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Having lots of nice kit is great but it’s also expensive and the desire to have the latest, lightest or smallest whatever, is something many of us could seek counseling for! 

I sometimes wonder whether anyone looking to dip a toe in the murky waters of bikepacking could be put off by the seemingly infinite amount of cash that can (and often is)  spent in the pursuit of riding a bicycle for a few days without going home. To try and help redress the balance I’m going to see what can be achieved without resorting to your flexible friend or selling your offspring … first up, shelter.

Just over a fiver buys you all this.

An expedition to the ‘big city’ netted me everything required, tarps x 2, 50m of nylon line and some aluminium tent pegs … I went out with a tenner and returned with £4.53. There’s a couple of reasons I ended up with 2 tarps, firstly I didn’t think the biggest would be big enough in anything but ideal conditions and secondly, I thought the smaller one might make a decent groundsheet.

Obviously, at less than a pound each you shouldn’t be expecting a ‘tarp for life’ but you might be pleasantly surprised. The green tarp measures 180cm x 170cm, packs down to less than 1L and weighs 240g or 273g with lines attached. There’s just enough eyelets around the edge to make various pitches possible without resorting to tarp-clips, etc.

Maybe just not big enough?

The first thing I set-up was the simplest of all things, a lean-to. You’d have to be pretty compact to get full coverage but it would keep the worst of the weather at bay and if you slept with your legs towards the high end it could easily accommodate 2 big ‘uns.

It doesn’t stretch so pitches like Cuben!

I dismantled the lean-to, shortened my eco tarp poles and set it up as an ‘A’ frame … many peoples default tarp configuration. Once again, it would keep 80% of you dry but it’s just a little too short to prevent the remaining 20% from getting wet.

Lean-to with added ‘veranda’.


What I really needed was a bigger tarp but I didn’t have was a bigger tarp … but I did have  a second tarp. Combining the 2 suddenly opens up many more options and greatly increases your chances of remaining dry. Added to the lean-to, it creates a decent ‘veranda’ and transforms your shelter into something which will happily sleep 2.

‘A’ frame and modest car-port.


I set up the ‘A’ frame once again and set about extending it. The first thing I added might best be described as a car-port and while it doesn’t appear to offer a vast increase in space it actually makes a real difference. Now rather than sleeping length ways with either your head or feet poking out, you can sleep cross-ways with your entire person undercover.

Don’t forget to put the blue one under the green.


If you add the small tarp to the front rather than the side you can form a porch, sadly it’s only a porch on one side but it does now allow you to now lie length ways and provides a decent area to stash your gear.

Usually a sticky-out bit would be called a beak – we’ll say porch.


The reality is that while I’d happily sleep under these set-ups in reasonable conditions, I’d be a little reluctant in heavy rain or high winds. I’ve no doubt that the material is fully waterproof but the quality of manufacture would always be a concern, particularly the eyelets. With a little MYOG type magic you could easily add some cross-grain loops and do away with the suspect eyelets altogether but are you then entering a world where buying a ‘proper’ tarp is the more sensible option? … I suppose you have to make that choice for yourself.

There’s no denying that if you’re short of cash, don’t like doing things the easy way or just enjoying playing about with stuff, a cheap tarp (or maybe 2) could well be worth the investment.

Available from Poundland, Pound -Stretcher and most other discount shops nationwide.

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