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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Jacks R Better Cat Tarp > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

Jacks R Better 11' x 10' Cat Tarp

Initial Report - January 6 , 2009
Field Report February 2, 2009
Long Term Report April 9, 2009

Thomas Vickers

41 years old
Male
5 ft 11 in tall (1.8 m)
175 lb (79 kg)
redroach@pobox.com
Southeast Texas, Houston Area


Tester Background:
I grew up in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Camping was a quick trip into the mosquito-infested woods behind the house. My style has evolved and over the last 4 or 5 years, I have begun to take a lighter weight approach to hiking gear (I still use sleeping bags and tents, just lighter versions). While I have flirted with lightweight hiking, I feel that I am more of a mid-weight hiker now. My philosophy is one of comfort, while carrying the lightest load possible.

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Manufacturer Information:

Manufacturer: Jacks R Better

Website: http://www.jacksrbetter.com

Year Manufactured: 2008

Tarp
Available colors:
Moss green and cattail brown
MSRP:
$ 119.95 US

Measurements:  11' x 10'   (3.35 x 3.05 m)
Weight: 19 oz (540 g)

Materials: 1.1 oz. silicon impregnated ripstop nylon cordura

Self Tensioning Lines
Length: 9 ft (2.74 m)
Weight: 0.4 oz (12 g)
MSRP: $ 9.95 US (per pair)
Information From Tester:
(all measurements approximate)


Tarp
Color:
Moss green
Measurements:
11 x 10 ft (3.35 x 3.05 m)
Weight:
17.32 oz (491 g)

Stuff sack
Measurements:
7 x 12 in (18 x 31 cm)
Weight:
0.35 oz (11 g)

Ridgeline (x2)
Length:
9 ft (2.74 m)
Weight:
0.2 oz (6 g)

Self Tensioning Lines (x6)
Length:
8.6 ft (2.63 m)
Weight:
0.4 oz (12 g)


MSRP (Complete Tarp line and STL set): $ 27.95 US

Initial Report
January 6, 2009

Initial tester expectations:
I like the Jacks R Better website because of its easy navigation and pictures.   The page for the Cat Tarp contains several photos that illustrate optional pitching techniques.  If I ever wondered how to use this or any other tarp, the Jacks 'R' Better webpage is full of ideas on tarp usage. I do feel that I came away with a good idea of what this tarp was about, but I the one thing I did not realize or get here was just how big the tarp is. This is not really webpage flaw, but a photo of a person standing next to the pitched tarp might have let me visualize the size of this product.

Manufacturer's description:

Designed for the full range of pitch options this 11'x 10' tarp is primarily a flat tarp.  Its 11 foot length is long enough for the longest of currently available camping hammocks. The 11 foot sides have dual catenary cut edges.  The removal of the approximately four inch catenary cuts results in a tarp that pitches taut with little to no effort.  Use of a rolled hem technique eliminates the several ounces of edging weight associated with more common gross grain ribbon edged catenary tarps.  Combined with the strong JRB corners the resultant tarp is strong yet lighter than similar sized tarps.  The JRB 11'x 10' Cat Tarp is made out of 1.1 oz. silicon impregnated ripstop nylon cordura with 12 tie-out tabsIncluding silnyl stuff sack it weighs 19 oz. and packs to approximately 10”x 5”x2".

Tester's Description:
The Jacks R Better 11' x 10' Cat Tarp is a giant sil-nylon tarp designed to hang over a variety of hammocks.

The tarp has gross grain ribbon loops on each corner as well as one on each of the 11 feet (3.35 m) sides and three on each of the 10 feet (3.05 m) sides for a total of 12 tie out points.  There is a full length seam that runs down the center of the tarp along the 10 feet (3.05 m) long axis.

The longer edge of the tarp is catenary cut to reduce flapping in the wind, but even when tied out I have found it difficult to see this construction technique. Apparently the catenary cut removes nearly four inches (10 cm) of fabric along these edges, but this is not readily apparent, except when the tarp is hung very taught.

Another interesting feature on this tarp is the use of rolled edge hems instead of using extra fabric to hem the edges of the tarp.  All of the construction (including the edge hems) is very neat and well done. There are no loose stitches or extra threading that would make the tarp's construction look messy or haphazard.

Over all, this tarp is big, well constructed, and my mind is just spinning with the ways I can possibly use it.   

Extras:
Also included with the tarp was a complete tarp line set. This set included two ridge cords as well as six self tensioning tie out cords.  All of the cords are made from high visibility nylon material.  The are all constructed with pre-tied end loops so that they can be looped through the gross grain tie out points on the tarp, then looped through themselves to provide quick attachment to the tarp.

jacks2.jpg (2960691 bytes)


I am very interested in seeing how well the self tensioning lines work in windy conditions or any conditions that usually cause a sil-nylon tarp to sag or flap.  The idea seems very ingenious in its theory and I really hope it translates well to actual use.

Initial thoughts:
The tarp is nicely constructed and once I hung it to take photos a I was very amazed at the sheer amount of room available underneath it.  While I have not had it over a hammock yet, I am making a list of ways that this huge tarp is going to be used.  I will have to do more tests, but I am convinced that I can actually hang a hammock under this tarp and have plenty of room for my pack and other gear. 

The directions state that the seam on the tarp (centerline) needs to be seam sealed before use in wet weather.  This means taking the time to seal and then cure the tarp with the recommended seam sealant.  This is not unexpected (I have done this before) and I did like the fact that the manufacturer was considerate enough to warn me and provide a recommendation on what brand of sealant to use (McNett SilNet Silicon Seam Sealer).

I am also happy that the tarp came with a stuff sack.

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The tarp and all the necessary ridge and guy lines fit nicely into the stuff sack. Everything makes a nice and small package that will fit nicely in any pack I use.   The only minor quibble I have with the stuff sack is that it would have been nice to have included an integral pocket for stakes as part of the stuff sack. This would have allowed me to carry everything I needed to pitch the tarp in one spot. 

Final thoughts:

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I really like the look and functionality of this tarp just from my initial pitching and picture taking. It is huge and covers a lot of ground from the way I pitched it.   What impresses me even more is that the sheer number of tie out points makes it possible to pitch this tarp in a wide variety of configurations.  The Jacks R Better website shows quite a few of these alternative configurations from my inspection of the tarp and website, there is an awful lot that can be done with this tarp.

Things I like:
1. Simple design
2. Well constructed
3. Covers a lot of ground

Things I don't like:
1. Stuff sack could use a stake pocket



Field Report
February 2, 2009


Locations:

Sam Houston National Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Total nights use: 10
Night temperatures: 28 to 70 F (-2 to 21 C)
Precipitation: Freezing rain, light rain, and mostly no rain.
Wind: 0 - 15 mph (0 to 24 kph) steady wind (gusts up to 20 mph/ 32 kph)
Hammocks: Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Hammock

Setting it up:
Over the course of my first ten nights out using this tarp, I have come to the conclusion that there is just no 'right' way to set it up. It seemed like every time I decided to set it up, I tried something new. 

I originally started by tying the ridgelines to the tri-glides on the suspension straps of the Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock. This allowed me to pitch the tarp directly over the hammock with little or no tarp space above the hammock.  I finally discovered that I could pitch the tarp in the same manner (low and close) by tying the ridge lines around the same trees that I had attached the hammock to.  While not startling, it was nice to discover that I had options on how to use this tarp with a hammock. 

One other thing that I experimented with was how many guy-lines to use when pitching the tarp.  The first three or four nights I simply used four guy-lines on the corners.   Since there was wind, the tarp flapped a bit, but not any worse than I would have expected. The combination of a steady, but shifting breeze and sil-nylon under tension is not going to create the quietest of sleeping conditions, but it did not create an environment that I could not sleep in.

Finally, I decided to give in and use the guy points on the center of the tarp edges during the last part of the test period.  I got a much better and taught pitch on the tarp and the flapping/rustling noise was cut considerably, but not eliminated. Once again, I doubt there is any way to have a silent night in windy conditions under a tarp, but using six guy-lines really did help cut down on how much noise I had to deal with.

One thing that I have really grown to love over this part of the test is the self-tensioning guy-lines.  Once I get all six of them stretched out and staked down, they really keep this tarp under tension no matter how much the tarp wants to move.   I did have some initial concerns that the lines might pull my stakes out of the soil, but even under a good amount of tension, the lines always keep the tarp tight without pulling the stakes free.

Room, room, and more room:
Even though I have been pitching the tarp low over my hammock, I am really amazed at the amount of room there is under this tarp. I can stand upright (bent over a bit) and climb into the hammock or I can sit or lie under the tarp (with hammock in place) with plenty of room.  I can not remember the last time I could actually get out of my trail bed, stretch, sit, put my boots on, and cook breakfast without leaving cover.  While I did not cook directly under the tarp, I was able to sit under its edge while cooking just beyond the end of the tarp.

I have not been trapped in camp by rain yet, but I doubt that I would be too stir crazy spending the day lazing around under this tarp. There is just so much room under this thing. It was nice to be able to sit under something and not feel claustrophobic or boxed in.  While it may not be a palace, it is darned near as bit as one in my book.

As a hammock user I am very used to a more form fitting/smaller cover to my hammocks.   I really like the fact that this tarp is long enough to cover the entire hammock and part of the hammock suspension.  This makes me feel a lot more secure when I am worried about rain. I do not have to check and recheck the tarp set up to make sure some part of the hammock is not 'peeking' out from under it. This tarp is big enough to cover everything and leave me with a nice peace of mind at the end of the day.

Taking it down:
One thing that I have debated over is how to take the tarp down in the morning. For the first couple of days I unhooked each guy/ridge line and put them neatly in the stuff sack, then stuffed the tarp in. I quickly decided that this was not practical to do every time because it also meant that I had to spend too much time in the dark with cold hands trying to reattach lines when I wanted to put the tarp up and get in bed. Instead of taking the lines off every time, I simply pull up the stakes, untie the guy-lines from the stakes and fold the tarp (with guy-lines attached) into the body of the hammock which is underneath it.  Then I untie the ridge lines from the trees and fold them over into the tarp on top of the guy-lines.  At that point I fold the tarp up a bit to hide all the lines and stuff the tarp and lines into the stuff sack in one big messy ball.

This may not be the best way to do things and I do spend some time untangling lines the next time I take the tarp out, but it is still quicker and easier to do it this way than to install and uninstall the lines every single time I want to use the tarp.

Wind:
I mentioned earlier that the wind was not a big issue with this tarp. Using six guy-lines plus the ridge lines really keeps it in place even in pretty strong wind.  The only time that I have had real wind issues was when setting up or taking down.  On several occasions I realized that setting the tarp up in a steady wind was going to be trouble and there is no real way around it. I always set up my hammock first so the easiest way for me to get the tarp up was to tie the ridge lines first and then set up the guy-lines.  

For taking down in the wind I usually take the ridge lines down first so that the tarp sort of 'collapses' onto the hammock and then I take the guy-lines down.  No matter what, having a good steady wind makes for a real test of my patience when setting up this tarp. I do not have any ill feelings about this being a design flaw;I think that it is just the cost of having the wind and tarp interact. It is going to happen no matter how big or small a tarp is or who manufactures it. 


Rain:
The directions for this tarp recommended sealing the main seam that runs down the length of the tarp. I have not done this yet (lazy me), but I have also not had any rain issues.   The tarp has held up to light freezing rain, heavy dew, and an occasional drizzle without leaking on me yet. This is not to say that the seam does not need to be sealed, but it has worked just fine so far in the conditions that I have encountered.  Of course with my luck it will rain all night the next time I am out and I will be able to solve the seam sealing issue once and for all no matter what.

One thing I have noticed so far is that there has been no condensation on the underside of the tarp. This is not a rain issue, but for a person who breathes through his mouth at night, it is a huge keeping dry issue. I am not sure if it is the weather conditions or the amount of ventilation that occurs underneath the tarp, but so far there has been no condensation or dripping issues underneath the tarp.

Final thoughts:
WOW. I just wanted to throw a great big WOW in here a couple of times.  I have never used a tarp like this before. As a hammock camper I am used to hammock flies that are smaller and more form fitting, but not a tarp.  Not only is it easy to set up and take down, but it is HUGE when it comes to usable space underneath it. That is including the times when a hammock is already hanging underneath it.  This tarp allows me to set up my hammock and lounge on the ground under the tarp as well.  It also provides lots of extra room underneath, to store gear, in case of a rainy night.

At this point I am pretty overwhelmed by the Jacks 'R' Better 11' x 10' Cat Tarp.   Its sheer size combined with its versatility and light weight make me wonder why I have not tried a product like this before.  In the next part of my test I am going to experiment with setting the tarp up without a hammock. I really want to see if I can pitch it on the ground as a shelter without a hammock under it. If I can pull this off, then I can really add another level of versatility to my sleeping set up. 

Things I like:
1. BIG
2. Easy to set up
3. Packs small

Things I do not like:
1. Hard to handle in the wind


Long Term Report - April 9, 2009

Locations:

Sam Houston National Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Total nights use: 7
Night temperatures: 32 to 70 F (0 to 21 C)
Precipitation: Heavy Rain
Wind: 0 - 25 mph  (0 to 40 kph) steady wind (gusts up to 35 mph/56 kph)
Hammocks: Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Hammock

Getting wet:
I was able to get out with this tarp for seven more nights of testing during this last phase of reporting. The best thing about these nights is that is rained on every single one of them. I used the tarp in everything from a light drizzle to a heavy downpour during these seven nights. It was the perfect way to see if it kept me dry and comfortable.

One thing I discovered during this phase of the test was that even though the main seam was not sealed, it did not leak at any point during the seven nights of rain. In fact, I also found out the hard way, on at least four nights, that in the dark (even with a headlamp) it is almost impossible for me to hang this tarp right side up.  The good news is once again that even upside down and unsealed, the main seam on the tarp did not leak at all.  I cannot say that this will always be the case, but it was nice to find out that in less than optimal conditions, the tarp still did the job I wanted it to.

Pitching:
Over the length of this test I have tried pitching/hanging the tarp in several different ways. The first way that I used was to hang the ridgelines straight out from the tarp so that it pitched lower over the hammock. I often tied the ridgelines off on the hammock hanging straps just to make sure that the tarp was low enough to the hammock.

The second way I hung the tarp (and the way I now prefer) was to angle the ridgelines up from the tarp at about a 20 - 25 degree angle. This allowed me to pitch it higher off the ground and with a very taut ridge along the top seam of the tarp.  This also allowed more ventilation under the tarp in rainy weather.

The one thing I would love to see added to this tarp is some sort of device that would allow the ridgelines to be quickly attached to trees and tensioned without having to tie knots in the cords.  Something along the lines of the tri-glide used on the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock would make getting this tarp up much quicker and easier. 

Another thing that I had to do differently during this phase of the test was to pitch the tarp before my hammock so that everything else in my pack could stay dry while I set things up.  It was not a hard process and the tarp provided me with ample room to pull gear out and to hang my hammock without being exposed to the weather. I enjoyed the fact that with just the tarp pitched, I had plenty of room to sit around and enjoy the evening while staying dry. It made a nice shelter by itself and if I had not wanted to test the hammock, I probably would have spent the night on the ground using just the tarp as shelter.

Wind and rain:
The winter here has been very windy and that has given me a great chance to see how this tarp holds up to wind.  Due to the often high and steady winds, I always pitched the tarp using all six of the self-tensioning guy-lines and six stakes.  The tarp flapped a bit, but that is just something that comes with 20 mph (32 kph) + winds.  It could have been much louder under the circumstances, but I feel that the self-tensioning guy-lines held the tarp tight and steady no matter how strong the wind was.

What caught my eye was the night when the wind gusts topped 35 mph (56 kph) and I was really worried that I was going have stakes pulled up and a wild time catching the free flapping sides of the tarp, the self-tensioning guy-lines stretched a great deal, but did not give.  The stakes did not pull out of the ground, the tarp did not rip or tear, and when the wind died down, the tarp returned to the original shape/position it was in when I originally put it up.  It was a crazy nearly sleepless night, but the tarp stayed put despite some serious wind. I spent a long time the next morning inspecting the tarp, but there were absolutely no signs of damage from the high winds. 

Taking it down:
One thing that I have struggled with during this entire test period is how to stow the tarp. Taking it down is easy, but to save time I always keep the guy-lines attached to it. This often led to a horrible tangle of guy-lines when it was pulled out of the stuff sack and this caused me huge delays in setting the tarp up on several rainy nights when I did not want to get wet.

Finally I settled upon a simple fix that has so far gotten rid of my tangled guy-line problem.  After I pull the guy-line off of its stake, I wrap the guy- line around the surgical tubing that is on the end of the line connected to the tarp. 

 

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This allows me to neatly store the guy-lines while still attached to the tarp. It was very easy to pull the tarp out, hang it by the ridge-lines, and then unravel the guy-lines one at a time and stake them out. The wrapping and unwrapping of the lines is fast, easy, and saves me a lot of time and headaches when I need to get the tarp up fast.

Final thoughts:
I have used this tarp for 17 nights so far and I am pretty confident that it is going to stay in my pack and remain part of my shelter setup for quite awhile. I did not get the chance to use it with more than one type of hammock, but its large size should allow it to work just fine with any of the other hammocks that I currently use.  Best of all it answers what I have seen as a long standing issue for my shelter system. If the weather is bad or I cannot hang a hammock, I have had no way to protect myself from the elements other than my rain gear. 

This tarp gives me many options for hanging or pitching and I can get it set up quickly to protect me from many kinds of weather.  It takes my idea of a hammock tarp as a "rain fly" and expands it a great deal. I can honestly say that the Jacks 'R' Better 11' x 10' Cat Tarp makes my hammocking setup beyond a place to sleep and makes it an all weather shelter system. I also enjoy the fact that I can use the Cat Tarp without a hammock and still have a very functional and roomy shelter. 

Despite what I consider heavy use over the test period in some very nasty weather, this tarp has held together and does not show any signs of wear or damage.  This was a pleasant surprise to me since I have always worried about the durability of sil-nylon in shelters exposed to harsh weather.  My only gripes are minor ones and do not involve the tarp itself.  I would prefer to see some fast pitch options (maybe using webbing for ridgelines and tri-glides) to make it faster and easier to hang, but over all this is something I can correct without any alterations to the tarp. As the tarp stands now, I consider it a damn good shelter option and a great addition to any hammock setup.

As this test series ends, I can honestly say that I do not have any real dislikes or issues with this tarp. It has functioned way beyond what I thought a tarp should and given me great protection from wind and rain.  Best of all, this tarp is usable with other hammocks and by itself which expands its functionality a great deal in my view.  This concludes my test series with the Jacks 'R' Better 11' x 10' Cat Tarp.



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