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November 2023

Gear Review: MSR Thru Hiker 100 Wing Tarp


Guest Authors: Nathan Slater & Sanesh Iyer from @alittlepaddle

How we use our MSR Thru Hiker 100 Wing tarp to stay dry and comfortable in the near-constant damp of North America’s Pacific Coast.

A tarp is a critical piece of equipment for any backcountry expedition. It can serve as a wind block, cooking shelter, tent cover, or even a sun shade. In the West coast kayak world, it is an ever-present feature that helps to maintain civility and comfort. A standing-height kitchen tarp creates a sense of enclosure on drizzly evenings and a low-slung tent tarp provides peace of mind during overnight downpours. Similarly, a tightly hung wind break and well placed sun shade quickly make places of refuge from harsh weather.

Other creative uses for a tarp include: a sail, an emergency bivy sack, a makeshift poncho, a water collector, and even a tablecloth. It might be one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in my arsenal.


The art of setting up these various shelters is lovingly called tarpology. It’s basic tenets are tension and drainage. To avoid pooling, it’s important to have a few high points and several low spots with enough angle between them to guide the water. My process always begins with an inspection of the area in search of sturdy lashing point - both high and low. On the beach, I search the upper edge for sturdy trees or for tall root balls on driftwood stumps. In the woods, I’m looking for flat ground and roots to use as tie-downs. In a pinch a sturdy stick, hiking pole, or spare paddle can be used as an upright but then this requires extra care to be paid to ensure proper tension in all directions. Once I’ve identified one, two, or three high points, I string the tarp up between these and begin the process of anchoring all other points low.

My go-to tarp style is the ‘A frame’. This setup utilises a ridge which creates high points in the tarp through its center. The four corners are tied to the ground which gives the tarp adequate drainage and it’s characteristic roof shape. The MSR Thru Hiker 100 Wing is perfect for this configuration as it has strong aluminum hardware at the center of the ‘short side’ of the tarp which can accommodate trekking poles as supports. The centerline also offers a sewn and seam-sealed ridge which increases it’s strength. The four corners are also reinforced and have plastic hardware that allows for quick and easy tensioning of the lines. There are also four additional reinforced attachment points along the ‘long edge’ of the tarp to synch it down in high winds. When the tarp is pitched low (for a tent cover or sleeping shelter) pegs can be used to secure the four corners while additional lengths of rope can be added when tying-off the corners for a standing-height tarp. When adding ropes to a tarp, 2-3mm diameter reflective line is the way to go (you’ll thank me later).

Things to keep in mind while choosing a tarp:

  • First, check to ensure that the tarp is seam sealed. Most are, but it’s good to double-check! If the main seam that runs through the center of the tarp isn’t sealed, then water will eventually drip through during heavy downpours.
  • Second, you’ll want something durable of it is going to last many seasons of heavy rain and wind. Make sure the lashing points are all reinforced and the tarp is made of a durable rip-stop material.
  • Third, ensure that you’re picking a tarp that is the size and shape for your needs. Will you be camping alone or with a group? Will you be mostly using it for a kitchen or for a tent/shelter? A 3m x 4m rectangle is a good standard, but there are lots of variations from which to choose.
  • Finally, stuff the tarp into its bag to ensure that it’s packed volume is manageable. Each time you move camp, your tarp will need to be stored in your backpack or kayak, so packed volume is important. Somewhere in the 1-4L range is ideal dependant on the tarps pitched dimensions.

Whether your trip is wet and dreary, cold and windy, or hot and scorching, a tarp is a critical piece of equipment to maintain civility and comfort. For a two person expedition, the MSR Thru Hiker 100 Wing is a great size and shape while providing seam-sealed, durable, and easily packable comfort.