Gear - Shelter for C2C

(The following is a slightly re-written version of the shelter chapter from my book Smarter Backpacking, in Swedish Lättare packning från A till Ö)
Roof over your head is one of the three big and bulky lumps of the pack. This is a complex area with many pros and cons, but well worth considering because of the weight involved. In this entry I try to make a long story short without being embarrassingly sparse with words.

Home-made tarptent in Sarek, Swedish Lapland
The shelter is important for safety as well as for feeling safe; for psychological reasons. Choosing a lighter shelter is therefore a challenge for both experienced and inexperienced backpackers. But the gain can be counted in kilos (several lbs) so it is well worth it to ponder whether one’s attitude towards lighter shelters is based on rationality or sentiments. The traditional mountain tent is a double-wall tent, with an inner-tent made of wind-proof but not waterproof fabric. Covering this, more or less completely, is an outer tent or a rain fly, made of waterproof fabric. A common feature is also a foretent – a floorless area between inner and outer tents.
Many of these mountaineering tents are very rugged and can literally handle a winter storm on the polar ice cap. This is impressive, considering that they do not weigh many kilos. The disadvantage, however, is that this over-capacity makes them unnecessarily heavy and sturdy for three-season use well away from the polar ice cap.
Homemade tarptent near Kebnekaise, Swedish Lapland
Among lighter alternatives we find the tarp tents. These are often very light. They are single-wall tents with floor and bug-netting and usually made of lighter fabrics as they are not made for storms on the ice cap. Tarp tents weigh less than a kilo per person and the lightest, at the time of writing (2010), weigh less than half a kilo (1 lb) for a one-person tent.

In my experience, the lightest tarp tents do well at fairly well-protected tent sites, if you take them above timberline. Below timberline you can use them without any special consideration. They are not as windproof as the traditional mountaineering tents, but this should not be of any great concern for an experienced person.

Gossamer Gear The One tarptent in Nahanni, NWT, Canada

I have spent more than 125 nights in tarp tents and only on one occasion did I wish for a more stable tent. Or earplugs. The tent did not break, but was compressed by the wind, and the whip-cracking of the fabric in the wind made sleep impossible. I finally had to break camp and walk about 5 kilometers (3 miles) to a small hut where I had breakfast and slept for about an hour.

Tarp tents are a good solution for the person who still wants the comfort and protection of a tent, but with less weight penalty than with traditional tents. You have a bug proof space and usually better views because you are not totally surrounded by fabric. This is nice, and it makes for better ventilation and less condensation, but there can also be a downside to better ventilation which is spelled draft.

Terra Nova Laser Photon in Håikanvagge, Swedish Lapland
Tarp tents as well as pure tarps might create the need for a slightly warmer sleeping bag, or more clothes worn in the sleeping bag, on occasion. However, this can be difficult to calculate because less ventilation means more condensation, which will lower the insulating properties of your sleep system. In my view, less condensation is more valuable and extra down usually insulates better than the same weight of tent fabric.

Let us move on to the tarp, which in its simplest form is a rectangular piece of fabric. Most of the time they are more sophisticated, in order to give better protection against wind and precipitation. Tarps do not have floors, nor do they usually give protection from all directions. They also lack bug protection. One advantage is that you live and sleep closer to the natural world surrounding the tarp.

Home-made tarp near Kebnekaise, Swedish Lapland
They have superb ventilation in most instances, which also means that they can be drafty. For forest hikes when there are no bugs around, there is nothing I rather use, because of comfort, low weight and pure enjoyment. I do not consider the draftiness of tarps and tarp tents as a major disadvantage.

I do suffer more from the condensation in double-wall, traditional tents. In spite of advanced ventilation, condensation can still be a huge problem. Occasionally, everything becomes damp, including the sensitive sleeping bag that is pressed up against the inner tent, which presses against the fly and soaks up the moisture there. Both tarps and tarp tents can sometimes suffer from condensation, but I find that less of a problem because I can usually increase their ventilating properties.

Homemade tarptent, Lainio, Swedish Lapland
Many tarps and tarp tents are not constructed for above-timberline use, except occasionally. In my Scandinavian mountains, however, you are often in Arctic conditions. You are a long way from the forest and you walk day after day in exposed areas. Extreme winds and rain above timberline put great demands on your shelter. Such extreme weather conditions do not often occur, but your shelter should have margins to handle pretty nasty weather.

My experiences of both home-made tarps and tarp tents in above-timberline conditions are good, and I prefer them to traditional double-wall tents because they are more comfortable, nicer to live in and nine times out of ten they are less condensation-prone. As the interest in lighter packs has increased, more and more tent types have become available, which are reasonably light weight and yet provide the sense of safety that many people require.

Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo near Kebnekaise, Swedish Lapland
For the less experienced hiker, a tent that is traditional, but reasonably light weight, is definitely a good choice. Especially when two or three people share a shelter, the weight of the shelter may represent only 1-1.5 kilo (2-3 lbs) per person. That means, the hikers still manage the “three kilos for the three big ones” or 343, if they choose a light pack and a light sleeping bag. The experienced hiker may feel more comfortable, both practically and psychologically, when using a shelter that feels thinner and where the hiker is not enclosed on all sides by fabric.

My own choice for C2C will be a homemade very lightweight tarp weighing only 200 grams including lines. It is a simple rectangle, fairly big, around 3,5*2,7 meters. The extra area weighs very little but gives much more comfort and flexibility than a minimal tarp where rolling a bit sideways during the night will leave parts of your sleeping bag exposed to rain or wind-driven rain. It is also big enough to cook in your shelter.

Homemade tarptent on Råsto, Swedish Lapland
We will sleep in, or can choose, well-protected forest camp sites all along the C2C trail. The tarp can be tied to trees and boughs and small, dead twigs can be used as pegs as well. I will probably bring a handful of small tent-pegs anyway, simply for the convenience and use my walking poles as tent poles when it suits me. No bugs will bother us this early, with a 99% certainty. Repellent can always be bought should the 1% occur.

You can make a similar tarp very easily using lightweight silnylon or Cuben fiber that can be ordered from www.thru-hiker.com or www.extremtextil.de. Sometimes you can find very light and still durable tarps at gas stations or similar places. 2*3 meters and weighing less than 1 kilo is what I recommend for one person. This is probably the best bet if you want to try tarp camping. And if you have never slept under a tarp, give it a try sometime before going on C2C.

Homemade Cuben tarptent, Norwegian Lapland

A good selection of light tents can be found at www.trekking-lite-store.com. If you feel like investing I can particularly recommend Tarptents.

I should advice against using a traditional double fabric mountain tent unless you have something pretty light, less than 1 kilo per person. However, a smart and efficient solution might be to only use the rain fly/outer tent of such a tent. This means that you will be sort of tarp/tarptent camping.

2 comments:

Romilda Gareth said...

Thanks

Jane Smith said...
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