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Hands-on Gear Review
Pros: Generous coverage for a 2-person A-frame, weighs 18 oz with guy lines, available in SilNylon or cuben fiber, three interior hang loops
Cons: Not as adaptable as flat tarps or as weather resistant as pyramids and tents
Best Uses: Three-season backpacking, thru-hiking
The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo in SilNylon, is the best value ultralight shelter that we've tested. It is larger than most two-person, A-frame style tarps, and the pronounced catenary-cut ridge makes a taught A-frame pitch easy to achieve. Pitched close to the ground, the coverage provided is enough for two folks to stay nice and dry in all but the windiest rainstorms. The Grace Tarp Duo receives our Best Buy award again this year because it offers the most bang for your buck for three-season backpacking. If you are looking to enter the ultralight realm without breaking the bank, we highly recommend the exceptionally well-built Grace. Weighing in at 18 ounces, it's light on the scale as well. We've previously tested the much lighter Cuben fiber version of this tarp, which we also highly recommend if you have the cash.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp won a Top Pick for Expert Users in this year's review. This flat tarp is the most adaptable shelter for backpacking and alpine climbing; in the hands of a skilled rigger it can be made into the most storm proof of three-season shelters. Unlike the Square Flat Tarp, the cat cut ridge line of the Grace means it essentially has to be pitched in A-frame mode every time. The A-frame pitch of the Grace works very well in the sheltered to moderately-protected campsites commonly found backpacking and thru-hiking. The other A-frame tarp we tested this year, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II, is much lighter but also much smaller than the Grace. While the Grace Tarp Duo provides great coverage and protection on its own, we find the smaller Echo II tarp needs to be used with its inner tent or vestibule to get the same protection from rain.
RELATED: Our complete review of ultralight tents
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo is the largest of the three tarps we tested for 2015, providing more headroom and more coverage when pitched close to the ground. At $170, it is also the lowest priced shelter we tested by far. The Grace earned high scores for weight, livability, and durability. While it earned a lower score for weather resistance, a modular inner tent or bivy sack can be added for extra protection. Short of finding perfectly positioned trees, your adjustable trekking poles provide the support for this shelter.
Like many of the products in this review, the Grace Tarp Duo is not available from major retailers - only directly from the small manufacturer in Virginia. We only had to wait a week for the SilNylon version that we tested, which MLD reports is typical for SilNylon. However, if you're looking for Cuben, you'll probably have to wait a few weeks longer.
Get it online at www.mountainlaureldesigns.com.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo provides great weather protection in most backpacking environments. The two open ends can be a drawback though if you select an exposed campsite and it turns rainy and windy. We find that almost all established campsites are in well to moderately well-protected areas where an A-frame works great. Eight perimeter LineLocs allow you to securely stake out and tension this A-frame. There are no field guy outs on this tarp; it would be nice to have mid field guy outs on the sides. Because SilNylon stretches more than Cuben fiber, especially when damp, snugging up the LineLocs after the initial set-up will help keep it nice and tight. SilNylon stretches when wet, but having the adjustability of the LineLocs within reach from inside allows you to tighten things up without going out in the rain.
MLD construction and attention to detail is world class and the catenary cut makes it easy to pitch this tarp very tight to resist the wind. The ability to pitch it low against the ground, while still having headroom to sit, is a significant advantage in foul weather compared to the smaller Echo II used as a stand-alone tarp. In exposed sites, it can be important to pitch one end of the tarp near a rock or bush that blocks the wind. Alternately, you can block the open foot with your backpacks and partially cover the head end with a rain jacket.
The SilNylon Grace Tarp Duo tipped our scales at 19.1 ounces with the included guy line and stuff sack. The Cuben fiber version of this tarp we previously tested weighed 9.6 ounces on our scale with guy lines, and costs almost twice as much. If an A-frame tarp is your shelter of choice, we highly recommend both of these models.
Weight Bottom Line:
SilNylon tarp + included guy lines = 18.3 oz
Stuff sack = .8 oz
Stowed away in the included stuff sack, there's some room to spare.
Scrunched down into the bag, the rectangular shaped package is roughly 8" x 6" x 4".
The Grace Tarp is light, but if you want the lightest possible shelter that also has complete weather and bug protection, you can't beat the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent, our Editors' Choice winner. If your budget allows it, we feel it's the best ultralight shelter for backpacking, thru-hiking, and bike touring.
The Grace Tarp Duo is a LARGE A-frame tarp. It is much larger than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II tarp (about 18" wider in the rear, 8" wider in the front, 16" longer, and 3" taller when pitched tight against the ground, see the photo below for comparison). The added coverage is important to comfort in high winds and downpours because it provides lots of space for two people and their gear, even when the tarp is pitched tight against the ground. Depending on steepness of pitch, we had about 4 inches overhead at the peak for our 5'11'' testers when we pitched the Grace low to the ground for maximum weather protection. That's a lot more headroom than the other tarps that we tested.
The Grace Tarp has three plastic clips on the underside of the ceiling. A mesh inner tent with bathtub floor can hang from these, or a water resistant bivy sack can be added for additional protection. We discuss these items and others in our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article. A very protective and versatile (if expensive) combo would be the Cuben Grace Tarp Duo paired with the HMG Echo II's inner tent.
A-frame tarps offer a significant advantage over traditional tents and pyramid shelters in that the pitch can be adjusted in both height and width. If a campsite is narrow you can bring the walls in and pitch it tight against the ground. Raise it up and spread it out for more headroom and coverage if you don't anticipate any wind. 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 as light as possible in the most exposed and rugged areas, we highly recommend our Top Pick for Expert Users, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Square Tarp.
We have been constantly impressed with the performance of all the MLD SilNylon shelters we've tested over the years, and are confident that the Grace Tarp Duo is very durable. The material choices are all top notch, and down to the smallest sewn details, the stitching is perfect. MLD has a tremendous amount of experience with shelter design and construction. Rest assured, this tarp will last for a long time.
Ease of Set-Up
The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, due to its generous catenary cut at the ridgeline, is the easiest to set up A-frame tarp that we have tested. All things considered, we find it about the middle of the pack for ease of set up. Our first pitch in the backyard took right about four minutes with adjustable trekking poles. Four minutes is a good set-up time for one person, and two can do it faster. String for staking and guying out is included, but must be cut and added to the LineLocs. We found set-up using trekking poles quicker than pitches where the ridge lines were secured to trees.
Grommets in the straps sewn in at the ridgeline provide easy set-up by accepting the tip of a trekking pole. Unfortunately, the grommets are a little smaller than the metal rings on the Echo II tarp, and one of our adjustable trekking poles with a worn down tip did not fit. No big deal, we used a clove hitch around the pole tip to secure it. If you face a similar problem, you can add a split key ring that's large enough to accept your fat pole tip. No instructions are included with the tarp, nor are stakes. Eight stakes is the necessary amount for an A-frame set up; use some you already own or purchase an ultralight set of eight from MLD. A tube of silNet seam sealer is included for waterproofing the seam along the ridgeline. MLD sells an optional set of carbon fiber poles as well.
The Grace is perfect for ultralight backpacking and thru-hiking on a budget. If you seek three-season protection in a affordable ultralight shelter, this one is hard to beat.
At $170 the SilNylon Grace Tarp is a total steal, and our Best Buy winner! This is an incredibly affordable way to reduce pack weight if you're moving from a heavy double wall tent, and you already hike with adjustable trekking poles. Check out our Price Versus Value Chart where we plot scores and price.
The SilNylon Grace Tarp Duo from Mountain Laurel Designs allows you to enter the ultralight shelter world without breaking the bank. This A-frame's large dimensions create the most coverage of any tarp we've tested, and we recommend it for both backpacking and thru-hiking.
Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp SOLO Tarp
Cuben Fiber Grace Tarp
Mesh tent insert - Serenity Bug Shelter Duo in SilNylon $195
Eight 6.5" Vargo Ti Stakes .27oz / 8gms $25
Carbon fiber front and rear pole set $50 28 and 42 inches, fold to 15.5"
See our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article as well.
How to Get It
The Grace Tarp Duo is not sold by major commercial or online retailers. Get it online at www.mountainlaureldesigns.com
If you stick with the SilNylon version of this tarp, you'll likely get it in about a week. Mountain Laurel builds excellent products, and offers custom options on everything they make. We feel that it's definitely worth the wait.
— Brandon Lampley & Max Neale
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 19, 2015
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