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One Important Extra: Our Tarp

August 10th, 2010 10 comments


dsc_1800In the grand scheme of things, you can certainly live without a tarp on a bike tour. But if we had to pick just one thing that improves our lives more than anything else on a long bike tour, it would be the tarp.

It’s hard to think of any other item we carry that is quite so versatile. We pull out our Hilleberg XP 10 tarp to:

  • Cook in the rain – No more fighting about who has to leave the tent in bad weather to cook. The tarp provides a sheltered area, with plenty of ventilation, where we can make our dinner.
  • Double our living space – During prolonged rainy periods, we have a space to read, play cards or do bike maintenance. We don’t have to be cramped in a tent together for hours on end.
  • Create shade – In deserts, the tarp gets strung fromdsc_1800
    telephone poles, power pylons or anything else we can find to create instant shade for our lunch break. The same happens in campgrounds, especially those terrible “parking lot” style campgrounds you sometimes find in North America.
  • Collect water – When it’s raining, nothing collects water faster than a tarp. All of a sudden, we have enough water for extra cups of tea and cooking supper. Because the water comes directly from the sky, it’s clean and doesn’t need to be purified.
  • Protect our tent from damage – We’d rather expose our tarp to the sun’s UV rays than the much more expensive tent. A tarp also catches things like tree sap and bird droppings before they hit the tent.
  • Sleep in hot weather - When it’s blistering hot, and if there are no mosquitos, nothing is nicer than just camping out under the tarp, with a fresh breeze constantly blowing past. It makes packing up very quick as well!
  • dsc_0069Warm up in cold weather – If we have a meal outside in chilly weather, a tarp can be used as a blanket over our legs while we eat. Similarly, on really cold nights in the tent, the tarp can be laid over sleeping bags to keep extra warm.

You could argue that almost all of these needs and situations could be covered with other pieces of kit, or with a bit of pre-planning. But for us, having so much versatility in one item is fantastic. We love our tarp, and couldn’t imagine doing a long tour without it.

If you decide to get a tarp, here are a few pointers:

  • Get one that doesn’t require poles to put up. Ours has long strings that we can tie to trees, picnic tables or any reasonably solid thing – even our bikes! Sometimes a pole would be nice to get extra height, but most of the time it’s not necessary.
  • If you’re on a budget, consider making your own from Tyvek or buying silnylon fabric and sewing a tarp yourself.
  • Go slightly larger than you think you’ll need. You’ll never regret having the extra space, to shelter under during a rainstorm. And a tarp is a great way to make friends with other tarp-less cyclists in terrible weather. Host a party underneath it!
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9 Responses to “One Important Extra: Our Tarp”

  1. Doug Nienhuis says:

    That’s a great write-up. You make me wonder how I survived without a tarp! I noticed you had the heavy-duty XP version, not the super light XL version. Did you choose the XP because it was stronger? Which version would you recommend now?

    • friedel says:

      Doug, we chose the XP and not the ultra-light version because of the price. We were sticking to a tight budget. For us, the 300g or so of saved weight wasn’t worth the extra cost. I think which tarp you choose is really a personal choice, just like some people will only carry 1 t-shirt and others will pack 3 shirts. We love this tarp, and it still looks great despite all the use we’ve given it, so we’ll be sticking with it for a while.

  2. James says:

    I bought a rain poncho that doubles as a tarp. It has a drawstring around the base of the hood so you can tie off the hood area and stretch it flat as a tarp. It has eyelets in the corners for adding strings like your tarp.

    I really like the dual-use idea, but it’s so hot, heavy and flappy to wear as a jacket in poor weather that I think I’ll discard it. On the upside, I think it was 1/10 of the price of a Hilleberg, from a military goods supplier on eBay.

  3. Yes, very useful item indeed. Great write-up. I’d be inclined to put it high up on the list, maybe even higher than the tent for milder-weather outings. It’s essential in hot weather.

  4. Davos Lamos says:

    Hi Friedel,

    Where did you buy your tarp from? I can’t seem to find it at any British website!

    Thankingyou.

    D.

  5. David says:

    We have been using a Nalo 2 tent for some time and recently considers buying the tarp. It is expensive in the UK but your little article has swayed us towards a purchase.

    Good luck with the touring we plan some trips to France a and again Finland next year.

    • friedel says:

      It is pricey – I am sure there are cheaper tarps around. You could also make your own tarp for almost free and try it to see how you like it. Invest in a better one if you’re convinced. Our Hilleberg tent is still going strong, 6 years after we bought it, and it remains one of our favourite pieces of gear.

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