Tent vs. Tarp
This is probably one of the biggest discussions I have come up against in my search of the Ultra Light. So far here’s my break down of the two…
Tent: heavier, cramped, and a bad weight to dollar ratio (aka to get the weight down you have to spend a lot more with tents than tarps), and you pretty much have to purchase one, but more fool proof weather and setup wise, and they add a degree of extra warmth as well as a layer between you and bugs.
Tarp: Harder to set up and can be really miserable late at night/early in the morning if you set it up wrong, they tend to be a tad colder, and you have a higher chance of bugs if no bug netting layer is added; but much lighter, a great dollar to weight ratio, amazing weather protection if you know how to set it up, and the best of all they are really easy to make and even if you buy one they are really easy to customize without destroying.
For me personally I like the idiot-proofness, bug security and the little extra heat of a tent but HATE lugging it everywhere and can’t stand pay so much for something I don’t actually need unless the bugs and weather are bad. Fortunately for people like me there is a great and amazing third option that I’m quite fond of; the tarp-tent. Low weight, low prices, just the right amount of bug and weather protection and several of them make setup very easy. They are still heavier than a good silnylon tarp but most are under a 1.5lb for two people at right at to just a little over 2lbs for three. My favorite brand is Henry Shires Tarptents, but there are many good brands including some of the ones I liked, Alpinelight Gear, Light Heart Gear, Bear Paw Wilderness Designs, and Mountain Laurel Designs.
There is of course the other option that many people choose which is Hammock camping but I find they are WAY too heavy for what you’re getting and if you’re backpacking with more than yourself not worth it at all, but I can see the advantage to it since you never sleep on the hard ground!
Right now I’m having to live with the Kelty Grand Mesa 2 due to it was the cheapest best backpacking tent we could get and still come in under our self imposed 6lbs for 2 people limit for our first tent. Our next tent is going to be the Henry Shires Cloudburst 2, which will be 2lbs 6oz, easily beating our goal of 3lbs for 2 people. I considered the Squall 2 for quite some time since we really don’t like hiking with a lot of gear on day trips without trekking poles, but in the end Richard is just too big a guy to try and fit through the opening that the Squall 2 had to offer and we are too concerned that he’d knock the poles down in the middle of the night or whatnot. Besides I just prefer the setup and vestibule area of the Cloudburst.