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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Jacks R Better Cat Tarp > Test Report by Rick Allnutt

 Jacks 'R' Better 11 x 10 Cat Tarp
Test Series by Rick Allnutt


Initial Report - 18 December 2008

Field Report - 10 February 2009

Long Term Report - 8 April 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Rick Allnutt
EMAIL: rick@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 55
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
GENDER: male
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (1.8 m)
WEIGHT: 190 lb (86 kg)

Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a three-season base pack weight of about 8 lb (3.5 kg) and skin out weight of 17 lb (8 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in all four seasons, and many trips to state parks, with a total mileage of about 1550 miles (2500 km). I am a gearhead, a hammock or tarp camper, and I make much of my own equipment. 

Trail Name: Risk

Risk's Ultralite Hiking Page: www.imrisk.com


INITIAL REPORT
18 December 2008

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

11 x 10 Cat tarp10Manufacturer: Jacks 'R' Better
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.jacksrbetter.com
MSRP: US$ 99.95
Listed weight: 19 oz (539 g)
Measured weight:  
19 oz (539 g)
Tested with Self Tensioning line set
MSRP: US$ 27.95
Listed weight 2.9 oz  (82 g)
Measured weight: 3 oz (85 g)

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

This light-weight, silnylon camping tarp is 11 x10 ft (3.4 x 3 m) and has 12 tabs to tie down the tarp. It is a mostly flat tarp without a noticeable catenary shape - that is, each of the edges appears to be cut straight. When the hammock is pulled taut with attached lines, the fabric does pull into a catenary shape and the edges do not flap in the wind. The first night I had the tarp out, the wind was gusting to 30 mph (48 kph) though the tarp was partly protected by my house.

Like all rectangular tarps, this one can be pitched in many different ways. I hope to illustrate several of those in my Field Report in February. This report will illustrate two ways to pitch the tarp over a hammock.

stuff sackThe tarp is supplied with a stuff sack. Folded neatly, the stuff sack appears to be quite large. However, when the tarp is stuffed randomly into the sack, the stuff sack is about the right size. In the photograph to the left, several 17 in (43 cm) spreader pieces are shown with a Bear Mountain Bridge hammock in the darker stuff sack. The 11x10 Cat tarp is in the stuff sack on the right side of photograph. 

Prior to using the tarp, a set of lines must be attached. Jacks 'R' Better supplied a line set for my use. These lines are strong and seem to be resistant to tangling. They are bright colored and they stand out against the ground in very dim light. This kept me from tripping over them several times in my early use of the tarp. The line set has two ridge cords without tensioners and six cords with tensioners. I chose to stake the corners out by using four of the tensioner equipped lines, tying each end to a loop. This arrangement can be seen on the near corner of the tarp in the first photograph of this report. 

self tensionerThe other useful (and unique) feature of the line set is equipping each line with a self tensioner made from latex rubber. It has been my experience that silnylon (the tarp material) stretches when it becomes wet. These tensioners have a section of the line covered with rubber tubing. The line does continue through the tensioner, so it will only stretch a finite amount. By setting up the tarp with the tensioners pulled tight, any stretch of the tarp overnight is taken up by the available recoil of the rubber section. That is the theory, and when I slept under the tarp last night in a drippy/dreary fog, the theory worked out in practice. The tarp stayed tight all night long.


erecting the tarp over a hammockThe process of erecting the tarp over a hammock is actually quite easy. When the tarp is dry and the weather is pleasant, I begin with the tarp in the hammock as seen in the photo to the left. I tie the ridge line to the tree with a modified four wrap knot to make it easy to remove the next day.

When the weather is not quite this nice, the tarp can be erected between two trees, and then the hammock can be set up in the relative dry of the shelter - sometimes after a quick cup of tea to warm up under the tarp. If the tarp was packed wet, then I do not put the tarp in the hammock, but I do usually put the hammock up first. This keeps me from having to duck under the wet tarp when putting the hammock up.

four wrap knotThe four wrap knot is tied by passing the line around the tree and then taking the free end over the standing portion (attached to the hammock) and back around the tree a second time, then over the standing portion and around the tree a third time. After three or four such wraps, the end is tied in two half hitches with the second hitch as a slip knot. This allows untying the ridge line with a single hand when breaking camp. No fingernails are necessary to untie this knot.

One of my favorite ways to pitch a tarp over a hammock is to tie up the ridge lines and to pitch one side of the tarp as is shown in the last photograph below. The second half of the tarp remains on the back of the pitched half. Thus, it is ready to be brought over the hammock in the middle of the night if a shower suddenly wakes me. This has happened more than once, when I went to sleep with a clear sky and woke with rain drops falling on my face. When preparations of a "half tarp" have been made, it takes no more than a couple seconds to cover a hammock and no more than 30 seconds to put two stakes in and pitch the full tarp. This allows me to look at stars whenever I want, but keeps me from ending up with a wet kit that can be hard to dry in cool weather.

lean to

SUMMARY

The 11 x 10 Cat tarp is well sewn with a good assortment of corner and side pull tabs. When equipped with a set of lines, it is a very capable dry shelter for hammock or ground sleeping. 

The things I really like about this tarp are:
- It is light for a tarp of this size.
- The cut of the material keeps the edges from vibrating in wind.
- The 11 ft (3.4 m) length of the tarp covers the longest of hammocks.

I thank Jacks 'R' Better and BackpackGearTest.org for selecting me for this test.

FIELD REPORT
10 February 2009


FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

20 December 2008 – Night at South Llano River State Park, Junction Texas. Hammock camping with underquilt and tarp. Low of about 45 F (7 C). A beautiful clear night with lots of astronomy accomplished.

11 January 2009 – Sleeping out in the hammock
with underquilt and tarp. Clear skies and low temperature of 31 F (0 C). Warm, comfortable sleep despite the temperature.

13 January 2009 – Sleeping out in the hammock
with underquilt and tarp Clear skies and low temperature of 29 F (-2 C). I slept warm with only shorts and a shirt.

23 January 2009 – Garner State Park Texas. Testing gear and doing astronomy at this dark sky site. Tested the hammock
with underquilt and tarp in cold windy conditions. Low of 30 F (-1 C).

30 January 2009 – Cat’s Meow Star Field, Fredericksburg, TX. Cold night doing astronomy in the Texas hill country. Clear skies, temperature about 27 F (-3 C). Hammock camping with underquilt and tarp.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

flat tarpI have used the tarp as part of the hammock experience on five occasions thus far. The more I use the tarp, the more I appreciate how large a tarp it is. While I have not had much rain in southern Texas during the field testing period, I have used the tarp to shield my eyes from the moon, as a wind break, and to reduce radiant heat loss into a clear cold sky. 

The tarp has been used in winds up to about 20 mph (32 kph). The tie out tabs and the supplied cord package did well in this wind. In more moderate conditions, I noted that as the tarp became moist with dew overnight, the rubber shock absorbers on the tie outs helped to keep the tarp tight.

I decided to experiment with two other tarp set-ups. In the configuration at the left, the tarp has been set up with a single hiking pole. The two back corners of the tarp are staked down. To attach the pole, one center guy line near the tie-out is wrapped twice around the pole and while tension is applied, the guy line is staked down. Next, the two front corners are staked down, and then finally, the center of the two sides and the center of the rear edge are staked.

This creates a very large dry area that will easily sleep two or even three people in a pinch. While it does not have a floor, it makes a simple tarp for windy wet weather as long as the opening is on the down wind side of the tarp.

floor tarp set upI also experimented with a tarp set up for one. In this configuration half the tarp is used to make the overhead portion of the tarp and the other half is used for a floor. There is plenty of room for one camper and gear when I set the tarp up this way.

SUMMARY

The tarp has performed well in high wind and can be used as more than a hammock tarp. There are dozens of ways to set up a tarp, and two ways are demonstrated in this report. I really like the construction of the tarp. It has multiple uses.


LONG TERM REPORT
8 April 2009

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

27 March 2009 - Another moonless weekend of astronomy - I tried to use the hammock on the first of two nights out. The weather was cold with high winds. Low temperature of 32 F (0 C).  I ended up escaping to the back of my pick-up truck. It was too cold for me to sleep in the hammock. The tarp was noisy in the wind, though it did take the stress of the high wind. I did decide to independently stake out each of the six pull out tabs.

Over the testing period, I slept outdoors six nights in total with the tarp.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The tarp is well constructed and has stood up to high winds on two occasions. I have seen no torn fabric or broken threads with this exposure.

I continue to be a little uncomfortable with the size of this tarp. It is very big. In high winds, it makes quite a sail. I'll give it this - it was not torn apart in conditions that were on the extreme side. (Weather service reported winds of 20 mph gusts to 30 mph. (32 and 48 kph respectively) But I would have been a little less worried about the strength of the tarp if it had been somewhat smaller.

The tarp is a great boon for stealth camping. It is just the right color to blend into the woods and break up the outline of a hammock. When I want to be less noticeable in the woods, this will be the first hammock I will reach for. I look forward to using it for archery deer hunting season next fall!


SUMMARY

This tarp is very well made and quite strong. It is also very large - larger than I prefer for long distance hiking.

I thank the Jacks for allowing me to test the tarp.



Read more reviews of Jacks R Better gear
Read more gear reviews by Rick Allnutt

Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Jacks R Better Cat Tarp > Test Report by Rick Allnutt



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