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Ultimate Direction FK Tarp Review

A specific and functional tarp perfect for bike packing or other bipedal sports
Ultimate Direction FK Tarp
Photo: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $200 List | $199.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Inexpensive, protective for a tarp, extremely lightweight, bike and pole compatible set-up
Cons:  Material stretches with water exposure, lacks full enclosure, steep learning curve for set-up
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 29, 2019
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59
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 14
  • Livability - 30% 5
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 5
  • Adaptability - 10% 3
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 3

Our Verdict

The first choice for long-distance runners and bike packers, the Ultimate Direction FK Tarp is all about balancing the most important conveniences while saving on the ounces. Designed as a shaped tarp with only one specific set-up, it can be erected with either two poles or the handlebar of a bicycle. The thoughtful design provides three-wall protection with ample space to sit up, cook, and live with one other person. There is enough room inside to fit two people and gear without feeling cramped, given its super-long profile.

While we love this tarp, it doesn't win any awards because of its specific design that isn't very adaptable to all types of terrain. It's smaller than the length of a Nalgene, and it'll pack easily into your backpack or saddlebags without taking up much room. Given that one side is always open, this isn't the first choice for those who find themselves in super rainy or stormy weather. It's much better for fair days or the random overnight storm.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $199.95 at Amazon$600 List$735.00 at Hyperlite Mountain Gear$689 List$535 List
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Pros Inexpensive, protective for a tarp, extremely lightweight, bike and pole compatible set-upAmazingly light, four-sided weather protection, ample space for two, double doorsDCF construction is lightweight and waterproof, super spacious, four season useGreat weather protection, lightweight, adaptableUnder a pound, bombproof dyneema construction, ultralight stakes included
Cons Material stretches with water exposure, lacks full enclosure, steep learning curve for set-upExpensive, doesn’t include necessary stakesRequires lashing two poles together for setup, very expensive, no floor or bug protection built inExpensiveExpensive, single pole set-up takes a little practice
Bottom Line Light and packable, perfect for bike packing, running, and hikingAmazing weather and bug protection makes this one of the most popular thru-hiking options and our Editors' ChoiceA spacious, expensive, and high quality single-wall pyramid tentA shelter built to take on storms with comfortLightweight and bombproof, this shelter will keep you dry and bug-free on solo sojourns
Rating Categories Ultimate Direction FK Tarp ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade UltaMid 2 Tarptent StratoSpire Li Tarptent Aeon Li
Livability (30%)
5
8
10
9
8
Weight (25%)
10
7
4
6
9
Weather Resistance (25%)
5
9
9
10
7
Adaptability (10%)
3
8
8
4
4
Ease Of Set Up (10%)
3
8
8
6
6
Specs Ultimate Direction... ZPacks Duplex Flex... UltaMid 2 Tarptent... Tarptent Aeon Li
Type Structured tarp Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor Floorless pyramid Double wall tent w/ removable floor and bug netting Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor
Weight with all components 0.80 lbs 1.8 lbs 2.32 lbs 1.60 lbs 1.09 lbs
Measured Weight of All Included Shelter Parts Total: 12.75, Tarp: 12.5 oz Sack: 0.25 oz. No stakes included, needs 8. Total: 1 lb. 5 oz Tent: 19.7 oz, Guy lines and clips: 1.2 oz, Stuff sack: .3 oz. (Flex upgrade: 11oz) Mid: 1 lb. 7.7 oz. (bug insert with floor = 22 oz, bug insert w/o floor = 13.4 oz.) Total: 1 lb.10 oz, Floor and bug net: 11.5 oz, Fly: 14.1 oz Total: 1 lb. 1 oz., Tent with Bathtub floor and bug net: 15.8 oz., Stakes: 1.7 oz.
Stakes Included? No No No Yes Yes
Poles Needed for Set-up? Yes Yes w/o flex kit
No w/ flex kit
Yes, unless suspended from the peak Yes Yes
Capacity 2 person 2 person 2 person 2 person 1 person
Max Floor Dimensions (inches) 110" x 86" 45" x 90" 83" x 107" 86" x 45" 88" x 30"
Peak Height (inches) 58.2" 48" 64" 45" 47"
Fabric 20D Nylon micro-ripstop .51 oz/sqyd DCF Fabric DCF8 Dyneema Composite Fabrics Dyneema Composite Fabrics Dyneema Composite Fabrics
Packed Size 7" x 8" 7" x 13" 8.5" x 6" x 5.5" 16" x 4" 14" x 4"
Floor Area Not specified 28.13 sq ft 63 sq ft 26.88 sq ft 18.3 sq ft
Doors 0 2 1 2 1
Number of Poles 2 trekking poles 4 2 trekking poles 2 trekking poles 1 trekking pole
1-person version? No No No No Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The shaped Ultimate Direction FK Tarp offers superior liveability and better weather protection than other Nylon tarps on the market. Its super packable design and thoughtful architecture make it easy to stash into a backpack and live in its confines with ease. It offers more headroom and lateral space with better protection when set-up in the correct direction. Unfortunately, it does not feature protection from bugs, nor does it have a floor. Set it up easily with a set of poles, or use your bike!

Performance Comparison


We love the specific cut of the Ultimate Direction tarp that...
We love the specific cut of the Ultimate Direction tarp that provides great protection from storms or an airy hangout. This tarp offers more protection than most but isn't very adaptable.
Photo: Amber King

Livability


Offering a little more room than a traditional tarp, it can fit two people and packs easily given its longer profile and elevated profile around the foot of the tent. It offers a good amount of headroom to sit up in, play a game, or to have a great chat at night. Like all tarps, there is no bug protection, nor are there modular add-ons to make this tarp a little more liveable. Underneath it is wide enough to cook a meal and do everything else you'd need to do when hanging in good or poor weather.

You won't find yourself pressed up against the material; the only downside is you need two-poles to erect the tent. So when sleeping and living, you need to work around these. If you're setting it up with a bike (yes, you can!!!), you only that the body of the bike in the way, which separates the two sleepers. For one, space is enormous! It doesn't have a floor or a bug net, so you'll have to bring those if you're sleeping over sand or soggy forest beds.

While we chose to simply sleep right on the dirt, waking up in the...
While we chose to simply sleep right on the dirt, waking up in the sand isn't ideal. Be sure to bring a ground tarp with you. As you can see, there is ample room for gear or another person with the tarp tapering towards the feet.
Photo: Amber King

Weight


This tarp is exceptionally packable and lightweight; you won't even notice it in your backpack. Just a little larger than the size of a Nalgene bottle, it's perfect to load up into a running pack or fast-pack set-up. We weighed all the components out to about 0.80 pounds, which is just the tarp, guy lines, and stuff sack. It also requires about eight stakes. Depending on the type you decide to go with, you may be looking at an additional 2-5 ounces of weight. Exceptional!

A look at relative size. As you can see it'll fit nicely into any...
A look at relative size. As you can see it'll fit nicely into any pack. Just make sure you bring extra pegs and a ground tarp.
Photo: Amber King

Weather Protection


We set this tarp up while camping in Red Rocks, Nevada, which is known for its wind environments that uproot pegged tents and send them rolling across the desert. During a particularly windy day, we were surprised that this tarp held its own. To ensure good weather protection, you must set up in a secluded area with the butt of the tarp (that touches the ground) to the wind or other weather. Its streamlined shape sheds the wind well; however, if you set it up the wrong way, it will billow and effectively turn into a parachute.

While we are surprised by how well it does in the wind, it's...
While we are surprised by how well it does in the wind, it's important that you set it up in the right direction or it'll turn into a parachute.
Photo: Amber King

Like all tarp set-ups, this one has one exposed area. We appreciate that the tarp is shaped, so it comes right down to the ground at the wings and along the back, leaving a minimal opening. If it's incredibly windy, you could probably even reinforce it by putting rocks along the edge. We also like that the opening has its own little awning that helps to break the wind on that side and shed water better than traditional tarp set-ups.

The awning above provides nice protection from rain. If you want to...
The awning above provides nice protection from rain. If you want to make the tent lower, just bring adjustable poles for additional protection.
Photo: Amber King

Made of 20D Nylon micro-ripstop, the material is incredibly durable to abrasions and quite impervious to water. That said, the material, like all nylon, stretches, requiring you to adjust the guy lines to achieve a taut pitch. Aside from that, it offers good water protection. Space is large enough that you won't be smooshed against the material during a rainstorm, even with two people inside.

Adaptability


Built for bike packers, backpackers, and runners, this tent offers some cool adaptations that are pretty 'niche', but overall, adaptability is minimal. For example, you can't set it up in any other way than it has been designed for; unlike a flat tarp, where set-up options are endless, you are stuck with just one. You'll need to be able to get stakes into the ground or find some heavy rocks to make it work. There are no modular add-ons, but you can bring a bug net to wear over your head if you find yourself in the thick of forest country. As a result, it is reserved for the seasons where bugs aren't bad, and you don't need a floor.

Set it up with your bike as well as a set of poles!
Set it up with your bike as well as a set of poles!
Photo: Amber King

Set-Up


Boy, oh, boy. Two of our testers tried to set this tarp up for the first time in crazy high winds (different places), and both proclaimed it to almost being a tear-inducing experience! We couldn't get the tarp to stay in place, the poles were hard to get into their sleeves, and when one side was done, another came undone. It took a few tries before we finally figured it out. The lesson? Practice at home. While this tarp is easier, the more you try it, the learning curve can be steep.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Make sure you can put stakes in the ground or use large rocks to...
Make sure you can put stakes in the ground or use large rocks to wrap the adjustable guy lines.
Photo: Amber King

To start, choose a relatively protected space (if you can). If you can't, identify the direction of the wind then peg down the three guylines at the foot of the tent first. Tension these down into place. Walk around and guy out the lateral wings loosely. Then loosely peg out the front to where you think the guy lines should end. Leave slack to put up the poles. Get underneath the tarp and place each pole (of the same height) into the pole sleeves on the interior of the tarp. Once that's done, tension the guy lines attached to the poles first, then adjust the rest of them. This process does take practice, and over time, it'll come.

These lockers aren't our favorite as we found they slip, especially...
These lockers aren't our favorite as we found they slip, especially in rain. However, we do appreciate how easy it is to adjust the tautness of the tent.
Photo: Amber King

If you're bike packing, simply use the handlebars of your bike as a replacement for the poles! With the right tension, the bike stays up on its own while holding up your whole shelter. A great way to save weight for long-distance bike packing missions.

Value


In comparison to other ultralight shelters, this price is relatively cheap but still expensive for a tarp. Those that will find the most value in it are those seeking advantages it has over other shelters. While it's not protective, it's ridiculously lightweight and takes up very little packable room. It's perfect for fast-packers, runners, and bikers seeking this kind of bare-bones set-up. Though if you prefer protection, you may not see that value in this shelter.

Conclusion


The Ultimate Direction FK Tarp provides a specific cut that makes it more protective than most tarps out there. As one of the lightest shelters in this review, it packs smaller than a Nalgene and can either be set-up with a set of poles or even a bike! While set-up (especially in stormy weather) takes practice, you'll feel happy with the amount of liveable space and headroom it offers, making it superior to other Nylon-based tarps in this review.

Great insurance if you're a bivy bag camper or an excellent option...
Great insurance if you're a bivy bag camper or an excellent option for runners, backpackers, and bike packers.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King