Tarp Tips: Quick Shelter for Rain, Wind or Saving Weight

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As far as versatile, MacGyver-esque gear is concerned, tarps are on par with the legendary likes of duct tape, superglue and Bear Grylls. Check out these tarp tricks for battling foul weather wherever you camp.

1. Hammocks are an essential nutrient. If rain threatens your vitamin H, tie a line a few feet above your nap sanctuary and hang the tarp like an A-frame roof. More of a minimalist? Tie the line a few feet over your tent’s footprint for an ultralight summer shelter.

Tarp Tips

2. Wrap the roof line around a barky tree a couple of times and let friction do the rest. No need for a knot here. If you get bored, just tie a walnut to the loose end and watch chipmunks play tetherball.

Tarp Tips

3. Pro tip: For extra height, use folding tent poles to wrap your rope a few feet higher around the tree.

Tarp Tips

4. A Prusik hitch—or sliding knot—is an easy way to secure tarp grommets to your rope and quickly handcuff a freeloading cooler thief.

Tarp Tips

5. Lost a grommet or need an extra anchor point? Just twist some tarpaulin around a small rock.

Tarp Tips

6. If trees aren’t your thing, hang the tarp off the back of your ride. Pop your hatchback for extra loft and enjoy a rain-free workspace for cooking and competitive dance-offs.

Tarp Tips

7. Conserve stakes by having a friend tie the tarp corners directly to your rims. Blame said friend if you accidentally drive off with shredded tarp in your axle.

Tarp Tips

8. For extra living space, hang the tarp off the front of your tent for a makeshift vestibule for wet packs and muddy sneaks. Make sure the tarp amply covers the apex of your tent for proper runoff. More moisture kept outside means less mold on the inside.

Tarp Tips

9. Use those extra tent stakes for tightly tying down the front wall of your tarp. Otherwise your sail-like ceiling might be the flapping soundtrack to a sleepless night in the wilderness.

Tarp Tips

Now it's your turn. Share your tarp tips in the comments below.

  • Danan Coleman

    Cool! Any other tips for shelter types?

  • Waid Davis

    Noah’s Tarp is one of the most versatile camping extras I’ve ever used. Whether making a tent vestibule or a hammock tarp, or a quick rain shelter, it’s a great item to have on hand. And it last very well, I’ve been using mine for better than 15 years.

  • Paul C

    More on knots please! Like, how do you tie a “Prusik hitch” you mentioned? Other great knots for outdoor life and examples of when/where to use them would be great. Thanks!

    • REI

      Hey Paul, we hear you. Check out our “Climbing Knots, Hitches and Bends” and other climbing information here: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/climbing-knots.html.

      • Paul C

        Thanks REI. That article appears to be focused on knots for climbers. For those of us who like both feet firmly on terra firma, any suggestions for us (backpacking, camping, hiking, etc.)?

        • Graham

          About 30 years ago, (I was 5) I learned how to tie a bolen. Having been an avid camper (and lousy climber) since then, I’ve never needed another knot. My advice: take whatever you know or don’t, and go camping. The Prusik hitch looks like a doubled up “wrap and pull” ordeal, and I’m unconvinced that it would keep a tarp taut on a line in anything but zero wind. However, an (any kind of knot you can make up) around the tree tied to the grommet nearest your peak line would get the job done. The point is: Get in the woods and if it comes apart, you’re all but guaranteed to do better the next time. And if you’re lucky, you might just have a great story to tell your nature-phobic friends. Hope you get out there sooner rather than later!

          • Paul C

            Graham, not knowing much of anything about knots hasn’t stopped me! It just exasperates me when I find myself needing a knot and end up spending way more time than I should on a complex series of repeated loops, etc. The result is far inferior to what I’m certain a quality knot would be for the purpose (in terms of both time spent and function). Kind of comical actually – at least for anyone watching me! See you out there.

          • MSJ

            The prusik knot will hold. Retired professional firefighter and avid outdoorsman here. We use prusik knots for our climbing / rope rescue and for white water rescue.
            The key is to make sure the diameter of the prusik cord is 60%-80% of the diameter of the main rope. If it’s too large it won’t hold and if it’s too small you won’t be able to release it.

        • HeatherFrankenstein

          these are pretty clear and useful IMO http://www.animatedknots.com/prusik/index.php

    • Edwardc

      When I camp, a few key knots I use are the taut line hitch (or a better variation, the midshipman’s hitch), Prussik as described above, bowline knot and a trucker’s hitch.

      The midshipman is great for tying out guy lines that need adjustability. The trucker’s hitch gives you additional leverage and can still allow adjustability. It looks like they used a version of the trucker’s hitch on the wheels and on the last image.

      The bowline is great for a fixed attachment point up at the tarp end (into the grommet or webbing loops).

      I hammock camp, so I end up using a marlin spike hitch with a tree branch (or tent stake) toggle. It’s also worth noting that in the picture of the hammock, it is suspended with some round ~7mm rope around the tree, which is not preferable as it can hurt the tree. A wider strip (>.75″) of polyester (polyester is preferred as it doesn’t stretch like nylon) webbing spreads out the weight.

      • Paul C

        Thanks Edwardc!

  • Kay Hettich

    I’m in complete agreement with the importance of tarps to the inventory of camping necessities. Try a bivy sack with a tarp over the head end and zip entrance to keep dry getting in and out of the bivy if it’s raining. Tie one end of the tarp close to a tree to create a miniature door area better protected from any wind.

  • Mike Kolodkin

    Great article. I am a long time scouter. Using the tarp for added rain protection and vestibule is a great add on.It would be great to see a posting on your knot tie usage.

  • Mike Kolodkin

    Hey I forgot to add the hammock covering tarp works better than some of the Hammock Tarp combinations. See how the proportion is laid. Kept us dry though very heavy rains.

  • Jeannine M

    On my last camping trip I had moved my ridgeline as far up the tree as I could, and when I staked the corners they were too low. I found a couple of fairly straight 1″ x 3′ sticks, angled them away from my hammock, stuck them securely in the ground, and tied my corners to them. I could then sit under the tarp in my chair to cook and play guitar:-)

  • JimG

    I stepped up the tarp quality by purchasing a tent ground-cloth off an outlet site for 60% off. It is lighter, packs smaller, better quality material with snap-connectors on the corners. This with some good quality poly-cord has become a great addition to my camping supplies… My $.02

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