Recommended Tarps and Shaped Tarps


The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

Tarps and Shaped Tarps are significantly lighter and have more floor area than pyramid shelters. e.g. a 2-person MLD Grace Cuben Grace Duo tarp is 8 oz vs the 16 oz for the DuoMid XL. For many backpackers, Tarps and Shaped Tarps are more suited to places with occasional rain (Summer in the Sierras or the desert of Southern Utah) and/or for camping in more sheltered areas (below treeline, behind large rocks, etc.). Although some skilled and adventurous backpackers use them above treeline in the high mountains and other exposed areas that get appreciable wind and precipitation.


Tarps work! Blizzard in the Wind Rivers – a 15 degree night under a tarp & 1 lb down quilt.

True Tarps have the advantage of being simpler, less expensive, lighter and having more pitching options from “close to the ground for storm protection,” to “airy lean-to pitches with great views.” Shaped Tarps tend to be a more storm resistant, but are are designed be pitched only one way—usually lower to the ground with less headroom and views. Note: I do not recommend a solo tarp—for just few ounces more you get almost double the coverage for a 2-person tarp.



The light and storm-worthy MLD TrailStar

Mountain Laurel Designs True Tarps of note are the Grace Duo Tarps in either Silnylon or Cuben Fiber. The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp is a personal favorite and where I think the upgrade to Cuben Fiber makes sense. Don and I shared one on our Wind River High Route.

Mountain Laurel Designs Shaped Tarp of note is the award winning and perennial favorite TrailStar. Like the pyramid shelters it has an optional innernet.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear True Tarps of note are the 8′ x 10′ Flat Tarp and the Echo II Tarp. Both have an optional bug mesh an floor insert. HMG tarps are only available in CF8 Cuben Fiber.


A modular approach for Shaped Tarps: HMG Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on) and an an optional bug mesh & floor insert. Combine all three for a flexible and very light “2-walled tent.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Takes a modular approach for Shaped Tarps. The Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on for the tarp) and an an optional bug mesh an floor insert. Combined all three for a Echo Ultralight Shelter System (an extremely light “2-walled tent.”) But you have the option to take only the components needed for a particular trip.

For Tarps available off-the-shelf from a major retailer, look at the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter from REI or a MSR E-Wing 2 Person Shelter. But realistically tarps are not seriously carried by major retailers and you are better off getting a tarp from one of the manufacturers above (or other well regarded cottage manufacturers).

For a Bargain Tarp: look at Etowah Gear’s Basic $75 8×10 Silnylon Tarp.


By | 2016-02-24T00:36:25+00:00 November 10th, 2015|Recommended Gear, Tents Tarps Shelters|14 Comments

About the Author:


  1. David July 31, 2016 at 1:00 am - Reply

    What are your thoughts on the MLD Duo or Solo Patrol shelter? Thoughts? Thanks Alan

    • Alan Dixon July 31, 2016 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Hi David. Good Q. I almost always go with the larger shelter even when solo. For just a few more oz you get way more room which is nice when it really rains. Plenty of room for you and room to spread out and dry gear. And of course you have the flexibility of sharing it with another person if you wish without having to buy a second shelter for that purpose. As such, I own the Grace Duo in Cuben as my go to tarp for solo or two-person trips.

      As to the Patrol, my personal preference is own Grace Duo and a DuoMid XL. I Alternate between the two depending on anticipated trip conditions. The Patrol sort of splits the difference between the strengths and weakness of the Grace Duo and Duomid XL. Just a personal preference thing. Best, -alan

      • David August 1, 2016 at 1:08 am - Reply

        Thanks Alan!

  2. Rick Rogers August 26, 2016 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Dear Alan, thanks for the articles, which are really helping me noodle through my own gear selections for a future trip to Wind River. Do you recommend the 0.5 or the 0.75 weight cuben fiber for the MLD Grace Duo? It seems like you have the 0.5 weight since you cite the 7.8oz total weight. I can be hard on gear so I was leaning towards the 0.75 weight, but don’t have any real experience to know whether this is overkill. My most likely uses would be for a guided August trip to Wind River in 2016, section hikes in the Mid-Atlantic A-T in 2016-2017, and a PCT thru-hike in 2018. Thanks!

    • Alan Dixon August 26, 2016 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      Go with the 0.75. You won’t regret it, especially if you are camped above treeline. Safe travels, -alan

      • Rick Rogers August 26, 2016 at 6:29 pm - Reply

        Thank you so much. I genuinely appreciate the advice!

  3. Nate Stephens December 12, 2016 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Hi Alan,
    Can you provide any feedback comparing the MLD Grace Duo (Cuben) to the HMG Echo II w/ or w/o Beak (disregard the netted insert)? I’m curious how they might compare in ease of pitch, versatility, true weather coverage, or anything else you may have to say regarding them. I’ve read reviews on both and have seen their specs, but that’s still not the same as hearing from someone who has used both and knows their pros and cons. Thanks.


    • Alan Dixon December 12, 2016 at 11:43 pm - Reply

      Very similar tarps–wouldn’t go wrong getting either one. I’ll have to check (or you can), but I think that the HMG Echo II is a slightly smaller tarp vs. MLD Grace Duo. My preference usually is for the larger tarp, even when I am going solo. Best, -alan

  4. Rob July 6, 2017 at 2:02 am - Reply

    Are there reasons besides the weight savings that you like the Cuben version of the Grace Duo over silnylon? 2 oz weight savings (0.74oz cuben vs silnylon) seems small to justify the extra cost. Thanks

    • Alan Dixon July 6, 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

      Good Q Rob. The silnylon ver. is a far better value. The main advantage of the Cuben is that is doesn’t stretch when wet–tension it when you pitch it and you are done. So definitely at tauter more consistent and less fiddling with the pitch. It also absorbs less water. That being said I still own and use silnylon MLD mids. In fact I slept in a silnylon MLD Supermid in rain and wind last night. Best -a

  5. Ian July 29, 2017 at 1:15 am - Reply

    Hello! Can you comment between the MLD grace tarp duo (silnylon version) vs. the Sea to Summit escapist tarp? They both are under $200. The escapist is already seam sealed from the factory while you have to seal the grace tarp yourself. Thanks!

    • Alan Dixon July 29, 2017 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Ian. MLD will seam seal stuff if you ask. As to the comparison between the two, I have tons of use with the MLD tarp vs. none with the Sea to Summit. I do see some significant differences in the spec’s tho:

      1. The MLD tarp has a catenary cut (much tauter ridge-line and easier to pitch).
      2. The MLD is tapered, slightly wider at the head and narrow at the foot.
      3. The MLD is rectangular, longer that it is wide which make a more weight efficient outline to protect two people

      All those combine to make the MLD a lighter and more sophisticated tarp for two people. That being said, the flat (not catenary) and square shape of the Escapist gives you more flexibility for a number of alternative pitches (do some google searches on flat tarp pitching options). Hope this helps, -alan

  6. Emily December 30, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Hey Alan, can you comment on the 7.8 oz weight of the Grace Duo in cuben? MLD’s website says 10.0 oz for just the tarp in 0.75 cuben, which I find surprisingly heavy. Do you have the 0.5 cuben? Or did you weigh yours and find it much lighter than spec? Very curious to find out!

    • Alan Dixon December 31, 2017 at 2:22 pm - Reply

      Emily, not sure where the weight difference is but my tarp is 0.7 cuben. There could be variations in fabric lots and possibly construction that could account for weight variations. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

Leave A Comment