Camping Tarps 101

Ahhh, the great outdoors! All campers know that your trip is only as good as your survival skills and your tools. That’s why you need a great camping tarpaulin—they can come in handy for an unlimited amount of outdoor situations. Make your adventure a smooth one. Use this post as your guide to choosing the right camping tarp and getting the most use out of it.

Which kind of tarps should be used for camping?

You’d want something waterproof, durable and weatherproof. So, the best tarps for camping would be either vinyl-coated polyester tarps or iron horse polyester tarps. You can also use some lightweight camping tarps, like poly tarps, for short-term light-duty use (never for pitching tents or providing shelter, though).

Tarp vs Tent

Tarps can be used as shelter, but should you use them instead of a tent? Well, it depends on your preference. If you want to “rough it”, be our guest and pitch a tarp to use as shelter. However, tarps are usually used for shelter under “survivalist” situations. For families and less experienced campers, we recommend complementing your tent with a couple different tarps to provide extra protection and a ton of extra use throughout your trip.

Uses for Tarps While Camping

A tarpaulin could have an endless amount of use on your camping trip. Use it practically (such as ground covers, protection covers, privacy screens, etc.) and for survival! Check out just some of what you can use tarps for while camping.

Tent ground tarp – A tarpaulin can be placed underneath the tent on the ground or inside the tent covering the floor to block out moisture and add extra protection (this will also prolong the life of your tent!).

Ground sheets – Pull out your tarp to sit on during picnics, hikes or just around your campsite.

Rain barrier – Have extra protection in case a storm hits, protect yourself and your stuff against the mud, create a short-term shelter while bringing gear in/out of your tent, and cover your campfire.

Wind – Tarps can act as a windbreaker for your shelter.

Shade – Vinyl-coated poly tarps are UV-treated, so they protect you against the sun and its rays. Ideal for desert camping! Use this helpful video to learn how to hang a tarp from trees over your campsite.

Camp kitchen shelter – You should never cook inside your tent. Instead, create a cooking area with a tarp secured from above to protect against the elements. If your tarp will be next to an open flame, you will need a flame-retardant tarp.

Campfire protection – A must for when there’s unkind weather. A tarp can also help keep the warmth in, making your campsite cozy.

Tarp hammock – A comfortable and useful rest area/survival shelter. If you’d like a tutorial for this, here’s an excellent video from Survival Tracker. You can even go a step further and protect your hammock with another tarp shelter (see tutorial).

Tarping a Campsite

There are several different ways to tarp a campsite. Here are three of the most popular tarp shelter configurations:

  1. Diamond Fly
    • What it is: a diagonal pitch using a square tarp.
    • What you’ll need: Trees/poles, stakes, guy line and a square tarp.
    • Ideal for: Personal shelter, protecting against rain/sun, maintaining warmth.
  1. A-Frame
    • What it is: a tarp that’s pitched from the middle.
    • What you’ll need: 8×8 or 8×10 tarp, paracord, loops, stakes, lighter and a knife.
    • Ideal for: Roomier shelter (with two walls a roof) for campers, pets and equipment; shelter during snow or rain (because the angle allows for runoff)
  1. Envelope Tarp Shelter
    • What it is: A tarp that’s pitched from each corner at different heights to create a pocket for shelter.
    • Ideal for: Protection from ground and one side.
    • What you’ll need: guy line, stakes, trees/poles, tarp.

These are just a few ways you can pitch a camping tarp. Which others do you rely on? Let us know in the comments below.

Until next time–stay happy, campers! 😊

Unsure which kind of tarp of what tarp size to purchase?

GG Knows – A Dictionary of Textile Terms

Meet GG, one of the beloved founders of Chicago Canvas & Supply. Although she’s no longer with us, her vast knowledge of industry terminology lives on in this textile dictionary! Each month, we’ll pull from GG’s personal collection of terms—don’t miss out by subscribing to our blog over on the right-hand side of this webpage.

Ready to learn something new? Let’s get started!
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40 Tarpaulin Uses

One of the reasons we love tarps is because they’re so versatile. If you buy one for your home, we’re sure you’ll be bringing it out time and time again. Check out some of the creative uses for tarps!

Creative Tarpaulin Uses

Camping

DIY Tarp Tent

  1. You can pitch a tent from your tarp.
  2. Protect the bottom of your tent.
  3. Use as a windbreaker.
  4. Make privacy dividers.
  5. Create shower/restroom area.

Shelter

  1. Keep wood dry.
  2. Animal shelter.
  3. Keep your fire in the rain.
  4. Shade yourself, or your supplies from the sun.
  5. Sleep or protect yourself from weather under DIY shelter.

Activities

  1. Cover supplies.
  2. Make a hammock.
  3. Hunting and fishing gear.
  4. Carry/transport supplies (firewood, food, etc.) around.

Hiking

  1. Create a make-shift picnic or rest area during breaks.
  2. Make a rain poncho.

Survival

  1. Gather water.
  2. Make a floatation device.
  3. Camouflage (with the right color, like olive drab).
  4. Use as a gurney to transport injured individuals.

Home

  1. Use to treat roof leaks.
  2. Use as a ground cover for simple clean-up.
  3. Protect floor while painting.
  4. Warm plants on cold nights.
  5. Use as temporary covers for renovation, construction, and unfinished projects.
  6. Make temporary room divider curtains.
  7. Cover and protect storage.
  8. Protect your carpet while moving.
  9. Cover patio furniture during rain/snow or shade from sun.
  10. Protect bikes from snow/rain/sun.
  11. Equipment and supply cover (sports, construction, garden, wood etc.).
  12. Use instead of a painters drop cloth.
  13. Play space for kids.

Vehicles

  1. Car/truck covers (inside and outside the vehicle).
  2. Boat/yacht covers.
  3. Boat windows.
  4. Boat sail.

Fun

  1. Use on a hot day as a slip-n-slide.
  2. Make your own waterproof bags.
  3. Use for the kid’s fort.

Find Tarps for Every Occasion

Waterproof - Water-resistant - Light- to Heavy-Duty

Don’t Come up Short with Cut Size Tarps

The Difference of Cut Size vs. Finish Size for Tarps

What a frustrating feeling when you go to use your recently ordered tarp to cover your equipment, gym floor, or use for a tent…whatever the use, the tarp is just a few inches too short!  But you measured, right?  Of course you did.  You are sure of it. So unless some mythical creature lurking inside the box trimmed that heavy duty tarp exactly even while in transit, re-hemmed the tarp and carefully refolded the tarp as a practical joke, something went awry.  Well, what likely happened is you ordered a cut size tarp. What does that mean? Let us break it down for you.
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