Hands-on Gear Review

ZPacks Square Flat Tarp Review

ZPacks Square tarp with a packraft used as a ground cloth.
Price:  $230 List
Pros:  7.5 oz with guylines. Highly adaptable, bomber wind protection in "storm mode" custom guyline configurations.
Cons:  Super light cuben fiber is less durable than normal.
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Capacity:  2-person
Type:  Flat Tarp
Measured Weight oz:  7.8
Manufacturer:   Zpacks

Our Verdict

The ZPacks Square Flat Tarp is the lightest two-person shelter we know of that is capable of providing bombproof storm protection. It weighs a mere 6.1 oz. or 7.8 oz. with guylines. This is our favorite shelter for going superlight, where every gram counts. Our tests show that the superlight version of cuben fiber used in this tarp is not as durable as the material used in the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. Even so, this tarp performs phenomenally well in all conditions and we highly recommend it if saving weight is your top priority.

Unfortunately, ordering this tarp is not convenient since it is not available from major retailers and only directly from the small manufacturer in Florida (made-to-order, involving long delays in delivery). But, if you can get past the idea of waiting for your tarp, you won't be disappointed.

Check out our complete Ultralight Tent Review to compare all of the models tested.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2018

Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara and Max Neale

Last Updated:
Sunday
April 12, 2015

Share:
You can purchase this tarp online directly from ZPacks at www.zpacks.com.

Performance Comparison


ZPacks cuben fiber square tarp with Tyvek ground sheet (and some snow).
ZPacks cuben fiber square tarp with Tyvek ground sheet (and some snow).

Ease of Set-Up


As is described in the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp Review the number and type of pitching configurations are limited only by your imagination. If pitched as an A-frame, the most common method, the tarp can go up in less than two minutes. Other configurations take different amounts of time.

Weight/Packed Size


The tarps weighs a mere 6.1 oz. or 7.8 oz. with guylines. We recommend Zpacks 1.25mm Spectra Z-Line configured as shown in a diagram above (you'll need three 50 ft. lengths for $39) and will need to add extra tieouts, also shown in the diagram.

Zpacks cuben fiber square tarp in the Olympic National Park  WA. With guylines  this shelter weighs only 7.8 oz!!
Zpacks cuben fiber square tarp in the Olympic National Park, WA. With guylines, this shelter weighs only 7.8 oz!!

Weather Resistance


This tarp offers BOMBPROOF protection in the most serious three-season storms. In high winds we like to pitch it in storm mode, as shown in the photo below.

For a detailed description of a flat tarp's tremendous performance in foul weather read Ryan Jordan's Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions article from BackpackingLight.

See our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article for recommendations for bug protection, ground cloths, and bivys.

Flat tarps  like the ZPacks cuben fiber model shown here  are the most adaptable type of shelter. They can be pitched low to the ground in "storm mode" for bomber wind protection.
Flat tarps, like the ZPacks cuben fiber model shown here, are the most adaptable type of shelter. They can be pitched low to the ground in "storm mode" for bomber wind protection.

Livability


Comfort depends on pitching configuration. There is much more space for two people when the tarp is pitched as an A-frame than inside any other backpacking tent that weighs under 40 oz. In protected forests, you can rig the tarp up in a nearly horizontal position 3-4 ft. off the ground that provides tons of space for sitting up and sprawling about.

Chris reading in Arcteryx Fortez Hoody under the Zpacks square tarp.
Chris reading in Arcteryx Fortez Hoody under the Zpacks square tarp.

Durability


This tarp uses the lightest and least durable cuben fiber we've tested. It is very strong when pulled horizontally but has poor puncture resistance, particularly when not under tension. Much to our surprise, a small branch from a tree fell on the edge of the tarp (an area that was not pulled particularly tight) and punctured a hole in it!!

The good news is that cuben fiber is so strong that 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 (the $9 ZPacks 13" x 7" 1.43 oz. Patch is the best value), which takes less than five minutes.

Though this tarp is not as durable as others, repairs can be made so easily for so little cost and are so strong that we don't feel this is a significant drawback.

The Zpacks Square Tarp is less durable than others that use stronger cuben fiber. Fortunately  repairs are quick  cheap  and very strong.
The Zpacks Square Tarp is less durable than others that use stronger cuben fiber. Fortunately, repairs are quick, cheap, and very strong.

Adaptability


The tarp can be pitched anywhere, anytime. Except for, perhaps, the top of Mt. Everest, where only one person has spent the night (in a custom tent).

Here are two examples that illustrate how the flat tarp can be used for non-backpacking applications.

When ski touring in exposed 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 spindrift. We pile snow around or bury the edges of the tarp to create a tight seal and dig a small entrance on the leeward side. In terrible conditions, backpacks or hardshell jackets can block the entrance. When skiing in more protected areas the tarp can be pitched between trekking 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 its adaptability allows it to be used just about anywhere. We look for locations that make a 90-degree angle between the wall (or a boulder, or a series of rocks) and the ground and pitch the tarp using its guylines and climbing gear (no stakes). The tarp can also cover an entrance to rock caves or be pitched between or over several rocks. Of course, you can also tie two ice axes together to use the tarp in storm mode if the ground is level enough.

Jens Holsten and Chad Kellog used a flat tarp (without bivy sacks) for their 7-day First Ascent of the Complete Pickets Summit Traverse in the North Cascades, WA - the most difficult alpine climb in the Lower 48, and just completed in July, 2013.

Best Application


Everything.

Value


This tarp is around $100 cheaper than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which we feel is a better value because it uses a more durable material and, in our opinion, is constructed even better than the ZPacks tarp.

(Though testing many Zpacks products — including sleeping bags, backpacks, stuff sacks and shelters, we've found that their construction quality is good, but not the best, and quality control can be iffy sometimes. For example, one backpack arrived with extra bits of grosgrain that were accidentally sewn on and serve no purpose. With the Square Tarp one of the adhesive patches that covered a central tieout point was not stuck on as well as it could have been and rain started to leak through (until we quickly patched it with another piece of adhesive tape).)

This tarp is an excellent value and we highly recommend it if saving weight is your absolute top priority. It is the lightest tarp available and offers bombproof protection from serious storms.

Other Versions and Accessories


The tarp is available in several rectangular sizes, but we strongly recommend the 8.5 ft. square size. Below are some common sizes.

6' x 9' rectangle
  • Cost - $190
  • Weight - 4.7 oz
  • 8 tie out loops default

7' x 9' rectangle
  • Cost - $215
  • Weight - 5.3 oz
  • 8 tie out loops default

8.5' x 10' rectangle
  • Cost - $255
  • Weight - 6.7 oz
  • 12 tie out loops default

How to Get It


This tarp is only available directly from the manufacturer, often involving a significant delay in delivery. Shop online at www.zpacks.com. Make sure to specify the number and location of tieouts. See the diagram below for our preferred setup.

Our preferred guyline setup for all-conditions camping with a flat tarp. The Four corner and two side 72" lines can be useful to wrap around logs  rocks  or trees but are not necessary for most backpacking environments.
Our preferred guyline setup for all-conditions camping with a flat tarp. The Four corner and two side 72" lines can be useful to wrap around logs, rocks, or trees but are not necessary for most backpacking environments.
Chris McNamara and Max Neale

You Might Also Like

OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: April 12, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
 (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


Have you used this product?
Don't hold back. Share your viewpoint by posting a review with your thoughts...