Designed to pitch in a wide array of configurations, the Big Agnes Onyx UL is a 72 square foot, 14 oz. tarp that can be set up as a shelter, sunshade, extended vestibule, or practically any other configuration.
The Onyx UL is built from feathery light silicone treated ripstop nylon with a 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating. Located all around the tarp are small but conveniently and creatively placed guy-out loops for staking out the tarp or sliding in trekking poles, allowing for various pitching configurations. Small laser cut Hypalon tabs line the inside and outside of the shelter, allowing for the included DAC Featherlight NFL pole to be used as a strut, widening out the interior of the tarp at several locations and angles. The tarp comes in at 102″ x 102″, weighs 14 oz including the strut pole and the 6 included DAC stakes. The Onyx retails for $279.95 and includes pre cut guy line with line tensioners and a stuff sack.
What I liked
Flexibility is the prime feature here. The Onyx can be set up in so many configurations, just trying them all out is an experience of it’s own. The basic “A” frame configuration is great as a minimalist shelter, providing enough space for two campers to stay completely dry and out of the wind underneath. Alternatively, it can be set it up as a bit of a barn door, with two corners staked down near the ground and two extending straight out to create a wide awning/sunshade. Another option is to have it pitched completely flat and off the ground to serve as an excellent group shelter from a long rain. I’ve even used it as an extended vestibule, pitching it over top of a tent, expanding my front porch to magnificent proportions. I feel like I’m constantly discovering new ways to set it up, none of them taking any real thought to pitch. Just about any way I’ve staked it out has proved to be functional and stable with little to no finicking, making this a shelter that stands alone as an excellent home away from home, a supplementary annex, or…whatever really. The options are numerous and its usefulness cannot be understated.
The included aluminum pole can be slid into any of the Hypalon tabs located throughout the inside and outside of the tarp, allowing the shelter to be widened out internally, greatly increasing shoulder space and wind stability at the same time. While it seems like a minor adjustment, it greatly enhances the livability of the shelter as it provides enough interior volume for 4 people to easily sit up inside, great for playing a rainy day card game or cooking during a storm. It can be set up completely horizontally, or placed at an angle to accommodate whatever shape the tarp needs to be to accommodate the needs of those beneath it. The pole can also double as an additional vertical pole, if you don’t have any trekking poles or simply would like to prop up another corner. The pole also helps to alleviate buffeting of the side walls during wind, as it acts as a bit of a sway bar, adding rigidity and structure. Whereas most tarps will usually cave in when gusts roll through, this one mostly holds its shape. The added stability is certainly welcomed.
Durability is surprisingly good with the whimsically light shelter holding up well to rain, wind, and even being tripped over hard enough to rip multiple stakes out of the ground in one particular lapse of vision. The Hypalon tabs are impressively strong, easily handling taut pitches and hard wind, while all of the seams are reinforced and backed with a high quality seam tape that not only provides additional weatherproofing, but prevents stitching from tearing or fraying. The NAC Featherlight NFL pole is near indestructible considering it’s materials and relatively short length, and the silicone/polyurethane ripstop nylon body has easily withstood wind, taut pitches and abrasion during testing without stretching or tearing. I’ve been pleasantly impressed by its vigor in withstanding the conditions I’ve tossed it into.
Generously sized, the tarp makes a roomy escape for up to four people in the right configuration, or it can provide an adequate amount of room underneath as a primary shelter for two, blocking rain and wind well enough to keep equipment and bodies underneath completely dry. There is also plenty of room for backpacks and boots, so gear can stay dry . It’s also feasible for most hammocks as a rain fly, just check your dimensions.
Despite the large size, the tarp is incredibly lightweight and packs down ludicrously small. Without the pole (which brings the pack weight down to just 10 oz.) the tarp can be packed into a cargo pocket, and with the pole it easily rolls into a tube about the size of the cardboard insert inside most toilet paper rolls, just longer. It’s light and packable enough that I quite enjoy pairing it with my Fly Creek HV as extra living space during rainy weather, with the combination still only weighing in at about 3 lbs. There is certainly no packing remorse here.
Setup is generally pretty easy, requiring only 6 stakes for the tarp to be completely ready for use in the traditional “A” frame configuration. With two people setting it up, it can go up in about two minutes easily.
What I didn’t like
Like most tarps, the shelter can be a little tricky to set up solo if it’s windy out. My preferred and quickest method is to stake out one end, set up one trekking pole, then propping up the second pole and finally driving in the opposite tent stake. From there, staking out the corners finishes up the pitch. This doesn’t work so well when going at it solo if it’s windy, as it’s going to constantly blow over the trekking poles. Instead, staking out the corners first is probably necessary (I’ve also had some luck starting with one side, then the poles) and requires a little guesswork/adjusting afterwards, moving tent stakes and lines to get the proper distances and such. Still rather painless, but a minor inconvenience nonetheless.
The number of tent stakes included as well as guyline length are both minimalized, in an effort to provide the absolutely lightest pack weight. They are fine for most low to ground configurations, but if you want to tie the tarp between trees to avoid packing trekking poles, or would like the tarp to be raised higher off the ground, you’ll need to add some longer lines in order to reach the ground. Reinforcing the tarp for harsh winds will require a few more stakes and lines also, if you want to prevent all flapping. All the configurations pictured are using the included stakes and lines, but some other configurations I came up with (not pictured) required me to tie guy lines to other guy lines to make it happen.
The Big Agnes Onyx UL Tarp can stand alone as it’s own exceptionally light two person shelter, or can easily become a delightful accessory to a primary shelter when needed. With the help of a couple trekking poles, it can be pitched into practically any configuration one could come up with, making for a spacious retreat during less favorable weather, or even just providing a little extra sun shade on hot summer days while camping or picnicking. The included aluminum strut greatly improves the interior volume while solidifying wind stability, and setting the shelter up is relatively painless as long as it’s not too windy out. The build quality is excellent, and it’s proven itself to be solid shelter in moderate weather conditions. It’s light weight, disappears in a backpack, and looks pretty nice to boot. If you’re looking for the lightest shelter possible, or perhaps just want to expand upon an already existing setup, this is an excellent option.
For more information on Big Agnes and and their wide range of gear, check out their website, www.bigagnes.com
For information on our rating system and our testing procedures, check out our About us/ Contact us page.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Big Agnes for providing this product for review. We couldn’t do it without their help. Our full disclosure can be found here.
Thanks as always for reading! Don’t forget to follow our blog for future updates and reviews. If you have any questions, comment below, send us an email, or find us on Twitter or Facebook (links on the right).