and can be used to blow rain.
An alternative pitch is available that has the awning pulled forward above the pole. However, it may prove difficult to get a pitch like this with silnylon or other slippery materials.
The Low Tetra is an open triangle with three sides. The Low Tetra uses an internal pole to support it, but without a cup-shaped beak in its tarp apex, it can be difficult to keep it upright. To secure the pole’s top inside the apex, you can use the plastic coffee filter holder.
One side of the four-sided tarp that is used to pitch the Low Tetra collapses upon itself inside the pyramid. This side can be partially reopened to create a vestibule that allows for easy access to the pyramid’s interior and storage of gear. The interior of the Low Tetra is still too small for one person, even though it has a 8×8 foot tarp.
These sample shapes show that there are many exciting ways to pitch an 8×8 square tarp. Macpherson has a half-dozen other good shapes for square tarps and another dozen for rectangular tarps. These are the basics. I’m going to spend time looking through historical books and possibly inventing my own pitches after mastering them.