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So You Picked Up a New Tarp. Now What?

Earlier, Ploss and I were discussing guyline lengths for use with my (our) new Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Solo Pro Tarp. B/c he’s a jackass busy, Ploss was unable to offer anything quicker than a “before Memorial Day” estimate for when he could be bothered to measure the lengths on his pre-assembled returned demo insta-shipped tarp. Better find out for myself! Also, it’s so simple but I require a line lock refresher course. Hey!

It's probably the bypass liteline

Yes, the MLD Cuben Solo Pro Tarp, as previously “reviewed” by that Ploss guy, ships with 40′ of 0.7 oz. LiteLine and 8 mini linelocks. Like other people, the use of these things has variously escaped me – I have a dozen that I’ve used previously with my Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape but mostly I’ve just tied very small loops at the ends of my AirCore Spectra guylines to attach to my TiStakes. Mostly. So how does one rock these things correctly?

Good to know! But what about the guyline lengths? Well, fortunately for McLovin reading really IS fundamental, and after a rigorous 1 minute search of…the MLD site…I had my answer:

For Most Solo and many Duo Tarps, we suggest cutting the line to these lengths to start:
Front Corners: 5′
Rear Corners: 4′
Center Side: 4′
Front Ridgeline: 7.5′
Rear Ridgeline: 6.5′

Seems simple enough; clearly you’ll want at least a little extra length for tensioning if you’re line lock-inclined. But isn’t there a much more complicated answer?

Pick ridgeline height(height of tarp at highest point).
This value = Y.
(y+1)^2 + x^2= r^2
a^2 + b^2= c^2
r + c + 1 = guyline length for that ridgeline (the extra foot is for a tautline hitch)

(2(y+1)^2)^(1/2) + 2^(1/2) + 1 = ridgeline length

Round the answer to the nearest whole number and you are done.

You need about 1.5 lengths of cord for the side guyouts. BPL doesn’t like tautline hitches, but a tautline is easier to adjust than a stake position. Tying off to rocks is a waste of time and I suggest not doing it. You may tie your ridgeline and lifters(if your tarp has them) to trees. Otherwise, you brought stakes anyway, so why not use them?

Certainly! To be clear, the MLD Cuben Solo has an integrated 9′ catenary ridgeline which renders much of this formula moot – and yet no less baffling. Thus I leave you with a more Zen approach from my man RJ:

OK, how about an alternative viewpoint.

Any dork can pitch a tent. They’re built that way, dumbproof. Insert poles here, stake there, the shape is self-actuating.

The tarp, on the other hand, now that is art.

Some folks can’t pitch a tarp for the life of them. It sags here, it droops there, the angle of a guyline is messed up, you know the deal. Most of the time it’s because people are too fast to pay attention to the pitch. Even when they arrive in camp at 4 pm and have all the time in the world.

Pitching a tarp should not be dependent upon speed records. Because like the child that spends 3 hours creating a Crayola masterpiece worthy of the fridge, the ultralight backpacker who can create a tarp worth photographing, and located in a pitch worth remembering, now – that’s beauty!

So, take your time. You’re not impressing your friends so much as creating art within the landscape.

Unless it’s raining really hard and you’re freezing and you don’t care and no one is around to take photos…then just nail the corners to the ground, crawl underneath it, and worry about all this aesthetic BS later.

If you’re feeling particularly thrifty enterprising, my man Steve Evans has produced this excellent How-To instruction for creating your own Cuben Fiber tarp; the finished product as seen in part two is quite similar to the MLD Cuben Solo Pro in both size and shape, yet while his weighs in (sans guylines/linelocks) at an impressive 51 grams (!) the MLD Solo Pro weighs in on my scale at double that – 110 grams, or 3.9 oz. I myself opted for the stealth color which is of a really subtle greenish gray hue. At the 4:35 mark of Steve’s second video you’ll find an excellent viewing of the completed tarp, assembled and set.

Given that this piece of kit is designed to replace my 11.6 oz. Gatewood Cape in conjunction with a +9 oz. GoLite Virga jacket, I’ve actually gained about 1.6 oz. with this rig, albeit with the added flexibility I find a rain jacket offers vs. the overall vastly more superior Gatewood Cape poncho. Ultimately when expecting rain my preference is for a jacket (and +1 oz. pack cover as well, it must be noted) over a poncho for total comfort.

I’ll have a full field review of the MLD Cuben Solo Pro Tarp no later than early June, and possibly as early as this upcoming weekend as I’m hoping to have an opportunity for a light test in the Gorge Friday. – MCL

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Today’s Poll: Final Frontier?

As we each variously acquire new substitute additions to our Big 3, I’m curious where future weight savings might exist. Other than pack, bag and shelter, which item(s) would be next on your list for weight reduction, either by upgrade (replacement with a superior, lighter item) or by downgrade (replacement with an inferior but lighter item)?

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Quilt Trip: An Examination of UL Backpacking Quilts

Earlier, Ploss and I had an email discussion about backpacking quilts – specifically, the enLIGHTened equipment Epiphany quilt which purports (correctly) to be the world’s lightest backpacking quilt. How does it achieve this distinction? Cuben fiber, baby! Before I place my advance order (would if I could) let’s take a look at some of the comparable quilts on the market, see how the various materials used stack up, and envision how they might compare against some of the lightest traditional mummy bags on the market today.

Learning about Cuben, having some food

As a…satisfied owner of the now defunct BPL Cocoon Pro 90 Quilt I’ve come to appreciate the freedom, flexibility and significant weight savings a quilt has to offer, but the reality is that the 11 oz. synthetic Pro 90 is merely adequate to the task at temperatures above 50 degrees, and I have yet to use it without having a down jacket/pants set at least on hand. Down fill obviously offers greater warmth at a lower weight, but it’s crucial to keep down quilts and sleeping bags dry; a waterproof, or extremely water resistant, shell is required lest you find yourself cold, wet, and carrying a double-weight soaker. Cuben Fiber is perhaps the ultimate primary shell material available, originally designed for America’s Cup racing sails:

It is 50% lighter than Kevlar, four times more durable than Kevlar and lasts as long as Spectra and remarkable weighs less than 1/2 oz. per square yard.  It flexes without loosing strength.   Cuben Fiber is a laminated fabric constructed from plasma treated Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE)  fibers and monofilament polyester film.  Cuben Fiber retains 100% of its original strength after being folded 250 times.  It is not effected by salt water nor does it soak up water.  It has great UV resistance and is extremely water resistant.  Uses: great for extremely lightweight tarps, rain gear, stuff sacks, packcovers.

Despite this glowing endorsement, Cuben fiber remains a fringe material for your everyday backpacker for whom concerns about durability persist; it’s not necessarily as puncture resistant as some would prefer, and as with most ultralight equipment a high level of attention to care is required to maintain the integrity of the material.

Ice Cube is not about a punctured bag

Originally I had intended this post to cover some of the key differences between a quilt and your typical mummy bag, but I probably can’t add much that Steve Evans didn’t cover in the video referenced above, nor that you could explore  from the expert community at Backpacking Light. Instead, I’m merely going to cover some of the backpacking quilt options available in order to highlight how significantly weight can be reduced with the use of Cuben fiber/Momentum 90 for the shell, and down fill.

Mark Cuban believes this post is gratuitous

For the sake of the comparisons below, for the Epiphany I’m assuming a sized Medium 0.33 oz/yd2 Cuben/800+ down fill w/2″ loft, “rated” to ~40 degrees (ratings being subjective at best and arbitrary at worst) which should weigh in near 11 oz – remarkably the same weight as my aforementioned summer season BPL Cocoon Pro 90. Please note: the products listed below are chosen for their relative comparable length and temperature rating. I’ve chosen to compare quilts a 6′ man such as McLovin could use comfortably near 40 degrees. A  very short list of  said comparable backpacking quilts on the market today:

Brand Model Shell/Fill Price Weight
enLIGHTened equipment Epiphany Cuben+Momentum/800+ Down $400* 11 oz.**
GoLite Ultralight 3-Season Waterproof-Breathable Pertex/800+ Down $275 25 oz.
Jacks R Better Shenandoah DWR Nylon/800+ Down $190 15 oz.
Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit (45 deg.) Momentum Taffeta 20d X 20D DWR/2010 Climashield Apex $185 14.5
Nunatak Arc Edge 0.8 oz. Quantum/800+ Down $332 11 oz.

*Product not currently available; suggested price
**Estimated weight

It’s important to note that several of these products e.g. the Arc Edge, are listed with their stock length which is several inches shorter than McLovin would actually prefer. At a glance, the Jacks R Better Shenandoah would probably get the early nod for best bargain at $190, 15 oz., and 800+ down fill rated to at least 40 degrees with a 2″ loft; the MLD Spirit is effectively a summer bag only in the 45 degree model listed above, but an 18.5 oz. (regular) 30 degree alternative is a mere $200. In all, each of the quilts listed offers a little something different depending upon your particular needs, and you should peruse all of the variations available from these generally cottage manufacturers, as I’ve listed only a tiny sample of the quilts they have to offer.

Q*Bert waits patiently for his cottage gear

So why would I consider spending twice what I could pay for a JRB or MLD quilt in order to have a slightly lighter model from enLIGHTened equipment? Cuben baby! But not necessarily because I’m riding the space-age material bandwagon (I am). No, what I really am looking for is the roomiest, lightest, warmest and waterproofiest quilt available, one that will afford me the opportunity to reduce my clothing weight (carried) on appropriate occasions, without undue concern about getting the thing wet. Given Cuben fiber’s water-resistant vapor barrier characteristics, the at least hypothetical opportunity to use it into near freezing temperatures, the comfort only a quilt can provide inside of a bivy sack, and the flexibility to combine with shoulder season down insulating layers as desired, the Epiphany meets all of my requirements for a single, versatile multi-season sleeping solution.

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MLD eVent Rain Mitts Quick Review

After a bone-chilling hike in a downpour @ 38 degrees a week and a few days ago, forcing me to throw my poles into my pack and bury my hands in my pockets, I immediately decided that I needed some lightweight shells to protect my hands in ultralight style! What better excuse, er reason, to send $45 on some new MLD eVent Rain Mitts! I recognize that I could have simply worn my possomdown gloves, letting them get absolutely soaked, but that would have required me to shed my pack, exhume my gear pouch, and sort through my all of my packed clothes!

As is typical for accessory purchases, I received my mitts in less than a week from Ron @ MLD, and received them prior to my next weekly 6am hike with McLovin! Constructed entirely of eVent fabric with an ergonomic shape to reduce seam strain when using poles, I was immediately impressed with the construction and weight (in size medium) of less than one ounce for a pair!

I wore them on a ~7 mile hike on Friday morning and found that they kept my hands really, really warm in ~40 degree weather. In fact, they kept me so warm that I shed them about half-way through the hike! As would be expected of eVent fabric, there was absolutely no condensation at all, even though I created quite a humid environment inside.

Items required for seam-sealing: McNett Seam Grip and Talcum Powder!

Seam Sealing:

Have I ever mentioned that I HATE seam sealing? If I didn’t, I meant to. To strengthen the seams and make the mitts fully waterproof, it is recommended to seal the seams of these mitts using McNett Seam Grip. To do this, you need to flatten the seams by packing the gloves from the inside out using paper towels, newspaper, cloths or anything that’s handy. I loaded the mitts with paper towels and tightened the cordlocks, preparing it for seam sealing. It’s a pain and nearly impossible to get totally flat seams, but it’s worth the effort otherwise it will be extremely to do even a moderately professional job.

Running a thin line of Seam Grip along the edge and thumb seams was difficult at best, but I was able to effectively seal them in a messy fashion. I threw out the idea of having a real professional look when I first opened the mailbag and saw the sealer . . .. Oh well, I was done and all that was left was to hang them overnight to dry.

Sealed and ready to go!

Got Baby Powder?:

Seam Grip, once dried, creates a very rubbery seal on the mitts that sticks to itself. This can cause the sealer to pull apart if the mitts are stored together, which I’ll note, is the only way to store items that are intended to be used together! To prevent this, all that’s required is to lightly dust the seams with talcum powder. This prevents the seams from sticking and completes the mitts for use!

Parting Thoughts:

  • Yet another well thought-out and constructed product from Mountain Laurel Designs!
  • They weigh an extremely light 1.25 oz when sealed, which is very light for a product that can replace gloves for most backpacking use. I’ll note that these are only a few tenths of an ounce lighter than possomdown gloves, so depending upon the weather can either be used by themselves or in conjuction with gloves for use in freezing conditions.
  • Did I say that I HATE seam sealing?
  • I highly recommend these mitts for backpacking use! They work very well in conjunction with hiking poles due to the ergonomic shape and it’s easy to tighten the cordlocks with the mitts on!
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MLD Cuben Solo Pro Tarp Quick Review

One of the cuben items purchased for this season is a Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Solo Pro Tarp. This, although I didn’t necessarily “need” a new tarp, was intended to be used in conjunction with my Super Mica jacket to replace my Gatewood Cape and wind shirt in my kit, shaving a couple of precious ounces and operating as a more versatile combination. 

I’ve ordered several items from Ron at MLD over the past couple of seasons and placed an order for a Solo Pro Tarp on March 19th. Surprisingly, I received my tarp in only just over a week, which is rare given that there’s typically a 6-8 week backlog in orders leading up to hiking season. My tarp, in its yellow silnylon stuff sack, weighed in at 5.0 ounces (including lines and linelocks). By replacing the silnylon sack with a Mini / Tarp Stuff Sack built by Joe at Zpacks, I reduced the total weight down to 4.75 ounces. Yeah, I could probably lose the stuff sack altogether, but I’m somewhat retentive in that regard.

Just a little stuffy. Stuff, stuff, stuffaroo!


I found the setup to be as easy as any tarp. I anchored the rear corner tie-outs loosely and looped the front ridgeline tie-out around the front hiking pole in a triangular configuration, extending the line to the ground. I next setup the rear ridgeline tie-out, also looping it once around the pole. I next placed the front corner tie-outs and tightened all of the ridgelines using the linelocks for a taught pitch.

One single loop is all that's required for the ridgeline!

Ahhhh . . . catenary ridgeline!

There's a lot of space under the tarp for pack, bivy, etc.

 Initial Thoughts:

  • The bonded ridgeline is really strong and I found it easy to get a taught pitch.
  • There’s a lot of space under the tarp for all of one’s kit!
  • At ONLY $159, this is the lowest priced cuben solo tarp around.
  • Like all of MLD’s products, the tarp is extremely well made with excellent attention to detail.
  • I will need to wrap some duct tape around my poles in a couple of places for alternative ridgeline heights, especially for grim weather.

I would recommend this tarp for anyone looking to lighten their shelter load. If you’re looking for the lightest solo shelter on the market, constructed entirely of cuben fiber, this should be your choice!

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