Introduction: Ultralight Clear Tarp Tent (2P)

When you go camping, you've chosen to be in nature. So, why are tents always made of opaque materials that separate you from it?

My tarp tent offers you a 360° view of shooting stars or thunderstorms from the safety of an ultralight, 3-season, 2 person shelter. You'll also be the first one to know if that sound in the middle of the night is really a bear or maybe just a bunny.

This design was initially conceived to be used with Six Moon Design's Haven Net Tent (used in the photo above) and uses a transparent material known as polyolefin or polycryo which is quite popular in the ultralight backpacking world.

The tarp sets up easily with a pair of 45" tent poles or 2 telescoping trekking poles and a great feature is that it can be used as a stand alone tarp tent while camping in dryer and/or less buggy environments. Here's a video that shows the set up of Six Moon Designs' version which might serve for some inspiration beyond this Instructable.

This design is ideal for backcountry camping and is popular for couples travelling the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. It's perfect for any camping trip where space and weight is an issue. Backpacking, bike packing, canoe camping, motorcycle touring, etc...

I have slept in this tent several times and have seen it withstand a variety of summer & fall weather conditions. It might withstand snow with extra stakes or longer stakes.

The final product also weighs about 10.4 oz, compared to the SMD silnylon version which weighs 18 oz. Not bad for a 2 person tent! The major weight savings in my design are due to two factors:

  1. Polyolefin is lighter than silnylon
  2. My design doesn't use zippers - which I haven't had any issues with since you can always stake the doors closer to eachother to protect from the elements.

MATERIALS

  • Polyolefin: M-D Building Products 84-in x 25-ft Clear Polyolefin Shrink and Seal Kit
    • Note: I haven't found polyolefin in this size in the USA which is why I have the Canadian Lowes link. If someone knows a cheaper source, please let me know! Also, don't buy the 64"x25" roll by mistake. The packaging is identical.
    • To save money, you could use regular plastic sheeting instead (i.e. a painters drop cloth) but it would be heavier & weaker.
  • Tape 1:Tuck Tape Outdoor Repair Tape
    • Note: This tape looks likes regular packing tape but the adhesive is quite different. Super tacky. UV resistant, waterproof and good until -10 celcius. Again, I haven't been able to find this tape in the USA.
  • Tape 2: Green painters tape or masking tape
  • Sharpie marker: silver or white would be best here but whatever you have works
  • Scissors: expect them to get slightly sticky from the tape
  • Large protractor: there are many options but something like this works well
  • Guyline: 2 lengths of at least 60" each
  • 2x 45" tentpoles or telescoping trekking poles (used in the set up)

SPECS

  • Sleeps: 2
  • Pack Size: 12" X 4.5"
  • Weight: 10.4 oz (without stakes)
  • Colour: Clear
  • Doors: Dual entry
  • Area: ~9.5'x7'

FEATURES

  • 360° visibility with excellent protection from the elements.
  • Zipper-less construction allows for good ventilation
  • A door on either side makes it easy to enter & exit without disturbing your tent-mate
  • High peak provides good headroom for tall people

Good luck! Let me know if you have questions.

Step 1: Work Area Preparation

Before anything, make sure that your work area is clean of dust and debris since the material seems to generate a static charge and will attract whatever small particles you have lying around.

Roll out the 7’x25’ roll of polyolefin and make sure it’s flat to avoid wrinkles. Use masking tape or painters tape to tape the edges down a bit on your work surface (floor or large table) to ensure proper tension of the polyolefin material. The roll is large enough to cut the five shapes you need for the tarp.

You will be cutting four triangles and one large rectangle.

Step 2: Shape Marking

Use a marker and straight edge to mark the lines of the triangles & rectangle. Use the protractor to measure the angles. The attached image indicates roughly how to draw the shapes on the material.

2x Big Triangle
Side lengths: 87”x52x72.5“
Angles: 56°, 87°, 37°

2x Small Triangle
Side lengths: 64”x46.5“x52”
Angles: 46°, 81°, 53°

1x Rectangle
Side lengths: 12’7”x4’ (Use tape to create a seam at 64”)

Step 3: Edge Reinforcing (Tape Hemming)

After you’ve marked all the lines, take the clear Tuck Tape to reinforce the edges before cutting them. Polyolefin is strong when you push on it but it tears very easily. You want the tape to overlap the lines by at least half an inch since you'll be cutting through it.

This reinforcing (hemming) process will help prevent the risk of tearing by adding strength to the edges. To prevent tape bubbles, make sure that the polyolefin is as tight as possible and always pass over the tape with your hand to push any air out. Having a second person to help you might be useful for you.

Add an extra line of tape across the rectangle at 64”. This will be your ridgeline and divide your rectangle in a 64” long side and an 87” long side, which corresponds to the long sides of your triangles.

Step 4: Shape Cutting

Cut all the taped edges along the lines you’ve just marked. You will end up with 5 cut shapes.

Step 5: Tarp Assembly

The attached image indicates how the triangles should be taped to the large rectangle.

Take the two small triangles and carefully use the Tuck Tape to tape the 64” side to the 64” long half of the rectangle. IMPORTANT: Make sure the 52” side is facing inwards.

Next, take the two large triangles and carefully use the Tuck Tape to tape the 87” side to the 87” long half of the rectangle. IMPORTANT: Make sure the 52” side is facing inwards.

With all 5 shapes taped together your tarp is now starting to look complete! Where the triangle points meet the the rectangle, add some extra tape on the bottom side of the tarp to reinforce these points.

Step 6: Tie Down Loops

Next, cut 10 8” long strips of tape and carefully fold them length-wise on itself to they are taped together. Fold them width-wise in half and use them to create tie-down loops on the eight corners of the tarp. You can also install strips of tape to tie back the doors (triangles).

Tape the remaining two on either end of the ridgeline. place the top half on the top of the tarp and the bottom half on the bottom of the tarp. Only leave about 1/2" of the loop coming out either side and tape the rest as these need to be secured well. To these, you will tie the two 60" lengths of guyline which you will use to stabilize the tarp when it is set up. This video demonstrates well how to set up the tarp.

Step 7: Pole Sleeves

If you’re using 2x 45” tent poles or telescoping trekking poles, use the tape to create a pole-end sleeve that you will tape to the underside of the tarp at the 64” where you added a strip of tape across the rectangle. You can also inspire yourself from this video to figure out a way to pitch it with guylines only.

The first photo shows the tarp pitched with both doors down. If you need to close the gap, just peg them closer to eachother. You can also add an extra loop a bit higher from the corner to close it a lot.

Note: if you feel you need to add tension to your pitch, it is suggested to tie adjustable guylines (I like using a taughtline hitch) to the loops and peg down on the guylines.

The second shows the tarp packed up. The keys are there for scale.

To pack it, you can probably just stuff it in a sac (easier to do if you're solo) but I usually fold it in "half" at the ridgeline and fold the triangle inwards. From there, I fold it in thirds or quarters and roll it from there.

Your tarp is complete! Thanks for reading! Please share photos of your results.

Step 8: Optional - Groundsheet: 48”x90”

The attached image is a Google Sketchup model of what your final product should look like.

Depending on your set up or personal preferences, a ground sheet might be good idea. You can create one from left over material or maybe another separate piece. Always remember to hem your edges.

Thanks again for reading! Please share photos of your results.

Comments

author
parrydox (author)2016-07-26

Brilliant!

The link for the Polyolefin didn't work, but I found some in the 84" on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007E8BMZ8/ref=c...

In lieu of the Tuck Tape, Gorilla Clear Repair Tape would probably work:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EUGCT22/ref=c...

Duck Brand Clear Repair Tape would probably also work, though I hear it's not quite as sticky:

https://www.amazon.com/Duck-281230-Weather-1-88-In...

And as west coast tom suggested, I would use Velcro Sticky Back Coins to hold the door flaps closed, which also happen to come in Clear!

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00168A18Q/ref=c...

(Current) Total Price on Amazon: ~$26 (USD)

author
west coast tom made it! (author)2016-06-15

Teras, I wouldn't worry about robust, I finally put one together and the first trip out it was tested by high winds, rain, snow, sleet, even a 1/2 hour of small (BB size) hail. This is my second polycryo tent/tarp and it's great! A bit noisy in the wind, but most tents are. It was a bit of a pain to cut & assemble but well worth the effort. I used 1 1/2" lengths of 1/4" rubber fuel line taped thoroughly with a thin but strong cord looped through them for tie-downs, 3/4 X 3/4 self adhesive velcro buttons on the the flaps (doors?), & ran a strip of red Tuck-Tape along the ridge-line to help setting it up. It's the best of both worlds, protected from the elements but can see everything going on around you. The moon was so bright last night it almost made it hard to sleep! Great pattern, thank you very much!!!

IMG_2791.JPGIMG_0943.JPG
author
Thejesterqueen (author)2016-02-17

Thank you for this. I love to sleep outside, but tents these days keep you from seeing anything and are costing two arms and legs when all we do is sleep in them! Just an f.y.i., Gorrila clear repair tape is supposed to be weather and u.v. resistant. I'm not sure what the temperature rating is though.

author

Thank you for your comment! Hope you get an opportunity to make this shelter. Please share pics if you do. And thanks for the Gorilla tape tip. It looks to be a similar product and is rated down to -12 celcius (10 fahrenheit)!

author
Alex 2Q (author)2015-11-16

Hi mate, this is a great project. I hope you don't mind if I take some inspiration for an emergency tarp/shelter project from this.

Cheers Alex

author

Go for it! That's why I posted it. Please post your photos of the finished project. Cheers!

author

Thanks I will do that.

author
jeff96 (author)2015-11-15

I made a camping tarp from similiar material this spring for a fast packing trip, and this stuff is awesome! I used glass reinforced packing tape to form loops to tie off the corners and to hold up the middle. I used a bivvy sack to keep my sleeping bag from getting damp from the ground. I did get some condensation / frost on the inside, but the ultra light weight and clear view more than make up for that.
Great instructable!

author
lechampiondumonde (author)jeff962015-11-15

Thank you! Agreed that there can be some tradeoffs but the pros outweigh the cons. I'd love to see a photo of your shelter. Cheers!

author
taras (author)2015-11-15

I like the design, but I myself would never use polycro for an enclosed structure like tent. Maybe a tarp, but I would still pass on it as a building material except in warmer climates. I know it's ultralight, but in my opinion, it's too fragile for any type of exposed camping, which really only makes it suitable for ultralight usage in well sheltered areas. You would also need to make sure that you have it open at the doors because of condensation and ventilation issues, again, making it unsuitable for colder temps. Those are my own opinions on the use of Polycro, and I only mention these things for people who may not be that familiar with the material and it's limitations. Besides that, the construction is well executed and I would use similar techniques for construction (the layout and cutting you did for the panels) should I try this myself, I would just go with a material that's more robust and versatile. If you have access to a sewing machine, maybe try the same design in SilNylon. It will still pack pretty small, be light, and will offer you more protection from the weather as well.

author
lechampiondumonde (author)taras2015-11-15

Thanks for the comment. Silnylon is definitely more robust. However, it's more expensive, opaque - and (slightly) heavier.

There are trade offs either way but my feeling (which is based on personal experience) is that this tent will suit most people going on multi-day backcountry camping trips in 3-season conditions. On my trips, I've never felt that more protection from the weather was necessary. Have you ever slept under a polycryo tarp? I was nervous about it too but I've been quite impressed with its resilience!

I hope this Instructable will help people rethink what a camping experience and what a tent can be. If someone creates a home-brewed version out of silnylon, I'd love to see it! Note that a silnylon version can be purchased from Six Moon Designs, who make great products.

author
seamster (author)2015-11-13

Very nice! This is a great looking simple tent.

author

Thank you Sam! After typing these step by step instructions in an email for a single person, I told myself that I had no reason not to share it with Instructables. Cheers from Canada.

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