So far in this series of articles, directed at people who are interested in using a hammock to camp/backpack with, we’ve covered the hammock and suspension (part one), and insulation (part two). In this article we will briefly discuss protection from the elements, a vital area that needs to be addressed when camping out-of-doors.

If you’ve already camped in a tent, you know that a good tent provides protection from inclement weather, for the most part. It’s my considered opinion that a good hammocking system provides better protection, and here’s why. In a hammock, you are suspended above the ground. In a heavy rainstorm, puddles and rivulets form, and in a tent you can become swamped from underneath even though you are protected from getting wet from above. I know because I’ve been there, when as a hard-charging Marine I’ve had to evacuate my shelter and move all my stuff out to keep from being soaked by ground-water.

Tarps are what hammockers use to protect themselves from the wind and the rain, not to mention dew, and falling debris such as leaf and pine litter and bird poop. There are many different kinds and variations of tarps. Time, space and my lack of knowledge will not permit us to explore them all. For more than you will ever want to know about the subject, please refer to the links at the end of Part One of this series. In this article I will cover a few different types of tarps, along with visual aids showing them along with a little “how I rig my tarp” tutorial.

Tarp terminology: It’s easy for someone who has been doing these kinds of things for a while to forget that not everyone knows the “lingo”. I remember when I first started looking in to all this “stuff” I was intimidated by how much I didn’t know, and confused by the terms that people used to describe things. Here are a few terms with definitions that people refer to when they are talking about tarps.

  1. Ridge-line (ridgeline, ridge-line) The “peak” of the tarp when it is hung between two points. Similar to the “roof line” or peak ridge of a house. This term can also refer to the line or cordage used to hang your tarp (see below).
  2. Continuous Ridge-line (CRL) The method of suspending a tarp using single piece of rope or cordage between two attachment points (usually trees). Hardware is optional.
  3. Split Ridge-line  The method of attaching a tarp to two points by using two pieces of cordage attached to the appropriate guy-out points on either end of the tarp. Hardware is optional.
  4. Guy-out points (guy-outs, stake-outs) Those points of a tarp designed to be pulled out and attached via cordage of some type to fixed locations like a stake in the ground, a large rock, bush, or other non-moving object.

The first type of tarp is a “diamond” pitched tarp. As the name suggests, it is pitched in a diamond formation. Typically these are minimalist tarps that provide a modicum of protection from light to moderate rains that have little to no wind. Because they use less fabric, they can be lighter than other types of tarps. Also, they are easier to hang/put away because there are only four tie-out points, two for your ridge-line and two guy-outs. This feature limits their versatility, however.

Next, we have your basic rectangular tarp, such as one would find at your local home improvement or hardware store. These tarps are more versatile, they typically have at least six guy-out points (most have more, depending on the size of the tarp) and they are also heavier and bulkier. So you can see, there is a trade-off between weight and versatility that the camper/backpacker has to decide on when choosing his tarp.

A compromise between the two, and a very popular hammocking tarp, is known as the “Hex” tarp. As its name suggests, this tarp has a hexagonal shape, providing more coverage than a simple diamond but removing some of the bulk of a standard rectangular tarp. Many hammockers use these successfully for three-season (spring, summer and fall) camping. and even winter camping up to a certain extent.

This is a short video showcasing diamond and hex tarps.

For the true winter hammocker, or for the hammocker who wants maximum protection at all times, there is what is known as the “winter” tarp. This tarp is generally rectangular, but is sized so that the hammocker can have coverage from the ridge-line to the ground, if he so desires, and is hung in such a way that the “doors” can be closed to block out wind and blowing precipitation (and privacy, if desired).

There are other types of tarps, and tarps with different features that make them “crossover” tarps or tarps that can be pitched in different configurations depending on conditions. The tarp Cathy and I use, the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12’x12′ is such a tarp. It has multiple guy-out points and can be pitched many different ways. Although it’s not a true winter tarp, it’s versatility makes it a valuable piece of gear to us. We’ve used it everywhere from a sun-shade at the beach to a rain shelter on the Appalachian Trail.

No matter what type of tarp you use, you will have to figure out how to suspend your tarp, and how to tie it out while using it. Just like everything else in hammock camping, there are many different ways to accomplish these goals. My advice as always is to experiment with different methods and pick what suits you best. These videos show our tarp, the way we normally pitch it and some other pitching options, along with how we configure our ridge-line and guy-outs.

Finally, here’s a video by Hammock Forums member Pennsey Camp & Canoe that shows some different pitches and using some creativity, and sometimes conditions call for creativity!

Next up in our series of articles, we will talk about protection from mosquitoes and other annoying insects, and also share a few “advanced” hammocking tips!