I love camping. Sleeping under the stars is one of the greatest, most relaxing ways to spend time outside. Except if it starts raining. Then, camping sucks harder than a Nickleback song. I would much rather deal with the auditory junk punch that is Chad Kroeger and crew than have to handle a sodden campsite. Rain makes everything, well, rainy. It’s a very, very sad and very, very wet outdoor bummerfest. But it will serve you well to remember there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.

A few years ago, I made the trek from Colorado to Red Lodge, Montana, to meet my bud Erik for the opening of Beartooth Pass on Memorial Day weekend. The plan was to ski the pass all day long for three days and camp down low in the woods by a creek. It was a beaut of a campsite. But, Mother Nature had a smidge of a different idea for how the weekend should go.

A warm, sloppy snowstorm engulfed the pass, which transformed into heavy rain at our camp. And when I say heavy rain, I mean a “garden hose flow” type of heavy rain. But Erik had the adventure-saver in his truck: one big ass tarp. We skied wet, heavy sludge up high and dried out under our comfortable canopy in the lowlands. Our tents were warm, waterless sanctuaries of down-filled dreams. Each morning, we sipped steaming coffee and ate pounds of eggs and elk sausage while the serenading tit-tat-splat-splots of rain hit the tarp above our heads. It was one of those magical camping trips where every memory is like the first sip of hot cocoa.


Now, that is a far cry from last May’s river rip on Westwater, where we camped in eff you rain that misted nonstop for several million hours. A huge tarp would have been nice. My pal Tanya luckily had a canopy for the kitchen, which we all huddled under until sleep beckoned us to our tents. Everyone looked like sandy, waterlogged rats in the morning. Until the sun finally came out, it was a grumbly, low morale type of breakfast scene. We know better. We should have had more tarps.


• One tarp (at least) – A 10×12-foot is fine for solo missions but camping with friends is always better. A 20×30 tarp can fit two, maybe three tents under it. A 40×60 tarp will provide enough dry ground space for a handful of tents, a kitchen, and a dance floor, which is choice. Go bigger? Sure, why the hell not?

• A buttload of parachute cord – having more is always better than wanting more. I roll deep in the twine game, always. Make sure to get neon p-cord. It is far more stylish than drab earth tones and will curb accidental nighttime tripping/strangulation immensely.


• The creativity of a small child – remember those couch cushion forts you built when you were six or those clubhouses you fashioned out in the woods with old plywood? You’re gonna need to call upon your inner adolescent imagination construction crew.


• Think angles – go high, go low, and create sharp, taut edges. Think of the tarp as a diamond rather than a square or rectangle. Also, avoid drooping. Rain will pool in floppy slack and you’ll be forced to perform the under-tarp rain slap every few minutes. Tie off to trees, rocks, bushes, or that one friend who didn’t bring any food or coffee.

• Knots-n-Hitches – a trucker’s hitch, clove hitch, tension hitch, and will knot (as in “will not come untied”) are your best friends. Get to know them well.

• Adapt – a tent is essentially the clubhouse you always wanted when you were a kid. Adding a giant tarp to the situation means more cool stuff to play with. Toy with your design. Catch the rainwater rolling off the tarp’s corners in your Nalgene and camp cookwear. Add downed logs to loft the tarp. Adorn your canopy with pine cones. Just have fun with it. Yeah, rain sucks but if you’re smiling, you’re doing it right.


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