Tarps are great shelter tools, especially when it is a tarp designed to be a shelter. For a good part of the year I’ve been using the Bushcraft Outfitters M.E.S.T. (Multipurpose Emergency Survival Tarp) and I really have nothing but good things to say.
While the name might imply that it’s only for use in emergencies, it has become my go to shelter tarp. It’s small, only about 5’ x 8’, which for me is perfect; just big enough for me and my gear. It’s lightweight, only 13 ounces, and in the included stuff sack it packs down to about the size of a 32 ounce bottle.
You see, I’m not looking for huge tarps so I can build a “Tarp Mahal”. I just want low profile, low weight, and durable; and this tarp delivers. I want something that doesn’t take up much room in my pack, and doesn’t weigh me down.
The small footprint of the MEST allows me to set up a shelter easily in thick trees and brush. This is important when trying to maintain a low profile and utilize cover and concealment, since the “worse” our shelter location the better. The small one person size of the shelter also makes for a low visual signature, and thanks to its NIR construction it doesn’t glow under night vision either.
Speaking of construction, this one is the “heavier” version made of 70d ripstop nylon with a urethane coating. There is a lighter weight silnylon version available as well. I chose to go with this one for the extra durability and the multicam pattern. For those unfamiliar with 70d nylon, it’s very similar to the USGI rip stop poncho.
While this is a minimalist tarp, it still has a lot of tie outs to help get the tarp setup just right. I’ve found the extra tie outs very useful when I need to either channel water away in the rain or adjust the tarp in high winds. Your imagination is really the limit on how you can set this tarp up.
I typically set it up in a lean to style shelter, this is the easiest to get into and out of and gives pretty good coverage in all but the worst weather. For heavy rain I opt for an A-frame with 550 cord extensions on the corners so I can set it up basha style. While not as easy to get in and out of, the extensions raise the side about a foot and it’s easy enough to get into while still being no taller than my knee.
I’ve had no issues with the tarp in inclement weather. It seems like it is cursed, because every time I set it up it rains. It hasn’t let me down though, leaving a nice 5’x8’ dry spot for me to come back to and to protect my gear. I’ve also had it set up in the heat as a shade, and in high winds as well without any issue. All the stitching and loops are still in great shape still.
While the size may be a turn-off for some, I feel it’s just right for one person if they are trying to stay low profile. I have a certain affection for the USGI poncho because of how versatile it is. One of those reasons is you can use it as a shelter. The problem is that once it’s set up as a shelter you no longer have a poncho to wear. I also use my poncho as my bivy cover for my sleeping gear, so that always presented a problem if I needed an overhead shelter. I’ve known guys who have carried two ponchos for these reasons, but I think this MEST tarp solves those problems without much added weight, and just enough extra room to stretch out.
So while it is a great one man shelter, I always try to think of the bigger picture and how a team might best utilize gear. In the context of a non-permissive environment, it’s still a great shelter for two guys, because one will be in the shelter sleeping while the other is outside on security. Yup, that’s right, priorities of work…
Or you could do like two students in my last Fieldcraft Course. They each had one of these tarps and used both of them on the same ridgeline to create a larger A-frame shelter in a rain storm. At roughly 10’x8’ it made a nice size buddy team shelter for them and their gear.
While shelters are great, tarps are being utilized more and more for camouflaging a position. With the threat of overhead observation becoming normal on the modern battlefield, ensuring a position is camouflaged is as important now as ever. With the addition of a thermal reflective layer on the underside, this tarp in an appropriate color for the environment would be a great start for any hide site or other concealed position.
Overall I think BCO has got it right and I think this tarp fills multiple roles without being any larger or heavier than necessary.