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Modular Tent (2. Porch, Quick Shelter): Best UL "Micro" Tarp

Geertop's Ultralight Micro Tarp

Scramble's Geer-Mod Ultralight Sil-Tarps + DAC Featherlite NSL Pole(s)

Preface: Why a modular solution?

Firstly, if you spend a good deal of time sitting in and around your tent admiring the view or waiting for the sun to shine (i.e. camping), then this review may not be for you. If, however, you spend most of your time on the move and your tent is simply a place to crash before the next day's trek, then this review should be of some value ... we hope so.

On the move

The benefit of a traditional 'bivvy bag + tarp' is that the tarp on its own can be used as a temporary shelter when you're desperate for a break and there's no natural cover. Whether it's the burning sun, relentless rain or buffeting gales you need a rest from (to cook up a brew or just pass out for a while) a tarp is the ideal accompaniment for short stops on long treks. A tent is just too much hassle for a temporary shelter and is not the ideal setup when all you really want is a wind-block or a little overhead cover.

A good night's sleep

The benefits of a tent over a traditional (non-hooped) bivvy alone are summed up well by UKC:

Add rain or, perish the thought, a midge swarm to the bivvying experience, and you could be forgiven for craving a little less nature and a little more mediation. Faced with a night of condensation zipped tightly into your not-actually-so-breathable bodybag, head and all, the comparative luxury of a tent is infinitely preferable. If there's a strong chance of rain or unbearable numbers of biting beasties then go with a tent. Or stay at home.

Of course, adding a tarp helps with precipitation and allows gear to be sheltered too, but you still have the bivvy condensation issue and a tarp offers no protection from biting insects (or slugs, snakes or anything else you wouldn't want hanging off or crawling over your face at night) and in winter you still have less protection from the elements than you get with a tent.

The Solution

So we like the modularity and flexibility of the 'bivvy + tarp' setup, in fact I'd go so far as to say, for long distance trekking, having the option to take a break pretty much anywhere in all conditions is now something I won't forego (for its morale boosting effect alone). But, we also like the all-round protection of a tent. Typically, at Scramble we want it all, so what's the solution?

The Geertop UL Tarp makes a spacious porch for the Macpac Bush CocoonBeefing up the bivvy and slimming down the tarp

We've settled on a compromise that works really well for long distance treks over multiple days and weeks. Rather than go with a good sized tarp and a lightweight bivvy bag, we've chosen to beef up the bivvy and slim down the tarp - this means a hooped bivvy and an ultralight (UL) "micro" tarp.

When combined with a micro tarp, a hooped bivvy gives you the best of both worlds: full protection when sleeping but also excellent coverage outside the bivvy; the tarp acting as an extended "tent porch" with better than average headroom (100cm) for cooking, getting changed, and packing up your stuff when it's bucketing down in the morning. The tarp allows for greater venting, reducing the condensation associated with single-skinned shelters, and provides protection for all the stuff you can't fit or don't want inside your hooped bivvy.

By modularising the tent, we get a robust all-weather protective shelter to get through the night and an indispensable quick shelter for short breaks in poor conditions during the day.

For details of the "main body" part of our modular tent recommendation see our review here. The rest of this review will be focused on our top rated, quick shelter / modular tent porch, the Geertop UL 210 x 180cm Tarp.

As always, we're looking at the Geertop Ultralight Tarp (and recommended accompanying pole, cordage and fixtures) from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.

Test subject: Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Large (205 x 170 cm)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)


Tarp Materials: 20D Single-Side Coated Silicon 360T Ripstop Nylon -
Tarp Hydrostatic Head: 8,000mm
Sil Tarp 3.5 Dimensions (Length x Width): 205 x 170 cm
Sil Tarp 3.5 Weight (measured): Tarp + Tarp Bag 224g + 6g = 230g
Sil Tarp 5.0 Dimensions (Length x Width): 250 x 205 cm
Sil Tarp 5.0 Weight (measured): Tarp + Tarp Bag 274g + 6g = 280g
DAC NSL Pole Dimensions (3 sections, Total Height x Width): 123cm x 0.9cm
DAC NSL Pole Total Weight (measured, 3 sections + ends + arch connector): 83g
Weight: Fixings (Cordage, Pegs, Clips etc): 116g
Geer-Mod UL Sil Tarp ~3.5 sqm - Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £42.00
Geer-Mod UL Sil Tarp ~5.0 sqm - Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £46.20
DAC NSL Pole - Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £21.95

Available on SYSTEM


Scramble Review

Introduction: Gimme Shelter

These three images have something in common, there's no natural cover under which to shelter, whether from the sun, rain, hail or snow, or from strong gales. Having a small lightweight tarp means you can quickly setup a shelter, take a load off and actually enjoy a well earned rest no matter where you are. Without one, you'll likely either plod on waiting for that ideal, convenient landscape that never arrives, or sit down, be miserable for a while and curse the conditions and/or your bad luck. You could set up your tent, but really? For a lunch break?

Having the option to rest up pretty much anywhere in almost all but the most extreme conditions when covering long distances over multiple days and weeks makes a profound difference to your state of mind and morale.

Under the Geertop Tarp in Winter & SummerTaking a well earned break

Using a "micro" tarp allows you to pare down your sleeping quarters. In effect a kind of division of labour between where you sleep and where you do stuff, both under cover, but no longer under the same shelter. Sleeping doesn't require much headroom; cooking, changing clothes and packing up your gear are all easier with a little space overhead. Tents often have small porches, to store gear and perhaps cook in. Personally I prefer having more space for such activities and require less space when sleeping. Thus the hooped bivvy + micro tarp solution.

The Tarp

What's a tarp? A sheet of wind and waterproof material with attachment points. The Geertop Tarp is not a high end product, but what's important here is what it's made of: an ultra-light 20D silicon coated fully waterproof ripstop nylon, and that's ideal for our purposes.

For some context, Alpkit's Rig 3.5 lightweight personal tarp is 240 x 140cm (3.36 sqm and 300g) and Geertop's UL Tarp by comparison is 210 x 180cm (3.78 sqm and 212g). I have little doubt that Alpkit's Rig 3.5 is a superior product, but it offers less overall coverage (is a little narrow at 140cm wide), costs 2.5 times as much and weighs 40% more. The reason for the added weight is due to its superior hypalon attachment points and its use of Cordura instead of nylon. However, the Alpkit tarp is intended as a primary shelter; we require less of our tarp than is offered by the Alpkit model.

The attachment points on the Geertop Tarp are minimal, there are 4 small loops at each corner. These look precariously secured at first glance, but have stood up to high winds, hail and snow and have showed no signs to date of giving way. If they do, it's trivial to repair them in the field. That said, I'm tempted to contact Geertop with a modded version and see if they want to partner with us to produce a slightly reinforced model.

Tarp Accessories

Attachments & Cordage

We added high retraction bungee loops to the attachment points for use in high winds. Attaching the guylines via the mini carabiner to the bungee provides a good degree of give and reduces stress on the attachment loops and the pole.

For the guylines, we like 1.5mm Dyneema/Polyester cord which is very lightweight, strong and works perfectly with the Clamcleat Line-Lok Minis.

Geertop's Attachment PointsSecuring the Geertop UL Tarp

The Geertop "Tarp" has no grommet or hole for a pole. We use a Holdon Mini Clip which grips tighter the more it's pulled and reinforce the Geertop Tarp with spinnaker tape to protect it from the Mini Clip's "teeth".. The Mini Clip's hole is perfect for any 9mm pole.

DAC make an arch connector intended to connect poles at a 140 degree angle. This connector makes an excellent fixture for attaching the pole to the tarp either via the Mini Clip (locked in place with a small 9mm cut-down pole section (4) , as pictured below) or via a guyline (wrapped a few times round the arch connector's central protrusion) .

Manufacturing a hole for a Featherlite PoleManufacturing a hole for the DAC Featherlite pole

Pole & Pegs

DAC NSL poles are incredibly strong and extremely light. The 3 section pole is 123cm in height (including ends) and (as pictured below) weighs 83g. This provides approximately 100cm of completely covered headroom.

The Full UL Micro Tarp SetupThe UL micro tarp package weighs in around 400g

The total weight of the setup reviewed here is 425g. This could be brought under 400g by selecting different pegs, such as Lightwave's Flash Pegs (at 7g a piece). But the pegs pictured above are very durable and work well in all kinds of ground. The Clamcleat Titanium Titan Pegs (3) are insanely tough and work well on stoney ground and in high winds.

The Fabric Alone

The only item out of all those mentioned above that could be improved upon is the main item under review: the Geertop Tarp itself. However, 4 square meters of 20D silicone coated, ripstop nylon tent fabric weighing 36g/sqm from ExtremTextil, will set you back approx 39.6 Euros, whereas the Geertop Tarp (at full price) is $30 USD. So the Tarp (incl bag) is less than the price of the retail cost of the fabric (and when on offer almost half the price)!

So you can treat the Geertop Tarp as a cheap and easy way to get hold of the fabric and if you feel it's necessary, simply reinforce and/or add attachment points yourself. So far we've not needed to do this - but are currently working on a possible modification.

In Use

Whether as a quick shelter or as a tent porch, only one pole is necessary. When combined with the hooped bivvy in porch mode, the hoop of the bivvy provides the height at the back end. When used as a quick shelter, I peg the tarp down tight to the ground at the back, so it acts as a wind-block. Leaning your pack against the "back wall" creates a litte more headroom. Only two guylines are then required at the front corners, generally with the pole in the center (as pictured below). The Geertop Tarp is completely waterproof and windproof and so far has performed superbly as both a quick shelter and a tent porch.

Geertop's UL Micro Tarp in Porch ModeGeertop's Ultralight Micro Tarp in "Porch Mode"


Conclusion & Rating

In many ways the Geertop Tarp is not much more than an ideally proportioned, well finished, sheet of fabric. The point is the fabric is of good quality and is the ideal weight and strength for the purposes outlined above. At a feather over 200g, the Geertop 210 x 180cm tarp, combined with the high quality accessories outlined in this review provides excellent protection from highs winds, rain and snow for a total weight of around 400g. A convenient shelter for short stops on long treks and an ideal porch to append to a hooped bivvy for a flexible, modular tent system, all for half the price of the retail cost of the fabric. Though on the surface the Geertop Tarp may not look like a serious piece of kit, we think it's well worth investigating and can easily be modded to make a very good shelter that out-performs the offerings of better known high end brands. 


Product Images


Rating (out of 10)

The rating is for the Tarp alone (i.e. excludes accessories)

RRP Value *

* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.



Possible modifications

We're looking at cordura reinforcements at each corner with both Dyneema and bungee loops for pegging and guyline attachments. We'd likely keep the Mini Clip as this has performed well and allows one the freedom to place a pole attachment point at any part of the edge. We'd also add two reinforcements at the centre of each side to protect the tarp from such "grip clips".


Last Updated: 26/01/18

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