Hang ‘Em High: Tips for Getting Organised Under Your Tarp

by Paul Kirtley

There's nothing quite like the feeling of waking up under a tarp on a fresh morning with the sun shining through the trees. You are immediately connected with the landscape around you. You can see the birds and animals, you can smell the dew. None of the hemmed-in stuffiness of a tent.

View from under a tarp with sun and a little mist

There's nothing quite like waking up in cool morning air under a tarp. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Compared to a tarp, a tent also seems to provide a little more margin for sloppiness. You can leave things lying around on the groundsheet and they won't go far or get wet. Under a tarp you need to be more organised.

There are a few tricks you can use to keep organised while under a tarp. One of them is using a hanging line. This is a line of cord that is normally tied off to the same trees as the tarp and runs under the apex of the tarp.

You can then use this line to hang up equipment so that it is off the ground or in easy reach. It is also valuable to be able to air off your sleeping bag by hanging it under your tarp - you can wander away from your bivvy without worrying that your sleeping bag might get a soaking from a rain shower.

Various bags attached to the hanging line

You can use the draw-cord or a fastex-style clip to attach bags to the hanging line. Photo: Ben Gray.

Obviously, if a bag has one, you can use a fastening clip to close over the line and suspend it. You could also use small key-ring type karabiners. Neither of these, however, will hold the item at a particular point of the hanging line and the karabiners add to your kit. I'm all for solutions that use what you've got rather than forcing you to bring more stuff.

For attaching items to the hanging line - and holding them at a particular point - there are a few knots that are useful. Applying these knots all boil down to being able to tie a cow hitch, also commonly known as a larks foot, larks head or girth hitch.

It's simple to tie and easy to remember.

If you aren't familiar with this hitch, then here is a great animation to show you how.

The knots below are variations on this theme.

Attaching a Draw-Cord Bag (with quick-release)

Tying a cow hitch with the doubled line of a draw-cord

First start to tie a cow hitch with the doubled-line of the draw-cord. Photo: Ben Gray.

Conituing to tie the cow-hitch with doubled-cord effectively forms a Prusik.

Continuing to tie the cow-hitch with doubled-cord effectively forms a Prusik. Photo: Ben Gray.

Pulling a bight through the cow hitch rather than the live end

Pull a bight through the hitch in order to create a quick-release pull. Photo: Ben Gray.

Pulling the cow hitch tight

Pulling the hitch tight means it will grip the hanging line and stay wherever you leave it, without sliding down to the lowest point. Photo: Ben Gray.

Attaching Continuous Loops Using a Cow Hitch

The above form of the cow hitch requires access to a free end of cord. You can also form a cow hitch with a continuous loop of cord.

forming a cow hitch with a continuous loop of cordage

A cow hitch in a continuous loop. Drawing: Matthew Gates.

The most obvious application of this under your tarp is to hang your headtorch above your head when you go to sleep.

Head torch attached to hanging line by a looped cow hitch.

Using a looped cow hitch you can hang your head-torch within easy reach. Photo: Ben Gray.

Practical Organisation

I keep my tarp at the top of my pack. It comes out first when I set up camp. This provides a dry, covered area. When you set up your tarp, set up the hanging line, and as you further unpack your rucksack, you can add items to it.

Keep a length of cord for your hanging line in a stuff-sac with your tarp. Alternatively keep it in the same place as your head-torch in your pack (I keep mine in the pocket inside the lid of my pack). In the morning this line and my head-torch, which is suspended on it, are pretty much the last things that go in my pack before the tarp.

A hanging line allows you to suspend items off the ground and stay organised.

A hanging line allows you to suspend items off the ground and stay organised. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The precision and detail of this may seem a little over the top. It's very rare, however, that I misplace any item of kit. If you work on the basis of only taking the bare minimum of equipment, then everything you take is essential. Losing any of it, therefore, will at least make your life a lot less comfortable and, at worst, make it less viable.

There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. This extends to being organised under your tarp.

Please leave a comment to let us know what you think of this or to share other favourite tips for staying organised in camp.

 

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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog as well as for various publications including The Bushcraft Journal and Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine.

 

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bayley

I agree that this is by far the most useful tip for tarp-living. It’s is very easy to have some vital bit of kit vanish into the leaf litter and the hanging line safeguards against this. I have a couple of prussik loops permanently fixed to mine and this can help stop things sliding down the line if you add a weighty bag that causes the line to dip in the middle. The prussik loop is very handy for fixing a candle lantern in just the right spot for reading in bed, it is so light that the slightest sag in the line causes it to slide away from the optimum position. The other thing I especially like that one can air a sleeping bag and not worry about showers. These little tips can be a great help and are often not included in a course where the main focus is elsewhere so keep them coming please!

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Celtic Rambler

As a climber I totally agree that keeping kit organised like this can be key to operating effectively and in some situations, safely. There’s nothing worse than a bag of grandma’s knitting when your on a 2ft ledge half way up a cliff face, or essential gear you can’t call to hand right when it’s needed!

In Bushcraft terms it can mean the difference between keeping kit dry and letting it get wet. And in some environments that could be a very important distinction.

And having a wealth of knots to choose from never hurts!

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Simon

Another informative and well written piece of useful advice.

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Simon

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Richard Tiley

A line running under the apex of your tarp is a really, really useful way of organising your necessaries. However, from (damp) personal experience, I’ve found it is useful to fix in a couple of drip-rings at either end as the cord goes under the tarp so that, if it does rain, your hanging gear doesn’t act as a series of drip-lines.

As ever, great content, clearly explained and handsomely illustrated. Many thanks.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your feedback.

Good point about drips. I used to suffer from drips too. I’ve found that if you suspend the hanging line from a point on the tree above where the tarp line is attached, with the lines crossing outside of the tarp, then this deals with most of the drips.

I also hang my face flannel on the line outside of the tarp at the head end and I attach the stuffsac for my bivvy bag inside the tarp at the foot end of the line so water can’t pass further down.

This means I only need a plain line rather than drip rings. I really don’t like extraneous complication if I can help it 🙂

Thanks for your comment.

All the best,

Paul

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Mark H

Thank you Paul.

Superb as usual..

My comment is based on thoughts at ‘ground level’ and keeping dry. I always firmly fix two stakes in the ground ,at they end of my bivvi bag for my boots to hang upside down on. It helps to keep out the rain, unwanted moisture and little critters. Furthermore I find by digging out a little irrigation/drainage ditch around my sleeping area in ensures no surprises in the middle of the night during a down pour.

As you say , it is the detail which makes all the difference between ‘roughing it’ and being comfortable.

Happy Easter,
Best
Mark.

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Lee

Hi Paul,
Great article. One I do is when I am in my (dd) hammock, I don’t usually hang a line in there, so when I sleep, I put the arm of my glasses through one of the loops for the line. That way, I know where they are and they don’t get crushed. I also agree with Richard about the drip rings.

Lee

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wannabemountainman

This was some good stuff. You have to understand, I’m an old tent camper, just realizing the convenience of just having to set up a tarp, which can be just as effective against the elements.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi

Glad that this was of help to you.

I was once also a tent camper all the time. I can’t imagine being in anything else in the woods now.

All the best,

Paul

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Henry

Great tips as always Paul, and I really enjoyed reading the comments of the others. Drip rings and boot stakes are fantastic ideas, thanks Mark and Richard.

Regards,
Henry

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Austin Lill

Hi Paul,

Good point about a tarp set up making you organised. When I use a tent on Cub camps I’m so guilty of using and abusing the space available! I recently did a two page article about tarps and hammocks in the last but one Scouting magazine (which featured Pablo from Woodlife) as it goes.

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Duane Yates

Hi Paul
Great article as usual, and another knott to add to my repertoir, 🙂

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Nige

Hi Paul

Great article and very useful! Been tying cow hitches for years and not knowing the name so thanks for clearing that up! 😉

Cheers
Nige.

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Paul Kirtley

No worries Nige!

Cheers,

Paul

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Chris Leeland

Some good stuff in the article (and additional ones in the comments).

I could have done with it a few months or so ago when I had had enough of my untidiness under a tarp and sought advice from a BCUK forum on how to organise myself (just ‘trying harder’ didn’t work!). I had lots of useful suggestions but in the end settled on the very solution you suggest.

The only wrinke I would add is that – because my memory just goes from bad to worse – I have labled each of my bags, including sticking red crosses on my first aid kit, so that others can easily see where it is hanging if they need it.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Chris,

It’s good to hear from you (I hope that knife is serving you well?)

I don’t think there is anything wrong with labelling your bags, senile or not 🙂 In fact it makes perfect sense. I have two little dry bags that are the same. In one I put my wallet, keys, etc and the other I keep toilet paper, lighter alcohol hand-gel. If I take the wrong one to the latrine, it could make for an expensive mistake 🙂

I also think other people being able to find your first aid kit quickly is very sensible.

All the best,

Paul

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Jack

I’ve been a swinger for a while now and have made a few mods to my tarp and hammock to make life a little easier. Some might say its a bit of over kill, but suits me. I’ve got a permanent piece of line attached to the underside of the tarp to act as a hanging line. Also used some electrical grommet on my lines to act as drip stoppers. But the thing that I find really helps organise my kit under the tarp is a string utility hammock that is slung under my main one. Into this goes my bergan, boots and cook system and dry bags of kit I need easy access to. This lives with my hammock and fits nicely into the snake skin cover, so no need to re-rig every time. My tarp and hammock set fits nicely into one side pouch on my bergan so easy to get at. It works for me.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jack

Thanks for explaining your set-up.

I think your last sentence really nails it though – what works for you is the right way for you.

I’m not one for saying things are the right way or the wrong way. If they work they work. If they don’t, circumstances, nature, etc will soon show up any holes… 🙂

Keep on swinging!

Paul

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Elen Sentier

Paul, your article is very helpful. Adding your ideas Jack – as I think I may become a confimed swinger – and the boots-on-sticks tip Mark, will help me to find my own organisation. Putting up a quick tripod to hang the sack on works too, under the tarp area.

I’m still uncertain about what to put on a line hanging over the hammock. I have RA in all joints which makes me clumsy and nowt I can do about it so concerned about knocking things.

Packing the rucksack is one organisational thing I’ve still not got the hang of and I may need a bergen (despite weight) to solve that! The top pocket tip is good Paul.

Cheers guys

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Paul Kirtley

I think it’s great how the article plus comments/tips from other readers continues to provide useful information. Thanks for your comment Elen and thanks to everyone else who has commented 🙂

All the best,

Paul

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Grant

Hi Jack, I too am a swinger, love the sound of that internal hammock for your bergan. I wrap mine up in two bin liners and put on the deck under the hammock, much prefer your method – where can you get those hammocks you mention.

Regards

Grant

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Stephen Tomlinson

Hi Jack, I’m thinking of getting a DD Hammock as a change from my tent and wondered if you utilise one of those padded under blankets for hammock camping in the UK. I have a Mountain Equipment 3 season sleeping bag and a snugpak Bivvi bag as my usual kit when under a tarp. I’m plenty warm enough and don’t want to fork out for the extra weight if I won’t need it. Thanks, and sorry for hi-jacking your thread Paul! Excellent idea for the hanging line BTW. I usually just make sure my bag is well under the tarp, with torch and glasses in a boot, but the hanging line will now be my way forward too.

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Sam

Definitely good advice. I always hang my boots from a line or a branch under the tarp and keep whatever I can in there. Even if you forget something, you put them on, and voila.

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skipjames

Cracking stuff takes me back to when I was a boy scout our leaders were ex 14th army and we lived easy like this. Then came some modernisers and they tried to ban backwoodsmanship as we called it then. So if any of you have the skills come and volunteer and help is get the skills back.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Skip,

Thanks for your comment. It sounds like I’ve brought back some memories for you 🙂

Where are you based?

All the best,

Paul

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Josh

Yet another amazing article. Everything you mention seems so simple, so straightforward, so obvious AFTER you explain it, that is the mark of a great teacher or instructor! Some of what you said I already do and rest I’ll incorporate in my routine. Thanks for the great info you are putting out there for us and the easy to ingest manner of delivery.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Josh,

It’s great to read that you found the article so useful. One of the main aims of my articles, and in particular the ‘hints and tips’ series, is clarity.

I’m glad that this is coming across well. Thanks for taking the time to provide feedback.

All the best,

Paul

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Martin

Great article Paul thanks
Poor organisation is something that bugs me. I have come across lots of people in the past who never know where there stuff is or loose something on every trip.
You have shown here that organisation is easy and easier than looking for lost kit or trying to dry something out that should not have got wet. I know green dry bags are bushcraft but I prefer to have the dry bags that are colour coded so when looking in my pack or on the line i instantly know what I am looking at without the need to open the bag. In the instances of two bags having the same colour I add a marker (tape) that stands out in low light.
One thing I have done in the past is buy a cheap mesh hammock from a supermarket and used this as a hanging line under the tarp this is so when airing in wet weather it holds the sleeping bag etc easily .
Thanks again
M

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Martin,

You hit the nail on the head here: “organisation is easy and easier than looking for lost kit or trying to dry something out that should not have got wet.”

As for green stuffsacs, it’s a just a coincidence that the small handy-sized Expedition dry sack is green. I have other colours too! 🙂 I also like some of Granite Gear’s stuffsacs, although they seem to be continually changing their product lines. Very handy for keeping everything organised.

All the best,

Paul

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Elen Sentier

AS i said above, great article Paul. And the animated knots site is now bookmarked, very good 🙂

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Elen. Glad you found it useful 🙂

ATB,

Paul

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Rody Klop

Very usefull tip, from practise. Make sure you have a tight line (no stretch).

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Paul Kirtley

Indeed Rody. No slack lines! 😉

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Emmanuel

Very cool! I could really benefit from this I use the tarp hammock set up and this would help a lot. Thank you.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Emmanuel,

Glad to be of assistance.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Rick

HI Paul

Nice tips and advice, can you tell me if you also hang up your rucksack and if so how you do it?

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Rick Amos

Hi Paul

nice advice on hanging your equipment up off the ground. I do the same in my DD hammock, one tip I do have is that I use a netted bag, i.e. one of those bags you use for washing tablets in the washing machine. I thread the bag onto the shock cord under my mosqito net so I can put my glasses in when I go to bed so I know where they are in the morning and Im not fishing around try to find my specs. On another tip I also sleep with my head torch around my neck so if I wake up in the night I can get the light on straight off the bat.

Many thanks

Rick

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Rick,

Thanks for your comment. I like your tips, especially the recycled washing tablet net bag for your specs. Very good. All the little things add up to make a big difference.

All the best,

Paul

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Bill Jackson

I certainly agree with putting everything in the same place, every time. You can wake up in the dark, reach your hand out and pick up what you need. Applying the same principle to all your packing, it means that you don’t waste time and /or get your gear wet in the rain by looking for something.
Haven’t tried camping with a tarp yet. My part of the world, we usually have bugs, heavy condensation or both. Worth a try. I’m sure those problems can be solved.

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Vee

i am the first to admit that when using tent, the inside of it ends up looking like my teenagers bedrooms… Chaotic and floor strewn with clothes etc! However I think that your tarp camping tips are a great reminder that this style of camping provides an opportunity to be organised and therefore make life easier when out on overnighters. With all my kit being drab colours , it’s all too easy to lose then amongst the ground foliage, so hanging up is the solution. Thanks Paul

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Steve M

Great stuff Paul!
And the animated knits website! Why haven’t I seen this before???…. Have you seen Grog’s rope belt?? Genius, my next little project!

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Shiver

I use this method but I tie in at either end of the tarp, a drip line, so the rain doesn’t run in on the line, just a simple piece of cord tied off with a tail hanging down. That way it takes out most of the rain droplets form running down gear lines. If it’s a hammock I use drip rings tied in just under the ends of the hammock.

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Jim

Hi Paul,

Great article as usual. When using a drawstring, you can loop the bite over your hanging line pull it through the drawstring and stick a twig through the loop. Very easy & quick to do and undo. We use this method at Cub Scouts for hanging mess kits all the time.

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Jim

Hi Paul & Co,
Not sure if this is covered anywhere else but I have a little tip regarding guy lines, not just on tarps but on anything really.

Once you’re ready to pack up and have released your guy line from the stake or whatever, lay your line at the tarp/tent attachment point across your outstretched palm starting at thumb and crossing to your pinky and them simply continue to wrap the line around those two fingers. When you get near the end, with say around 15-20cm (6-8″) line left, come around the thumb under your gathered line towards your elbow, form a bite and pull the tag through over the remaining line. Continue cinching it up with a succession of half hitches. What you end up with is a very quick deployment of your guy line, just pull on the tie off point and the line will neatly unravel with kinks or tangles. Hope I explained that well enough, very handy and quick to do/undo.

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Jim

that should be unravel with no kinks or tangles.

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April Cook

I love sleeping under a tarp instead of in a tent. You really get the full camping experience when you use one. It is also easier for tall people since you can pick how high you want it to be. That beats slouching in a tent! I like your tip to put a hanging line under the tarp to keep things off the ground and protected. I’ll have to do that next time I go camping. Thanks!

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Dave H

Hi Paul, Thanks for more useful tips, what makes this especially useful is it`s simplicity, this enables every level of camper to utilise it. I agree that tent camping gives the opportunity to be untidy, whereas sleeping with everything organised prevents loss of equipment. I believe in the motto; a place for everything,and everything in it`s place. As a youngster I managed to leave apiece of kit behind after a night exercise. the ensuing punishment soon taught me the error of my ways. I wish i had been privy to this tip back then.
Keep up the fantastic work and keep safe. All the best, Dave.

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Richard

Hi Paul,
Just wanted to say ‘thanks for reminding me’. If like me your not out all the time, these little tips help cement things into the memory.

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Paul Kirtley

🙂 My pleasure Richard.

You seemed pretty well organised towards the end of your second week with us in the woods.

Hope you are doing well.

All the best,

Paul

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Larry

Another good tip, Paul. I use a hammock most of the year and have a line under the tarp that keeps my headlamp, my glasses and my boots off the ground. I also know where to find them in the morning.
Keep the articles coming.

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Marcus Eistert

Il faut avoir l’air comme un pierre!
If I am traveling I sleep well hidden in a hedge in my olive green sleeping bag with the head on my olive green rucksack, you could steel the boots because they are airing out and the torch, because it is in the boot, The rest is in my rucksack! The clothing is on the man and the knife is in the right side pocket of my trousers.
If its raining, I construct my Flecktarn woodland camo ponchotarp as a lean to schelter or A – frame shelter as low as possible to hide it behind the vegetation.
If I want to, I am able to be in the boots in 30 seconds, roll sleeping bag and poncho in one minute and after taking up my rucksack in 5 seconds I can take the roll under the arm or attach it outside ontop to my rucksack sloopy but fix in 10 seconds. With a controlling look of 15 seconds I can be on the march in 2 minutes all together. Be prepared! told us the famous british scoutmaster Baden-Powell, and especially if i fall asleep i am!
To do it like that makes sense in all circumstances, because conditions can change very fast.

If you are camping at a lovely swedish lake of course nothing speaks against airing out blanket and socks while drinking a coffee! But things which are not in use or have to dry in my opinion belong in the interior well organised rucksack. – and if you are in a hostel the rucksack belongs in the locker. With that system I never lost a spoon in 15 years scout patrol leading and personaly not a crystal of sugar.
If you go outside you have to thing about what you are doing and what could happen.
— that is a good training for civil life too!
Best regards
Marcus

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vinny Boyle

Great article. I much prefer the tarp to a tent. I have never gotten wet either under a tarp.

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Paul Kirtley

Glad to hear it 🙂

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Jenny

would the weather conditions have to be fairly mild to use a tarp over a tent, I know mild rain would be fine, but in a heavy downpour how do you stay dry? Either way it looks really enjoyable.

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