Three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. That’s the basic rule of thumb when you find your self in a hostile enviornment in the great outdoors. Whether it’s a summer thunderstorm, a cold autumn rain, or even a winter snow storm, one your first priorities has to be setting up an adequate shelter when faced with an emergency. Now, most of the time, an individual is able to plan their outings and that plan can include a 1-2 man tent built for 3 or 4 seasons. That works well when gearing up for a week long expedition and there’s a 6500 cubic inch pack available. No problem. But, the perspective I’m writing this article from is having an emergency shelter that’s compact and that will fit into my emergency pack with other essential gear. One thing to keep in mind about my emergency pack is that it’s only about 3800 cubic inches. So, it’s not an expedition pack that you can stock with all the luxury gear you want to last you for ten days. Instead, it’s a smaller, more portable pack that forces me to focus on the necessary gear I’ll need if a true emergency comes down the pike. My focus on the gear in this bag is to have items that can provide for my needs for a long-term situation, even if the gear takes a little more skill. For instance, instead of a gas stove that will last about a week, I’ll use a stainless steel can to hang over a fire to boil my water and cook my food. You get the idea.
That was the mind-set I was in when I set about looking for what I considered my ideal shelter apparatus. I already own a Marmot Eclipse one-man tent, and I have a Sierra Designs two-man tent. What I was looking for, however, was something that would be rugged, waterproof, compact, and that would be easy to carry. Enter the Integral Designs Siltarp2. I ran across this item on Triple Aught Design one day when looking at other expedition gear. While I fancied it when I first saw it, I didn’t jump on the purchase right away. In all honesty, I probably mulled it over for about six months, during which time I searched high and low for other options. But, I couldn’t find anything else on the market that met all of my criteria or even had close to the features of the Siltarp2. One of the major stumbling blocks for me in making the purchase was the price. At the time, they had two basic versions. The first Sil-Tarp was 5’x8′ and the second one was 8’x10′. The 5’x8′ was around $70.00 and the 8’x10′ was around $135.00. Come on! It’s a tarp!! When I saw the price, I balked immediately. I just knew I could find another tarp that would do just as good a job for a lot less money. Yeah, I found cheaper tarps, but they were heavy, didn’t hold up in the grommet areas, and they would not pack down into a compact size. So, I sheepishly made my way back to Triple Aught Designs and reluctantly ordered the 8’x10′ model–hoping that my pride had only suffered mild injury.
As a side note, since I ordered the Sil-Tarp, several other models have been introduced by Integral Designs. They include the Sil Wing, Siltarp3, and the Sil Dome. I probably could have gotten by with the 5’x8′ model just fine. That’s a decent size for an emergency tarp and would probably serve most of my needs. But having now used it, I’m glad I got the larger version because it provides a lot more flexibility in how I pitch the tarp and it provides a tremendous amount of room for me to keep my gear dry as well. The 8’x10′ model weighs twice the smaller model, but it’s still only 14 ounces–less than a pound. That still beats carrying a tent weighing 4-8 pounds on the trail. Even with the larger size, I was very surprised by the little bit of room it occupies when its packed into its stuff bag. I have a metal cup that’s just large enough to accept a typical 1 liter Nalgene type bottle. My Sil-Tarp packs down small enough to nest it inside of that cup. It sticks out of the cup a bit, but it’s certainly no wider than the cup. That should provide you some idea of how compact this design is and explains its light 14 ounce weight that’s really a treat for the back when you’re humping a load in the woods. More important to me is that the small profile of this tarp allows me more space to carry what I consider more critical gear. That’s a win-win scenario in my book with no negatives in the trade-off.
Once you take the Siltarp2 out and set it up, you can see the detail and thought that went into its design. It has sixteen nylon loops attached to the corners and the sides to allow a number of ways to tie it off to trees, the ground, or even by using walking poles. Smack dab in the middle of the tarp is another nylon loop that is stiched into the center of the nylon and heavily reinforced to keep from ripping or tearing. This loop can be used by tying it off with some paracord and running the cord over a tree limb to give the tarp more height in the middle. It’s a nice touch! Also along the middle is a reinforced seam where two 5’x8′ pieces are joined together. Though reinforced, you still have to seal the seam to prevent any leakage during a rain storm. But, the company is thoughtful enough to include a tube of seam sealant and its a fairly straight forward procedure to take care of the seam. Give it about twenty-four hours to completely cure and you’re good to go! As mentioned, though a simple design, it is very well thought out and exudes quality of construction. The tarp itselt is made of silicon-impregnated rip-stop parachute nylon, so once you get it pitch (and provided you sealed the seam) you won’t have any problems with water seeping throught the tarp. It’s a top drawer product!
My version of the Siltarp2 is olive green, but the company also offers it in gray and yellow as well. This past weekend, I set it up for the first time for our "Emergency Simulation" weekend, and once the tarp was pitched, the olive nylon blended right in with the surrounds. During the spring or summer, it would be tough to spot your hootch if you’ve got it set up in the right place. As mentioned, there are a variety of ways you can set up the tarp, but mine was pretty straight-forward. I simply tied off a long sapling between two trees and about four feet off the ground. Once done, I had about two feet of the tarp coming over one side, and the other eight feet sloping off on the other side. Once completed, the tarp was set at about a 45 degree angle except for the small, two-foot "lip" I had on one side. I did that to help keep rain from blowing in and from dropping straight down at the end of my sleeping area. That little two-foot slope helped to slough the water off with me worrying about any of it making its way back inside. This way of pitching a tarp has worked for me in the past with other tarps, I didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work for this one. And, it did.
I wish that I could regale you with stories about and epic struggle with nature as I fought off the elements with my trusty Siltarp2, but I can’t. It turned out to be a pleasant, though muggy, summer night. I also wish I could tell you that I slept like a baby, but it seemed that Chestnut Mountain’s 5th division of ants were undergoing an exercise that evening and I, along with my friend Terrill, were part of their war games. Can’t blame the tarp for that! But, I can say that the tarp did the job it was intended to do. It was quick and easy to set up and just as fast taking down and packing into the stuff sack. Like all tarps, it allows for a lot more ventilation than tents, and I like that. There’s nothing I like better than to have the cool night air washing over me as I sleep under the stars. The Integral Designs Sitarp2 has turned out to be the perfect all-around emergency shelter for me. It’s light, compact, rugged, waterproof, and very easy to set up in a variety of ways. Yes, it is a little pricey, but it’s well worth it when you weigh all of its positive attributes in balance. I couldn’t give a piece of equipment a higher rating than what the Siltarp2 earned, and I earnestly recommend that you try this product out and keep it as a part of your most essential gear.