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Gear Guy

Should we replace our tent with a lighter tarp?

As the years go by, my wife and I find ourselves looking for lighter and lighter hiking and camping equipment, especially in terms of our shelter which takes up a significant portion of our pack weight. What's the word on Henry Shires' Tarptents? Their Squall weighs only 24.5 ounces and offers two people a roomy 44 square feet of space. Could this be the lightweight remedy to aching backs and our three-season shelter needs? V. Tran Galveston, Texas

A: I haven't used the Squall ($180;, but it's certainly intriguing. Basically it's a tent fly, minus the floor and canopy. That saves a ton of weight while still giving you adequate shelter. You can use a ground cover to sleep on, or the Tarptent people will sell you a sewn-in floor, which of course adds weight.

The plus to this setup is, obviously, the weight. As you note, you only need pack 24.5 ounces to sleep two. However, the downside is that you're vulnerable to bugs, wind, and cold temperatures. But if you can work around those issues, and I can think of plenty of situations where you could, this certainly looks appealing! I'd be interested in hearing from people who have tried one of the Shires Tarptents.

Lots of makers are hopping on the ultralight bandwagon, so you have plenty options. I have a mild preference for "complete" tents, because with the super-ultralight tents you usually end up adding a pound or two in extras (i.e., ground cloth and so on) for anything less than ideal weather. Three leaders in this category: REI's Coupe, weighing in at three pounds, 13 ounces and costing $169 for a true two-person, three-season tent (; Marmot's AT ($179;, a single-wall tent that sleeps two and weighs three pounds, eight ounces (I've used it, and it's great); and Mountain Hardwear's new Waypoint 2 ($250;, which sleeps two and weighs just over three pounds.

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