A modest review: Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp

Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp
A simple, lightweight, flexible shelter – Terra Nova’s Competition 1 tarp.

“…It’s made for a great temporary shelter when out working on the hills and of course a home for the night too. It’s a decent size for solo use, is light and packs extremely small and pitching options are pretty much unlimited….Sure, there are numerous fixed shaped tarps out there and what have you – but they don’t exactly afford you the flexibility to pitch in other ways like a regular tarp can.”

I’ve had the pleasure of using quite a diverse range of shelters over the years but there’s been one I’ve never fully explored – and that’s the humble, tried and tested tarp.

Now, I’m well aware some people may look at these shelters and think they’re not really suitable for UK use on the hills, and to a point their concerns are quite valid. But never judge a book by it’s cover, eh?

On the odd chance I’ve tarped in the past, it’s always been via the use of an ex-army poncho. By and large I enjoyed using it but more often than not it was rare it ever saw the light of day in recent years. So it was with a little apprehension that I agree to try out one of Terra Nova’s new SilNylon tarps some months ago.

So, first off I’d like you dear reader to consider me and my thoughts in the following post to be very much that of a ‘newbie’. Aye, I’ve used them before but I don’t consider myself to be proficient with the use of such shelters as generally I much prefer tents.

Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp. Lean to configuration
The ‘lean to’ configuration in action in the Peak District National Park.

Even so, I’ve come to really enjoy tarping when out and about on my trips. Just like using bivouacs they do contribute a lot to that feeling of being ‘outdoors’ and exposed to the elements. Some may not like this of course and prefer the cocoon and comforts a tent affords. But I thrive on such scenarios. I love the smell of fresh morning dew blowing gently in a breeze upon my face, the odd splatter of drizzle bouncing ever so slightly into my shelter, lying in bed cosy and warm alert to all the surrounding sounds of the land around.

Tarps again are very much like bivvys in that you can essentially almost pitch them anywhere you choose. You’re not limited by space, or height but only by the configuration you choose to set up. And this is where some people (including myself many moons ago) lose confidence in using a tarp as a shelter for the night.

The number of configurations you can pitch a tarp makes for a brilliantly versatile bit of kit. But at the same time it can be confusing at first in how to pitch a given style and more so when is it best suited given our ever changing and unpredictable weather.

You’d also think they may flap incessantly like a plastic bag stuck on a tree branch in the wind. They can do of course but that really depends on where and how you pitch (the same can be said for some tents!)

Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp, wild camping, 'flying diamond' pitch
A ‘storm worthy’ pitch of the Competition 1 tarp – though the weather turned out fine
on this night out.

Generally speaking, I’ve always found the ‘flying diamond’ and ‘lean to’ pitching styles to be best for use on my travels. The latter for when the weather is predominantly fair and the former for when conditions are shaping up to be somewhat worst.

Of course, it’s best to practice and practice again pitching a tarp at home in your back garden or on a campsite before heading out. You’ll need a suitable amount of shock cord and pegs, and indeed a couple of walking poles will be handy (no pun intended) for propping up the shelter. After all, it’s not like much of our uplands are covered in trees as suitable supports – and though the odd rock or boulder can come in handy, they can be awkward to find where you are able to comfortably lie underneath.

Finally, you have to consider the predominant wind direction. It’s no fun waking in the night to find the lee of the weather that was against your shelter to have then altered and now blowing straight in at you and your bed!

Around £50 RRP will get you the Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp. It’s a considerable size for solo use and can easily accommodate 2 people if needs be. It measures 245cm by 148cm, features reinforced eyelets, webbing tapes for pitching, and weighs a fantastic 290g. It packs down to the size of 2/3 apples. It easily fills up a tiny corner of your rucksack. So, even if you’re not planning on spending the night out it does make for a handy back up shelter. I’ve used it often just to shelter out of the winds and rain when out on shoots.

The material the tarp is made from is Silicone coated Nylon with a hydrostatic head of 5000mm – so it’s perfectly waterproof and gives good strength and stretch when in use. Of course, SilNylon is prone to a bit of sagging after prolonged rain but I’ve not found this to be a problem at all. More a blessing in truth. I like the stretch such fabrics afford. It makes pitching easier in tricky places, and gives good bounce and energy absorption in high winds.

In truth, I’ve only used square shaped tarps in the past and in this case the Competition 1 is a slight rectangle. So for some configurations when pitching will involve you having to alter it slightly or change it all together if you’re familiar with the former. Even so, the versatility and options trumps all that. You can literally pitch it how you like.

Flying diamond, Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp, Lake District National Park
Morning at camp packing away – with the ‘flying diamond’ pitch.

Given it’s relative size, the ‘flying diamond’ pitching style gives you a pretty bomber shelter to sleep under when out on our hills and moors. There’s plenty of room to make your home underneath and be sheltered by any side driven rain thanks to the decent number of webbing straps along the edge of the tarp.

Unfortunately, if I had one minor gripe this particular model doesn’t have a lifter in the middle of the tarp. It’s not something I’d say makes this tarp null and void – but a lifter is always handy in ensuring a taught pitch. Instead I’ve come to use my spare walking pole to prop up the tarp underneath if weather conditions are a little hairy for some configurations.

Competition 1 tarp, Lake District wild camping
I’ve set the height of the tarp to about 120cm here on a camp in the Lake District National Park.

If things look set to be really bad, you can obviously adjust the height of the tarp to as low as you comfortably want. Inches off the ground if needs be. And if the weather is favourable you only need adjust the height of your walking poles and a couple of cords to open up the view more and let in some fresh clean air.

So, again the versatility of using a tarp is fantastic but it’s important one practices pitching the different styles. It’s not rocket science by any means. But it’s always best to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best in my book.

Terra Nova tarp camping
A simple and cheap grounsheet – Polythene cut to shape as a groundsheet.

When it comes to camping under the tarp, I’ve used some extremely affordable polythene sheeting from a local DIY store and cut it to the shape of my mattress to help keep it dry and puncture free from the ground. It packs tiny and weighs nothing (put it in your trouser pocket if you really wanted!). And it’s wise to use a lightweight sleeping bag cover too as inevitably some dew will form on humid nights or even the odd splash of rain will invade your space if the prevailing conditions alter slightly. For my tarping trips out I’ve used Rab’s Survival Zone Lite.

Wild camping
Nights out in the great outdoors – I love it!

All in all I’ve enjoyed using the Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp immensely. It’s made for a great temporary shelter when out working on the hills and of course a home for the night too. It’s a decent size for solo use, is light and packs extremely small and pitching options are pretty much unlimited. You’ll need props for it such as walking poles (I’ve even cut up some spare tent poles to use on occasion) and cords too. It’s worth practising tying knots as well. A favourite of mine is the following (no need for clamcleats etc):

This website is worth visiting too for learning and practising knots: www.animatedknots.com

Lake District wild camping
A sneaky stealth Lakeland camp back in early May.

Is tarping for everyone? Maybe not. But it’s definitely worth a go and at the price the Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp sells for, it requires some serious consideration. There’s lots of fun to be had with them. Sure, there are fixed shaped tarps out there and what have you – but they don’t exactly afford you the flexibility to pitch in other ways like a regular tarp such as this can. With such fixed pitch products, I cannot help but think you ought as well just pitch a flysheet only tent. Much as my friend chose to do on a hike through the Dove Valley some months ago HERE.

Having used this shelter for quite some time now in various conditions from benign to somewhat bloody awful – the tarp and it’s various configurations has handled pretty much everything thrown at it. Thankfully, I’ve not had to wake in the night and make any necessary adjustments either. And even if I had to, it wouldn’t take much time to do so as things are just so damn simple.

If there’s one memory that reignites my interest in tarping nowadays, it was while on a camp in the Lake District just a few weeks ago that I woke in the night to horrendous winds and heavy rain. It did feel a little bewildering to be lying underneath the tarp peeping out into the dark to see the downpour so close and exposed to my face while cocooned in my sleeping bag.

It was great! I loved it! And sure I’ve enjoyed evenings out in calm breezes under a warm setting sun (which hasn’t been too often I have to admit of late) – but it’s that one night with that sense of exposure to the elements and feeling really quite at one with the landscape that still lingers in my mind and consequently makes me want to reach for the tarp when heading out on another trip.

Maybe that’s just me? And I guess similar to other more experienced veteran tarp users too. And perhaps such scenarios will excite you too? Who knows? It’s worth giving a go this tarping and it’s one that stirs memories from my teenage years camping out in woods along with that sense of excitement and adventure of being ‘out there’.


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