Published Feb. 22, 2021

A quality tarp is one of the most useful and convenient pieces of gear you can take on your outdoor adventures. Whether you’re heading for the backcountry for two weeks of solitude or just down to the lake shore for an afternoon of fishing, a heavy-duty tarpaulin will make the experience more comfortable. From a simple ground covering to a survival shelter, there are few times when a tarp won’t come in handy for some purpose. A good waterproof tarp can protect you from rainstorms, keep your gear dry when the ground is wet, and act as a moisture barrier for your sleeping pad.

Tarps aren’t created equal, and different types and construction materials are better suited for some jobs than others. When shopping for the best tarp for your outdoor adventures, consider these different features.

Do You Need a Tarp for Extremely Wet Conditions?

For those who enjoy the outdoors in rainy or damp environments, consider putting waterproof qualities ahead of all other factors when shopping for a tarpaulin. Some extra heavy-duty tarps are made to take hours and hours of hard rain without leaking. If you’re back in the boonies with nothing to do but wait out a rainstorm, those are the types of tarps you wish you had in your backpack with you.

If you’ll be out in the wet, consider a tarp made of strong and durable polyethylene. If your tarp is waterproof but can’t stand up to normal camp treatment, it’s going to be ripped when you need it most. Then, no matter how waterproof it is, you and your gear are going to get wet.

Best Tarp For Rugged Use: Super Heavy Duty 16 Mil Brown Poly Tarp

Best All-Around Tarp: WHITEDUCK Canvas Heavy Duty Ripstop Cotton Polyester Tarpaulin

Best Tarp for Use as a Shelter: SJK Satellite Tarp

Best Emergency Tarp: Lewis N. Clark Nylon Tarp

Best Cheap Tarp: Stansport Reinforced Brown Rip-Stop Tarp

Features to Consider When Shopping for Tarps

Because there’s such a wide variety of tarps to choose from, it’s important to determine how you’ll use it. If you’re going to be carrying it in a backpack, it needs to be lightweight. If you’re going to be tying it down over gear or overhead, it should have enough grommets so that you can lash it properly. If you’re going to use it as ground cover, it needs to be sturdy. And if you want it to double as a tent, it must have specific features for staking out. Different types of tarps excel in different situations and conditions, so you might find you need more than one tarp to meet all of your needs.

Do You Need a Heavy Duty Tarp?

If you’re going to be camping in very rugged environments, you need a heavy duty tarp. Look for a tarp made of tough material so you don’t have to worry about it tearing or developing a hole.

Best Tarp For Rugged Use: Super Heavy Duty 16 Mil Brown Poly Tarp

This heavy-duty camping tarp is made of extra-thick material that can stand up to rugged use and is UV-resistant. It comes in various sizes and colors, so you should be able to find a size that’s right for your uses, from a ground cover for a small tent to a rain and snow fly for a hunting camp.

Do You Need an All-Around Tarp?

When it comes to camping essentials and outdoor gear, the old saying applies: It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. And that’s especially true when it comes to tarps.

Tarps can be used for so many different purposes during typical outdoor activities that it is mind boggling. You can use one as a ground cover beneath your tent to keep water from coming up onto your tent’s floor from below. You can set your packs, stoves and other gear on a tarp to keep them up off wet ground. You can cover gear and firewood that could get wet if a rainstorm moves in overnight. You can even make a shelter out of a tarp. Obviously, the tarp needs to be waterproof.

Best All-Around Tarp: WHITEDUCK Canvas Heavy Duty Ripstop Cotton Polyester Tarpaulin


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This rip-resistant, canvas tarp has rust-proof grommets, and its seams and hems are double stitched with rot-resistant thread, ensuring a long and useful life.

Will You Be Using the Tarp as a Shelter?

There are times in the outdoors when you unexpectedly need shelter. It might be to keep you out of the burning sun to avoid sunburn, to keep you out of a stinging wind that may cause you to become hypothermic, or just to keep the rain off of you while you take a break and recharge.

A tarp is perfect for such use. In fact, some experienced campers prefer to carry a tarp instead of a tent. When set up the right way, it provides most of the comfort of a normal camping tent. However, having the tarp instead of a tent cuts down on the amount of weight you’ll be carrying, which is especially important for those backpacking or carrying their gear while portaging.

Some tarps specially made for creating shelters come complete with ropes, poles and even stakes. You can use it as a standard tarp, or deploy the poles and make a tent out of it.

Best Tarp for Use as a Shelter: SJK Satellite Tarp

The SJK Satellite Tarp has built-in guy points for staking out and comes with 10 stakes so you can make a tight, secure tarp shelter. A hanging pocket allows you to keep small items off of the ground, and the tarp stuffs into the pocket for easy transport.

Do You Need A Tarp For Emergencies?

A tarp can be a great help in cases when an emergency occurs far from home. As mentioned previously, a tarp can be used to make a shelter quite quickly if needed. You can throw one over your gear if a rainstorm pops up. You can use a tarp to wrap an injured or wounded companion for warmth, and use it to carry an incapacitated person out of the woods. You can make a hammock out of a tarp if you need to get yourself off of the ground. If your tent rips, stake a tarp over it to keep the interior dry. A tarp is a great thing to always have in your emergency kit.

Best Emergency Tarp: Lewis N. Clark Nylon Tarp

Lewis N. Clark

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This extremely durable tarp is lightweight and comes in a zippered carrying case for stowing easily in your pack. The 6×8-foot version is less than a pound, so it won’t weigh you down on the trail.

Best Budget Tarp: What You Get For Under $10

If you want a tarp for general use around camp and home, a budget tarp could serve you quite well. Just be sure it is waterproof, made of a strong material and has plenty of grommets so you can secure it easily.

Best Cheap Tarp: Stansport Reinforced Brown Rip-Stop Tarp


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This durable, rip-stop polyethylene tarp is laminated on both sides and is suitable for light use around home and camp.


Q: How do you hang a tarp for camping?

You can hang a tarp for camping by tying one corner or one side to trees, and stake or weigh the other side or corners to the ground. Attach cords to the grommets on the side or corners, and tie them to trees or stake the cords down to keep it taut.

A Final Word On Shopping For The Best Tarps

Tarps can be used for a wide variety of purposes in the outdoors, and it’s better to have one that isn’t perfect for your needs than to not have one at all. Err on the side of too big instead of too small—you can always fold the excess over. Tarps aren’t expensive, so buying one is a worthwhile investment.