While I am moving more and more towards an ultralight approach to the outdoors, I am discovering that carrying less doesn't only lighten the load on your body; it also puts you closer to the environment. So I am experimenting with bivy bags and tarps.

I am now wondering if I could be able to just carry a solo tarp and no bivy bag at all, and be able to totally cover my sleeping bag under it if the weather really turns bad. Unfortunately the tarp I got is not one of the biggest available: it's an Alpkit Rig 3.5, sized 2.4m x 1.4m, or about 5x8 feet, and I am 178cm tall (5.8')

I found several tarp setup video on youtube that teach how to build a fully enclosed tent with a 3x3 meters tarp, big enough for two people, but nothing similar for what matters a single person tarp and setup.

I would of course sacrifice room and ventilation in such a tarp configuration. But, what would be the best way to set it up? I may carry any number of pegs and guylines as required of course.

  • 1
    While a tarp or bivy may seem like the best lightweight shelter option, modern technology has made solo tents light enough that the additional comfort and protection they provide is hard to ignore. The MSR Hubba is what I'm taking on my Tour Divide trip. It's free-standing, easy to set up, and It can be used fly-only with a footprint for super lightweight trips.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 25, 2014 at 18:23
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    @ShemSeger that tent is 1,3 kg and 300USD! My small tarp is 300 grams including pegs. I have a bigger one that I can easily set up as a tent that weights about 500 grams. Here it is: 2.bp.blogspot.com/-_Gvx_nJRwj4/VGKFTgtiGkI/AAAAAAAAFmw/… I don't care about footprints I have quite a wide mattress. :)
    – Dakatine
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:47
  • It's only 1,29kg give it the credit of 10g, and it's so worth it-take a minute to acknowledge the luxury this tent can provide: It's bug proof, water proof (from above and below) windproof (no drafts coming under the fly in the night) you can sit upright in it, it's freestanding, quick and easy to set up, and it has a vestibule for your gear. So worth it. Of course this is coming from the guy that backpacks with a chair...
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 25, 2014 at 21:22
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    I learnt that I love to be closer to the wilderness, other than being lighter, as I wrote. Before giving bivying and tarping a try I thought that a tent was well-worth the load. But I ended up changing my mind and I sold my two tents. :D
    – Dakatine
    Nov 26, 2014 at 9:57
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    There are many, many different ways to set up a tarp. Every time I set one up, it ends up different. It depends on what trees and rocks I have handy.
    – user2169
    Dec 1, 2014 at 16:30

4 Answers 4


Your most practical solution would seem to be a wing shelter. For the most part, you simply need your tarp, a tree, sticks and rope.

The pdf I attached recommends making it 5 feet tall, but you could easily make it 2 or 3 feet tall to accommodate the length you need the shelter to be.

enter image description here enter image description here

  • Thanks hillsons, I got to try this with a trekking pole insted of the tree. But, I have the feeling that heavy and windy rain could enter from the sides. Am I wrong? That's the reason why I was asking for a completely enclosed setup.
    – Dakatine
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:42
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    @Dakatine Stake the side corners low to the ground. This will keep out most rain. I used this setup in the US Army with a rain poncho, which is smaller than the tarp you have. Nov 25, 2014 at 21:41
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    Indeed, stake down the corners so that the tarp is nice and taut and use rocks or logs to further secure the sides when you can. I've found that this keeps out virtually all rainfall. If the wind gets strong enough to move logs around, then the rain is probably the least of your worries. Nov 25, 2014 at 22:17
  • You should really add a link to the original pdf (if you can) as an accreditation.
    – user2766
    Nov 26, 2014 at 9:43
  • I just stumbled across this blog post. outdoorswanderer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/… To me (but I'm inexperienced) the design of the second picture from the top looks very enclosed and similar to what I had in mind. Don't you think it would be harder for rain to get in there rather than in the above setup? Thanks
    – Dakatine
    Nov 26, 2014 at 10:06

OK, I finally tried the setup inspired by this site, which can be fully closed by pegging the sides closer to the middle, and pegging it directly on the ground on the opposite side of the entrance.

It would be quite a tight night and you would need to leave your rucksack out, if it's big. But I was able to put the sleeping bag out of the bag from the entrance and to enter it whilst remaining under the tarp itself. That would be harder to do with a sleeping bag with no zip. Also the sleeping bag will be somewhat compressed at the foot where there's less height space. It would not be your coziest night ever, but indeed it is possible to do a completely enclosed setup.

  • Your bag could also get wet from touching the tarp since you're almost certainly going to get significant condensation with that pitch unless in an arid climate.
    – topshot
    Sep 23, 2016 at 13:45

You could also have a look at the "Reflect Wedge" setup for the ALPKIT.COM Rig 3.5 Tarp in this PDF document on ALPKIT.COM.

Although they show a bike and its wheel being used to support the tarp, you could of course so the same thing with trekking poles or similar.

bearbonesbikepacking.blogspot.co.uk also has some examples of how you can setup the Rig 3.5 tarp, and they also sell lightweight poles to use if you don't take or have trekking poles.

  • Thanks. I was searching for a fully enclosed setup though, one that would somewhat leave no room for the rain to enter, no matter what side it comes from. Of course I expect to be curled in there and not to have plenty of space to move freely, but I'd love to know if such a setup if feasible or not in case of heavy sh*t.
    – Dakatine
    Nov 26, 2014 at 12:41
  • You can't really have a fully enclosed setup with a tarp (especially a smaller one) as you need to have some sort of entrance! Some of the setups shown in the examples can be pitched lower to the ground (at the expense of internal space) to make things more weather-proof. The Reflect Wedge type of setup will be a good option providing the low end points into the wind.
    – Paul Lydon
    Nov 26, 2014 at 12:55
  • I was thinking about something that you can close from the inside. I found a picture that looks like what I had in mind. I will try it and self-answer with that setup eventually if I'll find it practical. The link is in a comment to the only one answer so far. You can actually have a fully enclosed tent with a bigger tarp for sure: youtube.com/watch?v=uYO0JKPfAIo
    – Dakatine
    Nov 26, 2014 at 18:58
  • Yes, but your question refers to a specific size of tarp: "Alpkit Rig 3.5, sized 2.4m x 1.4m, or about 5x8 feet"...
    – Paul Lydon
    Nov 27, 2014 at 12:28
  • Yes. But you wrote in the comment above: "You can't really have a fully enclosed setup with a tarp (especially a smaller one) as you need to have some sort of entrance!" That means that you can't with any tarp just because you need an entrance, which is not true (you do need it, but you can close it after you're in). And yes with a tarp of that size it's harder for sure, that's why I asked here if it's possible and how. :)
    – Dakatine
    Nov 27, 2014 at 12:45

The second one is the better form. I have used that form, with the tall end in a spruce in both heavy rain and in snow, and stayed perfectly dry. However I didn't use a tarp as small as 1.4 x 2.4 m The one I used, I think was sold as an 8 x 10 foot tarp, but in fact was about 7.5 x 9.5 feet -- call it 2.4 x 3 meters.

The first one is good for heavy dew conditions, and hot weather, when you want to catch the breeze.

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