I’ve been using tents pretty much exclusively for my backpacking outings. I’ve never been opposed to using a tarp shelter, but tents are just so easy to setup and many tarps can be just as expensive as a decent tent. It wasn’t until Rolling Fox offered to send me their new affordable Tarp Shelter for demo and review that I decided to give tarps another look.
Unpacking my tarp shelter I found that it comes with a stuff sack, the tarp, a small bag for hardware, four 9′ guylines with plastic line tensioners, and 4 steel stakes. There are no instructions for setup. After doing some research on how to setup a tarp, I found that there are all sorts of configurations and methods for rigging. There is no “right” way like when setting up a tent. This was a little unnerving at first, but I quickly gained confidence and soon realized the versatility of a tarp once I learned a few techniques. There are dozens of tarp shelter videos and articles shared on the internet, and Rolling Fox even has articles on their site discussing setup techniques.
The Rolling Fox Tarp Shelter is diamond shaped, with opposite equal acute angles on the ridgeline, opposite equal obtuse angles on the tie-down sides, and four equal length sides. Rolling Fox says that this shape is perfect for a tarp/ hammock combo, but can also be used in a variety of set ups. There are 16 tie off points along the tarp’s edges to accommodate many different configurations. Rolling Fox tells me that they have a more traditional rectangular tarp in the works as well.
We first setup the Tarp Shelter in the backyard, using a ground sheet from one of our tents. I noticed that the rectangular ground sheet has to be small enough to fit underneath the tarp’s diamond shape. Care needs to be taken that the corners of the ground sheet not extend too far out as to direct rain into the sleeping area. Other than that, though, the tarp provides plenty of coverage for two sleeping people. If just used as an emergency shelter to wait out a thunderstorm, you could easily get a few people seated underneath.
We took the Tarp Shelter along with us on a hike up in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The tarp fit easily in my day pack, and the weight was barely noticeable. We didn’t encounter any bad weather, so we set the tarp up as a sun shade at Showers Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail.
To setup the tarp, I created a ridgeline by wrapping one end of my 5mm 50′ accessory cord once around a tree. I tied a figure 8 knot on the working end, connected a small carabiner, then attached the carabiner to the tarp and ridgeline. Since the ridgeline was not tied to the tree, it was easy to position the tarp right where I wanted it. I attached another small carabiner to the other end of the tarp, ran the ridgeline through the carabiner, then wrapped my ridgeline once around another tree. I made a small Prusik knot with 3 mm accessory cord, attaching it to the working end of the ridgeline and the carabiner. The remainder of the 50′ of cord was just dropped to the ground. The Prusik knot is a friction knot. It slides up the ridgeline cord easily to take up the slack, but grips tight once under tension. (Note: When at home, the trees were much further away. I tied off one end of the ridgeline to a tree with an adjustable grip hitch, and then used another Prusik loop on the tarp at this end to provide tension and conserve the length of ridgeline cord needed to span the trees.)
The supplied 9′ guylines with plastic tensioners would probably work good as is when the tarp is used up high to cover a hammock or picnic table. When the tarp is closer to the ground, though, this length is a bit much. A great guyline system is what Andrew Skurka is calling a “McCarthy hitch” on his website. Since this hitch halves the guyline’s length, it works well with the longer supplied guylines when setting up the tarp low to the ground. Using the other two supplied guylines, this same McCarthy hitch can also be used to hold the ridgeline at both ends, eliminating the need for all the extra hardware I used in my setup (including the supplied plastic tensioners). We ended up adding a trekking pole to our lakeside setup to create an awning with a view. All this versatility, I discovered, is one the fun and useful things about tarps!
Is it waterproof? Here in northern Nevada, we haven’t seen rain for months. I didn’t want to wait for an actual storm to see if the tarp sheds water, though, so I did my own test. I spread some tarp material over a glass container to form a cup. I then poured water into the container and waited. Five minutes later, no water had leaked through, and the other side of the tarp felt dry. The water shook off easily when I was done with the test. When the tarp is pitched to shed water, there should be no problems with leaks. The stuff sack is made of the same material.
While the Rolling Fox Tarp Shelter won’t replace my tents for family backpacking trips, it will definitely be rotated in for some outings. The tent wins when you and the family are fleeing mosquitoes or wind and rain. But after bug season and during fair summer weather, there isn’t a real good reason to carry all the extra bulk and weight of a tent out on the trail. The tarp is small and light enough that I will also take it on day hikes to use as an emergency shelter. I also like the fact that you can build a small survival fire under the downwind side of a tarp, further enhancing its use as an emergency tool. Furthermore, the tarp will make a nice addition to my Search and Rescue pack, as good weather is usually the exception on callouts.
For $34.97, I think the tarp is a great value. REI has a similar tarp for almost twice this price. The one thing I couldn’t test is durability. Only time and some strong winds will give me the answer to this question, but it appears to be of quality construction and materials. For just a little bit of money, one could upgrade to some lightweight aluminum stakes and customize the guylines. This would shed some weight from the package, further increasing its portability.
- Includes: Stuff sack, tarp, small bag for hardware, four 9′ guylines with plastic line tensioners, four steel stakes.
- Weight: 1 lb, 4.7 oz on my scale (including everything listed on the line above)
- Dimensions: Rhombus shaped (diamond). 11.5′ (ridgeline) by 9′ (side corner to side corner). All sides measure 7.5 feet. (measurements approximate and slightly rounded). 16 tie off points, making it versatile to accommodate different configurations.
- Wind and Waterproof: Yes
- Color: Cream
- Price: $34.97 from Rolling Fox at time of review.
- Website for more info and purchase: https://shop.rollingfox.com/products/rolling-fox-tarp-shelter or via Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DDVJIMI
Disclaimer: This product was given to me at no charge for test and review. I was not paid to do this review, and provided honest and personal views throughout the entire process.