Brooks-Range Tarpology: The Wonderful World of Primitive Shelter

Tarps are a simple pleasure. Light, efficient and easy to assemble, they’re a versatile tent alternative for versed backcountry campers. But don’t sweat it, first timers. It’s an easy learning curve. With a trekking pole, some tie-down cord and a tree or two, you can create a protective bastion from an ornery Mother Nature. Brooks-Range produces several sizes of simple backcountry tarps for a variety of needs and desires. Some of the most versatile are the Ultralite™ Guide (8 x 10 feet; 2-3 people), and Ultralite™ Guide + (10 x 10 feet; 3-4 people). Savvy fast packers, swarthy trail walkers or minimalist mountaineers can all relate to the virtues of these lightweight tools. With no tents poles, BR tarps weigh in under a pound. Armed with a half dozen adjustable tie down cords, tarps can be used as an awning for a tent, gear stash, or impromptu shelter. Tarp protocols not only help you escape from the rain and wind, they also include blocking the hot sun on blistering days. Additionally, they work as a simple ground cloth on starry nights, or for providing additional protection from the cold ground surface in snow caves. The list is long.

The Ultralite Guide + Tarp as a sleeping bag cover.

The Ultralite™ Guide + Tarp as a sleeping bag cover.

As a compliment to a formal tent shelter, a tarp can also make for an on-the-fly canopy for cooking. And because no one likes to setup a tent in the rain, a quick-standing tarp can offer a preliminary shield so you can take your time assembling your tent and camp scene. Brooks-Range tarps feature a seam that runs the middle of the 10-foot length. At its center there is a weather resistant reinforced anchored patch for a potential post—picture an adjustable trekking pole, plus 18 lightweight grosgrain ribbon nylon loops sewn to the corners and every two feet along the edges to facilitate a variety of set ups with tie downs, poles, trees or additions to other tents. The abundance of loops allows for myriad adjustments to contend with every changing weather considerations. Furthermore, three sides of the tarp have Velcro closures for additional protection against the elements.

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

Brooks-Range uses a specially designed fabric for the Ultralite™ products that gives it superior water and wind resistance, making it waterproof to a pressure of 1 pound per square inch—much more than the pressure generated by a hard rainstorm. Because of this custom finish, the waterproofness and ability to shear wind will not wash or peel off. Think longevity. Self-sufficiency is an art form in the backcountry, hence our versatile line-up of instant shelters and tarps. However you embrace mercurial weather in the backcountry, Ultralite™ tarps will keep your spirits up even as the showers come down.

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Fast and Light: 6 Tips to Carry Less Stuff in the Outdoors

By Liz Thomas 

Everyone knows that when you carry a lighter pack into the woods, you can hike longer, stronger, faster, and in less pain. But the nuts and bolts of lightening a pack can be intimidating—how do you know you’ve got what you need to be safe when you’re entering areas far from rescue crews? Over my ten years of long distance backpacking trails like the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and John Muir Trail, I’ve developed tips to keep my pack slim, trim, and to just the essentials. Here are six tips to getting your pack weight down that won’t leave you feeling out in the rain:

1)     Tailor your gear to your trip: The first time I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, I started with a guy who had climbed Everest—and it looked like he was carrying the gear to do it again! Meanwhile, my ultralight set-up was tailored to the desert (e.g., a small tarp and minimal rain gear) with the goal of being able to move 20+ miles per day from water source to water source. The poor climber didn’t make it 100 miles with his 100 pound pack before having to quit the trail. His back hurt from trudging through the sand and his mountaineering boots gave him blisters in the desert heat. Before you start a trip, think smart and check the weather forecast, other’s trip reports, maps, guidebooks, and topos to get an idea of the conditions and terrain. By tailoring your gear for your trip instead of for an Arctic expedition, you can reduce the amount of stuff you need.

Olympic National park Sentinel Peak

Atop Sentinel Peak in Olympic National Park. Photo credit: Grant Sible

2)     Turn everything into a multi-use item: Carry half the stuff by using one item for two purposes. Your gloves can become potholders, sports tape can double as temporary tent repair and blister care, and your hiking pole can hold up your tarp instead of tentpoles! If you want to get extreme, check out the Brooks-Range Elephant Foot Bag—a ¾ length sleeping bag that works as a sleep system with the Mojave jacket. With this system, your down jacket is the upper half of your sleeping “bag,” but you can also wear it while getting a pre-dawn summit.

3)     Drop the deadweight. Take your gear on a test overnighter or three. If there is a piece of gear you haven’t touched at all, maybe it doesn’t need to come along next time.

4)     Use your knife: Straps, tags, logos, and handles may seem inconsequential in altering your pack weight, but it’s amazing how chopping those grams and ounces off your gear can add up to pounds off your back! Just because a doodad came with your gear doesn’t mean that you will need it for the type of trips you take. Some packs come with two ice axe loops. For what I do—mostly long distance hiking—I only need one. If you don’t use a hydration pack, chop out internal pockets and loops designed to hold it up.  Figure out what all the features on your gear do and if you know you won’t use it, become the butcher with the lightest pack.

5)     Shrink the packaging: Just because the store sells sunscreen in 16 oz bottles or Sriracha in 24 oz bottles doesn’t mean you need to take the whole jug on your overnighter. Buy some travel size bottles and repackage everything before you hit the trail. You can find single serving options of almost any product you could ever want at

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

6)     Question Your Boy Scout Leader: We’ve all been raised to think of tents as A-frames and sleeping bags as a big roll up. But does your tent really need a floor? The Brooks Range Guide series of tarps provides shelter from wind and rain at an amazing weight by leaving out the floor. On a similar note, if you’re using a sleeping pad, ask yourself if you really need sleeping bag insulation under you? The Cloak series of sleeping quilts works on the principle that the back of a sleeping bag gets compressed at night. It’s the top of the bag that delivers the most heat per ounce you carry. Remove the back of the bag, and suddenly, you cut the bag’s weight almost in half without sacrificing warmth. When you’re willing to try out innovative designs that take a modern spin on traditional gear, you can easily chop off pounds from your packweight.

Carrying less stuff frees you—mentally and physically—to focus on the beauty of nature, where your route is taking you, and the companionship of your friends. Get out there and do a little experimentation and find out what having a lighter pack will free you to do.

Humphrey's Basin 2014-2

Backpacking in the High Sierra along Humphreys Basin. Photo credit: Alejandro Pinnick

Liz Thomas is an adventure athlete based in Denver who has backpacked over 10,000 miles across the U.S. on long distance hiking trails. You can follow her adventures at

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Ultimate Summer Setup: 5 Essentials for Backcountry Travel

With the low snow year, mountain ranges across the west are melting fast and summer adventures are quickly coming into view. While everyone has their favorite piece of gear, we feel it’s always necessary to have an ultimate summer setup of essentials that go along every time you leave the trailhead.

Brooks Range summer gear

Two fundamentals to always carry into the backcountry are a hardshell and a puffy. You might not need either of them over the course of a weekend outing, but they are both invaluable when Mother Nature doesn’t follow the forecast. Given their weight to value ratio, there is never not a reason to pack both. Light and compactable, a hard shell and puffy can live forgotten in the deepest recesses of your pack until the time is right. The Brooks-Range LT Armor Jacket is a scant 13 ounces of wind and weather protection. Made of breathable Polartec Neo Shell™ fabric, the hooded hard shell features two simple chest pockets and is fully seam taped for simple but complete weatherproof protection in any mountain environment.

Overnighting? The Cloak sleeping bag series serves as an elegant, trusted and versatile backcountry refuge. Drape it around you at camp, sleep with it under the stars, or huddle beneath it during morning coffee before stowing it away for another adventure in the hills. Because so many campers sleep warm, traditional bags are often too hot and make overnights muggy and uncomfortable. In return, they get a poor night’s sleep. For versed backcountry aficionados, the Cloak sleeping bag series is a smart alternative to camping traditionalism. With three temperature-rated quilts—45, 30 and 15 degrees—the Cloak is a zipperless down blanket that has multi-purpose applications for myriad camping needs and demands. Treated with DownTec™ weatherproofing, these 850+ fill goose quilts provide premier loft with maximum compressibility and minimal weight penalty.

Cloak 15 lifestyle

Along those same lines is the Cirro Synthetic Hoody, a 60-gram Primaloft insulated back up plan. Temps can plummet at night or winds can rattle you to your core. Built with a lean but strong Pertex Quantam face fabric, the Cirro is a hearty insurance policy when things get chilly.

To further keep with the essentials but maintain that svelte pack appearance, our Foray two-person tent is an ideal shelter for fast packing as well as lax car camping. Weighing in at just over three pounds, the Foray is fully seam taped and features a roomy 6-square-foot vestibule for organizing, and full mesh canopy for maximum ventilation on muggy expeditions. It also boasts a no drip front door, which eliminates rain from dripping into the tent when the fly is open.

Brroks-Range Foray Tent

Then there’s getting lost. Or not. Brooks-Range offers a one-and-done UTM Reader™ for backcountry adventurers who enjoy the virtues of orienteering through wilderness playgrounds. It contains all the UTM’s, scales, and slope indexes used on backcountry topographic maps in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Japan. Measuring only 4¼” x 7”, the non-glare, flexible plastic slips easily into a pocket, and prevents broken corners or tearing in cold and severe conditions. Grid, inclinometer, common conversions, and detailed instructions are included, making the Brooks-Range UTM Reader as vital as a map and compass for backcountry travel and orienteering.

However your summer escapades take shape, having the crucial pieces for backcountry travel can elevate your experience no matter how wet, windy or wild the trails get.


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