use a tarp for camping

a frame tarp shelterSomething we always have in the pack is a good tarp shelter. Lightweight and versatile an a frame tarp shelter will save you if you get caught out on a hike and the weather turns for the worse or you are on an overnighter and want something to cover your hammock.

All tarp shelters are more versatile than tents…and some like the Kelty Noah Tarp Shelter pictured above weigh little or nothing in your kit bag.

One thing we always look for in our kit is durability and versatility. Yep, you can indeed use plastic sheeting as a make-shift tarp or even rig up a few black sacks if you are really stuck, but long-term investing in a quality camping tarp is the way to go.

Tents are great as well but again, you can rig up a tarp with just the tarp itself, two trees and a length of paracord. Most of the tarps available can be compressed down to fit into your pack and off you go. (Great if you are a fan of travelling light…)

There are plenty of very fancy configurations for setting up your tarp but our favourite is the standard A-Frame. The A-Frame tarp shelter is easy to put up and can be done really quickly. Great if it starts lashing down rain and you need a quick shelter.

Types of tarps for making tarp shelters:

Tarps can set you back anything from $5 to $200+ for the high-end models if your budget and more importantly requirements stretch that far. Budget wise we tend to look at quality first and what others are saying online in reviews before we narrow down and make our choice.

Things to look for with a tarp for your shelter.

Weight – You can buy a tarp for a fiver but it’s usually one of that blue or silver fibre reinforced polyethene. Does the job but weight wise it’s going to a lot heavier than some of the nylon ones and quality leaves a bit to be desired.

Tie Down Holes – These are the reinforced grommets you will see along the edges of the tarp. Loop your paracord through this and out to your tie down pegs and that it. The more expensive tarps usually have more of these and that allows for different configurations when setting it up. The standard A-frame tarp setup is perfect but sometimes you may need a different setup –  depends on you camping spot, the conditions, like wind direction, rain and what you are trying to cover up.

If you are undecided about which tarp setup to use then check out the video below. This guy covers off on a few great options for your next trip.

How do you choose a location for your tarp shelter:

There are a few things you must look out for when choosing a good location for your tarp shelter.

Firstly you are going to need two trees spaced about 15 to 20 feet apart to tie your ridgeline to. This runs along the centre line of your tarp. With the A-Frame tarp, you simply drape the tarp over this tight line and away you go.

The second thing to look for is what’s above your head. Check out the area directly above you and also surrounding your camp area for deadfall or anything that may look like it could fall down – especially if the wind gets up. It’s called deadfall for a reason and a thin tarp over your head isn’t going to save you.

Next, you want to look at the ground. Is it level, in a depression or in a water runoff. Everything may be dry when you set up camp but what happens if it rains in the night and you wake up in a puddle or have a stream running through the middle of your camp.

How to prep the site for your A Frame tarp shelter:

Clear out any loose branches, sticks and rocks that are in the immediate area. If the ground is dry you may get away with sleeping directly on the forest floor but we usually take a ground sheet tarp with us to keep ourselves and our gear out of the dirt.

Tip: Make sure you have a decent supply of firewood within range – if you are camping in an area that allows open fires and it’s safe to have one.

a frame tarp shelterRigging up your tarp shelter – The A-frame setup:

For the A-Frame tarp setup, you tie your paracord ridgeline to the two trees and throw the tarp over it – splitting it evenly on both sides. You may want to leave the ridgeline adjustable at this point because you want to make sure the tarp reaches the ground on both sides.

Some of the better quality tarps have loops along the ridgeline. These are great and you simply thread the paracord through these before you tie off the second end to the tree.

You can buy specialised pins to tie down the ends of the tarp nearest to the ground but we prefer to make them when we hit the campsite. It’s great practice with the knife and there is always plenty of material around to do this.

Other kit you may need when you go try out camping with a tarp-style shelter.

You are going to need some decent paracord to tie the tarp down. If you are camping somewhere that is short on trees you might have to bring along some dedicate extendable poles for the tarp or you can use hiking sticks at each end to prop up the middle.

You might also want to bring a camping and bushcraft knife along with you to work on some other project while you are there. Plus if you are like us you will need it to fashion up some pegs to hold the tarp to the ground…

Final thoughts:

The A-Frame tarp shelter works well most of the time but is not suitable for all weather conditions. Easy to rig up and break down its definitely one of our favourite ways to set up camp on a night in the woods…