Project reviews

SUL Tarp Project Review

In my previous post, I reviewed the YAMA Bug Shelter; a diy net-tent kit with a catenary cut ridgeline. In this post I review the SuperUltraLight / SUL Tarp from BackpackingLight.com. This is post 6 in my do-it-yourself backing gear series. You can read parts 1 (modified Jones Tent II), 2 (Alpine Ruck Sack), 3 (GVP pack), 4 (sleeping quilt) and 5 (YAMA Bug Shelter).

The three items of backpacking gear that contribute the most to the weight you’d be carrying are your backpack, sleep system (sleeping bag, sleeping mat and pillow) and your shelter (tent, poles and pegs). In 2006, BackpackingLight.com published a series of articles called “Five Yards to SuperUltralight”. This article demonstrates how to make a superultralight (SUL) pack, tarp, and stuff sack from 5-yard long piece of silnylon. Read part 1 and purchase parts 2-4 here:

5 Yards To SuperUltraLight part 1

Note this pattern is for personal use only.

For the purposes of my review, I’m going to summarize the instructions, tell you what I did differently (if anything) and share my general thoughts about sewing the project.

I originally purchased this series of articles in 2013. I sewed the backpack it describes in 2015. For this post I’m focusing on the tarp and stuff sack that I sewed in 2020.

Let’s get started.

Step 1 Cutting the materials

Silnylon is extremely slippery. The best options I’ve found for transferring patterns to it are grease pencils (marks are removable with a soapy sponge) and permanent markers (mark’s aren’t removable). I drew a paper template for the top 23 inches of the SUL tarp to help me draw the ridgeline curve on both pieces. A piece of rope came in handy for correctly drawing the ridgeline curve (it’s a catenary curve).

Paper template held on grey carpet by pattern weights
Paper template for ridgeline

As per the instructions, I drew all the tarp pieces on the silnylon before cutting anything out. I cut my staff sack and re-enforcement patches from pieces of scrap silnylon leftover from making my YAMA Bug Shelter.

Khaki silnylon on a grey carpet
Main pieces of SUL Tarp
Step 2 Stuff sack

I added a hand-written fabric label to my stuff sack so that I would know that it’s for my SUL Tarp (and not the YAMA Bug Shelter.)

Khaki silnylon rectangle with a white "SUL" label
My stuff sack
Step 3 Matched pairs

Before I sewed my SUL Tarp, I practiced the flat felled seam on some scraps of silnylon. Next I filled several bobbins with thread and changed my machine’s needle to 70/10.

2 pieces of khaki silnylon joined with a flat felled seam
Flat-felled seam in silnylon

I double checked that the front peak and rear peak panels matched the lengths of the front and back edges of the main panel, Fortunately I had an extra silnylon as it took a few tries to get my rear peak right. For my third attempt, I drew an 8” x 36” rectangle and cut it in half on the diagonal to create two right angle triangles. As per the instructions, I reshaped the right-angle corner.

Now I was ready to sew the main panels together, the front peak together and the rear peaks together. I pinned perpendicular to the first row of stitches for the flat-felled seam. For the second row of stitches, I pinned the flap together with the pins parallel to the stitches.

Khaki silnylon with a pinned seam allowance on a green background
Pinning the seam allowance of the flat felled seam

As I stitched, I held the silnylon taught on either side of the seam and nudged the flap down into place.

Closeup of sewing a flat felled seam in khaki silnylon
Sewing the seam allowance of the flast felled seam
Step 4 Peaks

Fortunately I checked the bottom of my seams before trimming (the second step of the flat-felled seam) as there were significant wrinkles when I sewed the rear peak. I had to redo the rear peak seam twice before I was satisfied. I pinned the main body, peak and the seam allowance I wasn’t going to trim together along each seam. Isolating the seam allowance I was going to trim from everything else, enabled me to trim with the confidence of knowing I wasn’t going to cut the peak or body fabric by mistake.

Closeup of trimming seam allowance in khaki silnylon with a green background
Trimming the seam allowance of a flat felled seam
Step 5 Re-enforcement patches

I added the optional closeline loops when I sewed on the peak reinforcements.

Step 6 Hemming

I used a 1/2” wide rolled hem and lots of pins.

Step 7 Tie-outs

I tried to make my x-box stitches large to distribute stress along a larger area of the tarp. This is especially important for the peak tie-outs as these two points support the entire tarp.

Seam sealing

This step isn’t mentioned in the tutorial. I know from previous experience that sewing creates millions of tiny holes in the otherwise waterproof silnylon. This step needs to be done in a well ventilated area, so I’ll be doing it outside this summer. I’ll add some additional photos to this post then too.

Conclusion

Here are some photos of my SUL Tarp.

Side view of my khaki SUL Tarp
Side view of my completed SUL Tarp
Front view of my khaki SUL Tarp
Front view of my completed SUL Tarp

It’s a non-freestanding shelter that can either be set up with poles (or trees etc) outside of the tarp or with poles positioned at the peaks. It was hard to set it up under tension in my living room, so I’ll be adding some additional photos of it in use later this year. In its stuff sack with guylines attached it weighs 295 g (10.4 ounces). Obviously it will weigh a little more once the seams are sealed.

With only main six pattern pieces to sew, it really comes together quickly. So much so, that I sewed a second SUL Tarp with the dimensions customized to fit the length and height of my YAMA Bug Shelter.  In its stuff sack and with guylines attached, my customized SUL Tarp weighs ~ 200g (7.0 ounces). The combined shelter weight of my YAMA Bug Shelter and customized SUL Tarp is ~496 g (17.6 ounces). Seam sealing will add some additional weight.

I  think the SUL Tarp is a great option for a lightweight, solo, backpacking shelter. It is intended to be used alone or with a ground sheet. Its light weight also makes it a good option for an emergency shelter when day-hiking or for an Emergency Preparedness Kit (get home bag or evacuation).

Do you backpack? Have you made any backpacking gear?

Tanya

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Sewn By Tanya Project Review : SUL Tarp by BackpackingLight.net

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