Monday, August 11, 2014

Gear Review: Etowah Gear Silnylon Tarp

Pyramid backpacking tarp, Etowah

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the Etowah Gear  8’ x 10’ silnylon tarp when I was looking for a backpacking tarp almost two years ago. I’m glad I did, though, because this tarp has performed well on backpacking treks as well as camping trips and other outdoor adventures. I have strung it from trees and trekking poles. I’ve used it over my hammock and on the ground. It has also supplied a shady, dry spot on car-camping trips. Most any tarp makes for an extremely versatile outdoor accessory. What I like most about this particular Etowah tarp is the sheer simplicity of the design, the rugged construction, and the very light weight (under one pound.) Factor in a very reasonable price, and this tarp is definitely worth your consideration. Let’s take a look at the specs before getting into the construction and performance…

Material: 1.1 oz. silicone impregnated nylon
Weight: 14 oz. as listed
Dimensions: 8’ x 10’
Packed size: 11” x 5” x 4”

backpacking tarp in stuffsack
This tarp comes with an integrated, sewn-on stuff sack.
This tarp is exceptionally light and packs down very small. If using as a shelter, multiple configurations allow more square footage in “floor space” than most 2 person (if not most 3 person) backpacking tents. I typically stick with A-frame and pyramid setups, both of which offer ample room. The listed weight of 14 oz. seems accurate if not modest (it might weight a bit less even.) I weighed mine at 15.5 oz. for this review, BUT that includes several long sections of 2.5 mm cord I attached on multiple tabs. The tarp has its own drawstring stuff sack sewn onto the perimeter of the tarp. Perhaps some neurotic gram weenie might choose to cut this off to save a fraction of an ounce, but I a appreciate this convenience and the small pack size (roughly the size of a Nalgene.)

Cord attachment tabs on backpacking tarp
Unlike some overbuilt tarp designs, the Etowah uses
simple tabs for attachment points. This is smart.
The Etowah tarp only has one seam within its perimeter, bisecting the tarp along its longer 10 ft. dimension (so, basically, two five-foot pieces are sewn together.) This seam and the seams along the edges are well-stitched and have remained perfectly in tact. The tarp uses small and simple tabs sewn along the edge (and one in the tarp's very center) for connection points. I really, really like this simplicity. The tabs are at each corner, of course, with 3 more along the interior of each 10 ft edge and one in the center of each 8 ft. edge. The tabs have held up very well to a lot of tension and multiple configuration. I did have a tab separate once, but I DEFINITELY put an absurd amount of pressure on it and cannot blame the construction. This was a fluke accident, but I basically stomped with all of my 200 lb. weight and leg muscles on top of a very long cord section with maximum tension applied. So this was a long lever getting a ton of force on a very taut section. The tab stitching was thankfully the weakest area and gave way. Oddly enough, this made me like the design even more, because the repair took about five minutes with my sewing machine at home. I just stitched the tab right back in place with zero issues, and it hasn’t been a problem since. Had the same accident happened with a grommet, I probably would have had a major hole and/or rip to repair. I should add that this tarp is made here in the USA, which I also like in an age when few things are manufactured domestically. This also reduces the carbon footprint for those of us buying stateside. Bravo, Etowah!

I first purchased this tarp in late December (of 2012), and Tennessee winters are often very rainy and cold. One night when rain was predicted, I decided to pitch the tarp in a pyramid configuration in my backyard to see how it performed in the wet and cold. This night turned out to offer one of the biggest rainfalls of the year. It rained steadily all night and most of the next day. The tarp had no leaks and kept the ground underneath completely dry during the entire day and a half downpour. I felt more than comfortable bringing this tarp in the backcountry after that, and it has proven an able shelter in all backcountry and campground conditions.

Tarp made in USA tag.
Etowah apparently has some regional pride in addition to stateside
manufacturing. I believe the company is based out of Georgia. 

The Etowah 8’x10’ silnylon tarp is a well-executed, no-frills design. Etowah seems to understand that simplicity is often the key to superior ultralight designs. Given its smart design, durability, and very reasonable price point, I would strongly consider this tarp if you’re in the market for a minimalist backcountry shelter.

Direct from Etowah Gear at $75.00 (Price listed as of this writing, Aug. 2014)

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  1. It s interesting to me that this particular tarp folds down roughly to the size of a nalgene. That is a really small packing size. I know for me when ever I go camping my tarp is not the size of a nalgene, it is more of a small sleeping bag. tarp hire

  2. Great review. I have this same tarp, purchased for use with a hammock, for which it works perfectly. However, I'm going to try some ground slumber this winter. Can you provide some details on how you achieved the pitch displayed in the title image?

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Daren. That pitch is really easy. I use it a lot. Here's a video: