Terrible Tarping

Tarping is a lost art for so many reasons- and I have not pushed my daughter or my team to be experts at this critical survival skill

Tarping is a lost art for so many reasons- and I have not pushed my daughter or my team to be experts at this critical survival skill

It’s my fault.

We were in the woods this weekend practicing skills and learning or refining techniques for many of the things we teach. I was working on making a bowl with hot coals and a freshly cut round, and Abby worked on her fire skills. I decided to have Abby put up a tarp. This is something I have had her practice several times. It looked horrible. Stakes came un-stuck, the thing flopped in the wind, and if it had rained, she would have been soaked.

Teaching good tarping techniques is challenging at best. First, it is time consuming. Second it’s not a “cool skill” like making fire. Students get bored quickly and instructors get frustrated. However, it is a critical survival skill that gets overlooked. For one reason or another, building a shelter doesn’t appeal to most outdoorsman. Most (mistakenly) think they can build a shelter that would sustain them in bad weather. I can attest to a good shelter saving my skin on more than one occasion. A good shelter will keep you out of the rain and snow and is a fallback if everything else goes wrong, such as inability to get a fire going.

We have raised kids in an era where building forts is no longer cool. Even if it was, access to trees, roaming around after school on abandoned lots, and the over-protective nature (as compared to 30 years ago) puts kids in a disadvantage when it comes to constructing shelter. I don’t even teach it in most of my seminars and shove off to Dan or Travis at our day camp.

To really understand how to tarp well, you have to put one up on a regular basis. You have to do it when there is rain and snow. I had my best tarping students when I was an instructor for ground combat and survival training in Germany (where it always rains) and later at Ft Dix (where it rained and snowed). Here students were motivated to stay dry and comfortable and I was motivated to not write up a safety report for a kid going into hypothermia.

Here is where I failed.

  • I have had Abby set up her tarp using neatly set T-Post to simulate trees. Then she goes to the field where the trees are not so neatly set up. Different sizes, spacing, shapes, etc.
  • I have had Abby set up on flat ground, without 4 inches of pine needles or loose top soil.
  • I have had Abby set up with nice tent stakes and not make her own using her knife and thumb-sized pine branches.

I admit, in my own courses where I am often asked to teach at a school, or park, or other “pristine” location I have had to come up with my own simulated trees- thus the T-Post. I also admit that teaching students in the perfect conditions has been part of our practice. But this is changing as of today.

  • Abby’s tarp training will get re-launched immediately. She will learn how to cut her own stakes and putting up a tarp will be a regular routine. I will carry this over to my classes and when we have to drop T-Post to simulate trees, they won’t be so evenly spaced.
  • Trees will be planted at our base camp for the purpose of training tarping. It will take a few years to grow- but we need the landscaping anyway.
  • Tarping and shelter building will return as a vital skill to all our training.
  • All of my instructors along with myself will add this to our skill practice time- and will explore new ways to teach the tarping and shelter building skills on a regular basis.

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