Tyvek is high density polyethylene (HDPE), also called "spun-bonded olefin". Tyvek is not the lightest material for constructing a groundsheet but it is tough, versatile and fairly easy to work with.
The two types most commonly seen are the soft structure 1443R and HomeWrap. The HomeWrap is very popular with MYOG bush enthusiasts for groundsheets. Tyvek has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than paper and is rip-resistant. It absorbs little or no moisture but allows water vapour to pass through. Liquid water will not pass through. It shrinks 5% when washed.
Tyvek is brilliant white. The HomeWrap and soft 1443R types have an embossed rectilinear surface texture but it is not woven. It is structurally an amorphous matrix of densely packed polyethylene fibres and air - which gives it holding power to bond to paint, glue and silicone - and dirt. It is very opaque and reflects light well so it offers deep shade and UV protection. UV will degrade it eventually but this seems to be measured in several months exposure time, but UV inhibitor coatings may be applied. Some grades of Tyvek have UV inhibitors built in.
It is a noisy material. It creases well and doesn't stretch much. Toughness and flexibility remain down to -73C and it is 100% recyclable. There is a Tyvek Seam Tape, for joining sections together, or double-sided outdoors carpet tape is also said to work.
Tyvek HomeWrap cuts easily with scissors. Both sides of the fabric have the same surface structure and breathe the same, however the plain side will reflect sunlight better.
PVA Glue TyvekI have successfully glued both 1443R and HomeWrap with PVA but the adhesion has not been tested under wet conditions. Hemming makes the edges much stronger. Hem the edges by folding over about 4cm and gluing. Apply glue evenly with a brush to both sides. Apply a light weight and allow 2 days to dry. This hemming should make it harder to rip and provides a more substantial substrate for grommets. To join sections I overlapped by about 6 or 7cm and applied glue evenly with a brush to both pieces. I then sandwiched the material between wood slats and applied a light weight for several hours and left to dry for 2 days.
I've made a small groundsheet/tarp out of 1443R Tyvek. 1443R is a much softer, quieter material and probably not as protective against sharp objects as HomeWrap. It is a better choice of material for making a bivvy bag or clothing.
Silicone and TyvekThinned silicone can be applied to 1443R Tyvek. This may be useful to do over regions with PVA glue to block the ingress of water. Use mineral turpentine, not odourless turps, in a 2:1 dilution to seam seal silnylon tent flies but for a surface DWR function the dilution factor should be much more, say 10:1 or even thinner. Shellite will also act as a solvent. Stir it well, adding the turpentine or Shellite slowly. The 1443R type has a rougher surface and absorbs the silicone better. I expect the fabric will not absorb more than 2 coats of this thinned out mix. On some HomeWrap and a silnylon tent floor I was hoping to enhance the water head I found the silicone peeled as I used insufficient dilution.
You can also apply this mix to new paper maps to waterproof them. You run a risk of tearing old maps that have creases with this treatment. Apply and spread the diluted mix with a foam block or cloth. If necessary repeat. The maps become harder to write on. There are no shortcuts in using a thicker mix as you run the risk of the whole application peeling off.
Making a Groundsheet/Shade Tarp
Cut and Glue HemsThis project uses Tyvek HomeWrap. I chose a 1 piece 2-axis symmetrical hexagonal shape. I cut 2 long sides 156cm at each end and 4 short sides 122cm. Width is 275cm (being the width of the roll it came from) and length is 212cm. The area is then reduced by folding and creasing the hems about 4cm. With the offcuts I made a smaller tarp using PVA glue to join the triangle offcuts to a rectangle, giving another haxagonal tarp.
|Larege Tyvek HomeWrap groundsheet for a Tarptent Stratospire 2. 300g.|
Choose a clean dust and lint free area to do the gluing. I applied PVA glue evenly with a brush to both pieces to ensure 100% contact.
Grommets may help with use as a tarp but are not essential. You can gather and tie each corner of an unhemmed Tyvek sheet with a sheetbend knot.
Chain hardware stores have 10mm grommet kits which will fit walking pole tips. The kit costs $20 and extra grommets cost $5.50 for 25. Get a kit which has a hole punch since you need to make the hole in the fabric before you can hammer the grommet together using the supplied swage and die.
|Grommet Swage and Die with grommet pieces in place|
|A conical grindstone attached to a drill will sharpen the inside of the hole punch.|
Set the hole well back from the edge with the punch. Do this after the glue dries. Place a flat piece of soft wood under the tarp and tap the punch through.
|Overlapping hems provide 4 layers of reinforcing. For mid-side grommets try gluing a piece of Tyvek folded around the hem to get 4 layers.|
Site the grommet pieces on the swage and die and fit to the hole. Use several light to firmish taps with the hammer on the die to set the grommet evenly. More lighter taps give the metal a chance to warm up as it turns over. Avoid splitting the grommet as it turns over. Try to get the grommet through 4 layers of Tyvek and not too close to the edge.
|The result is a bit bulky, but the tent this is built for is big enough for 2 or 3 users.|
This is a fairly sizable tarp/groundsheet and will catch a lot of wind, so it may be advisable to add more grommets than shown so as to spread the wind load.
Deployment as a shade tarp
|The large single piece hex tarp. Note the high opacity and high reflectivity.|
The tarp ridge is about 2.7m long and each wing is about 1m wide. Tensioning the ridge was difficult, the Tyvek bears heavy on the pole grommets and any tighter would place too much strain on the grommet support substrate, and I'd say anything over 2m needs a supporting ridgeline to get it taut. It is about 150cm along each wing tip with a guy point at each end. Don't skimp on guy outs. The more used the less stress is placed on each one. The hexagonal shape probably helps to spread stress around the shape. The usual size nylon tarp some people use for sheltering is about 3m X 3m.
I used the 4 large corner offcuts to make a smaller hexagonal version of the tarp, bonding them to a rectangular piece.
|Cool, deep, quality shade in summer with the small hex Tyvek tarp.|
I used 2 trekking poles plus a light vertical tent pole about 1.2m tall to set the smaller hex tarp up. A smaller tarp has a smaller sail area. I used 6 long pegs and 6 guys: have at least 3 X 2.5m and another 3 X 1.2m long guys with toggles for adjustment. Setting up requires a few adjustments but it is a skill that is quickly learned and gets better with practice. More adjustments are needed as the sun moves. While it is fun setting up in good weather, it could "get old" quickly under cold, rainy, windy conditions. You need to know the bowline and tautline hitch if not using toggles.
You could spray the Tyvek with UV Proof, but this may be incompatible with later treatment with a silicone coating. I don't think either are needed except around glued regions. Further testing in rain required. For this reason I am not about to rely on it as a primary shelter.
|Single piece Tyvek shade tarp over Gunyah 1. 2.6m long ridgline with no support line underneath.|
This tarp could also be set up during a drizzly lunch stop, or just worn wrapped around to keep out of the rain while resting.
The 2 designs of Tyvek shade tarp have worked a treat on several high summer trips now.
Tyvek works great as a groundsheet and is a very effective sun shade! Forget silnylon tarps for shade. The stiffer HomeWrap is a more bulky to pack so I fold and roll it into a "folded tent pole" sized package for easier access in and out of the pack. It can flap and make a noise if the wind picks up a corner. Big questions are: will the glue in the hems weaken with a thorough soaking after several hours of rain and will the grommets hold over time if used as a tarp? Grommets probably need 4 layers of reinforcing substrate for sustained drubbings in 25kmh gusts, but I have had no failures yet where the grommets were on the hems. I think a severe windy storm, i.e. sustained over 35kmh winds, could total some of the grommets. The small hex tarp has been out for over 10 days as a sun shade and is holding up well. I am surprised with the result of PVA gluing of polyethylene. If I am expecting rain rather than sun I would take a lighter silnylon tarp for cooking under.
|Camped in high saddle and set up for chilling out in unstable weather. Note the high opacity of the Tyvek.|
I've seen some arched pole tents with grommeted nylon groundsheets that cost $40 or $50. You may be able to make a cheaper Tyvek version of these but make sure the grommets are the right size. You may need a 7, 8 or 9mm grommets to stop the tent pole from slipping all the way through (or attach small washers to the pole tips with some gaffer tape).
|Continental divide high camp sun shelter in light winds. PVA glue holds it together.|
Some ultra-lighters use painter's drop sheets and polycryo window film for groundsheets, which may be a moisture barrier of sorts, but Tyvek Homewrap is much more robust and more protective of sleeping mat puncture.
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