Best Camping Tarps for Backpacking: Ultimate Tarp Camping Guide

Best Camping Tarps for Backpacking: Ultimate Tarp Camping Guide 

Ever had the dilemma of choosing between a tarp and tent for backpacking?

We’re going to discuss this today and give you our answer and not after making you read the whole article.

We make no bones about choosing the Camping Tarp as our weapon of choice.

After much deliberation, long coffee fueled debates and a few tantrums, we came to a unified conclusion, tarps are king for backpacking.

Chill Gorilla Fortress Pitched
  • Chill Gorilla Fortress
  • Lightweight 1.9 lbs.
  • 8000mm Waterproof Rating
  • Value Package

Kelty Noahs Shelter Tarp
  • Kelty Noahs Tarp
  • Storage Pockets
  • Guylines Included
  • 4 Size Choices

Aqua Quest Guide Tarp Large
  • Aqua Quest Guide
  • 20,000mm Hydrostatic Rating
  • 1.9lbs pack weight
  • Environmentally Friendly

Eno ProFly Navy
  • ENO ProFly Tarp
  • Ultra Lightweight 22 ounces
  • Large XL Option Available
  • Durable/Waterproof

Aqua Quest Defender Tarp
  • Aqua Quest Defender
  • Camouflage Design Options
  • Exceptional Durability
  • Unmatched Waterproof Rating

Here are just a few of our choices for a backpacking tarp but we have a few more below, accompanied with full, detailed reviews.

Then followed by an FAQ, buyers guide and comparison evidence.

Alas let’s start things off with what you are here for, tarp tents!

Aqua Quest Defender Camping Tarp Review

Our first camping tarp is a top quality and waterproof nylon piece from Aqua Quest. Renowned in making quality tarps for camping and usually of the camouflage variety. Such as this one we have here. It’s a large tarp with a durable build that has received numerous positive reviews from happy customers. Let’s find out what exactly it is that makes this one a winner.

-Waterproof-

One thing you can trust with Aqua Quest is their waterproofing methods used when manufacturing the material. They have an insane hydrostatic resistance of 20,000mm that can rival even Gore-Tex products for a fraction of the price. With a rating like this there is no question, it is an impossibility that rain can penetrate the fabric, so you can be carefree and relax underneath even during the wildest of rainfalls and enjoy the moment.

-Durable-

The Defender tarps are prolific in their strength, protection and durability. As we mentioned before regards the level of rain protection, the material protection does not falter either. The fabric has been made with 70D ripstop nylon which has been designed to resist tears and rips, to stay strong when stretched and getting battered with wind simultaneously. The nylon has been coated with a Heavy TPU finish and the seams have been heat taped and also had strengthening reinforced stitching applied. All this and still weighing in under 5 lbs., incredible.

-Versatile-

As we spoke about in our tarp vs. tent section, versatility is one of the key features of camping tarps and this model conveys this thought exactly. It has 24 webbing loops integrated along the tarp, this allows for endless positioning and customization options. There is a loop centered in the middle of the tarp too for peaking the hub or for pole inserts for example. With this many set up options, finding the perfect environment and supporting tree or shrubbery will not be necessary. Being able to pitch where you want regardless has just become possible.

-Bundle-

This package has great value coming in the form of a ‘Camo Kit’ which has a free stuff sack, cords and stakes which makes this a steal at $100-120. Can you imagine trying to find a backpacking tent with even half the durability or hydrostatic rating for this price, good luck. The packed size is around 16x8x5 inches and when it’s pitched and stretched out it will cover around 13×10 in feet respectively.

-Variety-

They also have a 10×10 foot model available if the 13×10 is a bit oversized for your liking.

Aqua Quest Defender Tarp
Click here to check out the various sizes.

You can check it out here, the dimensions of course are slightly different, but actually it incorporates nearly all the same features as the 13×10 model. The only difference we have seen so far is that is has 19 webbing loops as opposed to 24 in the larger model, this is to be expected with a smaller sized tarp, so don’t worry you are not losing out on anything special by downsizing.

A nice video here showing the features in real time:

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Pros
  • Great Value Bundle
  • Camouflage Design
  • Exceptional Durability
  • Unmatched Waterproof Rating
  • Customization

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Cons
  • Difficult to find a con, if you find one let us know in the comments below

Chill Gorilla Fortress Tent Tarp Review

Our next choice is a great tent tarp for use with hammocks and camping alike. A self-proclaimed ‘fortress’ from Chill Gorilla is an excellent, ultralight camping tarp that can be used in any and all outdoor scenarios. With a solid green color theme, free bundle package and free warranty it’s definitely worth a look under our Tent Hub microscope, let’s go!

-Material-

Made with a 30D ripstop SilNylon fabric it enables it to be very lightweight while also keeping its strength. Having a natural resilience to tears, rips and punctures, it fares very well in the harsh outdoor conditions for extended periods of time. The waterproof rating is way above standard also, coming in at 8000mm for the Hydrostatic Head Rating. This is well above the realms of what we consider waterproof and is much higher than the majority of traditional and backpacking tents.

-Cross Anchoring-

They have integrated a cool feature with the new and improved fortress 2, which is doubling the amount of side pull tie outs. This is a safety precaution at best but also allows you to ‘cross anchor’ the tie outs, giving a firm and secure set up but without over tightening the cords. Over tightening the cords can force issues under extreme weather conditions, leading to splinters, frays and snaps.

-Doors and Value-

They also have, quite uniquely, built in doors integrated into the SilNylon fabric. These doors can be either folded underneath the sides or also outside the rain fly, whichever is more convenient for you. Like the Aqua Quest model this also comes in a bungle package which makes great value when purchasing. It comes with a free carry or stuff bag, 4 tent stakes and 6 guy lines that you can use to secure your tarp once set up.

Here’s a visual for those of you who want to see it in action:

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Pros
  • Lightweight 1.9 lbs.
  • Value Package
  • Built in Doors
  • 8000mm Waterproof Rating
  • 8 Tie outs for Stability

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Cons
  • Not as durable or waterproof as the Aqua Quest Camo, however not many are.

Aqua Quest Guide Tarp Review

Our next tarp tent is again from Aqua Quest, delivering an amazing 2nd choice for a 13×10 ft. ultralight, camping tarp. There are some similarities to the camouflage version, but also some key differences. One of which that is immediately apparent, the color. With 3 solid color choices and some additional features in the design it’s also worth a look at it, let’s dive in.

-Ultralight and Compact-

Weighing a modest 1.9 pounds in total it’s a ghost in your gear. The size is small and compact, when in its packed form it’s around 12x6x3 in inches which is smaller than the Defender model. Additionally it can be compressed further to reach around 6x6x3.5 in inches. This can then be stored away neatly in your backpack.

-Durable and Versatile-

Although it’s extremely lightweight and can be compressed into an incredibly small size, it still remains a very strong tarp, much like the Defender model. Environmentally friendly it has been made with non-toxic dual silicone material that has been protectively coated with PU. Also utilizing the RipStop fabric like the Defender with the 40D type, as opposed to the 70D utilized by the Defender. The seams again have been heat sealed for added water protection and strength and the stitching is reinforced so you will have no worries regarding frays, rips and tears along the lining. All the webbing loops have been reinforced for additional strength and there are 17 of them in total and 1 of which is centered in the middle. This allows you to create a teepee shaped tarp tent if desired or attach them to peg directly into the ground and cover your tent, meaning trees are not as necessary as before.

-Hydrostatic Head Rating-

With an off the charts rating of 20,000mm you can bet your mortgage that not a single droplet of water will penetrate the fabric, even during the harshest of rainfall or monsoon. It’s an impossibility with this level of protection. So feel free to test the elements and camp out off the beaten track with the Guide by your side.

A visual for all those that want a closer look of the Aqua Quest Guide:

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Pros
  • 3 Color Choice
  • 20,000mm Hydrostatic Rating
  • 1.9lbs pack weight
  • Environmentally Friendly

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Cons
  • Less webbing loops than the Aqua Quest Defender model.

ENO ProFly Rain Tarp Review

Our next camping tarp is from Eagle Nest Outfitters with their well-received ProFly rain tarp. It has become a best seller on many e-commerce platforms and has won the Amazons Choice award. The positive customer reviews speak volumes to the practicality and performance of this lightweight, durable and waterproof tarp tent. Let’s check out its finer details for comparison.

-Waterproof-

The ProFly has been manufactured with a 210D RipStop nylon material that has been treated with polyurethane. This strengthens the material and also adds waterproofing properties. They haven’t given a hydrostatic head rating and we haven’t been able to test it ourselves yet. Having said that, given the material used is in line with other brands and also the customer reviews, we can probably agree this can weather a storm with no penetration.

-Connection-

Featuring 6 points to connect from it can be attached to nearby points to shelter you from rain and incoming bad weather. Popularly used as a hammock shelter tarp for this reason, however it can also be used as a camping tarp due to its durability and waterproofing properties.

-Measurements and Weight-

Its measurements are 10.6 x 6.4 in feet and its super lightweight, weighing only around 22 ounces. Makes a great addition to ultra-lightweight camping enthusiasts. Slightly smaller than the other models but still holding its own with excellent material, waterproof properties and build design.

-Big Brother-

They also have a ProFlyXL model which is 2 foot longer and 3 foot wider than the ProFly.

ENO ProFly XL rain tarp
Click here to check out the XL model up close.

All other features and quality are still maintaining the same high standard as the ProFly, we just thought you may want to be aware of a larger, newer model on the market before purchasing this compact version. For solo tarp camping and a more modest approach, the ProFly is sufficient for the majority of cases.

-Hammock Shelter-

As we said before this is popularly used as a hammock shelter, you pop it up over the hammock, attach to surrounding points such as trees etc., and voila, a comfortable and secure, waterproofed shelter.

Tarp Hanging over hammock

Here are a few basic options and examples for people who intend to use it as a hammock shelter, or if the idea of tarp camping with a hammock interests you, you can check out the examples above more closely via the link. We aren’t covering hammocks in today’s reviews unfortunately, maybe we will do that soon.

You can also check out this video going over the tarp visually:

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Pros
  • Waterproof
  • Durable
  • Ultra Lightweight 22 ounces
  • 5 Color Choices
  • Large XL Option Available

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Cons
  • No Stakes Included
  • A little bulky (not heavy)

Kelty Noah’s Camping Tarp Review

are a great range of tarp shelters that are specifically designed for camping use. They have a variety of top quality tarps and we will look at a few today in our review.

Kelty Noah’s Tarp Sun Shelter Review

A great new and improved camping tarp from Kelty. Super strong, waterproof and in 4 different size options, it’s definitely worth a look as opposed to their previous mode. This is the updated newer version of the original white Kelty Noah’s Tarp 2013 that was a white camping tarp in 9 and 12 foot models.

Kelty Noahs Tarp 2013
The older model range is still available here.

The newer Sun Shelter Tarp has an improved waterproofing material, a higher hydrostatic rating and 2 extra size choices. Let’s look at this popular camping tarp in more detail.

-Waterproof-

We’ve researched and found that the older white tarp had a 450mm waterproof rating, however the newer green tarp has an 800mm hydrostatic rating, making it nearly twice as resistant. It’s worth mentioning in our experience, that the white camping tarp also performed very well under heavy rain. But nevertheless, I would feel more comfortable taking the 800mm than the 450mm as you never know what kind of weather conditions you will meet.

-Simplistic Set Up-

A visual on how easy it can be to set up a Kelty Tarp in the wild.

-Dimensions-

Well they have four sizes in 2 color themes. The solid green tarp comes in 9 and 12 feet models, we consider this the lightweight tarp as the packed size ranges from 10x9x3 to 12x10x3 in inches and the packed weight is from 2lbs-2.9lbs. The tarp alone is of course much lighter ranging from 1.11lbs-2.3lbs, the 9 feet is clearly an ultralight tarp.

Kelty Tarp on the Snow

The other color theme is Green Top that comes in 16 and 20 feet models. However, unless I’m color blind I’m not seeing a great deal of difference between the 2 colors, sorry Kelty! Regarding dimensions these are much larger than their predecessors. The packed size ranges from 14x10x3.5 to 17x12x4 in inches and the packed weight goes from 3.15lbs-5.12lbs which is quite a substantial jump in weight, especially for lightweight tarp campers. The weight of the tarp alone starts at 3.10lbs and goes up to 5.7lbs for the largest 20 footer tarp.

-Features-

The tarp comes with a roll top stuff bag that is pretty easy to use and fits nicely into a backpack, especially for the 9 and 12 feet models. They have manufactured all 4 sizes with fully tapped seams and they have attached guy-lines for securing onto trees or whatever you want to attach your tarp to. There are also storage pockets which is pretty unique for a tarp and is very useful for storing those small, important items that need protecting and keeping off the ground floor.

-Tip-

We’ve heard on multiple occasions that people should buy in upsize of what they plan. Much like when buying a tent, if there are 4 people, buy a 6 person, for the added room and generally as a precaution. This is also the case with the Kelty tarp (apparently), some have said if you need the 9 foot, by the 12 foot. Buy above what you need as a precaution, as not to be disappointed.

Here’s a visual rundown of all the features on the Kelty Noahs Tarp 12:

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Pros
  • 4 Size Choices
  • Improved Hydro Rating
  • Storage Pockets
  • Guylines Included

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Cons
  • No poles included

Free Soldier Waterproof Tarp Review

Our last addition is a great economical option for first time tarp campers and it comes from Free Soldier. In a rustic solid brown color and respectable waterproofing properties it has become a best seller on Amazon and has been met with positive responses from the vast majority of its users, including us. Let’s have a look at some of its finer details in our full review.

-Waterproof and UV-

Made with a 190T RipStop fabric which is predominantly polyester, allowing it to retain a light weight while also keeping strong waterproofing properties. The PU coating applied to the material keeps it dry during even harsh weather. These materials also have UV protection properties so it’s also perfect as a fast sun shelter for your group during the hot afternoon sun.

-Stable-

The seams have been well stitched and it’s been put together to a high standard, this allows you to pitch the water resistant fabric in any position and you will be sheltered to a high degree. It’s quite a big tarp at 118×126 in inches, yet because of the Polyester material it stays light at 2.10lbs. In addition because of the large cover it’s perfect to use with your hammock as a hammock shelter.

-Multi Functional-

You can use this versatile and simplistic tarp in many scenarios such as camping and hiking with your hammock, also doubles as a tarp tent. You can also use it on the beach due to its UV protective properties, up against a palm tree on the perimeter of the beach for example. You could also use it during your picnic as a groundsheet that is waterproof, or pitch it above your family for sun protection. Tarps are very versatile and this goes for all the tarps in our list.

Here is a close up on the tarp from Free Soldier:

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Pros
  • Economical
  • Large Coverage
  • Waterproof
  • Anti UV Protection

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Cons
  • No poles or Sticks
  • Heavier than other similar sized tarps

Tarp vs. Tent Backpacking: How to Choose?

First before you yourself can choose one side, you must be informed about both sides, so we won’t be biased and discuss only camping tarps. In this piece we will give information for both backpacking tents and tarp tents alike.

What is a Backpacking Tent?

It’s a tent or some form of shelter that you carry with you while on a backpacking trip. Bringing some sort of tent or shelter with you is important to protect you from the weather.

Backpacking Tent
A typical backpacking set up

Generally, they are compact, small and lightweight. Backpacking tents come in all forms of shapes and sizes. They are made of different water resistant cloth materials and are supported with collapsible poles.

Backpacking tents are generally lighter and made with minimal material compared to standard camping tents. Manufacturers who design backpacking tents put more emphasis into different design features but a light weight is usually a common denominator.

While backpacking and accessing remote areas, weight is generally the most important factor to consider (flashes a tarp). It is also important to think about how many people you will share the tent with because that also means that there are more people to help carry it! (Ew sharing)

many people crammed in a tent
Okay maybe not THIS bad but you get our drift…

Tents of all kinds are usually rated with the amount of adults that they can comfortably fit. For backpacking specific tents, that usually ranges from 1-4 people.

If more than 4 people are going on a trip together than it is more common to bring more than one tent.

Backpacking tents also vary in level of comfort. Usually, normal tents that are more comfortable, offer larger areas of covered space both inside and outside the tent (a wide flagged tarp wouldn’t have this problem, just saying). This includes the ground that you are laying on.

Double and Single walled tent

There are two common tent designs that include either a double wall tent or a single wall tent. The double wall tent has a body and a rainfly. The body is comprised of a mesh material to allow for air ventilation but keeps the bugs out and can usually stand on its own. A rainfly goes over the body of the tent to protect from the rain and wind. On hot summer days it is nice to leave the rainfly off the tent to keep the tent cooler.

A single wall design is usually made with a robust waterproof material such as Gore-Tex or other breathable laminates. The single wall tents may also be a tepee design with a single pole in the middle to support the tent. These tents are often the lightest option but do not allow for the same level of comfort.

If you have never backpacked before, I would suggest buying a double wall tent and a tent that offers more covered space. A nice feature of many tents is a vestibule which is an area of the tent which is only covered by the rainfly but allows you to store your shoes or back underneath it.

How to Choose Backpacking Tents for an Adventure 

Season Rating

Backpacking tent pitched in snow

There are many things to consider when trying to choose a backpacking tent. Be sure to check out the tent basics page for basic information on tents and the REI advice page. To start, it is important to decide on a 3 season or 4 season tent. Are you going to be camping in harsh weather environments? Is there the potential to experience heavy rain, wind, or snow? If so, then I would limit your search to 4 season tents as they are more sturdy and robust. The downside is that they will generally be heavier.

Do you plan to go on trips in areas that are more temperate in weather? Are you going backpacking in a rain forest or a desert? Make sure you do research about the area that you are going to hike through to see what type of weather usually occurs. If the weather tends to be more temperate during the time of year that you are hiking than a 3 season tent will be sufficient.

Number of People

A solo camper

How many people are you going camping with? Are you on a solo mission? A group of friends? Regardless, you will need to make sure that the size of your tent is accommodating for the amount of people that will be sleeping in it. Do you need extra space? Do you want to store your pack and clothes inside your tent? These are important questions that you need to ask yourself.

Group campers

Some tents feature a large rain fly so that you can keep your pack and hiking shoes outside the body of your tent but under the rainfly. Some tents are smaller or do not feature a large rainfly so you are left to produce an additional shelter.

Number of Entrances

Tent Doors

All tents will have at least one entrance but depending on the amount of people sleeping in a tent, it can be really nice to have more entrances. By having more entrances, your tent mate does not have to crawl over you and your things to get to their mate. This can be especially helpful when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Tent Ventilation

Tent ventilation diagram

Tent ventilation is important for many reasons which include keeping the tent comfortable, smelling good, and not accumulating moisture inside the tent. Most tents feature mesh walls that allow for airflow. It is important that your tent has mesh walls or windows to allow for sufficient air flow.

Guy Lines

Tent Guy Lines

These are used to secure your tent to the ground and ensure that your tent is set-up properly. 4 season tents are going to have more attachment points on the body of the tent because they are designed to withstand high winds and harsh elements. If you are camping in a friendly weather environment than guy lines are not necessary.

Zipper Durability

Tent Zippers

Zipper durability is important in the longevity of your tent. Smaller zippers are not as robust and break easier. Although zippers can be replaced, purchasing tents that already have larger zippers will add the total lifespan of your tent.

Weight

Tent Weight

When backpacking, weight is an important factor to consider. The size of your tent can take up a lot of space in your pack and can be heavy as well. The weight of the tent will vary based on its size, features, and overall space capacity. It is optimal to try and reduce the tent weight as much as possible. If you are backpacking by yourself try and aim for 2-3 lbs. larger tents can range in weight from 3-6 lbs. If you are sharing a tent, it is optimal to have a shared weight of 2 lbs. per person. 

Tent Costs

Tent Buying

The cost of the tent will vary based on the variables mentioned throughout this article. Additionally, the brand and features of the tent will have a big impact. Do not assume that a more expensive tent will be better than a less expensive tent. Although. Pricier tents are usually made with better materials that are not as heavy.

Expensive tents may have an awkward layout or the brand is marketed to be better than less expensive tents because of the posh brand image. The best way is to look at different tents that meet your criteria listed above. Following, compare the tents at different price points and compare the overall features. What tent meets your backpacking needs and is comfortable on your wallet?

There are many variables to evaluate when choosing a tent and oftentimes you can have a different tent depending on the season or the amount of people that you are backpacking with. When choosing the best tent, pick the tent that fits your needs and that one that you are comfortable sleeping in.

Here’s a cool video abbreviating some of the factors to look out for:

 

 FAQ

We’re going to look at some commonly asked questions relating to camping tarps and tarp camping as an activity.

How to set up a Tarp?

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

Camping Tarp Set Up Examples

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 and videos 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?

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

Camping Tarp with Tent Poles

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.

Adjustable Camping Tent Pole
Click here to check out this adjustable from Green Elephant.

For a standard 10×10 camping tarp, 4 camping poles would be sufficient, one for all four corners. However, for larger 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.

In another scenario if there is rainfall, a raised center area will create a natural run off for the rain water, so a central camping pole will do wonders in this situation. 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, and so make sure you create a run off for the water to escape easily. 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, keeping your camping area clear and dry.

Let’s start with a step by step guide:

  1. Unfold and spread out the camping tarp in 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, try this if you are worried about tears etc.

Vulnerable to strong winds getting under the tarp and allowing the center pole to fall due to lack of tension.

A nice visual aid here to show how to set up a tarp with trekking poles if you don’t have the adjustable camping tent pole above.

How to Set up a Tarp without Tent Poles?

If you find yourself in a situation where trees are in abundance and it allows you to easily find a suitable spot to pitch your tarp tent, then 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.

Figure 9 Carabiner
Check out these black carabiners here, useful for tarp camping without poles.

If you wish to get your ropes over elevated branches that are difficult to reach, you can utilize biners 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 backpack 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, like we talked about previously.

 

How to set up a Tarp using Ridgeline?

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.

Confused? Let’s do it step by step:

  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 is the time to feed a smaller rope through the center biners in preparation.
  7. While the rope is down, on the ground you can take this opportunity to position the tarp over the unattached rope.
  8. Now you can pull the Ridgeline to elevate the camping tarp, once its elevated correctly 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 biner, while securing the end of the rope around the second tree and back through the biner 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?

So you’re Ridgeline camping tarp is now set up in all its glory but you want to now attach an Extension Tarp to complete the set up and add additional coverage and shelter.

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.

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 does a good job of trapping heat from campfires for example, which is good to keep the group warm during bad weather.

Let’s go through it step by step.

  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 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.

Why Use Tarp Tents For Camping or Backpacking?

Backpacking or Camping with a tarp allows you to get into remote areas that are not easily accessible or inaccessible via other forms of transportation. How much you have to carry depends on the terrain, weather, and how comfortable you like to be while traveling in the wilds. You can go a long distance on two feet and you can go a lot farther by carrying less weight.

camo tarp pitched in the tree

Tents have developed over the years to become lighter and therefore more efficient to carry. Traditional backpackers and campers are interested in traveling farther in shorter amounts of time and often rely on their gear to give them an edge in order to accomplish this.

In recent years, backpacking tarp tents have gained popularity because they are lighter than traditional backpacking shelters. Thus, allowing hikers to have lighter packs and be able to walk further distances. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to using them.

Hiking with tarp

Before you decide on what tarp tent you need for a camping trip it is important to understand the terrain and potential weather that you may encounter. Although tarp shelters are light and repel water well, they are not as strong in the wind. 3 season and 4 season tents are going to withstand winds far better than a tarp tent. Traditional tents are better in stronger elements because they generally have a pole structure to support the tent and guy lines to secure it to the ground. 

Things to Consider before Tarp Camping

Windy Conditions

It can be difficult to forecast wind conditions but researching an area on a map, talking to other people that have traveled in the same area, and looking at the weather report can be a great resource. If you are looking at a map of the area that you will be traveling through, ask yourself the following questions:

Will I be hiking in high elevations?

Higher elevations tend to have less shrubs and smaller trees, therefore offering fewer places to find refuge if you encounter bad weather. If you are hiking in lower elevations, along rivers or streams, or in valleys then you most likely will be hiking through thicker brush. As a general rule, it is good to stay low when bad weather hits.

Are natural features present?

Will you be hiking or camping in mountainous or rocky terrain? Although hiking on rocky terrain can be difficult, large rock features can offer protection from the elements. Plus, smaller rocks can be great anchors for setting up your tent or building small rock wind walls.

Tarp vs. Tent

tarp vs tent

Here we will look at all the pros and cons of Tarp tents and Camping Tarps, allowing us to make an informed comparison with traditional pole tents.  

Camping Tarp Pros

Light Weight-

Obviously, they are going to be light weight because they are made with less material. Most tarps do not have tent poles and this significantly reduces their overall weight as well. The total weight is the largest benefit of camping with a tarp. The beauty of this is when you start hiking or backpacking, it’s nearly weightless so you won’t feel the burden. For this reason you can feel free to buy the largest tarp tent on the market and it’s likely to only weigh a few grams more than a standard one, neither will take up much space or weight. 

Compact-

They tend to be compact since they are made with a small amount of material. Since there is not a lot of material that is used they are easily packed. This allows more space to be utilized in your pack for other things such as food. Simply roll them up and stuff them in similar to the size of a pair of pants, you would never see this level of compactness in any kind of tent, traditional or otherwise. 

Rain Protection-

tarp in the rain

Tarp tents will vary in the level of protection that they have against the rain. Some of the tarps we have in this review have Hydrostatic Ratings of up to 20,000mm. This is unheard of in traditional tents and rain drops of any kind will not be able to penetrate that level of protection, period.

Spacious-

spacious room under tarp

They can be very spacious depending on how big of a tarp you get. Some tarp tents can be confining if they have a center pole that supports the tent. While tents that do not need any poles can feature a lot more open space. This can be nice because you can have all of your gear inside the tent and protected from the elements.

-Economical-

I don’t know if you have seen the price of the top tier backpacking tents these days, but they are astronomical. You could get an insanely good quality tarp for a cheaper price that would last you much longer and have a whole host of cool features to boot.

-Fires-

tarp camp fire

The most traditional and let’s face it, fun activity to be done while camping or on any outdoor trip is to make a fire. Embrace your inner caveman (or woman) and create mans red flower. However, if you are sitting close to your backpacking tent, you will be aware of the risk of a small ember sailing loose and burning a hole through your nice $400 ultra-light tent. This is not a problem with tarps, they can be attached at a decent enough height to entrap the warmth, yet avoid the sparks and embers at the same time. Imagine chilling under the tarp while having a fire adjacent at the same time, you’re starting to get the idea of why these are so popular.

-Shelter-

tarp in the snow

A well-positioned tarp can make excellent shelter for gear and friends alike, with wide coverage you can sit your camping group all inside comfortably. Play a game of cards while you’re waiting for the rain to subside or store all your backpacks and gear while you take a wander, confidently knowing they are safe.

-Multi Functional-

Most tarps also double as ground sheets due to their waterproof properties, this is also an option you can utilize when needed. We also suggest maybe taking an actual groundsheet as well to lay under your tarp, just to give yourself the right protection and comfortable camping experience. Remember to have the above tarp extend the groundsheet, this is to prevent water pooling beneath.

-Fun-

Tarp Fun

They are just fun to use. The beauty of tarps they are very versatile in their set up. They can be attached in many different ways, forming different shapes and angles. Contouring to the environment and bending into position, this can be really interesting and challenging when setting your sights on nature and deciding the best possible angle to pitch. You can also combine it with your trusty hammock to make a protected, dry and relaxing camping experience. 

Camping Tarp Cons

-Vulnerable In Windy Conditions-

Although there are many advantages to tarp tents when camping, they are weakest when set-up in windy conditions. It can be difficult to secure tarp tents in windy conditions because of their light material and non-existent pole structure.

-Difficult To Set-Up-

There are many different tarp designs but I have found it difficult to easily set-up tarp tents. The level of difficulty lowers if you have more people to help you. Tents that have poles make it a lot easier to set-up the body but tarp tents are more difficult because they have to be attached to anchors such as stakes, rocks or trees.

-No Bug Net-

If you are not comfortable with bugs and other creepy crawlers than you may not want to sleep under a tarp. Standardized tarp tents will not have a bug net or enclosure that is normally made of a mesh material. Most other tents will have a body that acts as an enclosure and keep the bugs out of your tent. If things that crawl and slitter do not bother you then this will not be an issue.

-Easy To Damage-

As mentioned in other parts of the article, tarp tents are made with lightweight, single-layered material that can tear easily. You can avoid damaging your tarp by keeping it away from fires, avoid cooking inside or around your tent, and avoid leaving your tent on the ground or on abrasive terrain such as rocks.

Conclusion

As you can see the pros far outweigh the cons.

Camping tarps and tarp tents really allow you to get back to basics and enjoy a simplistic camping style that doesn’t need a lot of fuss or hassle.

Tarp camping is not for everyone and some of the cons may be a deal breaker, however for others once you’ve gone tarp, you will never go back.

The freedom involved in tarp camping resonates with a lot of people for good reason.

So why not give it a go?

We’ve gone over lightweight models perfect for camping, hiking and backpacking.

Use our buyers guide to decide which one is most appropriate for your next journey, give it a try and let us know what you think.

Farewell

We hope you enjoyed out piece on camping tarps and the information was useful and informative. We spent countless hours revising and reviewing these tarps to provide the best ones for camping trips.

The FAQ and tips were made through detailed research, personal experiences and word of mouth, from seasoned campers and hikers.

If you have any questions that weren’t on the list or simply want to share the love, drop a comment or share on any social media platform via the social links you will see hovering around.

See you very soon for our next installment, until then..

Happy Camping!

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