1970: Teaching wilderness classes for seven summers. For the first two years I used a plastic tarp, same as the students. Based on this, I coined the name "Polytarp." Then the next year I made my first Nylon fabric tarp.
I sewed the world's first nylon fabric tarp, in 1971. The photo below is my third home-made tarp in 1973, with lifter patches and prototype beaks - improvements to the design.
1973: Note the lifter patches and prototype beaks. Photo taken by my father who was visiting a wideness course I was teaching in the Holy Cross mountains of Colorado. The students and other instructors used polytarps, but my home-made tarp was nylon. The foam pad was a commercial item, open cell covered with nylon; and I slept with it oriented perpendicular to the ridge rather than parallel to it. The cotton shirt and blue jeans? Well, back then we did not have many alternatives. However as indicated by the smile, the camping was just as fun back then as it is today.
1977 on the Yellowstone River. I made this tarp also, shown here with the prototype beaks pulled out and featuring lifter patches (and a few repair patches). This one also had bug-netting sewn to the tarp. Note the lifter stick on the left side to help stabilize the tarp should the wind start blowing.
1987: The "tarp of 1987" on a training hike on Pikes Peak in winter. We sewed this tarp in preparation for our first PCT thru-hike, but decided on a tent instead (in retrospect, bad move).
1993: The "tarp of 1987" became a permanent feature in our back yard. We slept under it about 200 nights over the next several years.
1994: The "tarp of 1987" on the PCT in 1994. Shown here is our first camp in the North Cascades at the start of our south-bound thru-hike.
1994: The "tarp of 1987" on the PCT. With no lifter tabs, we're using umbrellas to create more headroom. Note the netting sewn to the quilt, to block the bugs while we sleep. Note also the knot in the ridgeline cord. I invented this knot, named it "Ray's Roving Hitch" and have described how to tie it my book "The Ray-Way Tarp Book Essential."
1994: The "tarp of 1987" during our third PCT thru-hike. Also shown is our first Net-Tent not sewn to the tarp. We made it during our 3-day break in the middle of our thru-hike, to block the mosquitoes in Oregon. We also sewed lifter tabs to the tarp.
1998: Jenny cooks corn spaghetti on a bow-drill cook fire. Behind her, the "tarp of 1987", still going strong. I took this photo, and behind me is a seven person film crew, filming a scene for the BBC program "Wilderness Walks."
In 1998 Jenny and I made the world's first silicone-nylon tarp, and used it on various outings and also for camping in our back yard. We got the idea from parachutes (and in fact we started skydiving shortly thereafter).
The next year, 1999, we made a number of silicone-nylon tarps, each with a different design. The tarp shown here was one of them. This one was tapered lengthwise, and in fact we made and tested a number of these. However, we discovered that the taper encouraged much more condensation, so despite the very small wight savings, we abandoned the taper.
2003: We published the first edtion of our Ray-Way Tarp Book, and had this photo on the back cover. (Note: shown in this photo was an old tarp, circa 1999)
An example of a Two-Person Tarp and Net-Tent that we use today.