In late September I was planning a 17-day, 240-mile canoe trip across the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) that would take place in October. While most of the trip would be paddling, we would also need to portage all our gear over rugged trails between lakes. Also, we would end our trip on Lake Superior after carrying our gear and canoes down the 8.5-mile Grand Portage. We wanted to single carry the portage, meaning that we’d carry everything – our packs, our paddles, lifevests and canoe — in one go instead of carrying the canoe and coming back for the portage packs. We needed to go light.
During planning I thought that it might be fun to test a pyramid tarp. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen them used on different expeditions: an online paddling friend recommended them and I’ve seen some ultralight hikers praise them as the best all-around shelters. Much to my dismay, I found out that the company I wanted to order from had a four to eight week waiting list. That’s when Philip mentioned that I should talk to BearPaw Wilderness Designs.
After exchanging emails with John Stultz, the owner of BearPaw, I decided to order his Luna 2 in a custom color and with a few modifications to make it work with a canoe paddle instead of a trekking pole. The main issue was making the tarp a different height, and a secondary issue was getting it to me in a little over a week before I left on the trip. Both made it feel a little iffy. Much to my surprise, because I live in the middle of nowhere and shipping takes longer, the tarp showed up at my door right on time with the requested modifications.
I needed modifications, because the pyramid needed to accommodate either a 54 or 56 inch paddle. Canoe paddles aren’t adjustable like trekking poles, so my paddle wouldn’t fit into the tarp without modification. In the end, instead of adjusting the height of the tarp, Stultz designed a suspended pocket for the paddle’s handle to slip into. He made it easily removable in case I didn’t like it. He also shipped me a trekking pole jack. I find it rather incredible that he could come up with a working prototype for a canoe paddle, sew it and ship it all in under a week.
When I got the tarp, I quickly checked it over. It’s made from 1.35 oz. silnylon. In the past when I’ve ordered from cottage manufacturers, I’ve been disappointed with the quality of the stitching. The stitching on the BearPaw Luna seems better than I’ve had before, but still wavered in places. It seems plenty strong, but isn’t as straight as the stitching on my silnylon products from Integral Designs or Granite Gear. The rest of the tarp looked fine, except that one of the cord locs was sewn in upside down. The advertised weight is 18 oz. and mine (after I cut out the paddle holder modification – see below) weighs 20 oz. including the stuff sack and guy line for the stake outs.
After setting it up a couple of times, I decided that I didn’t like the paddle modification, so I cut it out and designed a homemade sleeve that holds the pole jack. It slips over the paddle’s handle and extends the paddle’s height to the 58 inch minimum suggested height. In practice, I found that 58 inches seems too short, because some of the walls sag inward at that height if the ground is not level. To fix the problem in camp, I found a rock or two to jack up the pole to 60 inches. At 60 inches everything seemed taut. Eventually, I discovered that I could get larger rocks and offset the paddle instead of having it come down into the middle of the floor space. As I was using the tarp solo, it made for lots of room inside.
There are two other ways to set up the tarp. It comes with a line-loc sewn to the peak, so you can hang it. In retrospect because the BWCA has lots of trees, this may have been a better method. The other way is using two kayak paddles, one on the back of the tarp and the other down the center of the door. Both are lashed to the peak line- loc. The paddles stay outside the tarp, and it seems sturdy enough, but I didn’t test it in any conditions as we didn’t bring kayaks on this trip.
I was pretty excited to try a pyramid after reading about them for years, but the jury is still out for me. I usually like to use something for 30 days before I make a judgment, and because I only have 17 days on this one I’ll call this a midterm review. I really liked the amount of room I got inside the pyramid. For one person, it felt luxurious. The Luna 2 is 106 inches long and I never felt like my head or feet were cramped or that they would hit the sides of the tarp during the night.
I’m a photographer and I think the shape and color look really cool in pictures so that’s a big plus for me. On the downside, the setup with having to put a sleeve over my paddle and find rocks feels fussy to me. It takes about the same amount of time it takes me to set up a tarp, so the pyramid doesn’t have any advantages over a tarp in that regard. In fact, during a few nights I suffered bad condensation in the pyramid; in a tarp I wouldn’t have had it.
With a trekking pole, the pyramid sets up much faster than a flat tarp. On the days that it rained, the Luna kept me dry except when opening the door. With the door open, the rain came straight in. In the wind, the Luna 2 felt solid. I’m just not sure I’m a pyramid type of person yet.
If I were to order the tarp again, I’d order gold instead of yellow and I’d specify that I wanted the zipper flap cover the same color as the rest of the tarp. It would look better in pictures that way. I’d also consider going up in size to the Luna 4. For only 8 oz. more, it’s twice the space and it’s almost tall enough to stand up in. For the Luna 4, I’d consider buying a pole or using it only on kayaking trips.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the BearPaw Luna 2. I’m happy I tried it. Stultz went out of his way to design a prototype for me and get it to me on a very short deadline. It seems like a good price for what I got and it functions pretty well.
Bryan Hansel is a writer, photographer and sea kayaking instructor. He lives in Grand Marais, Minnesota where he runs PaddlingLight.com, an online resource for paddlers. It offers information about lightweight canoe and kayak travel, how-to articles, trip reports, adventure stories, kayak and canoe plans and reviews.