Shelter is one of the most basic bushwalking needs: somewhere to keep you warm and dry when conditions turn for the worst. While tents provide the greatest protection, they are much bulkier and heavier than a simple tarp or fly, and in my experience a well-pitched fly is more than adequate for most situations.
I’ve had a few models over the years, starting out with my old army hoochies (one of which weighed in at a massive 950g, while the other is a hefty 670g), before moving on to lighter and more compact options. Most commercially available flies are made of siliconised nylon, while a small but growing number of ultra-light walkers have moved to the much more expensive but incredibly light-weight cuben fibre.
Then I discovered Terra Rosa Gear. Now I was drawn to this one-man operation not only because I love the idea of bushwalkers who make their own gear, or because it’s based in Australia, or because you can chat directly to the person making your equipment and modify it to your own needs, but because of his innovative fabric choices.
While all his tarps are available in silnylon (or even cuben if you ask very nicely!), they can also be made of Tyvek.
Now the Tyvek he uses isn’t that crinkly house waterproofing wrap which a lot of bushwalkers, myself included, use for ground sheets. Rather, he used “1443r”, which is a soft structure Tyvek also manufactured by Dupont. Weighing in a 43 grams per square meter, it is lighter than silnylon, and cheaper too.
To steal the spiel from Evan:
“This is a classic hexagonal tarp. It features a 2.8 meter ridge line tapering to the edges which are 2 meters long. Its catenary edges save weight, making this tarp a great lightweight shelter. With only 4 tie-outs plus 2 for the ridge line, this tarp is extremely light for its coverage.”
The “catenary” side edges are a slight arch-shaped edge, hemmed for strength from corner to corner. These curved edges save weight, as they reduce the amount of fabric, while actually allowing you to achieve extremely taut pitches.
But the real kicker with this tarp for me is that the Tyvek version, which is the one I decided to test out, weighs just 270g and only costs AU$90. (Walk into your local outdoor store and they’ll be selling a fly that weighs a couple hundred grams more and they’ll still want almost double the price!)
I decided the perfect time to test this tarp would be on a couple more remote walks, where pack weight was at a premium.
The first walk was a seven day effort in the Blue Breaks. Like a lot of sandstone country, you can often find camp caves, which was our plan for particularly bad weather, but I wanted a shelter that would allow us to enjoy some nice high camps close to the scenic edges of the escarpments.
While there wasn’t much rain during the week, just a few light showers, there were some pretty intense winds. It seemed each night the winds would pick up to a howl, roaring through the trees above.
Amazingly, this fly barely seemed to flap in the breeze. It was very easy to set up nice and tight, with the shape making it easy to pitch it tight and low to the ground.
The 2.2m width really helped, as it meant the sides could be basically touching the ground while still providing plenty of room inside. It also meant a nice amount of space to keep my pack and other gear, just in case the rain came through.
While I loved the idea of the hexagonal design, I did feel the sides cutting down to 2m was probably a tiny bit short, especially as I move around a bit in my sleep. I’d probably prefer to lengthen the whole thing slightly (perhaps a ridgeline of 3m and sides of 2.4m) to provide more protection from the ends if there was more wind and rain.
On the second trip — a remote Aboriginal art exploration in a remote patch of the Wollemi National Park — I was really reminded why camping under a fly is so nice. Our high camp, on a rocky outcrop, meant being able to watch the sunrise from my sleeping bag, simply by unpegging one side and flicking it over onto the other half. Sure, you could do this with any tarp, but the fact that there are only two pegs on the side did make it a little easier.
While I got to see how the Exploring Tarp went in exposed windy positions, unfortunately I haven’t seen how it does under heavy rain.
I do know that being a polyethylene fabric it will take up some water into the fabric, and there will be a bit of sag when wet. The fact that it ties out so nicely should mean this isn’t too much of an issue. And the fact that the fabric is hydrophobic means it should dry extremely quickly.
I did have a couple concerns with the fabric. The first is that it gets dirty very easily (it seems to attract dirt, which on a white surface really stands out). It also seems like it would be fairly easy to put a hole in if you’re not careful where you’re pitching it.
For the first problem, the fly can be washed in warm water which seems to do the trick.
For the second, I’d recommend giving it a tiny bit more TLC, by picking your spots so that it isn’t rubbing or pushing onto sharp scrub or branches. That said, it can be repaired quite simply with sail or spinnaker tape.
Overall, I was pretty impressed by this fly. I love the innovative fabric choice, which gives you a really lightweight product at an incredibly low price-point.
That light weight and low price gives it some very particular uses. Not only as an everyday fly for people with a lower budget for gear, but as a great backup. For instance, on a challenging day trip (whether walking or canyoning) where there is a chance of getting benighted, this is a simple, light, compact shelter option which can be tucked at the bottom of the pack.
As I said above, I’d probably prefer to lengthen this design slightly, especially if I wanted the option of squeezing two people under it, but the great thing about Terra Rosa Gear is that everything is custom made by hand, so you can modify any of the designs.
But at the end of the day, being able to get an ultralight shelter that seems to be able to handle the elements pretty well for $90 is the clincher that makes this fly well worth considering.
- Durability / toughness — 3.5/5
- Usefulness — 4.5/5
- Value for money — 5/5
- Overall — 4/5