Friday, 19 December 2014

Need a tarp?

Hello, I’m initially breaking radio silence in blog world with a well deserved kit recommendation in the last few days before Christmas! However, keep an eye on this blog as I’ll be updating it regularly over the winter months with articles for anyone interested in traditional skills, crafts, kit advice, bushcraft skills and other adventures. I’ll be kicking things off with a series on making your own outdoor gear from scratch.

In the meantime...if you’re looking to make the transition from tent to tarp in 2015 or possibly hoping to swap your existing tarp for a lighter, stronger version…you must take a look at the Rig range from Alpkit. I have a LOT of time for this UK outdoor gear company, they just seem to keep getting better and better, coming up with new ideas and consistently producing  lightweight kit and clothing of high quality. Tarps are one item from their extensive equipment range that really don’t seem particularly complicated or confusing but don’t forget, you’re effectively investing in a roof over your head! Not a decision to be taken lightly…
The rig 7 tarp in action keeping the winter weather off me and my incredibly cosy bed!
 I’ve been using tarps (or ‘bashas’) all year, every year for several decades now, initially starting with the issue green army poncho in the mid 80’s (not very roomy or lightweight but fairly bomb proof) then progressing onto different sizes, materials, coatings, colours, even making several of my own. I love the simplicity and versatility of the concept and much prefer sleeping outside (but under cover) than crammed into a tiny, sweaty tent. The Alpkit Rig range first caught my eye due to the lightweight pack size compared to their generous coverage when open. The ‘kelp’ choice of colour was perfect for keeping a low profile in the woods too – a mute, non-offensive earthy colour without looking military in anyway. I initially went for the rig 7 as an extremely roomy one person option but was so impressed with it that the much larger rig 21 expedition tarp and super tiny, packable rig 3.5 soon followed.

The big rig 21 suspended from intermediate rigging loops to allow the ends to be folded in and make a fully enclosed and still very big tented area
This was my home for a very rainy mid summer ten day camp. Myself and all the course demo kit lived under here quite comfortably

 If you decide to try one, you’ll immediately notice the small pack size. Once open you’ll like the reinforced guy line holes and webbing tabs providing the perfect compromise between lightweight materials and strength. I’ve only ever seen one webbing loop break so far but the reinforced holes have never torn out or ripped on me yet. As you’re putting it up for the first time you’ll be impressed with the build quality, taped seams and neat, strong stitching. As you lay under it in your sleeping bag, listening to the rain drumming on your rig roof you’ll be amazed to see no leaks and astounded to see no absorption of moisture on the outside, just rain being repelled back to from whence it came (or into a collection device if you’re crafty).

Close up of reinforced guying holes. These are extremely strong even with very thin guy lines shown

The ridge line hanging loops, also reinforced and well sealed

In fact, one problem often associated with lightweight tarps and shelters is that of moisture transmission as soon as you touch the inside of the material. This just doesn’t seem to happen with the rig tarps (must get around to asking them why…). In North Wales recently I had to set up an extremely low bivvy due to high winds and was constantly brushing against the inside of my rig 7 tarp as I moved around inside but didn’t notice any drips coming through as a result. Result!!
Very low rig 7 bivvy tarp in North Wales. I'm lying in a ditch to give me a bit more room inside. Luckily the ditch had an underground drainage system...

My trusty rig 7 again doing a grand job of keeping off the winter snows. This roof pitch looks flatter than it was (the centre was raised to give a secondary pitch), even so the tarp didn't drip inside!
I’ve used the rig 7 as my main camping tarp for several years now and hope to for years to come. It’s the perfect size when open and packed away, strong, simple and light. There’s just no need to look elsewhere! The larger rig 21 has been used as a group shelter on courses, the inner skin on a leaky roundhouse when using it as a base camp in foul conditions and even the roof of a show stand at outdoor events (unfortunately it was nicked recently so I’ll be ordering another one next year).

The massive rig 21 deployed as the roof of our show stand at the wilderness gathering 2013. The tarp easily kept the whole of our extensive display dry and when packed down, takes up around half the volume of the little round willow basket in the fore ground!

The rig 3.5 is a little revelation. It’s a minimalist one person bivvy tarp with all the same features as it’s larger cousins. It’s main advantage is that it packs down absolutely tiny. I mean minuscule!  This makes it perfect for super lightweight, minimalist trips, adventure races and especially as a ‘you never know’ bit of kit in your daypack. I use mine as exactly that and it gets frequently set up as a temporary work area when I’m out in the woods working on a craft of small project on a rainy day. Barely noticeable in your pack, easy to set up and provides a decent dry spot for one person, whittling a spoon by the fire.
The amazing rig 3.5 set up as overhead shelter for a one person temporary workshop area

The same rig 3.5 tarp set up as a good sized, one person survival shelter, open fronted to allow the occupant to stay warm next to the fire (otherwise the open front could be closed down for maximum weather protection and retained warmth as shown below - one corner flipped up to provide a sheltered cooking area during the day)

The 3.5 rig tarp packed away, sitting in between Nalgene bottle/ titanium mug combo on the right and insulated jacket in yellow dry bag on the left. This standard day kit has everything needed for a walk off the beaten track plus emergency overnight gear. The rig 3.5 compliments this small, lightweight but effective set up perfectly
Take a look at some of my images of my rig tarp collection in use and if you’re after a tarp, I can heartily recommend the Alpkit rig range. Check out all the specs here
Happy winter tarping!