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?

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