Too often we forget how to relax. Leave your iPod and smart phones at home, and remember what camping is supposed to be.
If you want to go forward, there are times when you first have to take a step back. Most of us head to the outdoors to relax and get away from the everyday grind of city life. Yet, give us time, and we can make a simple camping trip into a complicated affair.
Our campfires are replaced by gas stoves, the old lanterns are replaced by high intensity lights, and our tents grow in size till they become outdoor mansions. It is just human nature, the more we camp, the more we try to improve our comfort. This may be one of the reasons mankind has drawn himself above the other animals on Earth. However, I often wonder if we don’t lose a level of enjoyment with the addition of every new piece of high-tech gear. After all, a person only has the basic requirements of water, fire, food, and shelter. Once these essentials are met, camping is no longer a matter of survival, but entertainment.
These were my thoughts when I found some basic camping necessities being offered by in internet firm known as the CanteenShop LLC. Yes, you can buy a canteen from the CanteenShop (www.canteenshop.com), but they also carry other simple oft-forgotten pieces of gear. During my trip through their website I came across the one item few of us give a second thought to, the tarp. Wanting to return to the style of camping that first motivated my love for the outdoors, the concept of replacing my tent with a tarp sounded pretty inviting. Let’s face it, a tarp is about as simple as you can get. The time for PWYP was approaching and I had just enough time to try out a tarp from the CanteenShop before it arrived. PWYP (Practice What You Preach) is an annual camping trip that I hold on my property and it has grown into a sizable event. Even I must admit to being bitten by the “high-tech” bug when you look at my style of camping.
High-tech materials, low-tech products
Customer service and speed is the mainstay of internet commerce, and it wasn’t long before I was sitting in my office spreading out a new tarp. The “Trail Tarp” comes in two sizes and three colors. All three colors are the same physical size of 8’-5” square. The green version is made from 140 denier nylon and weighs 3 lbs 2 oz, but the coyote and gray tarps are fashioned from 70 denier material weighing 1 lbs 8 oz. I was trying the gray model and couldn’t detect where I was giving up anything by choosing the lighter weight of material. All four sides were hemmed and there is a tie-out loop in each corner, plus three more evenly spaced between each corner. The areas of the tie-out loops are double backed and all stitching is with Kevlar thread. The entire tarp is silicone impregnated for waterproofing. These tarps are made to the CanteenShop’s specifications, but as is proudly displayed on their website, they are made in the U.S.A. Items made through their Small Business Alliance supports not one, but two American small businesses at a time.
Putting a Tarp to Use
You aren’t going to write a book on the details for a single tarp, but you could write volumes on how to put one to use. The purpose of a tarp is to protect you from the elements and the simplest use is as a ground cloth. The instructions are rather simple. Put it between you and the ground! If you want double protection, just fold it once. Of course if you want protection from the rain, pull it over your head. Simplicity aside, from this point, you have dozens of methods to erect a tarp. Wanting to play a bit and try a few different methods of putting the tarp to use, I headed to the nearby woods. (Which is rather easy since I live in the middle of a forest) Probably the most used method is as a lean-to, and in most cases, this will more than suffice for an overnight outing. However, you might want to contemplate a couple of details while erecting your tarp. You can get by with tying off two corners to nearby trees and then staking the opposite side to the ground. You don’t need corner poles or even a ridge pole on the upper edge with this method. However, in cases of high wind or heavy rain, a ridge pole will increase the stability of your lean-to. Also make sure the backside, or slope, is facing into the wind. The day I was playing was rather windy and it soon became comical. Remember, a tarp is nothing more than a sail without a mast. The eight foot plus length of the tarp gives you more room than you would imagine. Once erected, I was able to keep myself and all of my gear out of the weather.
Another simple method would be to use the tarp as an “A-frame” tent. Merely, tie off the center loop of opposite sides to nearby trees and then pull out and stake the corners. If you don’t have trees located in the perfect spot, just fashion a couple of tent poles from saplings. An “A-frame” gives you the choice of how high you want to erect your tarp. In cold months you may want the edges to be right at ground level to keep out the wind. In hotter weather just raise it up a bit, and let the air circulate under the tarp for a cooling effect. In severe weather you may want to try a modified “A-frame” or “wedge” shape to your tarp. Erect one end as you would a standard “A-frame” but stake the center of the opposite end to the ground. Then you can tuck under the excess corner material which will give you some ground cloth material at the back end of the shelter.
My favorite choice for “three-season” camping is to set up the tarp in an “A-frame” style over my old USGI jungle hammock. A tarp is not going to give you insect protection and the netting on the jungle hammock is a blessing during the summer. This will also get your body off of the hard ground.
No tarp by itself is going to help you out much past being a ground cloth or raincoat without the addition of a few extra items. The first would be cordage or ropes. While trying the different methods of setting up the tarp, I was able to cut lengths of paracord and seal the ends by burning. These pre-cut sections of cord will now stay with the tarp and I won’t have to worry about this chore again. Tent poles and ridge poles are best found near the campsite. They are too bulky to pack unless you are camping in an area that forbids cutting. I would say the same thing about tent stakes if it wasn’t for another item that can be found at the CanteenShop. They carry Titanium tent stakes that only weigh 0.2 ounces and come in a pack of six. A couple packs of these and you’re set to go. However, keep in mind where you plan to camp and prepare for those conditions. The Titanium tent stakes worked well on my land in the foothills, but since they are a thin wire, I would not suggest them for a sandy or loose soil condition.
The CanteenShop has done their part of putting the fun back into camping. They are offering simple, yet essential gear tailored for hard outdoor use. The “Trail Tarp” may be made from modern materials but no one would call a tarp high-tech. However, it does what it is meant to do, and it does it well. While you’re looking at their website, make sure you actually look at their canteen, cup, and stove combinations. Add these items to the “Trail Tarp”, throw in a few hotdogs and a can of beans, and you’re set for a weekend of fun.
As seen in the Woods Monkey Gear Review column in Issue #8 of Self Reliance Illustrated!
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