REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp Review

REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp Review

The REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp is a lightweight waterproof 9.25’ x 9.25’ square tarp with lots of perimeter tie-outs for infinite pitching options. The included guylines connect to the tie-out loops with attached toggles, which makes adding and removing guylines for different pitch configurations lightning-fast. However, the sizing specs are misleading, the tie-out loops lack reinforcements and the polyurethane-coated nylon is somewhat antiquated. I love the flexibility of a square tarp but $150 is a bit too expensive for what you get here.

Specs at a Glance

  • Dimensions: 115” x 115” (Manufacturer); 111”x111” or 9.25 feet x 9.25 feet (measured)–see below
  • Weights:
    • Tarp alone: 12 ounces (Manufacturer), 12.7 ounces (measured)
    • Packed weight (tarp, guylines, stakes, stuff sack): 1 pound, 2 ounces (Manufacturer); 1 pound, 3.3 ounces (measured)
  • Material and construction: 15D (denier) polyurethane-coated nylon, with 16 perimeter grosgrain tie-outs, 3 external ridgeline tie-outs, and 3 ridgeline internal loops made of the tarp material. Seam-taped ridgeline.
    Included: 8 DAC J-stakes (V-shaped) at 0.4 ounces each, 6 quick-attach reflective guylines with linelocs at 0.4 ounces each, stuff sack (0.7 ounces)
There are 16 perimeter tieouts (the orange loops) and 3 more along the top of the ridgeline
There are 16 perimeter tie-outs (the orange loops) and 3 more along the top of the ridgeline

Uses of a Square Tarp

A square tarp is amazingly versatile and fun to play with. Just some of the options include:

  • A-frame
  • Lean-to
  • Dining fly
  • A protected hangout area for a group in the rain
  • A front porch awning for your tent, allowing you to leave the door open in the rain for more ventilation

With practice and creativity, like with origami, much more complicated shelters can be made, with varying combinations of wind resistance, rain protection, and ventilation. Check out our article on square tarp pitches here, with lots of additional information shared by our readers in the comments.

Internal ridgeline loops let you attach a bivy or net tent
Internal ridgeline loops let you attach a bivy or net tent

Design

The Quarter Dome SL Tarp is a simple design: it’s a flat square made by joining two rectangular pieces of fabric and seam taping where they come together. This creates a ridgeline when used in a traditional A-frame configuration. Along the inside of this ridgeline seam, there are 3 loops made from the same fabric for attaching a bivy, net tent, headlamp, glasses, or clothesline and 3 grosgrain tie-out loops on the outside.

Trekking pole tips can fit into the tieout loops with enough space to simultaneously run a guyline
Trekking pole tips can fit into the tie-out loops with enough space to simultaneously run a guyline

There is no reinforced area inside for supporting the center of the tarp with the handle of a trekking pole in a peak but the center loop on the outside of the ridgeline allows you to run a line that could be suspended from a tree. Additionally, there are 16 grosgrain ribbon tie-out loops sewn onto the perimeter of tarp on the edging tape with tiny, one-eighth-inch-wide x-box stitching. There are no fabric reinforcement triangles on the ridgeline or the corner tie-outs–which tend to be the most critical tie-outs–but, curiously, there are reinforcements on the middle of the side hems–the tie-outs least likely to be used on many common pitches, with the least tension and least critical to maintaining the structure.

Quick-Attach Guylines

The included guylines, which are woven with reflective tracer to make the shelter easy to find in the dark, attach with toggles–you slip the toggle through a timeout ribbon and double it back through its own guyline loop, locking it in place. For a tarp that can be pitched so many different ways, it’s awesome to not have to untie and re-tie guylines every time you pitch it. These toggles are a huge improvement in ease of use that flat and concatenated tarp users can both employ. These same guylines with toggles are used on some of REI’s newest tents, like the Flash Air 1 and Flash Air 2, so you can share extras across gear.

The guylines attach quickly by looping toggles through the tieouts, and then locking them into the guyline loop
The guy-lines attach quickly by looping toggles through the tie-outs and then locking them into the guyline loop

Typically, a guyline with this type of lineloc only shortens the guyline to half of its full length. If you need a shorter guyline, a quick hack is to pull extra cord out of the knotted end of the lineloc to the appropriate length and tie a slipknot there.

Sizing discrepancy

REI advertises the dimensions of the tarp as 115”x115”, but we measured it to be 111”x111”. We reached out to REI Customer Service regarding this discrepancy, and, after almost three months, they replied: “Staked out completely flat, your shelter should measure 115″ x 115″ including the webbing loops at the corners. Each webbing loop adds approximately 2 inches to the overall length.”

To measure a tarp based on the length of its webbing loops makes no sense because what users are looking for in the specs is coverage area. We feel that the specs that REI has published are misleading and could be rewritten to be made more transparent.

There's tons of room under the tarp for one or two people
There’s tons of room under the tarp for one or two people

Tarp in Use

During my testing, I primarily used the Quarter Dome SL Tarp in an A-frame or Flying A-Frame with the corners guyed out for maximum ventilation instead of staked directly to the ground in combination with an ultralight bivy sack clipped to the loops on the inside of the ridgeline. Pitching was fast and easy, I experienced no leaking or misting in the rain, and I had tons of weather-protected room as a solo camper. Two people could easily use this tarp together, with individual bivy sacks or a 2-person net-tent.

Materials and Construction Issues

While I experienced no failures in the duration of my testing, the materials and construction have me worried about the long-term durability of this shelter. The Quarter Dome SL uses a polyurethane (PU)-coated nylon. When I pulled the tarp out of its stuff sack, I was overwhelmed by a strong chemical smell that reminded me of the old PVC ponchos from the Army surplus store we used in Scouts growing up. Fortunately, the smell dissipated with use in the field. It felt tacky, that is to say slightly sticky, from day one. There has been so much advancement in coated fabric technology over the past 20 years that this feels a bit like a relic.

Corner and ridgeline tieout loops are sewn to the hem tape but don't have additional fabric reinforcements
Corner and ridgeline tieout loops are sewn to the hem tape but don’t have additional fabric reinforcements

However, my biggest concern is with the grosgrain tie-outs using tiny stitches over a very small area with no fabric reinforcements on the ridgeline or corner tie-outs. A tarp has to be pitched tightly to be effective, and there’s a reason tie-out reinforcements are standard on almost every backpacking tarp on the market. It’s hard to imagine the tie-outs holding up long-term without ripping out, and for $150, I expect better construction.

The tieouts along the middle of the sides are the only ones which are reinforced with an extra patch of fabric
The tie-outs along the middle of the sides are the only ones which are reinforced with an extra patch of fabric

Comparable Square Tarps

Assessment

We were very excited when we learned that REI would be selling a square 115″ x 115″ tarp because this is the ideal size for ultralight tarp camping. While the REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp is very lightweight, packs up small, and has most of the features one would expect on a backpacking tarp, the quality, fabric choice, and robustness of its construction does not compare favorably to square tarps from other companies. We recommend that you give the REI Quarter Dome SL a pass and consider the other tarps we’ve listed above instead.

Disclosure: SectionHiker purchased this product.

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Last updated: 2020-09-22 02:30:08

About the author

Greg Pehrson is an ultralight backpacker who was bitten hard by the MYOG (make-your-own-gear) bug. He repairs, tinkers, and builds gear, often seeking to upcycle throwaway items or repurpose things from outside the backpacking world.

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