Camping trips require a bit of planning to make sure you’ve got the right gear for anything that comes your way. After all, it’s just you and your equipment against mother nature. We all love the ease and comfort of a hammock, but what happens if an unexpected storm or cold front (learn how to protect yourself from cold butt syndrome) comes along? Along with the perfect hammock for you, you’ll also want proper protection – in case things turn south. You’ll need to learn how to choose the perfect kind of tarp for your conditions.
Choosing a Tarp
The choice of a tarp depends on a ton of factors, so let’s get to it:
The size of your hammock defines the size of the tarp you need. And if you’re weight conscious, like many of use here at Serac Hammocks, you’ll want to go small and light. Naturally, a small tarp would mean less weight while a bigger tarp of the same material would be more weight and more room. During summers, smaller diamond tarps can do the job.
For most 3 season camping, having a catenary hexagonal tarp is one of the most versatile. The Serac Overhang rainfly offers great coverage while also trimming down on the material used to lower the overall weight in your pack. One of the big advantages of a tarp like the Overhang is that it sets up very quickly, a key trait you want if its already raining when you get to your campsite.
If you’re bold enough to face biting winter conditions and blizzards, a 4 season tarp will probably be needed.
The minimum tarp size should at least cover along the ridgeline and width of the hammock.
There are a bunch of different shapes when it comes to hammock rainflys. Some offering more coverage and protection than others, while sacrificing ease of setup and weight. Generally speaking, asymmetrical or asym tarps are the quickest, easiest to set up as well as the lightest. But they offer the least amount of coverage. A 4 season tarp with doors will give you complete coverage, protecting you from the worst of conditions but those will be significantly heavier and much more time consuming to pitch.
These diagrams will give you a good idea of your tarp choices.
Illustration by Derek Hanson
Usage of doors
Winter tarps will usually come with extra flaps, or “doors”, to give you full coverage from the elements. These doors can be closed shut to protect you from oncoming rain and snow, although you may lose some ventilation.
Ridge lines typically fall into one of two categories, full length or end only ridge lines. End only ridge lines help cut weight slightly by getting rid of the ridge line support that runs across the tarp. The Serac OverHang Rain Tarp was designed just this way to keep weight and set up ease in mind.
A full length ridge line has the line run under the tarp and extends to the 2 anchor points on each end. This can give the tarp extra support in adverse conditions. It can help hold structure under intense winds or support the weight of snow during a blizzard. With a little ingenuity, you can find even more uses for it. You can use it as a drying line to hang wet gear. And it’s even useful to set up your bug net with.
The next step in setting up the tarp is to set the guy lines. As we mentioned before, asym and diamond tarps are usually the easiest to set up, and they require as little as 2 guy lines!
Guy lines help anchor the tarp downward – when conditions get bad, keep the tarp low to give yourself maximum coverage. When the sun starts to come out, you can ventilate the tarp and get yourself a better view by propping one side up with your trekking poles.