Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp Review
Cons: Lacks bug protection and privacy, expensive
Manufacturer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear
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Our Analysis and 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 while adding a groundsheet or inner tent or bivy sack extends severe weather protection. These great features that'll keep the pounds off your back earn it our Editors' Choice amongst the tarps on the market.
When pitched as an A-frame close to the ground, this flat tarp offers lots of space for two people to spread out but limited headroom for sitting up. Two D-rings along the inside ridgeline will help hold an inner tent, such as the Echo II Insert sold by HMG. 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.
There is no doubt that livability is one area where using a tarp such as this one is not as comfortable or luxurious as using a fully enclosed tent. When enduring a storm with the tarp pitched in storm mode, you will have no choice but to be lying down inside your bag, with little room to move. This tarp also doesn't have a floor, necessitating adding a ground cloth, or bug protection.
For those who like a little privacy where they can change clothes or clean up after a long day of hiking, you aren't going to find it here. In short, when using this tarp as your shelter, you are in effect living outside in the world, and this can be a great thing, or not such a great thing, depending on the weather, your needs, and your disposition. That said, these are all downsides that you'll find with any flat-tarp option.
This lightweight tarp weighs in at 0.63 pounds, including the tie-outs which come along with it and the DCF stuff sack; this makes it the lightest shelter in this review!
For those who value weight above all else, let this be enough of an endorsement. That said, you do need to bring your poles, which isn't captured in the weight metric above. Did we also mention how easily its small profile fits into a fastpack or backpack? Bonus points!
This tarp features the best DCF fabric that gives it ultimate waterproof-ness, meaning it won't stretch when wet and can be used in low storm mode, all in contrast to SilNylon. That said, its 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 adequate protection in very exposed areas and is one of the great advantages of a flat tarp. It also features an incredible number of tie-out points. Sixteen line-locks line the perimeter of the tarp, and five guy-out points in the middle (or field) offers many adaptations for the weather you might encounter. No matter how you fold or pitch it, there's likely to be a guy out point right where you need it!
Perhaps the most significant 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 entry of 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 applies to an A-frame or different pitching configurations. If you want the best protection available, pairing this tarp with a lightweight, water-resistant bivy sack could be your best bet. While there are plenty of workarounds to help a tarp be as weather-resistant as possible, it's never going to be as bomber as an enclosed tent, such as the issue with any tarp set-up.
Also, while it can function in certain situations in the winter, where you have a super warm sleeping bag and heated water in bottles at your feet, we find the level of protection it offers if the weather gets dire to be too much of a risk is marginal. It's a much better option for most folks during the warmer seasons.
There is no doubt that this is the most adaptable shelter in this review. While we have mentioned A-frame mode and storm mode as the two most likely ways of setting it up for a good night's rest, there are many other methods to pitch this tarp.
Using two trekking poles, it can be set up in lean-to mode or some modification thereof, thereby making it wide enough for three. One also doesn't need to be confined to stakes and trekking poles but can use trees or branches, roots or rocks on the ground, or climbing gear (or rocks used as chockstones?) deposited in nearby cracks of rocks.
That said, we couldn't award it a perfect score regarding adaptability, simply because to be ready for any situation one might encounter in the great wide world, added components will be necessary. It is also worth noting that set up in some ways, like storm mode, if it's windy and raining, it could be very uncomfortable to hang out it in.
Ease of Set-up
This tarp comes with ten included and pre-cut tie-outs, four of which are 6' long, and six of which are 4' long. Using these included guy-outs means, you will want to carry ten stakes with you. As there are 16 line-locks around the exterior of the tarp, and five more on the field of the tarp, you will have to move the guy lines around as needed. For added versatility, you may want to add a few lengths of much longer lightweight cord to your kit for rigging to trees or other natural anchors.
The easiest way to set this tarp up is in storm mode, and this can be accomplished very quickly with one person, even in a bad wind. Loosely stake out all four corners, then add the single short pole to the middle of the leeward side, and adjust as needed, adding more stakes for better security. Setting it up in A-frame mode can be quite a bit trickier with only one person, and requires a bit of practice. This tarp does not have dedicated grommet holes at the ridgeline for slotting the tips of your trekking poles into, so the use of a clove hitch is necessary. Suffice to say that a knowledge of knots is mandatory for setting this tarp up, and the more experience you have with rigging, the easier it will be. While the set-up for the seasoned tarp sleeper isn't tough, it comparatively requires more knowledge and time than most other shelters in this review.
For a tarp, this shelter is expensive. However, it is highly durable and won't rip or tear in the wind or around spiky plants. While the initial price is quite the investment, those that love and appreciate tarp camping through three-seasons of the year will find the most value in it.
The Hyperlite Mountain Designs Square Flat Tarp is a lightweight, highly adaptable flat tarp shelter, making it worthy of your consideration. For those who appreciate the lightness and quickness of tarp camping, this is the creme de la creme, the Cadillac, the diamond amongst tarp shelters. While it doesn't offer the same level of protection as a fully-enclosed tarp, its adaptability is one you can trust to set up anywhere. Perfect for the couple looking to go as light as possible.
— Amber King & Andy Wellman