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[What Kind of Tarp Should I get?]   [How To Utilize Your Tarp(s)]   [Grommets!]  
How To Pack and Store a Tarp


You can't have too many tarps! 

We use them all the time. 

The obvious reason is to shelter you from rain. 
Tarps are great way to keep you and your gear dry, Once your tent and gear get wet your trip is going to be miserable.
"Don't get me wrong, even when we were wet and miserable, we still had a good time, but it would have been a LOT better if we hadn't been wet."

It doesn't matter how good your tent is, if it rains hard enough, and for long enough,
you are going to get wet!  

If the rain comes down hard enough, it will come right through the fabric of all but the best tents, and if there is ANYTHING leaning against the inside of any of your tent walls, I guarantee water will find it's way in.

 Also, even if you seal your seams, they are pretty likely to leak!

You can walk around a camp grounds in the rain and see for yourself, campers with tarps can hang around outside by the fire, play cards or cook dinner while campers without tarps remain trapped in their tents. What would you rather do?

  If not for rain . . .
then for shade,
the only place to escape a burning hot day besides the cool water is under the tarp.
Tarps also keep tree debris off tables, chairs and generally making the campsite bit more orderly. They can also hide you from wildlife and other campers, making your site a little more private, especially in those crowded camp grounds!

You can redirect wind for a breeze in the campsite, making it hard for bugs to fly while providing oxygen for the fire to burn well. In cold windy weather they can keep wind out of the camp site while retaining some of the heat from the fire. 

If more tarps are needed, tie them independently of each other, this way if one comes down the rest stay up. Each tarp must have all four corners tied to a solid object such as trees. Make sure that the tarps horizontally overlap so that rain can't get through.

Never tie two tarps together.
 This puts too much stress on the tarps during strong winds and storms. If one of the tarp's corners should come down, so will everything tied to that tarp. Each tarp should have four anchor ropes tied to a solid fixed object like a mature tree or a solid ground spike.

Poles are a benefit, especially in areas without strong trees. Try to put the tarps up without poles if possible, and then add the poles to enhance them. This ensures that the tarps can support themselves if anything should happen to the poles.

If your tarp should tear during your trip buy a new one before your next trip.
Once a tear is formed the tarp will never recover to its original condition even if you sew it.

What Kind of Tarp Should I get?

There are a couple of types of plastic and tarp that can be used to keep your tent and gear dry. 

Tarps come in several varieties.  

Most stores sell the blue poly tarps; 
these are basic, and fairly durable.  
Some times you can find tarps that are brown, green, or silver. 
 Generally, these colors tend to be a bit heavier, and stronger than the basic blue tarps.

    In addition to these, you can also use painters tarps (these are thin clear plastic, and you basically get one use out of them) and the rolls of plastic sheeting that contractors use (You can purchase these at  Wal Mart for about $5 per roll.)

  You can use theses items to make ground cloths for under your tent, and to cover your fire wood.
 As a ground  cloth it can be used a couple of times until holes start to develop in it, then just throw it away, and make a new one.

How To Utilize Your Tarp(s) 

Let nature decide where the rope should be tied. Begin by tying the two lower corners where you want the runoff to be. Then pick up the next corner to be tied and point it where it wants to go. Tie a rope to the corner; make sure the rope is long enough to go where you want.
 Tie a heavy object to the other end of the rope and throw it over the branch of choice.

Find the end of the rope and pull the tarp taunt, tie it off with a temporary knot.
Repeat for remaining corner.

In cold, wet weather, angle the tarp with the low edge facing the wind. The wind will be forced over the campsite instead of through it, more importantly water can run off the tarp instead of collecting in a pool.

In warm, dry weather, try to angle the tarp with the high edge facing the wind. This creates a sort of parachute, raising the tarps in strong wind.

The way you set up the tarps is very important. 
 Your tarps must be capable of handling what ever Mother Nature throws at them.
 It may not seem like a big deal, but it can be very serious. 
 For instance, a tarp that covers a tent which measures 20' x 30'.
 During a rain storm, a LOT of water lands on this tarp.  The harder it rains the more water the tarp collects.
 The tarp has to be able to drain that water as quickly as it comes down.  Otherwise, the water starts to pool up.  Water weighs about 8 lbs. per gallon.  If water begins to pool up, it won't be long before the weight of the water is more than your tarp, and rigging can hold. 
When that tarp comes crashing down on your tent, with 150 lbs. of water pooled up in it,
you don't want to be under it!

 It is very important then, to think about drainage when you are setting up your tarps.

    Naturally, if the site has a slope, you need to consider the slope when setting up the tarps.  Ideally, you want to have the tarps drain on the downhill side of the site.  Wal Mart sells adjustable height tent poles for about $6 each that are great for holding up the edges of tarps.  I use these to help me arrange my tarps to drain where I want them to.  These poles extend up to about 8' high, but sometimes that isn't enough.  I like the lowest end of my tarp to be high enough to walk under without bending down.  For me, that is about 6'.  The middle of the tarp has to go over my tent, which is a bit over 7' tall.  In order to keep a good slope, I need the high end of my tarp to be between 8.5' and 9' high.

If water collects on top of your tarps, raise the top corner with a stick or pole allowing the water to run off the sides. Don't try raising the center because the tarp may be punctured in the place you least want a hole. Too much water collecting on your tarps will eventually cause them to come crashing down.

You can create a lean-to with a tarp by pegging one side very low to the ground.

This arrangement will reflect heat from the fire and can heat up the entire area in moderate winds. A lean-to is the basic structure for survival, with minimal resources, in a cold climate. Be sure to peg the low side of the tarp towards the wind.

In heavy winds, tarps often cannot handle the strain. 
Often if the wind starts blowing, it can get under a tarp and snap it taught which can be enough of a shock to snap a tie down. 
In this situation you must tie the end of the strained rope to a counter weight instead of a solid object.

The rope should be thrown over a strong branch. Then tie a heavy object to the end draping over the branch. When a strong wind comes the counter weight will be lifted a bit, when the wind dies down the counter weight will pull the tarp taunt.

You can also try using bungee cords between your tie down and your tarp to allow for some shock absorption. 

Using the bungee cord allows the sudden shock to be absorbed, 
and prevents the tie down from breaking.


Never tie tarps to vehicles.

 If you forget and drive off with the tarp tied to the car, it's coming down. Of course, this will happen in the worst rain of the trip.
Each tarp must have all four corners tied to a solid object such as trees.

Do not damage trees when putting up your tarps. 

Before you hammer that nail into a tree look around, you will likely find two or three nails already there from previous disrespectful individuals. Remember that those trees have to service hundreds of people every year; it doesn't take much to destroy something so fragile.

Duct tape is as good as any temporary repair kit you can buy.

 Make sure the tape is body temperature to help it stick. The tape adheres best on clean dry surfaces but will sticks to just about anything, including a damaged canoe. An added bonus is it can be used to prevent blisters by applying a square of it to bare skin reducing abrasion.


One of the stable things in camping, something that never changes, is that grommets fail.
 A tarp is only as strong as it's grommets, the strain on those points is often strong enough to cause a grommet to separate from the material.

There is a way to fix this corner by making an emergency grommet with a pebble; the technique is simple and remarkably effective. This hand made contraption can often outlast the original brass factory grommets.


Start by finding a small pebble or piece of wood. Any shape will do, you can even use a pen cap or AA battery, whatever is lying around the campsite.


Place the pebble on the tarp near the corner and fold the end over the pebble, completely covering it. You can roll it over more than once if you need to but the less you do this the better.

Now tie a rope around the tarp just after the pebble, forming a sack around the pebble. This grommet is very strong if done correctly, it should outlast the tarp itself. Of course you won't get the same drainage as a smooth flat tarp without the wrinkles caused by the knot of the pebble grommet.

How To Pack and Store a Tarp

Do not waste your time and money on one of those cool tarps that comes with it's own carring pouch!


The best way that I found to fold and store tarps are to fold them up like folding the American Flag or the old paper football (triangle fold).

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