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4 Best Tarp Shelter Configurations | How to set up a Tarp?

There are many different ways to set up camping tarp Shelter Configurations and that all depends on what gear you have with you and what is readily accessible to you.

There has long been a debate in comparing camping tarps versus tents, but it is widely accepted that tarps offer far more versatility in their set up.

Leading to a more demanding skill level when approaching the task of set up.

Some of the options are to use tent poles in the set up or without tent poles. You can also set one up using a ridgeline or simply setting up an extension tarp.

I will try to explain them as best as possible in written form, also with accompanying images where possible.

Let’s check out a brief overview of the options on how to set up a tarp.



How to Set up a Tarp with Tent Poles?

tarp with tent poles

Setting up a camping tarp with tent poles is best used when there aren’t many anchor points available such as trees or other tie points, also camping sites.

You will, of course, need a camping pole, an adjustable one is a great idea as you can adjust it to various sizes of tarp and scenarios.

For a standard 10 x 10 camping tarp, 4 camping poles would be sufficient, one for all four corners. However, for large sized camping tarps be aware that you may need extra poles.

Note, you will experience a small amount of drop or sag in the middle of the tarp, this is normal and to be expected. You can counter this if it becomes an issue by elevating the side poles or utilizing a center camping pole to raise the center accordingly.

A camping table beneath can do a fine job of supporting a camping pole to erect the center of the tarp.

If there is rainfall, a raised center area will create a natural run off for the rain water. This is also a necessity as if you allow the water to build up along the rim and create weighty pools, it can add pressure to the tarp along the seam and grommet areas.

Remembering to have it angled away from your base camp so it doesn’t soak the area you will be staying in, try to angel it over the back end of the site.


Step by step guide

  1. Unfold and spread out the camping tarp in the designated area.
  2. Hammer a ground stake in at a slight angle, about 3/4 of the way in, about 3 foot from every corner in a diagonal line.
  3. Hook the camping pole into the grommets in each corner, enter from the bottom side.
  4. If you have the recommended adjustable camping pole, extend the pole to the desired height.
  5. With a loop tied on the end of 4 ropes (for the 4 corners) wrap them 2-3 times around the end of the camping pole that sticking out.
  6. Now you can tie the other end of the ropes to the ground stakes you hammered into the ground earlier.
  7. You can tighten or loosen the tension now by either hammering the ground stakes in further or by adjusting the ropes themselves.
  8. Now you can utilize another camping pole for a center pole if you want to create a run off or to raise the height of your shelter.

A cool tip for this method at the end is to actually turn the camping pole on its head, for the center pole. The base is wider thus not as piercing on the tarp material, the flatter base is more friendly for the tarp.


How to Set up a Tarp without Tent Poles?

Camping Tarp strung up in the forest

If you find yourself in a situation where trees are in abundance, then you can easily find a suitable spot to pitch your tarp tent. So let’s try without Tent Poles for convenience.

Easily done all you need to do is attach a rope to all corners of the camping tarp, then tie the opposite end to a branch or tree.

If you wish to get your ropes over elevated branches that are difficult to reach, you can utilize carabiners and additional weights. With these you can then sling the line over the branch from below, it’s quite fun but also requires a bit of patience due to trial and error.

To add resistance and strength to your grommets while camping with this method I suggest you to use a Cow Hitch knot tying method. I do this so when the rope faces excessive tension.

The Cow Hitch will put tension on both the grommet and the material simultaneously as opposed to focusing solely on the grommet itself.

Once you are all set up and secured you may want to adjust the height of your camping tarp. You can do this by alternating the ropes sizes, like backpacking straps, shorten one side and increase the other to elevate. You can also follow this same method to create a natural run off-angle for rain water.



How to set up a Tarp using Ridgeline?

tarp configurations image

A Ridgeline is essentially the crest of a rooftop, where it meets in the middle to create that pointed aesthetic.

This is a very popular method as it can utilize the largest tarps on the market in a proficient manner. It’s also the strongest way to set up a camping tarp when we compare it with the other methods we have discussed here.

This is made by attaching a rope reasonably high from within a tree, it doesn’t need to be a monster of a tree as will just be solely supporting the weight of the tarp. The rope is then tied off to another tree at a level whereby you can reach it for manual handling etc.


Step by step guide

  1. As fore-mentioned we will need 2 trees facing each other with the ground between being your desired set up point.
  2. Next, sling the larger rope over a branch of the selected tree. Try to aim for the base of the branch, where it’s thicker and stronger, not the weaker tail end of it.
  3. Then pull the rope until the tarp reaches a level where you feel comfortable for set up and you feel happy with this height and position.
  4. Now the Ridgeline has been position correctly you can tie it off to a tree, making sure the rope ties close to the trunk when you do this.
  5. Allow the rope to fall down by letting go of the unattached end of it.
  6. For those wishing to use an extension, now feed a smaller rope through the center carabiners in preparation.
  7. While the rope is down on the ground you can position the tarp over the unattached rope.
  8. Now pull the Ridgeline to elevate the camping tarp, once elevated it needs to be tied.
  9. Utilize an overhand knot and draw loop for best effect here. Then you can join the loop to the carabiner, while securing the end of the rope around the second tree and back through the carabiner again.
  10. Like setting up with tent poles, once the Ridgeline is secured in the desired position you can secure your corner ropes with the Cow Hitch or Bowline knot
  11. Once the camping tarp is open and corners are extended outwards you can tweak the position using the corner ropes.

Nice visual here for setting up using a ridgeline:


How to Set up an Extension Tarp?

extension tarp example

As mentioned in step 6 above you can prepare, adding extra ropes through the corners of the Ridgeline biners so you can secure more tarp. This can also be used in conjunction with your camping tents, whether it be pop up, instant or inflatable, an extension tarp is compatible with any shelter.

The extra tarp has a variety of uses, such as more shelter and coverage for your campsite. Perhaps you have a large group. It also traps heat from campfires, which keeps the group warm during bad weather.

Step by step guide

  1. Once the extra ropes were attached to the Ridgeline, you can then use these new, lighter ropes to attach to the corners of the proposed extension tarp.
  2. After you have tied the lines at the top elevate the extension tarp to desired height.
  3. Secure the extension tarp by tying the rope ends to trees or shrubbery. It doesn’t need to be insanely strong for the extension, but a small tree or strong bush would suffice.
  4. Now it’s attached at the top, we need to extend the tarp out completely. Attach 2 additional ropes to the bottom corners and secure in a similar fashion, making sure the angles are correct to spread the tarp accordingly.



And that’s all there is to it, your extension tarp is now set up and ready to go.

It should be situated beneath the Ridgeline to support water drainage from above, angling downwards in a similar fashion.

For heating purposes, position the extension in the vicinity of the campfire, just enough to trap the rising heat. But not directly close, as this could create a fire hazard. We want to try and avoid sparks and embers as much as possible, this can catch on the cheaper tarps and burn holes in them.

All in all, as you can see camping with a tarp is extremely versatile. There are unlimited situations and environments you can use them in, so, for this reason, you have to be adaptable in your approach and your gear.

That is why I tend to prefer the adjustable camping poles as opposed to the fixed poles, as it’s useful to be able to adjust the height accordingly to fit the occasion.

Also, extra ropes are important, different lengths, widths, sizes, etc., that tree might just be out of reach, or you may want to attach multiple ropes to numerous great anchor points, to fight the elements.

With this knowledge and know-how, you should be well prepared to start tarp tent camping and secondly, you will learn a lot more while you’re actually putting these steps into practice.



Tarps and Tents are both necessities when camping, but which you choose is up to preference. Hopefully, you can get a feel here, for what’s expected when camping with a tarp.

With the numerous configurations, it’s a learning curve and an outdoor challenge to tick off the list.

If you’ve found this article useful please comment below or share it with friends on your social media page.

Until next time folks,

Happy Camping!


Resources and Sources

How to tie a Bow Knot



Tyler is our editor-in-chief at the Tent Hub. He is a dedicated backcountry explorer and a trained Wilderness First Responder. Tyler has hiked every mountain range in the US and summited Highpoints in several US states as well as Germany. His favorite outdoor destinations are the Canadian Rockies, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mt. Tongariro in New Zealand, and the San Juan Region of Colorado.

6 thoughts on “4 Best Tarp Shelter Configurations | How to set up a Tarp?”

  1. Thanks for sharing an amazing post. I really satisfied to read this post. How to set up a tarp with tent poles are helpful for me

    1. Hey Waylon and thanks for reaching out. We do not currently have a video on this article. It’s a bit tricky to make something simple on this topic, without actually going out and doing it and filming it.

      We will try to do this when the weather gets a little better and upload it on our youtube channel, hope this helps! happy camping

  2. Hi there! This blog post could not be written any better!
    Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He always loved to go camping with a tarp and was constantly searching for new ways to tie it. I did go with him one time but it was pretty difficult for me to catch on, being my first time, this article helps though, I wish I saw it sooner.
    I am going to forward this article to
    him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Mo, yeah Tarp Camping is no easy feat and not for the faint-hearted. Respect to your friend as it must have taken quite a few attempts to get it right, not only for 1 system but a variety of ties is even harder. But that’s the challenge, and that’s what keeps us getting outdoors 🙂 Happy Camping

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