Gear Guy

What’s the best way to shade yourself from the desert sun in southwest Texas?

After spending all my life camping in the mountains of the eastern United States, I've fallen in love with the southwest Texas desert, and I'm in the process of learning about those techniques and equipment that will work in that very different environment. No trees, blazing sun, the ground too hard to set stakes, fairly constant strong winds... The first problem to solve would be creating some shade... My Integral Designs Siltarp, which works great in the forests of Virginia, is useless as a sunshade, being almost transparent. Are there any tarps out there that would be suitable for sunshade duty, or is a piece of black six-mil poly my best bet? Bill Stell Charlottesville, VA

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Gee, Bill, you make camping in Texas sound so appealing that I’m hard-pressed to sit here answering questions when I could be packing and heading south! Ever heard of the Rocky Mountains? Just northwest of Texas a bit—some nice camping there, too, and you might fit the conditions a little more enjoyable. Plus, they have a sense of wide-open spaces, something I gather that appeals to you after the somewhat claustrophic Eastern forests. Not that Texas isn’t great—so if you live in Texas and are working up a case of umbrage, leave me alone!

Setting up a shady spot is going to be difficult. Forget the poly—it’ll be difficult to set up, is apt to tear, and its flapping will drive you insane (of course, I already think you’re insaneB). You might try one of the Moss wing-type tarps; very well-made, aerodynamic tarps that can take as much wind as anything in this category. Take a look at the MSR (formerly Moss) Vistawing ($159); it’s a roomy tarp that four or five people can stand or sit under. Pretty light (four pounds) for it size, and fairly sturdy. It’s designed to take wind. Whether one can stand up to steady, hard wind blowing across the Texas plains is another matter, but they should give you a pretty good chance of getting some shade.