SHANE STEINKAMP'S BACKPACKING BASE CAMP
SHELTERShelter selection is an intensely personal decision.
There are many options for shelter available to hikers and backpackers. One obvious choice is a tent, and there are many to choose from. Some choices, however, may not be so obvious - and those choices include a rather drastic option; to not carry a shelter at all.
Here's a simple list:
Trail Shelters (Huts)
There are a few more, and some hybrids, but this is the basic list. There is a time and place for every kind of shelter. Primarily, though, for most backpacking you will select either a tent or a tarp. In reality there are only TWO portable hiking systems - tents and tarps. Let's stick with those choices for now - and let's define our terms, since such a simple thing has been complicated by some manufacturers, and like I said, some hybrids do exist...
So, let's think it through. What IS a tent? Stupid question, isn't it? Doesn't everyone KNOW what a tent is? Well, we said that we need to define our terms. A tent is an enclosed, portable shelter that rests on the ground. Standardly, it has a 'roof', 'walls', and a 'floor'. 'Floorless' tents are actually tarps, although some manufacturers use that term for some hybrids. In the same way, you could actually define a tarp as a floorless tent.
Now, everyone understands the concept behind a tent. It's a totally enclosed shelter. In perfect theory, bugs can't get you, rain can't get you, and you are protected from the wind. Standardly some kind of pad is used under a sleeping bag to provide cushioning and insulation from the ground. There are many benefits, and just as many drawbacks. Any time you encounter truly severe conditions, such as arctic terrain or conditions, a tent is really the best way to go - and sometimes the ONLY way to go. You should select a tent any time you expect to experience extremely cold weather or even moderately cold weather and high winds. In my opinion these are the only two cases where you NEED a tent.
So...what is a tarp? A tarp is a tarp - usually a large, flat sheet of waterproof material that can be rigged in several different ways. It is usually used to create a wall-less, floor-less tent. A 'floor' is standardly improvised by means of a 'ground cloth', then, as with a tent, a sleeping pad and sleeping bag are used. Mosquito netting can be hung from the ridge-line, providing protection from bugs. A tarp, rigged in this way, is a kind of improvised tent. Once complete all the elements exist. So, why tarp instead of tent? Flexibility, my dear Watson. You can set a tarp in lots of different ways to handle different terrain, weather, and other conditions. For the most part, tents only set up one way, and require more or less level ground. Anytime you don't NEED a tent, a tarp system is desirable for many reasons. They do, however, require a little more work to set up - and sometimes a little imagination.
So, as I said, there are pros and cons to each system. Let's look at some:
|Bug-proof||Lacks Insect Protection|
|Total Privacy||Reduced Privacy|
|Water proof. (In perfect theory. Doesn't always prove true in practice!)||Not always as weather resistant as tents - especially in windy storms|
|Wind proof.||High winds can play hell with a tarp.|
|Psychological protection. You can 'lock out' the night. With a tent, you can zip up that door and you are home, cocooned and protected from the bogeyman.||Less psychologically secure than tents.|
|Limited space in some models.||Roomier than most tents.|
|Some models heavy.||Lighter than most tents.|
|Usually only one way to set up.||Flexible - different configurations possible.|
|Poor Ventilation (Sometimes results in condensation.)||Good Ventilation|
Now, do you have a better idea of the difference between tents and tarps? Good. Let's go on to examine another option that some people dismiss lightly: hammocks!