How to build a tarp shelter for your next trip

Tarps (tarpaulins) are strong, durable lightweight, and cost-effective methods of keeping you protected from the elements. Protection from winds and heavy downpours. Tarps can be tweaked and customized depending on your needs.

Tarps shelter can be used for camping or backpacking (trekking/hiking) alike. Instructions how to build a tarp shelter for your next trip is below

What is a Tarp?

Many backpackers love using tarps as they are ultralights and take up minimal space in a backpack. These tarps are not those blue ones found at a hardware store. Nowadays they a thin yet strong nylon or polyester that’s waterproof or water-resistant.

A tarp can be used as a replacement to a tent. It is usually rigged with ropes, tent poles, and pegs. Many backpackers use tarps as they are lightweight compared to tents.

How to build a tarp shelter
Tarps are flexible and lightweight

Tarps Versus Tent

Tent

Pros

  • Durable shelter
  • Capture the air inside and warms up throughout the night
  • Great a keeping the cold out
  • A tent will keep the bugs and mosquitos out

Cons

  • Wanting to be minimalist weight is a factor
  • Putting up a tent in bad weather can be a challenge
  • If the outside temperature is warm, tents do retain warmth. Which is not great.

Tarp

Pros

  • Most obvious, they are lightweight for traversing the trails
  • They are open and provide a very nature like experience
  • Tarps offer ventilation, preventing any condensation
  • The flexibility of using throughout the day as a bevy

Cons

  • The openness of a tarp can invite bugs and critters into your sleeping quarters
  • Heavy rains, tarps provide minimal protection and can become washed out.
  • Tarps do offer plenty of ventilation and little protection from cold winds.
  • NOT recommended for winter expeditions

Knot tying skills

Configuring tarps do require tying of knots. If you need a refresher to check out below

https://youtu.be/kEZ9Yuw0CjA

Tarp Sizes

Tarps come in a variety of sizes. The most common size is 9×9 square foot tarps which will allow for flexibility of configuration. On the other hand, there are other tarps in different shapes and sizes. These tarps are lighter and easier to set-up but offer fewer configurations.

So now we have sorted those items out, let’s dig into basic tarp configurations on how to build a tarp shelter.

Tarp shelter configurations

Setting up a traditional A-frame shelter

The classic A-Frame shelter should provide enough space for two people

How to build a tarp shelter
iwentcamping.com
  1. Stake down one end of the tarp
  2. Place poles 1/2 way through the tarp.
  3. Create tension tying a rope around poles
  4. Stake down the other side of the tarp
  5. Adjust based on tautness, repositioning, and adjusting.
https://youtu.be/0ellIyxim0U

Setting up a Ridgeline shelter (no poles)

If you not want to use trekking poles to set-up your A-frame and know there will tree, you can use the Ridgeline shelter

iwentcamping.com
  1. Run the line between the 2 trees
  2. Tie knot both ends.
  3. Ensure line and tarp are taut
  4. Stake corners and sides
  5. Pull ropes to create tension at both sides
  6. Finally step is to adjust based on tautness, repositioning, and adjusting.

Closed-end A-Frame set up

The Closed-end A-Frame offers protection from the wind is blowing through.

How to build a tarp shelter
iwentcamping.com
  1. Stake down the back end of the tarp,
  2. Place pole through the front end of the tarp.
  3. Create tension tying the rope around poles
  4. Stake down the other sides of the tarp
  5. Adjust based on tautness, repositioning, and adjusting.

Wind Shelter frame set-up

Wind shelter frame will protect you from the wind which is coming in a particular direction.

a tarp shelter
iwentcamping.com
  1. Stake down on side of the tarp (wind protection)
  2. Set-up poles. Can use trekking/hiking poles
  3. Stake corners and sides
  4. Pull ropes to create tension at both sides
  5. Adjust based on tautness, repositioning, and adjusting.

Final Thoughts

Before you set-up, your tarp needs to consider geography and weather conditions.

For instance, in cold weather fewer openings than you would in warm weather where you want maximum airflow.

If windy you would want the opening facing away from the direction of the wind.

Tarps have many benefits. They provide campers flexibility and lightweight for trekking.

Setting up tarps might take some time getting use to. However, learning how to build a tarp shelter is a skill that provides you a useful skill that can get you through a number of camping and even survival events.

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