Tent or Tarp for your Bug Out Bag

By Doug Williams
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A bug out bag is your bag for emergency situations. It’s the bag you grab when you’ve got to be out the door and generally traveling on foot so it needs to be a bag that you can carry for a distance under your own steam.

My Bug out Bag is based on 72 hours (3 days) which is a fairly standard length of time to aim for but they can be for longer or even shorter periods.

Here in the Outdoor Revival HQ we’ve got plenty of kit we can pack into Bug out Bags and it’s got me thinking about what’s best for shelter, Tarp or Tent, I generally prefer a tarp but thought I’d do a Pro’s and Con’s list for them both.

 

There are Bivi bags and Hammocks and a few other things that can be used for shelter, we’ll cover these in a later article, for most people, it comes down to a tent or tarp.

The Tent

Tents have been around for a long, long time and they’re basically a frame with a cover stretched over it. When we’re talking about camping tents, we assume that we’re going to have waterproof fabric to keep us dry and enough space for us and our kit.

You can get tents in many different sizes, for 1 person through to 20 people, for a bug out bag you need to be looking for a 1-2 person tent for you as an individual but if there’s more people that are going to be in your group you will have to adjust accordingly or get multiple small tents.

You’re going to be looking at between 3 and 6 pounds + for a small tent, remember, the lighter, the better as you’ve got to carry it.

Pros

They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights, allowing you to pick the right one for your specific needs.
A tent can provide better protection from the elements and insects. Most are easy to set up. They will provide protection from the wet ground and don’t require a lot of tools, if any, to put up.
It’s easier to keep a tent warm (or at least warmer than outside)

 

Cons

They can be expensive depending on size and your requirements. They can be weighty, there’s a general rule that the lighter the tent the more it’s going to cost (as long as you’re keeping to a reasonable quality)
They aren’t as versatile as a tarp, they’re a portable room.
They stand out more.
Inside a tent, you have reduced vision, and it’s easier to become trapped inside.
Need to find a pitch where the tent fits/flat enough ground.

Tarps

Well, I’ll be honest here, I love tarps! Dont’ get me wrong, I still use tents as there are times a tent is the appropriate thing to use but if there’s a choice I’ll usually take a tarp.

A tarp is a sheet of material. There, you can’t get much more basic than that! It can get more complicated because there’s a lot of different shapes and sizes as well as different materials and uses for tarps, for your bug out bag you’re looking for something that is waterproof and can cover you and your kit. A cheap waterproof tarp will keep you dry, an expensive waterproof tarp will be lighter, have a smaller pack size and they often last longer.

Pros

They come in a wide range of weights, sizes, colors, level of waterproofing and materials.
They can be cheap.
Tarps are easy to replace.
They can be pitched almost anywhere.
Some tarps are double-sided, with one side being silver metallic, making it possible to use it as an emergency blanket.
You can also use the metallic side on hot days to reflect the heat away from you.
Can be used for other things – Brush Raft, carrying things, wind break, hammock etc.

Cons

It needs rope/cord to secure in position.
It won’t protect you as well from the ground.
You do need some skill to set them up correctly.
Will not protect from insects.
More exposed and colder.

In an ideal world, you’d carry both. Tents are ideal for extended camping situations, whereas tarps are better for shorter temporary camps. Tents are great for containing small children at nights. With tarps, you have a better view of your surroundings. A good lightweight tent will serve you well in most situations, protecting you and your family from the weather and insects. Pack a tarp or two for insurance, so if the situation changes you have more choices.

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