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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Eagles Nest Flex Fly Utility Tarp > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
The Eagles Nest Outfitters Inc. (ENO) FlexFly arrived as a very neat looking package. The gray nylon stuff sack has a zipper that opens the full length and part way down the ends of the sack making it easy to open wide. This looks to be a quality bag with strong stitching and reinforced seams. There's a large black and white ENO company logo stitched on one side of the sack. Both ends have carry handles or grab handles in black with "FlexFly™ Utility Tarp" across them. There's a small black tab at the end of the zipper which is easy to grab when pulling the zip to close the sack. The gray and black colour scheme, quality of workmanship and well thought out details on the stuff sack certainly whet the appetite to see what's inside.
Opening the stuff sack revealed four blue aluminium tent stakes, which surprised me as the marketing and labelling state that stakes are not included. Perhaps ENO included them to make life easy for this reviewer. Next there was a bundle of black aluminium tubing, which is the two poles. Each pole is very nicely milled and consists of four shock-corded segments of 15 mm (5/8 in) diameter tubing. One end has a robust looking spike for putting through the tarp's eyelet and the other end is blanked off to keep dirt out. The poles fit beautifully together with minimal free play. The assembled length of the poles (to the top of the spike) is 1290 mm, or just a touch under 4 ft 3 in. Collapsed, the poles are 355 mm or 14 inches long.
Finally I pulled the FlexFly out of the sack. First impressions are that this is a big fly: it seems large even when folded. A quick inspection again reveled the quality of this product with excellent stitching, no loose threads and no obvious holes. The outside surface of the fly is in a lovely gun-metal gray colour in a low sheen, almost matte, finish. Because of the Polyurethane (PU) coating the inside appears to be almost silver in the right light but is, in fact, the same colour as the outer. There is a large blue-gray ENO logo on the right hand end of each side of the fly, just below the ridgeline. The outer edges of the fly are bound and sewn while areas around the guy attachment points are bound and double stitched.
The ridgeline (there's no actual line here) is double stitched and appears to be seam sealed. At each end of the fly the ridgeline terminates in a triangular cutout area which is bound and stitched. From the edges of the fly up to the ridgeline are two loops with a LineLoc fastener attached. This means the ridgeline tension is not pulling along a seam, it's pulling from the adjoining fabric. I'm not certain of the purpose of this but if I had to guess I'd say it's to reduce the possibility of tearing stitches along the ridgeline if the tarp were cranked too tight. It may also serve a function in channeling water from the suspension lines down the edges of the taps and away from the actual tarp. Looking at this closely, it appears that a lot of stress and tension will be applied to the small areas next to the ridgeline so I'll be watching to see if this causes any wear or damage.
Moving down to the bottom outer edges of the tarp, there's a guy out point at each corner. Again, the edge binding terminates in a loop from each side and a LineLoc joining the two loops. The area around the corners appears to be very strongly reinforced with double stitching, binding set back from the corners, and material reinforcing. In the middle of each reinforced area is a grommet to allow for insertion of the pole end. The way this area is arranged means tension on the guy lines will pull along the binding rather than the body of the fly. I feel this will be very strong and ensure minimal damage when cranking down the fly for strong winds.
I've not seen or used LineLoc fasteners before and have to confess I needed a YouTube video to make it clear how to set them up and use them. Although the guy ropes were pre-attached, they did need to be untied to work. Speaking of guy ropes, this is perhaps my least favourite part of the FlexFly: the lines are hard and difficult to work, much like a new garden hose, and tend to kink rather than bend. I'd like to think I'm a fairly savvy camper but I could not figure out how to undo the factory hanking without getting a knot in the line. This was the single most difficult part of getting the fly ready for use. It appears these lines are made of some kind of nylon which, I hope, will soften with use. If not, they will certainly be replaced after the test period.
The instructions included were very minimal indeed: three small graphics with brief descriptions on the product description tag, which was attached to the stuff sack. The instructions simply say to tie the central guys to objects (like trees) and tighten, stake out the corner guys and hang the hammock under the fly. That's it, but then, does it require more than that? Not really. Hanging a tarp is a fairly intuitive process to me.
I took the FlexFly to a nearby park to try hanging it for the first time. Apart from my fight with the guy ropes, it was very easy to hang the FlexFly with no real surprises other than the sheer size of this tarp. It's very big! I'm used to using a fairly large tarp but this seemed much bigger. Using the poles to make a 'porch' makes for a very comfortable setup, and is something I've often attempted to do by tying my own tarp to nearby trees, shrubs, cars, or sticks with varying degrees of success. The FlexFly appears to make it easy to set up a "room with a view" hammock camp. I'm looking forward to hanging my hammock under the fly and seeing the view. The guy ropes are long enough to be able to cinch down the tarp next to my hammock in bad weather, or to have the stakes further away to make the most of any summer breeze.
I've never owned a catenary-cut tarp before so I was interested to see what, if any, difference this would make to the tarp. In a nutshell, the catenary cut is like taking a shallow bite out of the long sides of the tarp. When laid flat on the ground, the long edges on the bottom of the tarp appear to have a shallow semi-circular edge rather than a long straight edge. When the fly is tightened, a catenary cut allows the tarp to be tightened more effectively, thus reducing flapping in a breeze. That will be a very welcome feature when trying to get a good night's sleep in windy conditions. As I test this tarp I'll report more on how effective this catenary cut is.
My initial impression is that the poles are a little short for the purpose. When laying in a hammock they are perfect for allowing a view or encouraging cooling breezes, but don't appear to effectively add to standing room under the fly. Of course, much of the standing height is related to how high the ridgeline is suspended, but the short length of the poles mean the tarp must be hung with a fairly steep pitch if the poles are to be used. Again, I'll investigate a lot of different configurations during my testing and report back on what's most effective.
This tarp would also be useful as a bivy tarp for traveling light: it's big enough to make a very decent shelter. The poles would be perfect for this type of use I feel.
The ENO FlexFLy is a large flysheet aimed at hammock campers. It appears to be easy to set up and has a number of features which set it apart from other manufacturers, including the aluminium poles and LineLoc fasteners. This appears to be a very well manufactured item with quality stitching and very sturdy attachment points. I'm truly looking forward to getting to know this tarp a lot better.
Due to a series of illnesses, I've not been able to do much camping in the last couple of months, however, I did get away for a two night camp in mid-August. Conditions were surprisingly mild with highs around 27 C (80 F) and lows of 12 C (54 F). I spent two nights at my favourite car-based free-camping spot on the banks of the Bellinger River at Mylestom, New South Wales. Although far from remote, it's a lovely spot to unwind and has a cafe just down the street. Perfect! As much as I would've loved to go on a hike, health dictated otherwise, and this was the perfect convalescent camp.
The river is broad and tidal here as it's only a short distance from the sea. My campsite was shady, grassed and had superb views across to the mountains in the distance.
I love the FlexFly! It's got so much room underneath it I could host a barn dance. It's so easy to set up in 'porch' mode thanks to those LineLoc fasteners. As I said in my Initial Report, I've never used those before but think they are worth their weight in gold. So often when I've tied my previous fly sheets, I find them flapping or sagging after a while as the knots I used to tie the guy lines off slip. Despite trying to use the 'correct' knots, they never seem to grip well enough. With the FlexFly, I found the easiest method is to simply thread the guy line through the hole in the aluminum stake and tie a knot. I then stake out the line and use the LineLoc to adjust the tension. For the most part this worked incredibly well, however, a couple of the stakes worked loose due to a strong breeze and sandy soil. I think if I was planning to camp in areas with sandy soil again, I'd probably carry a more purpose-built sand stake.
The porch setup worked really well and allowed me to sit comfortably under its shade while still enjoying the view. That makes camping so much more fun! While it's not tall enough to stand under, it's still way more useable that my normal setup, which has a very limited space under the fly to get in and out of my hammock. With the FlexFly, it's so easy to get in and out of my hammock, and to use that space under the porch for sitting, cooking, or changing. It certainly keeps the hammock cooler during the day, making it perfect for afternoon naps. I found it easy to drop the poles out to close the porch down for added privacy or warmth at night.
Although I wasn't able to fully tension the guy lines due to the sandy soil, I did notice the catenary cut really helped keep the fly taught and reduce the flapping in a moderate breeze.
I'm still not a fan of the material used for the guy lines, but maybe that's the stuff that works best with the LineLocs. If that's the price I have to pay to use those fasteners, I'm happy to pay it.
Being a fairly breezy couple of days for my camp, I noticed the difference between folding a fly and using 'snake skins', which is what I do with my normal fly. It takes a bit of wrangling to get the FlexFly folded and stowed in its bag when it's windy, and requires a small amount of fiddling to work out which are the ridge line guys. That problem is eliminated with 'snake skins' - small tubes which simply slide from the outer edge of the ridge line towards the center. Snake skins allow the fly to be strung up and taken down very easily, and may well be added to this fly during the final phase of testing. Surprisingly, the FlexFly folds up really well to fit back in its bag. So many things I've owned over the years never go back in the original stuff sack once unfolded, but the FlexFly still has plenty of room. Lovely!
Unfortunately the weather was too perfect to test how the FlexFly copes with rain, but as summer approaches here, I'm sure I'll get to find out before long!
Although I've only been able to spend very limited time with ENO FlexFly to date, I already love it! Saying it has revolutionised my camping may be a little zealous, but it certainly has had an enormously positive effect. There's a real sense of space and freedom with the front porch open, and it certainly reduces that sense of closeness and almost claustrophobia that comes from a normal fly.
I'm truly looking forward to many more trips with this fly sheet. That concludes my Field Report on the ENO FlexFly tarp. I'd like to thank both Eagles Nest Outfitters and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item. Please check back in around two months for my Long Term Report.
I spent a night in the Bucca State Forest. Temps were around 24 C (75 F) during the day and down to 8 C (46 F) at night. There was plenty of condensation overnight but the days were clear and very pleasant. This was a car-based trip.
I spent two nights at Cathedral Rock National Park in the Dorrigo region of New South Wales. I started at Native Dog Creek Campground and walked the 10.4 km (6.5 mi) to Barokee campground, where I spent the night before walking back the next day. This was a more extreme camp with daytime temps around 32 C (90 F) and overnight lows of 2 C (36 F). It was very, very dry for this trip.
I also managed an overnight camp at Platypus Flat in the Nymboi Binderay National Park - a place which actually does have platypus! It was cool overnight with temps down to around 6 C (42 F) and daytime highs of around 23 C (73 F). There was plenty of condensation overnight, but no actual rain.
Finally, I spent two days walking in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park near Armidale, New South Wales. Again, it was quite warm with temps around 29 C (84 F) and lows of 14 C (57 F).
Due to this part of the world having around a quarter of its normal rainfall, I haven't had the opportunity to test the FlexFly in the rain.
I've really come to love the freedom the FlexFly gives: open it up in warm weather or to take in the views, and close it down like a normal tarp in cool weather. In fact, I've become so used to having a 'front porch' to sit on I find a normal tarp claustrophobic now! Having the porch is probably something I could do with most tarps but the difference here is that the FlexFly is actually designed to be used this way and as such, does it really well. I go to the outdoors to be outdoors, not confined in a silnylon cocoon the whole time and the FlexFly has helped me rediscover the beauty of a more open approach to camping. It's also been perfect for keeping the hot sun off while I sit under it. Shade is something highly prized in Australia!
Surprisingly, the LineLocs have become the real star of the show to me: I love them! I find them so easy to adjust and they stay where I put them. So much better than when I try to tie my guy lines: despite using the correct knot, they always slip. The LineLocs allow me to tighten things up quickly, easily and efficiently, a trait I greatly appreciate when trying to erect a tarp on a windy day. I'm still not a fan of the line supplied with the tarp and it doesn't seem to have become appreciably easier to work with. Once the testing period is over I will try another type of line to see if it works as well with the LineLocs. If not, I'll put up with the supplied line as I really do love the LineLocs.
Although this is a comparatively heavy tarp setup, I feel it's worth every ounce to be able to sit on my porch. A minimal weight loss could be achieved by using trekking poles but the ease and security of using the 'correct' poles probably outweighs the weight issue for me. I still wish the poles were another segment longer to allow me to easily walk under the tarp when my hammock is hung at normal height, but that's a minor quibble. Again, this could be lessened by hanging the tarp a bit higher but I like to keep my tarp down close to the hammock ridgeline for weather protection. It wouldn't lengthen the poles, though, so doing this would only give more headroom nearer the ridgeline.
As I said at the outset, this is the first catenary-cut tarp I've used and I've found it a dramatic improvement on a regular rectangular-cut tarp. This is most noticeable in windy conditions when the FlexFly stay so much tauter and tidier than a regular cut tarp. It also seems to cut down on some of that irritating flapping that goes on when I'm trying to sleep.
There's no signs of wear at all on my FlexFly and the ridgeline attachments show no signs of fraying or tearing. It's easy to wash bird droppings off and the colour appears to have remained true (no fading) at this time.
In all, there's not a lot more to say about the FlexFly other than I'm really impressed with the quality and design of this piece of equipment. Will I continue using it after the test period? Without a doubt! It has permanently replaced my straight-cut tarps and will be my go-to tarp from now on. I really do love it!
The Eagles Nest Outfitters FlexFly is a simple product which has been really well thought out, designed and executed. It offers many benefits over a rectangular-cut tarp and the suspension system and LineLocs make it a cut above the rest, so to speak. Other than the guy line material being difficult to use, I have no complaints at all. This is an easy to erect, easy to adjust and versatile tarp which has earned a place in my standard kit.
This concludes my Long Term Report on the ENO FlexFly tarp and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank both Eagles Nest Outfitters and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item.
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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Eagles Nest Flex Fly Utility Tarp > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
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