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My two favourite shelters

Ever since ditching my preference for double skinned tents, which came about when I started feeling I wasn’t getting as close to nature as I really wanted when camping, I’ve tried a selection of variations between bivy bags, tarps and outer-only pitching which some of my tents enable. I now have settled two favourite options which I can select and tailor according to weather conditions. One set up is heavy duty and allows for shelter in wetter, colder, windier conditions and the other gives comfort and happiness all-round when the weather is more forgiving.

Firstly the heavy duty option: In these conditions I am more likely to pitch somewhere closer to home which is more accessible and has more pitching spots to choose from. In solid rain, only a few places won’t end up flooded. In the wind, I need as many stakes and guy outs that are available on the tent, as well as somewhere big enough to shelter in – especially if it is cold. Ground with any nearby rocks or slopes or heather tufts is out. The perfect shelter for this job is the Luxe Hexpeak outer with 16 pegging points and an internal floor space big enough to sleep two if necessary. Often I just take this along with me if the wind is up as it does an excellent job at shedding the gusts silently whilst letting no breeze in from underneath. In worse conditions I add a heavy duty ground mat which is big enough to fit my bed with some sitting space beside it. It is totally waterproof (albeit weighty too!). Sometimes I use a bivy on top of everything which protects my quilt from any falling droplets of condensation caused by wind flapping – particularly if it is stormy. Droplets used to be more of a problem before I seam sealed the Hexpeak as the wind blew so hard that it pushed the rain through the seams and the inside became very wet.

The Hexpeak can be pitched with hiking poles but one pole on its own isn’t quite long enough to hold the tent taught as the sil-nylon material tends to stretch and sag when it gets wet. I’ve recently purchased some adjustable tarp poles which are reliable and ideal for pitching the tent higher off the ground in less windy weather. It works out that the number of sections required for this weighs less than two hiking poles.

Now to lightweight summer set up. I’ve found that camping by the sea means there is a huge amount of dampness/fog/dew in the air at all times. It means that to protect your bed, it’s necessary to have a cover over the top of you which is high enough so it doesn’t rub moisture on your quilt. Its what I also found most challenging with bivying in the open air – even my goretex bivy is prey to the falling mist and becomes condensated on the inside from a loss of breathability (when water blocks the pores of a breathable membrane, no matter how effective it looks statistically it will not be able to breathe – that is what creates the need for a DWR coating but that is another topic).

So in an effort to maintain a dry sleep zone while maximising that ‘outdoors’ feeling at all times, I have been playing around with tarps. The tarp is the in between cover of a bivy and a tent. It doesn’t need to be pitched on the ground at all – with a tarp pole at each end and six guy ropes it is possible to create a flying ‘A frame’ as high as the poles will go and, when it’s up there, it isn’t in the way at all. A tarp shelters you from condensation and there is lots of space to move around underneath. It can even take a few puffs of wind. I have recently purchased a Heikon Smalltarp which is 2mx2.5m with a lovely coloured camo to blend into the bog. This set up feels very lightweight and minimal but comfortable and organic at the same time. With a lightweight tyvek groundsheet underneath the tarp all I need is my sleeping mat and quilt. If I added a bivy to this set up it would be for extra protection from wind although I haven’t tried this set up in the rain yet.

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