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Part 1: Preparation - Attaching cordage to our Tarp To enable quick-pitching of a tarp, it is best to have it fully prepared with all the necessary cordage attached. For the purposes of this article, we will assume the tarp is a simple, square or rectangular piece of fabric with appropriate attachment points for cordage. Here is one way of preparing such a tarp: 1. Attach Guy Lines to all Four Corners For each corner, we recommend a 3 metre length of cordage. This cordage can be, for example, tent guy lines, paracord or accessory cord. The tarp should have attachment points on all four corners. These are usually in the form of eyelets or loops. We are going to tie some paracord to the loops, for this example. An acceptable knot for this purpose is a simple overhand knot, threaded back through itself. To do this, first tie a loose overhand knot, as in Fig. 1:
Fig. 1: Tie a loose overhand knot Leave plenty of cord after the knot - a bit more, in fact, than shown in the photos above and below. Next, feed the end of the cord through the attachment point on the tarp (Fig. 2). Here we have chosen to use the loop as the attachment point, rather than the eyelet. This leaves the eyelets free should you ever wish to use the tarp a groundsheet, pegging it down with special groundsheet
Fig. 2: Feed the cord through an attachment point Now start feeding the cord back through the overhand knot, retracing its steps. It should follow exactly the same path as the cord that originally made the knot, staying next to it all the time, but going in reverse. Note carefully how it first enters the loop (Fig. 3):
Fig. 3: Feed the cord back through the overhand knot (1) Eventually you should get this (Fig. 4):
Fig. 4: Feed the cord back through the overhand knot (2) Finally, make the knot neat, and tighten it up, to make it permanent and robust (Fig. 5). We like to leave at least an inch of free-end after the knot, which allows for a creepage over time.
Fig. 5: Tighten the knot up and make it neat This is all that is required for the corner lines. You could, if you wish, add "slide rs" to the end of each line (just like the sliders on tent guy lines) - making it very easy to adjust the length when pitching. Sliders are nice, and can making pitching a bit faster, but they are not necessary. We will be using the Clove Hitch to peg out the corner lines, and this will be demonstrated later. 2. Attach the Ridge Line The cord for the ridge line should be particularly robust, and should not be overly stretchy (most cord will stretch very noticeably when a good length is tied between two trees then pulled in the centre). Paracord is probably a good example of a minimum thickness. Some people use even thicker cord for the ridge line. If you want to use particularly strong, thick cord, then you could do worse than to get 6 or 7 mm prussic cord from a climbing shop. It will cost you, but it will make you feel big, like Dirty Harry. For this example, we have used some perfectly serviceable cheap nylon cord that we found in B&Q. There is no snobbery here at Outdoor Idiots.com. We recommend a length of about 10 to 15 metres for the ridge cord. First, feed the ridge cord through the appropriate loops on the tarp. There should, as a minimum, be two loops for the ridge line at opposite ends of the tarp, in the centre of the edges. Often there are more loops for the ridge line at various points along the ridge (i.e. down the centre of the tarp). See Fig. 6 for an example where there are a total of 4 loops for the ridge line:
Fig. 6: A saggy tarp Fig. 6 above also demonstrates a common problem with tarp ridges. If you simply feed the ridge line through the loops as shown, then when it comes to pegging out the corner lines, the ridge will have a tendency to bunch up and the tarp becomes saggy. This needs to be prevented. Simply tying the ridge cord to the end loops of the tarp would do it, but this isn't the most versatile method. We recommend the services of the wonderful Penberthy Prussik knot. Two Prussiks are required, one at each end of the tarp's ridge. We'll describe how to do this in detail now. After you have fed the ridge cord through all the appropriate loops (Fig. 7)
Fig. 7: The ridge line is fed through all available loops ... it is time to attach a Penberthy Prussik to the ridge line. We won't describe in detail how to tie the Penberthy Prussik here - see the page that we have just linked to for details. We used a short length of paracord for the Prussik. Note the detail in the next picture (Fig.
Fig. 8: A Penberthy Prusik tied around the ridge line (see below for how to make it)
Finally, attach the other end of the Prusik cord to the same attachment loop on the tarp that the ridge cord has been fed through. For this, we used a simple re -threaded overhand knot again (Figs. 1 to 5 above). It is a good idea if the overall length of the Prusik cord, when tied, is no more than a few inches long (see Fig. 9 for the complete arrangement). This enables the tarp to be pitched between trees that are not much further apart than the length of the tarp itself - the Prussik do not get in the way.
Fig. 9: A tarp, a ridge line and a Prusik in beautiful harmony Once a Prusik has been attached to both ends of the tarp's ridge in this manner, we have a very flexible arrangement. The ridge of the tarp can be made taught by sliding the Prussik along the ridge cord, away from each other. Not only that, but this arrangement means that you can tie the ridge cord between two trees without worrying about exactly where the tarp will end up: once the ridge line has been set up, you can then slide the whole tarp into exactly the position you want. Before we get on to how to pitch the tarp, we'll mention some things about packing it. How the tarp is folded and packed can be quite important. Now that you have added a lot of cordage to the tarp, you will probably find that when you fold the tarp, all the cordage ends up in the same place. The cord can easily become tangled, making it difficult to deal with when it comes to unpacking and pitching it. Making a bit of effort when packing a tarp can make it much easier to pitch. In fact, it seems to take longer to neatly pack away a tarp than to pitch it. First, deal with each loose line individually (the four corner lines, and the two ends of the ridge line). Each line should be gathered up into its own neat, tight bundle. Some methods work better than others for this. For example, simply looping the cord can result in kinks and twists in the cord, so we will avoid this. Some other methods seem to result in the cord getting tangled when it comes to unravelling the bundle. So here is a way which seems to work well on all counts: At the tarp end (i.e. not the free end) of the cord, place a turn in the hand (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Place a turn of the cord in the hand ... repeat (Fig. 2). Note that we are NOT creating loops here - instead we are essentially zig-zagging the cord ...
Fig. 2: Keep going... ... until you get to within about a foot of the free-end (Fig. 3):
Fig. 3: All the cord has been gathered, with about a foot left over Now, tie the remaining cord around the bunch to hold it all together. The detail is quite important - if you don't do it properly, it can fall apart too easily. Start by looping the remaining cord around the centre of the bundle. It is important how this first loop is done. In Fig. 4 below, we've highlighted some of the cord to get the important points across. Notice that, after the first loop is wrapped around the bundle, it crosses back over itself in order to hold things in place. Then, the rest of the turns will be continued in the same direction, in this case from right to left.
Fig. 4: Wrap the remaining end around the bunch a few times So keep winding (from right to left in this case, Fig. 5) until there is just a small piece of cord left.
Fig. 5: Stop when there is a small bit of cord left Now pull up a bight at the opposite end of the turns from the free end (this is easier if you haven't made the turns too tight). See Fig. 6:
Fig. 6: Pull up a bight Finally, feed the free end through the bight, then pull the final zigzag end to tighten the loop we’ve just put the end through and this will hold everything in place (Fig. 7):
Fig. 7: All done Once this has been done for all the lengths of cord, it makes them much easier to deal with, and much less likely to get tangled when packing and unpacking the tarp. However, they can still get tangled. One last bit of advice would be, once you have folded the tarp away, to tuck each individual bundle of cord between different leaves of the folded tarp. this helps keep them all separate. One last note get the most together, and taught on the 8: about packing away a tarp that has been rigged with Prusik knots. To out of this arrangement, it is nice to move the Prusik quite close towards the centre of the ridge line. That is, the tarp should not be ridge line, but rather, quite bunched together in the centre, as in Fig.
Fig. 8: Push the Prusik quite close together before packing away This will mean you get a lot more available ridge cord when you next come to tie it between two trees, and the tarp is less likely to get in the way. Once you have tied the ridge line, you can then pull out the tarp and position it exactly where you want it. ************** Part 3: Pitching Our Tarp *************
1. Tying the Ridge Line Between Two Trees This tarp has been pitched at about the same height as many small tents, i.e. it is plenty high enough to sit up under, and also low enough to keep you dry if it is raining. If there is strong wind to accompany the rain, then the tarp might have to be pitched lower still, possibly even with the sides pegged directly to the ground. In this case, the four corner lines will not be required, and the inverted-V shape will need to be more acute, resulting in a narrower shelter. There are all manner of knots for this purpose. But when it comes to rigging up a tarp in Britain, who better to turn to than the axe-wielding fire starter, Ray Mears? At Outdoor Idiots.com, we are scared of Ray Mears, and we do what he tells us. He recommends two knots. We really like one of them, and we are not so keen on the other. Both are used. The first is a slip knot which is tied to the first tree, and when the ridge line is pulled taught, the knot grips the tree tightly. A slip knot can't be used for tying to the second tree, and so that is why another knot is used for this. Here goes, then: FIRST TREE: The Evenk Slippery Figure-of-Eight Hitch This is a bit of a gem. It can even be tied while wearing mittens, if need be. It can also be dismantled with just one pull on the free end. Most importantly, though, it's fast to tie and it works well. The method for tying it is a bit difficult to describe, but we'll have a go. First, throw the ridge line around the back of the tree, as in Fig. 1:
Fig. 1: Throw the ridge line around a tree Note in Fig. 1 above that the part of the ridge line which meets the tarp is on the left (we will call this the "live" cord), and the "free" cord is on the right. Next, place both the live cord and the free cord on the palm of the left hand, with the hand palmupwards, then loop the free cord once around the hand, as in Fig. 2:
Fig. 2: Place the live and free parts of the ridge cord over the hand It now helps if, with your right hand, you grab both the live cord and the free cord about six inches lower down from your left hand (Fig. 3). The role of the right hand is to gently apply a bit of tension, just to help keep things in place. In particular, try to ensure that the free cord emerges from the top of the right hand a good inch to the right of the live cord. This helps a lot. The right hand should now remain in this position, performing that role, for the duration.
Fig. 3: Apply some tension to both pieces of cord with the lower hand Next, pull the loop that is tied around the left hand under and to the left of the live cord. As you do this, also rotate the hand, so that it ends up as in Fig. 4 below. It is important to get this bit right, so study the picture carefully.
Fig. 4: Move the hand to the left and turn it palm inwards Now, notice in the above picture that the free cord exits the bottom of the picture to the right (the invisible right hand is making sure of that, isn't it?). The left hand wants to come over the top of the live cord and grab this piece of the free cord that you see just about to exit the picture. So do this, grabbing it between two fingers, as in Fig. 5:
Fig. 5: Grasp a bight from the free cord between the fingers Then pull the hand out of the loop that was tied around it at the start, pulling a bight from the free cord with it, as in Fig. 6 below. Don't pull anything more than a bight through - we don't want the actual end of the free cord to get pulled through.
Fig. 6: Pull the bight through the loop It now just remains to tighten things up a bit - but we need to do this with care in order to get it right. In particular, try to avoid the end of the free cord getting pulled all the way through the knot. What seems to work best is if, once you get to the stage in Fig. 6, you first pull on the live cord that is in the right hand, just enough to tighten things up a bit. Then pull on the bight which is in the left hand, to finish the tightening. You could just tighten it all very carefully with the fingers, but that would defeat one of the advantages of this knot, i.e. the quick and elegant way in which it can be tied. Anyway, you should now have a slip knot, with a loop coming out of it, as in Fig. 7:
Fig. 7: A slipknot has been formed The live part of the ridge line can now be pulled tight, and the slip knot should tighten around the tree, as in Fig. 8:
Fig. 8: The slipknot tight around the tree To be kinder to the bark of the tree, you could start the whole thing off by passing the ridge line around the tree twice, before beginning to tie the knot. The result will be as in Fig. 9:
Fig. 9: The load can be spread by using two loops at the start To dismantle the knot, simply pull on the free end. SECOND TREE: The Tarp Taut Hitch Now for the Taut Hitch, which is used to tie the other end of the ridge line. Start by throwing the ridge line around the back of the tree, as with the previous knot. Note that in this photograph (Fig. 10), the cord was thrown around the tree anti -clockwise as one looks down on the tree. Then the free cord is hooked around the taught ridge line and pulled to the side to maintain tension. The ridge line should remain taught from this point onwards:
Fig. 10: Throw the cord around the tree then hook the free cord over the ridge line The free cord, now that it has been hooked over the taught ridge line, then goes back around the tree in the opposite direction to which it first went, until it meets with the taught ridge line again. At this point, there should be so much friction between the ridge cord and the tree that it should be possible to pull the ridge line very taught, and keep it taught by holding the free end with nothing more than finger and thumb. This helps the knot-tying process. In fact, from Fig. 11 onwards, the right hand is simply holding things tight while the left hand ties the knot. To begin tying the knot, create a bight in the free cord as in Fig. 11. Note that we are doing this to the left of the taught ridge line.
Fig. 11: The free cord then goes back around the tree, and a bight is formed Put the bight over the top of the taught ridge line and hold it in place from below, as in Fig. 12 below:
Fig. 12: The bight goes around the taught ridge line... Note in the picture above, that the free cord is now dangling down and exits at the bottom left. We need to pull another bight, from this, through the bight we just created, as in Fig. 13 below. We just want to pull a bight through - i.e. we want to avoid the actual end of the free cord coming through the first bight .
Fig. 13: ...and a second bight is pulled through it. Finally, pull tight by pulling on the final bight created, and slide the knot towards the tree. It helps if the whole knot is tied as close to the tree as possible in the first place - closer than in these photographs. This helps prevent the ridge line slackening when you let go of the cord. Here's a carefully arranged photo, taken indoors, to try to show what it should look like when it is pulled tight (Fig. 14). A thin pole has been used in place of the tree.
Fig. 14: Detail of a tightened Taut Hitch This knot generally works. However, if you play with it by pulling the ridge line around and wiggling it, there is a tendency for the two bights to turn around the ridge line, and eventually unravel. To overcome this, we recommend tying this knot in such a way that the final bight (i.e. the loop at the bottom of Fig. 14) is very long. Then, treating that loop as one piece of cord, use it to tie a simple overhand knot around the cord that is immediately above it, i.e. the cord that comes in from the top-right of the photo. 2. Tightening the Tarp Ridge Now that we have a taught ridge line tied between two trees, we can position the tarp where we want it (by sliding the Prusiks along the ridge line). Finally, we can make the ridge of the tarp fabric itself taught, again by sliding the Prusiks, this time away from each other. We should now have something like Fig. 15:
Fig. 15: A tarp with a taught ridge
All that remains now is to peg out the guy lines at the corners of the tarps, which will be covered next. 3. Pegging out a Tarp Now that we have the ridge line tied tightly between two trees, we need to peg the four corner lines down. If space is tight, or the ground is unsuitable, then it may be possible to tie the four corner lines to trees and branches instead, or even to use rocks if necessary. However, we will concentrate on pegging things down for this article. We will also assume that you do not have sliders on the tarp's four corner lines, which means you will have to tie the cord directly to the pegs. Knot here is either the Clove Hitch (described first) or the Adjustable Knot (see below) A Clove Hitch can be tied around a peg or stake, and it will lock solidly. To tie a Clove Hitch, first make a loop in the cord, as in Fig. 1 below. The detail is important - note which part of the cord is on top of which other part.
Fig. 1: Make a loop Then do the same again, i.e. create another loop close to the first loop, in exactly the same way as you created the first loop. Note again in Fig. 2 below, which parts of the cord are on top of which others. The loop to the right in this photograph is the second one - the first one is being held together by placing the cross -over point between finger and thumb.
Fig. 2: Make another loop next to the first one Next, the second loop is placed behind the first loop, as in Fig. 3:
Fig. 3: Put the second loop behind the first The two loops together are now treated as one loop, through which things can be placed. It is usually a good idea to place your fingers in the loop as soon as you have created it (Fig. 4), in order to hold things together before you place the peg or stake through it:
Fig. 4: You can place your fingers through the loops to keep them in place Our second option with pegs is The Adjustable Knot and this is useful if pegging to a solid object or already driven pegs and is tied like so,
Strong Peg Placement To minimise the chance of a peg pulling out of the ground, it is usually a good idea to drive it into the ground at about 45 degrees. Even more important is to ensure that the cord is attached to the peg at the lowest point, i.e. right at ground level, as in Fig. 7 below. If the cord is some way up the peg or stake, then a lot of leverage is generated and it can pull the peg out very easily.
Fig. 7: Peg or stake at 45 degrees to ground. Clove Hitch at ground level. If you only have thin tent pegs, and the soil is so loose that it is hard to get the pegs to stay in, then you could try the following arrangement. It requires two pegs for each corner line:
Fig. 8: Using counter-leverage to help pegs stay put in loose soil For this, three Clove Hitches have been tied. The order of tying is given by the numbers next to the hitches in the photograph. The first Clove Hitch is in the same place that you would normally tie it. Then, a second Clove Hitch is tied further up the first peg - the higher the better (for maximum benefit it could, and should, be higher than shown in this photograph). Finally, a third Clove Hitch is used to tie to the second peg. It is important to leave the first peg extending out of the ground a fair way, so that the second peg can apply counter-leverage as the tarp pulls on the bottom of the first peg. In particularly loose soil, you may well have to use this arrangement, but with thick wooden stakes rather than pegs. Clove Hitches are very fast to tie, and the above arrangement is much easier to set up than it might look, so it is definitely worth bearing in mind. Guy Line Angles It is nice to peg the tarp out in such a way that the material is flat and fairly rigid, i.e. in such a way that there are no "ripples" in the fabric. The angles of the corner lines play the biggest role here, and are directly responsible for the forces going on in the fabric of the tarp. For best results, treat the corners of the tarp as arrows, and extent the corner lines in the direction of those arrows, as in Fig. 9:
Fig. 9: Corner lines at 45 degrees to the tarp sides The tarp may also have attachment points at the mid-points along the sides. If you also wish to attach lines to these, for extra strength in wind, then the best angle for these cords is usually at 90 degrees to the tarp. Anyway, when done, you should end up with something like this (Fig. 10):
Fig. 10: Home sweet home ** Finished? To disassemble our tarp, see Part 2 ** ** Part 4 - Advanced Tarp Pitching for the Connoisseur ** Tarps are not limited to use in forests. Trees or posts are not required. Many people who walk with trekking poles will use those same poles as supports at the ends of their tarp, and tie the ridge line to those. Most trekking poles are telescopic, and so the height of the tarp can be finely adjusted when using trekking poles. However, we expect that anyone who has got this far in this article can probably work out how to do something like that themselves, so we won't make any suggestions. What we will show is this: An Ultra lightweight Tarp Set Up This is a neat idea for a lightweight tarp set up that can be pitched in the open, i.e. without trees. Instead of trekking poles, it uses thin, light aluminium tent poles .
These are much lighter than trekking poles and so are a better option if you don't normally use trekking poles for walking. The arrangement is a bit flimsy, and is more suited to lightweight tarps (which we used to make the following photographs). It can be made stronger with more pegging-out, but we'll just show the basics, which make for a very simple and quick way to pitch the tarp out in the open. Fig. 1 shows a tent pole, rather than a tree, being used to support a ridge line:
Fig. 1: An ultra lightweight tarp set up This sort of arrangement can be very quick and easy to set up indeed. All we need, in addition to what we have already described on the previous pages, is a tent pole (or individual sections of tent pole for greater flexibility), and one of these (Fig. 2):
Fig. 2: A magic Prusik cord It is a piece of cord with a loop tied in each end, using the re -threaded overhand knot. It is important that the loops are sufficiently large that one can be passed through the other. The total length of this cord, when knotted as shown, is about 12 inches. It can be used to make a very quick Penberthy Prussik. We like Penberthy Prusiks at Outdoor Idiots.com. You can tie the Prusik around the tent pole and slide it
to the desired height. The ridge line from the tarp can then simply be fed through the loop at the other end of the Prusik cord, as in Fig. 3:
Fig. 3: Detail of tent pole, Prusik cord and ridge line The ridge line, after passing through the loop in the Prusik cord, is then simply be pegged to the ground. Some comments about this arrangement: The loop in the Prusik cord can get worn by the ridge line that passes through it, especially if there is a lot of movement in strong wind. But the Prusik cord will wear out, not the ridge line. And it will take a very long time indeed, so it's probably nothing to worry about. This set up can be made more sturdy by tying the ridge line to the loop in the Prusik cord, rather simply passing it through it. The tent pole will bend a lot - but not as much as it would in a tent, so don't worry about it. It is a bit of a balancing act to get the tent pole bent to the right amount, and choosing where it touches the ground in relation to the peg that anchors the ridge line. It quickly becomes easy with practice. For safety, dig the end of the tent pole a fair way in to the ground. This will minimise the chances of it flying out and poking you in the eye. It will, after all, be under a bit of tension since it is bent. Alternative Tarp Pitching Shapes A tarp does not have to be rigged up in the classic inverted-V shape that has been shown on the previous pages. One possibility is shown in Fig. 4 below, where one end has been pegged directly to the ground. The other end is supported in the normal way by the ridge line.
Fig. 4: An alternative way to pitch a tarp This shape has several advantages. It only requires a support (trekking pole, tent pole, tree...) at one end. It is ideal if the wind is blowing very strongly in one direction - the end that is pegged directly do the ground should face into the wind. It is all that is required if you simply wish to sleep, or to shelter an injured person. The front end is high enough to sit up in. Some Things to Avoid when Pitching a Tarp To conclude, here are some things to watch out for when pitching a tarp: Check that there no large, unsound branches overhead which might fall on top of you or the tarp. Don't get tempted to simply throw the tarp over the ridge line and anchor it down. We did this once, and after a couple of days of wind, the tarp material had started to wear away badly where the ridge cord rubbed against it. When we say "wind," we are talking about the weather. If you want your tarp, Basha or Hootchie to remain in good order, it is probably a good idea not to pitch it under a Beech tree as they shed branches regularly or a Horse Chestnut tree in autumn due to the conkers falling. Another useful thing to have when you're using a Tarp is in inside line for holding clothes or a lamp, etc. I start with the Evenk Slippery Figure-of-Eight Hitch and run the line across the entire length inside the tarp and out the far side, going through the Tarp attachment loops at both ends and tie off, maybe two feet past the Tarp with an Adjustable Knot. This allows you to alter the tension, an example being a gas canister lamp where you would want a good droop to avoid burning the tarp above it. Also if need be with the Adjustable Knot it can be easily tightened up again. For hanging stuff from a line, two quick and easy knots to learn are the Highwayman's Hitch and the Original Prusik. Differences being that I would use the Highwayman's Hitch for a quick release affair and when there is no need for the hanging object be slid along the rope. The beauty of the Prusik is than it can slide along the rope length freely. Here is the Highwayman's Hitch;
Fig.1. Place a loop behind the rope
Fig. 2. Bring the dead end around the back of the rope and over this loop
Fig. 3. Then bring the dead end around to the rope front and through the loop
Fig. 4. Tighten the knot by pulling the live end. This closes the loop and holds firm. To quick release the knot, simply pull the dead end
Here is the Original Prusik; Fig. 1. Place one end of the loop over the rope.
Fig. 2. Wrap the other end of the loop around rope and back through the first end.
Fig. 3. Do the same again, to create one more turn.
Fig. 4. Finally, pull tight and make neat.
That simple procedure has created a remarkable knot of enormous value. Here's why: If you pull down on the Prusik loop (not the knot itself, but the remainder of the loop that is dangling down), the knot will grip the rope solidly, as in Fig. 5:
Fig. 5. Prusik gripping a rope. In fact, the more you pull, the tighter it will grip. To give an idea of how reliable the grip is: This type of knot is used commonly by climbers, and they happily put their entire body weight on it - the safe weight limit is defined by the strength of the cord, not how well the knot grips. For example, a climber could clip their harness into the karabiner shown in Fig. 6, and place all their weight on it:
Fig. 6. A common use of a Prusik by climbers. That alone is enough to make the Prusik knot a marvel amongst knots. But what makes it even better is this:
When there is no weight on the knot, it can be easily moved up or down the rope, by pushing (specifically pushing, not pulling) it, as in Fig. 7:
Fig. 7. A Prusik knot being pushed down a rope. I know there are some knots in the thread which may seem tricky from looking at the step by step guides but trust me folks, they are all easy once the steps fall into place. Another good habit I learned is to always look that the knot shape is correct before doing that final tighten
And lots of practice, too!
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