The first and most obvious benefit of using a tarp is that it weighs a lot less than a tent. I have been using the Black Diamond Beta Light almost exclusively from late spring through late fall for several years. It weighs 1lb 8 oz (680g) and has 34.7 square feet of livable space with about 15 more square feet of covered space for storage. Let’s compare this to a reasonably light two-person tent, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It weighs in at 2lb 10oz (1190g) has 28 square feet of usable space and a 7 square foot vestibule. So it weighs almost twice as much, but offers less useable space or storage!
|From L to R: Black Diamond Beta Light and Mega Light tarps, Firstlight and Skylight tents, Hilleberg Nallo 2, Mountain Hardware Trango 2. The Trango 2 is about 7 times heavier than the Beta Light. An old Petzl Elios helmet provides some scale.|
|The Black Diamond Mega Light in the High Sierra. This four person shelter weighs 2lbs 5oz (1005g) and is a palace for one person. Photo by Jessica Haist.|
Tarps are not always as intuitive to set up as tents. Like tents, some are easier than others are. The additional thought you'll have to invest in understanding and setting up your tarp is more than paid off in a lighter and smaller pack. I can usually set up my Betamid faster than the average climber can set up their shelter. In their defense, I have had a lot of practice.
--Ian McEleney, Instructor and Guide