Sunday 20 May 2012

MLD Monk Tarp Review

The Mountain Laurel Designs Monk Tarp is about as simple as a shelter can be. In silnylon you get a single 9*5ft flat piece of material or a smaller 4*9ft piece should you chose cuben fibre. Cuben fibre is only available in smaller width rolls hence the foot difference between the tarps. My review is for the silnylon version and that extra foot of space is very useful for some of the configurations I use.

I bought the tarp in 2010 for my Arizona Trail hike as I wanted protection from windblown sand on 3 sides. All my shaped ridge tarps, which are designed for UK conditions, are open at the front and rear and I didn't like the idea of sand bellowing through my shelter. I've used the MLD Monk tarp for a minimum of 100 nights in Arizona and back in the UK, and while it has faded somewhat, it still performs like new. 

One of the great things about such a simple shelter is that it will cost you just $80 in silnylon. This is excellent and anybody on a budget looking to do a long thruhike should seriously consider a shelter like this. You don't need to spend $100's extra for a shelter and this would be very suitable for something even as big as a PCT or CDT thruhike. I like simplicity with all my kit and as a single piece of silnylon, with 12 tieouts around the edge, and a further 2 mid panel, it fits in well with my preferences. The edge tieouts are all fitted with linelocs to allow for easy adjustment and while they could be removed to save a little weight, I think they are worth the extra. MLD advertise the Monk as only having 8 edge tieouts, and not 12, so do ask Ron if you would rather have the extra (I would). The 2 centre panel tieouts have elasticated shockcord fitted to help reduce shocks to the fabric. Never over tighten these, there should always be some stretch left in the cord to allow for gusts. All the tieouts are reinforced by a second layer of fabric which, around the edge, are sewn rather than sewn and taped like the centre panel ones are. While I prefer the taped and sewn construction it hasn't been a problem with the Monk tarp.

Quality of construction is excellent. In the past I have sometimes been critical of MLD with wonky stitching and loose tieouts on some of my other gear. Here there was absolutely nothing to complain about. All edges are neatly rolled and sewn and the tieouts have held well to 2 years of use. At any price the quality is excellent. With the tarp comes a simple stuff sack and around 10m of 3mm guyline. Of course being a single piece of material means that there are no seams to seal, which is a bonus! The weight of my Monk with guy lines fitted is 309g, with another 88g for pegs, and 157g for a bivi. Total trail weight  is 554g. Not bad at all for the price.

My standard pitch for the desert or stability is the 1/2 pyramid. This gave the protection from the sand I was looking for but is also very wind resistant. This is hardly surprising when what you have is very similar to 1/2 a Duomid or Trailstar, which are both known for their stability. Because it's a flat tarp, and not shaped like those 2, there will always be some slack that can flap in the wind making it a little noisier in strong winds. Earplugs come in handy here! Of course if the wind does a 180 then you would have to repitch, like in most tarps,  but moderate wind variations are taken care of by the sides. Pitched like this space is good for a single user. Your head and feet are always near the ends but at 188cm I've never found this much of a problem. The height is right where you need it and there is no problem sitting up. 

Versatility is one of the greatest advantages of a flat tarp like the Monk. Here I've actually moulded it around some handy rocks to give protection on all sides. The natural stretch of silnylon is an advantage over cuben fibre when doing creative pitches. I never pitched the Monk as an A-frame because flat tarps just don't work as well as one built with a Catenary (curved) ridge in this configuration. If you want the A-frame to be your main pitch then you would be better looking at one of the more expensive MLD Grace tarps.

The silnylon Monk is meant as a solo shelter but here it's used for two. This would not be possible with the narrower cuben version. The extra tieouts (12 over the standard 8) have allowed an unconventional pitch with both ends sloping down to offer additional side protection. I wouldn't use the Monk for 2 in a wet climate as it is only JUST big enough. For Arizona, outside of rainy season, it was not a problem!

Would I buy another? You bet I would! For $80 this is a bit of a bargain. With not much to go wrong it will also last a long time and value for money cannot be faulted. Using a flat tarp is an art that will not suit everybody. With a tent you throw it up the same way every night, it becomes easy. With a flat tarp you assess your campsite and the conditions before choosing the most appropriate pitch. This is a skill and has to be learnt. My choice would be silnylon over cuben for the extra width and versatility when pitching.