Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp
$230, 12 oz. (large)
Sizes: Large 10 ft. x 10 ft./3x3m, medium 6 ft. 6 ins.x8 ft. 6 ins./2×2.6m ($200, 9.5 oz.)
When rain began falling while a friend and I were sleeping under the stars in Yosemite National Park’s Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, we grabbed our gear, pitched this tarp in just a few minutes, and had dry shelter for the night. Besides using the Escapist Tarp on that four-day, 85-mile, backpacking trip, I camped under it with my son in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, where the tarp held up well throughout a windy night. For late-summer and fall trips where I won’t encounter bugs, there’s no need to carry the weight and bulk of a tent. The Escapist tarp provides a sturdy, spacious, and durable ultralight shelter from rain, acts as a wind break, and on calm nights will keep you a little warmer than you’d be sleeping under the stars because it traps some warmth.
The large tarp was capacious for two of us and our gear when pitched A-frame using two trekking poles extended to create a peak ceiling height several inches above our heads. It can comfortably sleep three and would fit a fourth person if needed (with pairs sleeping at opposite ends). Its useable floor space varies depending on how you pitch it, and several configurations are possible because the eight Hypalon tie-out points each hold the tip of a trekking pole and have cord adjusters and reflective guylines attached. It pitched taut and stood up to moderate winds even when we didn’t use the middle guylines on each side. I could pitch it alone, although that took about twice as long as two people pitching it.
The waterproof, 15-denier silicone- and polyurethane-coated nylon fabric is tough for its weight and showed no damage when the wind rubbed it against granite, but I’d be careful not to abuse it too much. The tarp also provides good coverage as a sun or rain awning for cooking or hanging out in camp on wet trips. Best of all, this shelter fits into a stuff sack the size of a Nalgene bottle (not including stakes). Printed on the stuff sack are diagrammed instructions on ways to pitch it. Sea to Summit says the medium tarp sleeps two when set up close to the ground as an A-Frame. But for the nominal additional weight and bulk of the large tarp, I prefer its added space for spreading out and storing gear.
Sea to Summit sells separately two types of bug netting designed for using with the large Escapist Tarp, as well as a groundsheet ($59, 6 oz.). The Ultra-Mesh Bug Tent ($199, 14 oz.) has a 15-denier mesh canopy, a 15-denier, seam-taped, bathtub-style floor, and a zippered door. The Ultra-Vis Bug Net ($79, 5 oz.) is constructed entirely of 15-denier mesh and has no floor; you either stake it to the ground or tuck its edge under your sleeping mats, and get in and out by lifting a corner. Attaching to the tarp, both bug shelters do the job, but are much more limited in space than the tarp, with just enough room inside for two people.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my Gear Reviews at The Big Outside.