Ultralight backpacking/hiking gear has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. Companies seem to compete to see who can build the strongest and lightest equipment. But oftentimes the actual ounces that separate one product from another—one tent from another—is so minimal that most will not notice the added fractional weight. But that’s not always true when we compare one sleep system to the next. In this case, consider the comparison between a tent and an ultralight tarp. There’s a huge significance of weight and it’s far more packable. There are a few creature comforts lost with a lightweight shelter, but if ultralight is important, it may not matter. If you do choose to go the tarp route, there are a few things to think about before you find yourself out in the woods, trying to set one up.

For a tarp shelter to be set up, a person needs the tarp, guy lines, additional cord—in the event that creativity is needed to support/draw the fabric of the shelter taut—stakes (It’s smart to pack a few extra stakes in case something happens), and, if the tarp uses poles for support, and most do, you will want to pack them; trekking pols are oftentimes the best options, and many modern tarp companies rely on them to provide the support.

There are numerous configurations in which a tarp shelter can be pitched, and whichever type you choose, assuming that your tarp brand/model doesn’t have a recommended method of configuration, will depend both on the weather conditions and the environment in which you plan to pitch it.

One thing to always remember with a tarp is that there is not three-hundred sixty-degree coverage to keep out the elements. And if you plan to camp in adverse weather, and have never had the experience of sleeping beneath a tarp shelter in any weathers, then you may want to consider the extra creature comforts of a tent before you complete an overnighter solely with an ultralight tarp.

Spring is upon us, and soon the backpacking/hiking season will arrive in the Bitterroot Valley. Stay safe.