Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ultralight & Low Volume shelter

I've been working on putting together a practical low volume shelter kit for my bikepacking adventures. My hiking kit is a Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo tarp coupled with their Serenity net tent. This system offers a great balance of weight, flexibility and weather protection. Unfortunately, it requires that I pack the shelter on the handlebars when I'm out on the bike due to volume. This post shows the system I'll be trying in 2011 - a MLD SoloPro tarp & MLD Superlight bivy. Everything is a trade off so I'm giving up a little comfort for low pack volume.

Tarp: Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben SoloPro - 5-1/8oz (146g) with guylines
The tarp is a minimalistic design. Its a cuben fiber tarp cut long and narrow with a bonded ridgeline for 100% water tight protection. Due to its narrow design, a hard rain could get under the tarp and onto my bag. That where the Superlight bivy comes in.

Bivy: Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy - 7-7/8oz (225g)
The bivy is the larger size that MLD makes with the full mesh hood to minimize condensation in our typically humid weather. The Momentum fabric top is a water resistant breathable fabric that will keep any rain coming under the tarp from wetting out my down quilt. It also has a foot box made out of Epic fabric to help with condensation.

Poles: DAC 8.84mm OD Poles - 3-1/8oz (88g)
On hiking trips I use my trekking poles as the tarp supports. Obviously I won't have those on my bikepacking trips so I salvaged some DAC poles from an old tent. I selected different sections to adjust the length to work well with the tarp. I like to pitch the tarp low and wide for weather protection and to keep the support poles short, light and stiff. The rear pole is only two sections (23in) and the front pole is three sections (36in).

Tarp & bivy set up with Thermarest PL3

Front view of the tarp - set up low and wide

Plenty of weather protection with the bivy & tarp

Bivy alone with PL3 for size reference

Yellow ceramic coated stakes are great - very easily spotted in leaves
Low volume even without being packed efficiently


  1. Hey DOn! Nice setup..
    Id love to see a pic of your loaded bike next time you get it packed up.
    Brent Driggers

  2. Brent, I don't have the frame bag for my new bike yet but here's a post of the same basic system I'll be using.


  3. Don- did you apply the yellow ceramic coating to the stakes or purchase them already coated. If DIY how did you do it?


  4. Jermm - you can expect ceramic coated stakes at Gossamer Gear in the near future. The best way to contact them for more details is through their


  5. Love that tarp. I typically love a wing tarp, but I could see using an extra couple stakes for something that light.

    If I may strongly suggest: Lose the poles! You've got a lot of trees, sticks... and even in a worst case scenario you always have your bike. A simple bit of paracord as a ridgeline is always awesome. With my wing tarp I go tree to stake or tree to bike to stake. Then 2 more stakes for the corners. Sweet, simple, versatile. Same as this, just need to more stakes, but you drop a lot of side material. The wing is a little better at crazy storms, this a little better with a bivy or mid summer.

    In short, I think something like this may be my next tarp.