Saturday, January 30, 2010

Praxis: Bashas (Tarp Shelters) and "Nite Ize"

Tarp Shelter, aka "basha" in the armies of Britain and the Commonwealth (except the the Australians, who call it a "hootchie") available at GearBroker.

The Trainer runs a hard-core Minuteman unit in the north woods of the upper Midwest. His boys (sorry, no girls) run winter survival exercises routinely in the cold and deep snow. They do not use tents, but rather tarp shelters. Tarps are preferable to tents for many reasons -- and in all seasons. They are lighter and less bulky than tents, can be used as a sunshade in warm weather or to provide the barrier to the elements in cold, rain or snow. Tarps are much faster to pitch and take down than tents and, most importantly, they are lighter.

The encyclopedia on tarp shelters by the Aussie David B. MacPherson is found here in pdf, and here in html, both courtesy of the Equipped to Survive website. From their introduction:

This document courtesy of David B. Macpherson provides an excellent introduction to the subject of tarp shelters. He provides a wealth of valuable and useful information on their use and construction, covering everything from the most basic immediate action shelter to sophisticated structures.

David notes that this is a work in progress and we encourage those with suggestions to contact David at the email listed at the bottom of the document. Please note that David is from Australia and that should explain some of the spelling and nomenclature differences that will be noticeable to U.S. readers.

Some designs in the document are far more practical than others, especially for use in the wilderness. David has included as many as he could for the sake of completeness, even if some are impractical in survival situations.

David noted when submitting this document, "I make mention in the document that Tarp-shelters have limits to how much bad weather they can take. I believe that anyone wanting to use ANY of these designs should try them out in a 'safe' environment first, rather than blindly rely on them (sight unseen/unevaluated) in a survival or wilderness situation."

He also commented, "some of these designs will work better depending on the type of tarp being used. Canvas, nylon, poly-tarp, each fabric type has its own special abilities and drawbacks."

Excellent illustrated tutorials on bashas can be found here at and here and here at OutdoorIdiots.

My suggestion would be to start at WoodcraftWanderings and OutdoorIdiots, print out the tutorials and then go to MacPherson's encyclopedia for further ideas.

Now the biggest pain with tarp shelters is the rope work (knots and tensioning) necessary to pitch them. Here is the modern solution to that:

Again from the Trainer, these come highly recommended. Meet the NiteIze, available from REI for $2.50 each, these little boogers make pitching and taking down a tarp shelter a breeze.

Here's the Nite Ize company page:


jon said...

he says, "some of these designs will work better depending on the type of tarp being used. Canvas, nylon, poly-tarp, each fabric type has its own special abilities and drawbacks."

what about furs?

RKV said...

Take a pebble, wrap tarp over it, tie a line around it and it anchors the tarp wherever you want it to be anchored. Free, 95% available on site, and you don't have to carry it in your ruck. And just learn the knots, you can't need more than 6 or 7 tops. They are easy.

The Trainer said...

Of course everyone should know six or seven basic knots. Where the Nite Ize come in handy is speed of operation both for tightening cordage and breaking down a shelter. Especially when things are wet and or frozen.

It's not a replacement for basic ropecraft, just an alternative to add to the 'tool box'.

Use it, don't use it. Your call. As for my small part of this 'merry little band of threepers', a good number use these, others do not. But at least they know it's a good option.

Additionally, cobbler's pegs (small pieces of a branch) are also fast and allow the user to leave cordage uncut, making it more versatile without risking a hole in his tarp/basha. See the USRSOG book 'Six Ways In & Twelve Ways Out' or other good books on the subject.

A superb basha can be located at:

It's more expensive than a tarp, but it's a bit more versatile as well.

As before, use it, don't use it, but don't dismiss good alternatives out of hand...

Anonymous said...

Great article, this is the reason I carry tarps (folded) with rope etc. in my car trunks, and SUV go boxes etc.
Absolutely I agree with this great idea.

Now if we could just get people to start carrying inflatable Obamas so we can create a "smokescreen effect." when we all hit the voting booths in 2010.

Tvarisch said...

I like to use a good military surplus poncho as my all-around shelter, and the Nite-Ize 'biners can be picked up at just about any truck stop too. I know the Pilot Travel Centers all have them, and I think the T/A and Flying J's do as well. I have several of the self locking 'biners, and some of the S-'biners too, which are all handy as all gitout.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Swedish camo! The most expensive (if you can find it) camo. IMHO one of the best patterns. Beware there is some asian imports out there.

Old NFO said...

Have always carried a tarp in the trunk, and added the nitiez to the tool box too!

Frosty said...

Sorry but NO to the Niteize gimmick. Learn to tie knots and practice. Yes to tarps or as 7 years of infantry taught me poncho hootchs.

Johnny said...

Knots? Rope tightening? I thought everyone used bungee cords.

jeffohio said...

Wow,swedish camo. I love it.

And also about the most expensive.

jeffohio said...

Swedish camo is the best!

Anonymous said...

The figure 9's are not a gimmik they flat out work and I dont care if you can tie a knot or not (little word play there)these are fast and aid you where it counts. Taking the shelter down! Tying knots is no problem, getting them out quickly is sometimes an issue and if you have to do it quick in the dark you might be in trouble. Th figure 9's make that a non-issue.


Anonymous said...

I noticed the manufacturer also has these things for keeping shoelaces tied:

Now if only they made something to keep my diapers up, I'd join all you fine fellows in the Minuteman lines.


pdxr13 said...

I always used knots before and it worked okay. The problem with knots is not the holding (which they do well esp. when wet and frozen) by the ability to adjust tension to reduce flapping or keep the drips over there .

I had an REI gift card with $15.05 on it and ordered 6 little Fig.9's and like them plenty. No shipping charge if you assign it to local store for pick up (3 miles, or 6 miles, whoo hoo). I miss the creosote-smell original REI store off of Broadway in Seattle.

A double half-hitch on the pokey end of the Fig.9 locks the cord in place allowing excellent one-way tightening on the loop end.

A cordpincher (as found on sleepingbag drawstrings) adds confidence that the tightening cord will not loosen and drop out, even after a night of blowing this way and that.

rupert said...

I am looking to buy a tarp to use as a shelter for a trip across France in May/June (so not so extreme I hope). I have seen a very reasonably priced tarp from Thailand in camouflage aviation ripstop nylon, 3x2m and weighing 420g - so 70gm2, waterproof with silver back. Do you think this would be suitable? And poles - would lightweight 45g fishing poles extendable 38-197cm be any use? Appreciate any advice on these and what might be better.