Best Backpacking Tarps, Bivy Sacks & Groundsheets of 2016
Tarps are great tools for lightweight backpackers. A skilled tarp user can save a lot of weight in their pack and still have a very flexible, comfortable shelter. Tarps are also a great way to create dry hangout space for your group during a wet trip.
Many backpackers pair their tarps with bivy sacks, bug bivys, or net tents to add weather and mosquito protection. Many tarp manufacturers build net tents that are designed specifically to fit their tarps. Choosing a tarp and net tent can maximize your shelters flexibility while still providing great rain and bug protection.
The tarps listed below are great choices for hikers that are willing to sacrifice a little comfort to travel fast and light. That said, the weight gap between tarps and ultralight tents has greatly reduced in the past couple of years. Freestanding double-wall tents are generally considered the most convenient and comfortable shelters, so you might want to take a look at my Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents page for comparison as well.
Nov 19th UPDATE: I’m currently in the process of rewriting this page. For the time being, please have a look at these top pick selections from some of the best tarp manufacturers on the market. I hope to include more update in the coming weeks. Thanks for your patience!
TARPS WITH INNER NETS
These are non-freestanding tarps that come with inner nets. That means they can function like a double-wall tent, or you can leave the inner net at home to reduce weight. These tarps essentially function like non-freestanding double-wall tents, so you might want to compare their weights and costs to some of the selections on my Best Tents Page.
- ZPACKS DUPLEX - 2-Person single-wall cuben fiber tent. Trekking poles and 6 stakes minimum.
- TARPTENT PROTRAIL - 1-Person single-wall tent. Trekking poles and 4 stakes minimum.
- TARPTENT MOTRAIL - 2-Person single-wall tent. Trekking poles and 4 stakes minimum.
- SIX MOON DESIGNS SKYSCAPE TREKKER - 1-Person partially single-wall tent. Trekking poles and 5 stakes minimum.
- SIX MOON DESIGNS LUNAR DUO EXPLORER - 2-Person roomy single-wall tent. Trekking poles and 6 stakes minimum.
- HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR ULTAMID 2 - Mesh inner net without floor and with floor are optional at extra cost.
- HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR ULTAMID 4 - Mesh inner net without floor and with floor are optional at extra cost.
- MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS SOLOMID - Mesh inner net with floor and floor without netting are optional at extra cost.
- MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS DUOMID - Mesh inner net with floor and floor without netting are optional at extra cost.
- MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS DUOMID XL - Mesh inner net with floor and floor without netting are optional at extra cost.
- MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS SUPERMID - Mesh inner net with floor and floor without netting are optional at extra cost.
Bivy sacks are lightweight body-shaped enclosures that will provide additional protection from rain and bugs. They're usually only slightly larger than your sleeping bag, but they can actually be quite comfortable to sleep in. Bivys are a great tool to pair with a tarp when you're looking to go ultralight but you want to make sure to stay dry and away from the mosquitoes while sleeping.
When choosing a bivy sack, make sure to choose a size that will be long/wide enough to fit your body and your sleeping pad. Also, consider using a lightweight groundsheet and choose your sleeping spots carefully to keep your bivy from developing small rips and tears in the bottom.
Mountain Laurel Designs
5.5 - 7.25 oz
MLD’s Superlight Bivy has a cuben fiber flooring option for extra water protection and reduced weight. Their large size provides room for thicker sleeping pads like the NeoAir. The Superlight Bivy comes with a full net hood or half moon mesh hood design. The full net hood is a good option for increased breathability and visibility.
Raven Omni Bivy
6 - 7.2 oz
The Raven Omni Bivy is wide/long enough for thicker sleeping pads like the NeoAir. It also has a zipper that runs mid-way down the side of the bag, which makes getting in and out much easier. The Omni's materials are highly water resistant and breathable to reduce condensation. The full net hood option is a great option for ventilation and it's worth the extra cost and weight.
Breeze Dri-Tech UL Sleeping Bag Cover
6.3 - 8.3 oz
The material of Montbell’s Dri-Tec Sleeping Bag Cover provides excellent waterproof protection for cold and wet trips. The downside is that increasing water protection reduces breathability and increase condensation on the inside of your bivy. The Breeze also comes in a wide/long option that will provide room for thicker sleeping pads like the NeoAir and will definitely be better for larger hikers. This model has a draw cord hood, but doesn't have a net to keep the bugs out.
Groundsheets can be a great way to protect the bottom of your shelter from rips and tears, add additional water protection, and help keep your expensive gear out of the dirt. They shouldn't be considered essential though, because most full shelters these days have waterproof floors built in. For that reason, many UL hikers with lightweight tents will choose to leave groundsheets behind to save weight.
Lightweight groundsheets are also near essential for use with with tarps and bivys. They have a variety of uses around camp and are extremely light and affordable. They can be purchased or easily constructed from online retailers or your local hardware store.
Whatever option you choose, make sure to cut the material of your ground cloth so it fits under your shelter without any material sticking out. If your groundsheet sticks out the sides of your shelter it will collect water and run it under your shelter.
Tyvek Ground Cloth
1/3 oz per sq foot
Tyvek is another popular groundsheet material that is tough and highly water resistant, but it is slightly heavier and bulkier than plastic groundsheet alternatives. Tyvek is commonly used in home construction and you'll sometimes be able to find large scraps of it in construction garbage piles. You might also be able to purchase small quantities of it at your local hardware store.
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Disclosure: The trust of my audience is of the utmost importance to me. That’s why I only recommend equipment I love from companies I trust. I have not been paid to review any of the products listed above. A couple of items were provided to me for free to review, but I purchased most of this equipment myself. Also, I am under no obligation to give positive reviews to any of the products listed above. This gear just rocks. This page contains affiliate links. Check out my terms page for more info.