MYOG: Rope Tarp.

I recently bought a load of fabrics to make a bivy-bag, but the problem is bivy-bags are very incredibly gigantically complex and unbelievably difficult things to make. Fabrics are supplied as a big rectangle, and from that big rectangle the fabric has to be somehow transmutated into a sleeping-bag shape. I'm not exactly a whizz when it comes to sewing, so I decided to warm up my skills with an easy project, and then later move on to a bivy bag. The easy project was a rope tarp.

Making a rope-tarp involves taking the rectangular piece of fabric you buy, and turning it into a rope tarp, which is a rectangular piece of fabric. You can probably just lay the fabric on the ground and put your rope on it and loudly call it a rope tarp and that's basically job done. Even ordering and renaming a piece of fabric is over the top, most people pick up one of those sturdy massive blue nylon Ikea bags and use that as a rope tarp/bag. But would Tomás invest just 5 SEK and 30 seconds to keep his rope organised? No, not when he can spend one hundred times the cash and ten thousand times the time! This is not the smartest guy in Scandinavia, or in Stockholm. Or in his apartment.



The idea with a rope tarp/bag is to have something to store the rope and quickdraws and slings in, and then when you go to climb you can roll out the tarp and stand on it as you belay (so you don't get dirt and stones embedded into the super soft rubber of your climbing shoes) and also coil the rope onto (so dirt and stones don't get embedded into the rope and shorten it's lifespan by wearing it). Here's a fairly representative model from Black Diamond.

The finished prototype came out looking like this.   


The fabric is a tough X-pac, called VX-07, with cordura on the outside (the black side), and a white nylon layer on the inside. The diagonal lines are aramid fibres to make it even tougher. It's folded over and sewn together to make a pocket into which the rope is stored. Then there are two slings (the white material with black lines across it) sewn onto the ends of the pocket to clip all the quickdraws onto. 


The slings across the ends are sewn-through, so you can keep all your different gear separated.  


I also had ordered some thin dyneema cord, this I knotted into a few loops to try and emulate the cool cord-webbing on all the Klättermusen bags. And by 'emulate' I mean rip off.  


This got sewn into the X-pac and then covered over with the same elastic edging I've used all over the tarp. It's for clipping keys into! 


The loops are also useful for keeping all the quickdraws from flopping all over the place. 


I sewed on a clippy-line-loc thingy to wrap the ends of the rolled tarp up, but it was too finicky to be satisfied with.


The slings at the end turned out to be a better way to close the tarp. The rope gets put in the pocket, the tarp gets rolled up, folded in half and then a carabiner clips the end-slings together. The carabiner then turns out to be a really comfortable handle to carry the package by. 


I sewed this tarp together and then used it over late Summer around Stockholm. Michi, my comrade in arms for hiking, climbing and huffing glue, dug the tarp and asked me to make him one. He didn't really ask though, he is German after all. It was more of a demand. 

He was off to Ecuador for a half year of practising medicine in the jungle hospital of Foundation human nature, an amazing charity set up by a mutual German doctor friend of ours, so I had to make it good enough to survive the South American mountains. (As an aside, I can say F-H-N is one of those great small charities where every euro you donate ends up on the ground where it's needed rather than lost feeding the bureaucracy, so lube up your visa-card and make the world a better place!). 


Michi has especially refined tastes so he gets the slightly heavier X-pac VX21, in a lovely red, to suit his bloodshot eyes. Lay off the glue Michi!  


I learned from my experiences with my tarp and made his around 50% bigger overall than last time, fully unrolled it's around 1.5 m². Some guys have to compensate. 


By this time I'd gotten used to the bizarrely cryptic settings on the sewing machine and could do those lovely compact strong stitches that looks so nice and neat. 


The slings on the end look way nicer with this kind of neat stitching. The slings on my tarp look like a blind leper sewed them. 


I also made a lot more, and a lot smaller, divisions on the slings to keep organising gear easier. 


One end has just one sewn sling and is to tie slings into, which stretch all the way to the other end of the tarp. 


And the other end has two sewn slings, the top one is sewn into divisions, and the lower on is all free. So you can attach your gear in different groups on the top and then stop them from swinging by attaching them to the middle sling.  


A close-up of the top section. 


And the middle section. 


I also re-did the handy little loops for keys and things to clip into, but this time I didn't fuck the stitching up so badly, so it wasn't necessary to cover it all up with the edging like I did with my tarp. My tarp is definitely the red-headed stepchild. 


The tarp is packed away as with mine, the rope (and harness/shoes/chalk-bag) are put in the big pocket, and the tarp is rolled up like a carpet. Then it's folded across the middle and a carabiner binds the end-slings. 


I also put sling loops on the opposite edges of the tarp from the pocket. These keep the tarp nice and flat when it's unrolled, and act as a tie in point for the rope when in use. 


And when the whole thing is folded in half a carabiner through a few of the slings holds it together. This carabiner is also from extremtextil, it's a lovely Edelrid rated at 650 Kg. 


The whole thing opened out. 


And packed away. When it's rolled away like this, the carabiner can act as a handle. 


Or you can turn it upside down and drape it over your shoulder. 


Once it was all done we took it out to the cliffs by lake Mälaren and broke it in. I was too dumb to take pictures of it in action though. Here's a picture of me shaving Michi instead. 


Can't send him to Ecuador unshaven.


I learnt a lot from doing my tarp, and made sure to correct those errors when doing the one for Michi. And I can say with all modesty, his one turned out to be the best rope tarp ever made in the history of the world.


It's very durable, the fabric used is a hell of a lot tougher than in most retail rope-tarps/bags. It's also lighter than the competition because it's so stripped down, no big handles or shoulder straps or padding or anything, while still taking a ton of gear and being very comfortable to carry.


The downside is that it cost a ton, each tarp cost over 500 SEK just for the materials. For that price you can get a retail tarp/bag and have enough for a few beers left over. Making it wasn't about saving money though, it was just a fun way to learn some new skills. And there's something genuinely rewarding about using gear that you've made, as well as the advantage of knowing every little detail about it, letting you modify it or repair it without any trouble.


I should also give credit to my lovely pretty fiancé, who in typical Swedish fashion showed unending patience in dealing with me and the fucking sewing machine. A typical scene was Tomás throwing a tantrum on the floor, screaming, kicking and crying because the bastard machine won't stitch right. Then Jenny appears, sticks a cup of tea in my hand, leans over and fixes the settings on the sewing machine, kisses me on the nose and suddenly everything is all better. Scandinavian chicks are the best!

Dehydrator.

My fantastic brother sent me yet another brilliant birthday present, a food dehydrator. I've used dehydrated food on recent trips, most recently in my trip to Trolltunga. If water is readily available (it literally falls out of the sky in Scandinavia), then dehydrated food is a nice way to cut weight. 


Buying it is one option, and there you have two choices. Buy cheap dehydrated food made for households, like dried potato powder, powdered milk, breakfast cereals and so on. Or buy pricey bags of dehydrated hiking food, which cost like they're made from little slivers of Picasso paintings. The cheaper brands on the other hand tend to taste like little slivers of Picasso paintings. 

Making your own is cheaper, more fun, and results in way higher quality food than buying it. For Trolltunga I tried a little DIY and dried some carrots in the oven overnight, mixed them in with dried potato. It worked fairly well, but the oven is a wasteful way to dry food, and it gives uneven results. With a real dehydrator at hand I decided to try making beef jerky, and so turned to my stalwart 1970's backpacking bible, "Wilderness Canoeing". 
  

Actually I only saw that there was a section on jerky after I made the first batch, I just wanted to show it had a section called "How to jerk meat".  


The dehydrator has a small heater in the base with a fan that blows heated air over the food, with an instruction book that was way too long for something with one single button. Five separate trays sit on top of the base and then a flat lid on top of that. 


If I'd read the meat jerking chapter of "Wilderness Canoeing" before I started I wouldn't have made the stupid mistake of buying the pricey beef with nice lines of fat running through the cut. The fat doesn't dry well, is nasty to chew and can get rancid and ruin the jerky, plus after drying the meat the quality you started with doesn't matter much. Batch two was done with a cheaper cut with no fat and turned out great. 


I rolled the beef in some chilli powder and salt, second batch I soaked it for 3 days in soy sauce, tabasco and chilli powder. I don't think it's possible to overdo the infusion of flavour. Can it be too hot and spicy? No.


Beating the meat is what the meat jerkers in "Wilderness Canoeing" recommend, but I was starting to think all their advice was just picked out to allow innuendo, so I rolled it instead. Meat laid out on the chopping block, can I find a use for my Sigg in a platypus world?!    


Nicely flattened meat, nicely gored Sigg. 


A before pic. 


An after pic, think this one was too long (dried out overnight), it was red hot and salty as hell, but too crispy and brittle. The second batch was dried for six hours and had that perfect chewy jerky consistency. 



My girlfriend has also managed to dry things other than meat. Cored apples (with and without skin), pineapple rings (crazy powerful taste) and mangos. And bananas were good, but I don't like bananas, so they weren't that good. Drying fruit out overnight perfumed the apartment with a fantastic smell. 

Also I dried grapes, which turned into raisins. Which I guess I should have known would happen, but did it anyway. They were definitely the best raisins I've ever had though. 

The nice surprise to making the dried food was that it's way more useful than just having as a light-weight alternative for hiking. It tastes so good there's no problem remembering to bring some when out for a day of climbing or when going away for a trip, and it's perfect snack food to give a boost when needed. Versatile, chewy, salty, spicy jerky is the new base of my food pyramid.