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Hands-on Gear Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp Review
Cons: Not as much weather protection as pyramid tarps, A-frame pitch takes longer than with catenary cut tarp
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp delivers the most bombproof weather protection and versatility for rough, mountain bivouacs. The former winner of our Editors' Choice Award, it received a Top Pick for Expert Users in our updated 2015 review and remains the highest scoring product of the bunch. It weighs in at only 10 ounces with guy lines, and, in the hands of a skilled rigger, is more adaptable than any other type of ultralight shelter. Unlike tents, pyramids, and A-frame tarps, it can be pitched in many geometries to fit in tight spaces or block the wind. This is our favorite shelter for alpine climbing and rough terrain bivies. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is the ultimate ultralight shelter for expert users. Used with a light bivy sack or modular inner tent, the Square Flat Tarp provides the lightest, most versatile, bombproof protection in exposed mountain environments.
The Editors' Choice winner is the ZPacks Duplex, which is our favorite shelter for ultralight backpacking since it provides more space, offers complete weather resistance, and has built in bug protection. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum is the lightest dedicated-pole, double-wall tent we've ever tested. We love its easy set-up and bombproof rain protection. Neither of these products is as versatile as the Square Flat Tarp though. Flat tarps allow you to build a shelter system (including a floor and bug protection when you need it) that's capable of adapting to the widest variety of environmental conditions.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Tents, Tarps and Shelters
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is the lightest ultralight shelter we tested and - in the hands of an expert user - defines shelter adaptability. A creative camper can pitch it for weather protection just about anywhere you can sit or lie down. Your adjustable trekking poles provide the support for the most common pitches. Adding a ground sheet or inner tent or bivy sack extends severe weather protection. For more information and advice about mixing and matching components, see our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article. We recommend our Top Pick for Expert Users to all alpine climbers and for backpackers and thru-hikers who want the lightest, most adaptable shelter.
Unlike in the past where long wait times for the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp were common, this tarp now usually ships within a few days.
The Square Flat Tarp was our top scoring backpacking shelter. Check out the chart below to see where the competition ranked in line behind it.
This tarp's weather resistance depends on its pitching configuration. A-frame mode provides rain and wind protection in well protected to moderately exposed areas (e.g. the entire Appalachian Trail and most of the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails). Storm mode offers phenomenal protection in very exposed areas and creates the safest type of shelter for severe three-season storms. The HMG Square Flat Tarps features an incredible number of tie out points. Sixteen LineLocs are spaced around the perimeter of the tarp, and five guy out points are located in the middle (or field) of the tarp. No matter how you fold or pitch it, there's likely to be a guy out point right where you need it!
Perhaps the greatest drawback to a flat tarp is its lack of four-sided weather protection. Storm mode protects against wind and precipitation from three-sides but occasionally spray and wind can whip around into the entrance. In windy and wet weather, we like to seal off one side of the entrance to a storm mode pitched tarp with a full-zip rain jacket, backpack, rocks, or snow. In the winter you can close off one side with snow and "seal" the other (the door) with a jacket or pack. The same technique can be applied to an A-frame or other pitching configurations. Use of a bivy sack or modular inner tent will increase weather resistance as well. HMG's inner mesh tent used with the [[Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II] system also works great with this tarp pitched in A-frame mode.
This tarp weighs 10.2 ounces with the included guylines and stuff sack. Without the guylines the tarp weighs 8.4 oz, making it easily the lightest shelter we tested this year. The ZPacks Square Tarp that we previously reviewed weighs an ounce and a half less, but uses a lighter, slightly less durable Cuben fiber. Carrying a shelter this light makes a tremendous difference in total pack weight and size. Alpine climbing demands traveling as light as possible, and this tarp is so light you won't think twice about it in your pack, even as just-in-case bivy protection in your summit pack.
Weight Bottom Line:
This is the lightest product in this review:
Tarp + included guy lines = 9.9 oz
Cuben sack = .3 oz
Stowed away in the included stuff sack, this shelter measures 8" x 6" x 3".
This flat tarp measures 8.5 ft square. You can pitch it in a nearly flat position between trekking poles or trees such that you have almost that entire area protected from vertically falling rain. That's more than twice the covered area of the average two-person backpacking tent!
When pitched as an A-frame close to the ground, the flat tarp offers lots of space for two people to spread out but limited headroom for sitting up. Two d-rings along the inside ridge line will hold an inner tent. We used the inner tent from the Echo II shelter for an A-frame pitch with the Square Flat Tarp and it fits well. Storm mode offers even less room to sit up, but has lots of floor space for two people and all of their gear. Other configurations, such as lean-to style, can be very comfortable and provide a fantastic view.
Possible pitching configurations are limited only by your imagination; A-frame and storm mode are but two of the options. Here are a few examples that illustrate how the flat tarp can be used for non-backpacking applications. If you're climbing in technical terrain and are forced to camp in a very narrow site, you can modify storm mode by folding one side of the tarp underneath and use the field tie outs as the primary side tie outs. This also serves to completely seal off one side from wind, spindrift, and splash back.
When ski touring in exposed, above treeline areas our testers like to use flat tarps by digging a square pit several feet into the snow and pitching the tarp on top to deflect wind and sprindrift. We bury the edges of the tarp slightly to create a tight seal and dig a small entrance on the leeward side. The entrance can be blocked by backpacks or hardshell jackets. Though not suitable for heavy snow loading, this technique provides space for three people; it's our testers' preferred ultralight shelter setup for 2-3 day ski tours. When skiing in more protected areas the tarp can be pitched between ski poles as an A-frame.
For multi-day alpine rock climbs, where you bivy on the route, a flat tarp is the lightest available shelter option and it can be pitched in very small "flat" areas. We look for locations that make a 90-degree angle between the wall and the ground and pitch the tarp using guylines and climbing gear (no stakes). The tarp can also cover an entrance to rock caves or be pitched between or over several rocks. You can also tie two ice axes together to use the tarp in a low storm mode.
The combination of HMG's super strong CF8 Cuben fiber and top-tier construction quality makes this tarp very durable. HMG's Cuben fiber is so strong that even if it gets punctured, it is highly unlikely to tear. Field repairs are super fast with duct tape and permanent repairs can be done with Cuben fiber repair tape ($9 ZPacks 13" x 7" 1.43 oz. Patch is the best value), which takes less than five minutes.
If an assessment of durability includes the probability of a tent failing in high winds, then this tarp is perhaps the most durable shelter available. We find that most tent damage occurs due to staking and guying error (either a stake pulls out or guy lines haven't been secured), which lets wind catch the tent and blow it such that a pole bends or breaks, possibly puncturing and/or tearing the fly. If a staking point fails on a tarp though, the pole(s) generally fall over harmlessly. Furthermore, trekking poles are much stronger than flexible aluminum and carbon tent poles. We've never broken a trekking pole (bent yes), not even an ultralight three-season trekking pole like the Black Diamond Ultra Distance.
Ease of Set-up
A flat tarp takes more adjusting to get a taut pitch in A-frame mode, and our expert's first set-up of the Square Flat Tarp took seven minutes. This is a couple minutes slower than our first set-up of the catenary cut Echo II and Grace Tarp. But what the flat tarp lacks in ease of set-up it makes up for in versatility. We camped in this tarp pitched in both storm mode and as a lean-to. Both set ups took one person about 5 minutes. After some practice, the tarp can take two folks less than two minutes to pitch as an A-frame and can be pitched nearly as quick in storm mode.
Precut guy line strings are included, but stakes are not. Eight is the minimum necessary to set up in A-frame mode. Use your favorite stakes or add a set to your order - several types are available from HMG.
We use the A-frame most of the time in protected sites when backpacking, and storm mode if we're in an exposed area in high winds, or don't have the two poles necessary for an A-frame. For example, when alpine climbing we tie two ice axes together (with a 10 ft. piece of 2-3 mm cord) and use them as the pole for storm mode. There are a myriad of other ways to pitch the tarp, all of them requiring different amounts of time.
Flat tarps do not pitch as easily as dedicated A-frame tarps with a catenary curve, such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II and Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp. It takes more adjustment to get a tight pitch with a flat tarp. However, we find that the versatility and bomber storm protection of a flat tarp far exceed the the extra effort required.
Alpine climbing, rough terrain bivuoacs, anywhere and everywhere in the hands of an expert rigger who values the lightest weight shelter over all else.
We feel that $350 is a great deal for a world class do-everything shelter. Investing in an insert and/or water resistant bivy sack increases cost considerably but gives you the most versatile, high performance year-round shelter system possible.
If you don't need the adaptability of a flat tarp we recommend the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, a large SilNylon A-frame tarp that costs only $170.
A flat tarp provides the lightest and most adaptable shelter for folks really looking to shave ounces, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is the best built and most durable we've ever tested. We highly recommend it for alpine climbers, and anyone else seeking the lightest shelter that provides the most pitching options for rough terrain or small campsites.
Other Sizes & Accessories
The tarp is available in several rectangular sizes but we recommend the 8.5 ft x 8.5 ft square size for most users. The 6 ft x 8ft solo size saves about two ounces. The 8 ft x 10 ft size is a half ounce heavier, and provides better coverage for taller folks in A-frame mode. If you do not use a bivy sack or water resistant sleeping bag, the greater coverage provided by the 8x10 version is very nice.
See our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article for info about groundsheets and bug protection.
Consider an Alternative Guy line Set-up
Though the guy line set-up that comes standard with the tarp works well, greater adaptability and a slight weight savings can be had with an advanced guy-line set up. While you can add several additional length of guyline to your kit to supplement the included line and LineLocs, some expert users skip the plastic hardware included on the HMG tarp and use the trucker's hitch knot for three-season conditions. Andrew Skurka provides a detailed description of the benefits of this system here. In short: lines without LineLocs offer greater versatility and a faster pitch across a wide range of conditions.
If you choose this tarp consider the following setup:
We find that this alternative guy line system saves weight and offers increased performance and versatility when compared to the stock configuration on the HMG Flat Tarp.
— Brandon Lampley & Max Neale
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