Things You Can Learn While Floating Under A Tarp

It would be an understatement to say that every backpacking trip is a learning experience. My recent adventure on the Ozark Highlands Trail is no exception to the rule.

For some time now thanks to Jupiter, I have been enamored with tarp camping. My first love is cowboy camping (throwing your bag on the ground and sleeping under the stars). But when weather or privacy demands some degree of shelter, a tarp is my first choice.

One of my goals on our last hike was to perfect my tarp camping skills over a multiple day hike. The first night out was a dream come true. With a 1% chance of rain I was snuggled in my sleeping bag under a perfect A-Frame pitch. I watched the moon rise as I was lulled to sleep by the creek flowing a few yards away – a total win!

Hiking along the next day, I knew there would be a chance of storms that night. As I thought about how I would set up my tarp for the night, I decided on a Plow Point setup. From my research I believed this setup would provide the best protection from inclement weather.

We arrived at at our camp spot with the sound of thunder in the distance. I quickly set my tarp up and stored my gear under it. Within a few minutes a gentle rain began to fall. We settled into our shelters for a good night’s rest.

A short time later, the wind shifted and for the next 12 hours (other than monsoon) I struggle to find the words to describe the rain that fell. I literally thought God was breaking His promise to never flood the earth again… At least 3 inches of rain fell throughout the night.

The swirling winds and horizontal rains found quick refuge inside my tarp. Regardless of how I adjusted or tried to secure, the floods came in with a vengeance. We also discovered that we had camped in a slight recession which quickly turned into a mud puddle. We were all soaked by morning.

Not wanting to sleep in a wet sleeping bag with the temperature dipping below 30 that night, we were glad we had an option to get off trail at the 30-mile mark.

I returned home feeling slightly defeated and considering selling my tarp for spare parts. As the memory of a long night in the rain gave way to more pleasant memories, I soon began planning my next hike.

As I considered options for shelter, I kept coming back to the thought, “but I like tarp camping”.

I started out by saying, “every hike is a learning experience”. So, what did I learn from this hike?

First, every hike will not come with a 12-hour long thunderstorm. Rain, possibly, but a 12-hour Arkansas Cyclone, probably not.

Second, there are a dozen of ways to set up a tarp. A little work on a more secure, or fully enclosed setup next time would possibly save day.

Third, don’t let one bad experience stop you from doing something you enjoy.

A bad experience at Walmart has never kept me from going back. I had done multiple hikes successfully with my tarp. Why would I let one bad experience keep me from many more great nights in the moonlight?

Forth, never stop learning. The problem that night was not with the tarp, it was with the guy who set it up! 

I have already found several new setups that would have protected me more that rainy night.

We only fail when we cease trying!

What epic fails have you learned from on the trail?

Leave a comment below or share this post with someone who needs it!

See you on the trail – I’ll be the one under a tarp!

Gear Review – Zpacks Titanium Wing Stove for Esbit

One of the things I enjoy about backpacking is the never-ending quest to eliminate a few ounces from my kit! I remember Colin Fletcher writing about a moment of madness where he found himself tearing labels off his tea bags.

In 2018 I made my first stoveless hike. I loved not carrying the extra weight of a stove and fuel canister. My carefully researched food selections were spot on with one exception… COFFEE!

I still smile thinking about my friend and I standing in our camp site drinking cold instant coffee from a Smartwater Bottle saying over and over, “It’s not too bad!” Translation, “I can barely choke this down.”

Since that time, I have been on a quest to find a lightweight, efficient way to heat two cups of water in the morning. Enter the Zpacks Titanium Wing Stove for Esbit.

Titanium Wing Stove displayed on counter.

I bought this stove from Zpacks for $14.95 and received it in a couple days. The stove weighs in at less than one ounce (0.7), 0.8 with the  stuff sack.

How It Works

This stove burns Esbit Cubes which sell for about $8.00 for 12 cubes. Each cube weighs about 0.5 ounces. According to the product specifications, they burn at about 1,300 degrees.

The stove, four cubes and my titanium bowl give me a minimalist cook kit that weighs in at less than 5 ounces!

The stuff sack easily holds the stove and 4-6 cubes. Enough fuel for several days on the trail depending on how many meals you boil for.

Field Test

For my field test I took the stove on an overnight in a nearby wilderness area. I set the stove up on a small flat rock for some stability and to keep the heat away from dry leaves.

The Esbit cube ignited quickly and easily. One word of warning, the flame from the cube is difficult to see.

I placed my small cook pot on it with about 1 ½ cups of water. In a little over four minutes I had a rolling boil.

Titanium Wing Stove & pot on a rock.

A quick birthday candle blow and the Esbit was extinguished. Once cooled I stored the leftover portion of the cube in a baggie. I think it will be good for at least one more boil.

My field test took place under ideal conditions. I suspect if there were a strong breeze you would want to use a windscreen to protect the flame.

I don’t think I would depend on this setup in extreme conditions.

Two Negatives

I only found two negatives in using the stove. Neither had to do with the function or quality of the stove.

First, the Esbit cubes give off a strong chemical odor (probably because they are burning chemicals).

Second, the cubes leave a sticky residue on the bottom of the pot. The residue cleaned off easily, but has the potential to make a sticky mess in your bag.

Both of these issues are minor, and for my version of Starbucks in the woods – the Zpacks Titanium Wing Stove is a winner!

Do You Have The Frustrated Heart Of A Thru Hiker?

How many of us have the heart of a thru hiker, but reality (finances and responsibilities) force us to hike vicariously through others? And… the nearest National Scenic Trail is 600 miles away.

Truth is, we don’t have to hike 2,000 miles with $4,000 of ultralight gear to enjoy backpacking. Backpacking twenty miles on a weekend is a great opportunity! We just have five zero days to plan our next hike!

This is the story of my last hike.

Continue reading “Do You Have The Frustrated Heart Of A Thru Hiker?”