How to Pitch a Bedroom in the Woods

I’ve never been on an outdoor trip with my husband, Porter, for which he didn’t invent/adapt/sew multiple pieces of gear.  Even on our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, he entertained himself each evening by modifying our packs, stove, water purifier, and clothes while I entertained myself begging him not to modify something that worked fine. He’s on the mythic quest for the ultimate in ultralight backpacking.

I, on the other hand, am on the mythic quest for a comfy bedroom deep in the woods. But how to carry a bedroom when  even a tent is against his ultralight rules? So for our recent backpacking trip into the Indian Peaks Wilderness, he experimented with attaching his home-sewn 15 oz. tarp above a GoLite Shangri-La 2 Person Tent Nest, made of tight-weave mesh netting with a coated nylon floor.

After some debate over whether to pitch the GoLite Nest tent or the tarp first, we pitched the Nest, then the tarp, and would have had to re-pitch the Nest again had I not decided to cover the corner sticking out with a large trash bag.

Tip #1: Never go camping without a huge plastic bag.

Tip #2: Pitch either the mesh tent or the tarp first, it won’t turn out right anyway.

Attach the net ridge to the tarp ridge.

Porter sewed our tarp from a design by Ray Jardine, the guru of ultralight backpacking whose philosophy and techniques are known as the “Ray Way.” Porter modified Ray’s modifications by using spinnaker nylon, lighter than regular silicone nylon, and reinforced the tarp to attach clips from the Nest for more lift and room inside:

Grip-clips attach net roof to inside tarp roof.

Many steps later, involving loosening, moving, and tightening guy lines and pull-outs,  pounding in stakes that won’t stake due to bedrock, and tying taut-line and clove hitches, our tarp and mesh tent are assembled:

Porter modified Ray’s straight ridge with a catenoid curve to flap less in the wind.

“I like camping except it takes so long to set up camp,” I say to Porter.

“Setting up camp is camping,” he says. “That’s what camping is.

Whatever. And we still have to unpack our backpacks, roll out our sleeping bag and pads, filter our water, set up the stove and cook dinner, clean up, and hang the food bags high in a tree away from bears.

Tip #3: Don’t let Happy Hour catch you unawares, even at 10,372 feet. Carry a PlatyPreserve wine preservation bottle with a very nice Malbec. Who the hell cares how much wine weighs?!

That night it rains hard, and the wind blows off Red Deer Lake. With our tarp pitched sideways to the wind, we stay warm and dry.

Tip #4: Snuggle! It’s the whole point of camping!

The next morning we climb from Red Deer Lake to the top of Buchanan Pass at 11,837 feet, and return tired but happy to our campsite that evening. All of the tarps Porter made have low-impact colors, and we named this one NightSky for its deep blue, almost invisible in the trees:

Tip #5: When you break camp, fold the guy lines into the tarp to keep them from tangling, or you’ll never, ever get them untangled again:

The tarp rolls up small and goes into a stuff-sack (with its lightweight tarp stakes in a separate ditty-bag):

Since you don’t need tent poles, it weighs barely 1 lb. (Our Pacific Crest Trail tarp was even lighter at 7 oz.) The GoLite 2 Person Nest weighs 1 lb. 8 oz., or you can sew your own even lighter mesh net-tent from instructions in The Ray-Way Tarp Book. Where bugs are few, you don’t need even a mesh tent–just throw over your face a small piece of netting sewn to the top of your sleeping bag or groundcloth. (More about this in another post.)

Tip #6: Feel free to ask questions in the Comments. And for other posts on our outdoor escapades, as well as ultralight gear from sleeping bags to stove kits to making a wilderness fashion statement, sign up under “To Stay on the List.”

26 comments on “How to Pitch a Bedroom in the Woods

    • And thanks to you and your great Nordic walking blog, Claire, I always hike and backpack with my Nordic walking poles. Porter was about to use them to pitch the tarp and I said “Whaaat? With all these trees to tie guy lines to?”

  1. wow gail. i draw the line at having a tent. obviously, this has limitations — like i need to find someone else to carry it! the snuggling sounds like the best part!

  2. Got it…one heavy plastic bag… super duper ultra light! Tent & sleeping bag.
    I just enjoy the dialogue you guys have.

  3. Loved Porter saying setting up camp is what camping is! Which is exactly my take, which is why, now that my kid is grown, I seldom camp.

    Though there is also snuggling, yes. But I prefer to do it within ten feet of a hot tub…..

  4. Now if only you guys can tell me how to fit my VW camper van into a super light back pack, i’m there. In any case i get to live vicariously through you two.

    • Charlie, I aspire to a VW camper van. It was after we hiked the Pacific Crest Trai that I heard the term “car camping.” I had to ask Porter what that was, and I can’t believe I’ve never had a chance to do it.

  5. Oh, my gosh! Gail, you’re cracking me up! I can so relate . . . ! I haven’t been camping in forever but when I did . . . well, let’s just say that it was never light camping. It was more like gourmet camping!

    Nevertheless, I am living vicariously through your travels and loving every minute of it. I know that it was with some regret that you separated your blog into two but for me, THIS is the part of you that I’m loving most!

    Thanks so much for sharing a little humor, and a chunk of wakefulness. I’m right there with you . . . in spirit!

    • You’re right, Tamara, and this refocused combination of wilderness, how-to, and transformation with a sense of humor better reflects the dimensions of my memoir about our hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks for picking up on that, I’m having a ton of fun with it and may well develop the blog as a multimedia enhancement to the book.

  6. Fun to read this, although I might be too claustrophobic to try your shelter of choice! I backpacked for years, and I used to love my two-person North Face Sierra tent (double A-frame–it predated domes). Now my daughter and I car camp, and the two of us enjoy our roomy six-person REI dome!

  7. I think all the adjusting of the shelter would have driven me crazy. I like the “simplicity” of a tent. But it sounds like the two of you have fun on your trips.

  8. “Porter modified Ray’s straight ridge with a catenoid curve to flap less in the wind.” Come again??? I think the Universal Translator broke down.

    I’m with you about the time require to make camp and prepare meals. Seems like as soon as you finish breakfast in the morning, you’ve got to start preparing for dinner and bed again just to get all the chores done before nightfall!

  9. Not sure I could go without a tent – I do keep a sewing kit with me though…..definitely would need the wine if I decided to hike with you both !

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