Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $110
Pros: Above average covered area for A-frame tarps, weighs 15 oz., available in silnylon or cuben fiber, three interior hang loops, premium materials and construction.
Cons: Not as versatile or as protective as flat tarps and pyramids
Best Uses: Three-season backpacking.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo is the best value ultralight shelter we've tested. It pitches quickly and securely due to its catenary cut A-frame design. This is a league above most other A-frame tarps—partly due to its design that provides more weather protection than average and partly due to its premium materials and fantastic construction quality. If you are looking to make the jump from a heavy double wall tent to the wonderful world of ultralight backpacking this tarp receives our highest recommendation. It's an incredibly high quality shelter and also very cheap—only $110. Unfortunately, ordering it is not very convenient, since it is not available from major retailers, and only directly from the small manufacturer in VA (made-to-order, involving a 1-4 week delay in delivery). But, if you can get past the idea of waiting a long time for your tarp, you won't be disappointed. The best options with no wait times are the Rab Element 2 and the Black Diamond Beta Light. The Element 2 scored just behind the Grace Tarp and can be found on sale for as little as $80.
If you want one shelter to do everything we recommend the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which is lighter, more versatile, and provides more protection in very exposed areas. If you have the cash for the lightest two-person tent with bug protection the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent can't be beaten. Or if winter travel is your primary objective consider the Mountain Laurel Designs SuperMid.
Check out our Ultralight Tent Review to see how the Grace Tarp compares to all the other shelters tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Background on A-frame tarps
A-frame tarps use a catenary cut (curved) ridgeline that makes them easier to pitch tightly than a flat tarp. They go up quick but always need to be pitched in some type of A-frame shape, which greatly limits versatility and reduces their performance in exposed areas with high winds (when compared to flat tarps). Despite these limitations an A-frame performs very well for the vast majority of three-season backpacking.
First, an important note
We tested this tarp in cuben fiber but our ratings and Best Buy Award are for the silnylon version. We are confident that in our assessment of the silnylon version is accurate because we've extensively tested three other MLD silnylon tarps (the DuoMid, SuperMid, and TrailStar). We discuss the different materials in more detail below.
The Grace Tarp Duo is a LARGE A-frame tarp. It is much larger than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Tarp (18" wider in the rear, 8" wider in the front, and 3" taller when pitched tight against the ground). The added protection is critical to comfort is high winds and torrential downpours because it provides lots of space for two people and their gear, even when the tarp is pitched tight against the ground.
When pitched nearly flat in a protected area the tarp provides more protection than any backpacking tent tent we've tested!!
The Grace Tarp has three plastic clips on the underside of the ceiling that allow you to clip to them various things, such as a water resistant bivy sack or insert. We discuss these items and others in our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article.
The tarp provides great weather protection in the vast majority of backpacking environments. The two open ends can be a drawback if the following conditions are satisfied simultaneously: you camp in very exposed while its raining and very windy. We find that almost all established campsites are in well to moderately well protected areas where an A-frame works well.
MLD construction and attention to detail is world class and the catenary cut makes it easy to pitch the tarp very tight. The ability to pitch it low against the ground is a significant advantage in foul weather. In very exposed sites it can be important to pitch one end of the tarp near some type of object (rock, tree, bush) that blocks the wind on one side. If there are no such objects you can block an entrance with backpacks, rain jackets, rocks, logs, snow, or other sturdy windproof things.
Joery Truyen has an excellent and entertaining post on the benefits and challenges of camping with an A-frame tarp. He has numerous photos that show the Grace Tarp Solo in various pitching configurations and different types of campsites. Check it out.
Weight and Packed Size
The cuben Grace Tarp Duo weighs 7.4 oz. on our scale. Adding a plentiful amount of the guyline included with the tarp brings the weight to 9.6 oz. Mountain Laurel Designs says that the silnylon version weighs 15 oz. without guylines or roughly 17.8 oz. with guylines and seam seal. The latter amount is very light compared to traditional backpacking tents—9 oz. per person is a reasonable amount to carry—but it is not as light as the lightest two person tarps like as the ZPacks Square Flat Tarp, which weighs only 7.8 oz. with guyline!!
A-frame tarps offer a significant advantage over self-supporting tents and pyramid shelters in that they are capable to being pitched in a variety of ways in response to site conditions. If a campsite is narrow you can bring the walls in and pitch it tight against the ground. However, flat tarps are MUCH MORE VERSATILE because their pitching configurations are limited only by your imagination. The Grace Tarp Duo is a great tarp for most backpacking environments, but if you want to become an expert tarp camper, or want to travel superlight in the most exposed areas get a flat tarp.
We've been extremely impressed with the performance of the other three MLD silnylon shelters we've tested and are confident that the silnylon Grace Tarp would be very durable. Much more so, we suspect, than similar tarps made by other companies (MSR, Black Diamond, GoLite) that use inferior silnylon or are not built with the same attention to detail as the Garce Tarp. MLD has a tremendous amount of experience with shelter design and construction. Rest assured, this tarp will last for a long time.
At $110 the silnylon Grace Tarp is a total steal! This is an incredibly cheap way to reduce pack weight if you're coming from a double wall tent with dedicated poles. Check out our Price Versus Value Chart where we plot scores and price.
The cuben fiber version costs $305, or nearly 3x as much as silnylon, and saves about 8 oz. Though this performs very very well our testers feel that getting a cuben flat tarp is a better value because it is more versatile.
See the Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article.
How to Get It
The DuoMid is not sold by major commercial or online retailers. Get it online at
It's important to note that Mountain Laurel Designs usually takes 1- 4 weeks to get something to your doorstep. They build excellent products, and offer custom options on everything they make. We feel that it's definitely worth the wait.
If you can't wait and want something for an upcoming trip we suggest ponying up the cash for the $330 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which ships from stock within 24 hours.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: November 8, 2013
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