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Pitching a Tarp or Floorless Shelter

May 1, 2010

If you’re using a tarp or floorless tent, good site selection and a proper pitch are essential.

  • An ideal site is slightly higher in the middle than around the perimeter. Avoid setting up in a depression, or water will pool underneath you. 
  • Never trench around your tent to redirect run-off—the impact will linger for years. 
  • Take note of wind direction and pitch your shelter so that the strongest, most aerodynamic side faces into the wind. 
  • Periodically retension guy lines and other stake points. Most ultralight shelters are made from silnylon, which stretches and sags significantly when wet. 
  • Be watchful for sharp branches near your shelter, especially if wind might cause unexpected contact. Silnylon is easily punctured. 
  • Adjust the height of your shelter’s perimeter for conditions. More space between the ground and shelter provides better airflow and reduces condensation; less space provides more protection from wind and rain.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column “Sleep Light: Backcountry shelters under 2 pounds.”

(Photograph by iStock.)
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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.