Three Features You Need in a Camp Tarp

A lightweight, but durable tarp can make a great shelter, without breaking your budget.

outdoor camping tarps
If you’re counting every ounce you add to your pack gear, a lightweight tarp can lighten your load compared to the weight of a pack tent.Gold Armour

Using a tarp to make a tent is easy, quick, and effective. In fact, many pack tarps are made specifically to work as tents, while others are not but can be modified. All you need is your tarp, a rope to hang the tarp over, stakes to anchor the perimeter, and some kind of ground mat for insulation and to keep rain from soaking you while you sleep. If you’ve thought about getting a camp tarp, here are a few things to think about to help you decide for yourself if you really need to haul that extra six or eight pound pack tent on your back, or just a few folded pieces of plastic and some rope.

Lightweight

Redcamp waterproof camping tarp
Measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, this waterproof tent tarp weighs just 1.5 pounds including stakes and ropes.REDCAMP

Probably the most important reason to replace your tent with a tarp is the weight factor. A typical tent weighs from five up to about 10 pounds or more. You can get lighter backpacking tents, of course, but the price is likely going to be much higher than a standard tent. Now consider the difference between carrying a typical eight-pound tent or a one-pound tarp that you can use for a tent—and many other purposes. It’s darn sure easier to lose that seven pounds by trading your tent for a tarp than it is to lose that much in body weight! Of course, that weight reduction allows you to carry a lighter pack or, if you prefer, add something else to your gear that you were leaving at home since you had already reached your weight limit.

Inexpensive

Gold Armour 12ft Extra Large Tarp Hammock
This tarp is easy to set up for camping and costs much less than a typical tent.Gold Armour

Now consider cost. Sure, you can get a tent for $40 or $50, but not a quality tent that will serve you well for many years. In fact, a good, lightweight tent is going to be somewhere north of $150, and likely on the high side of $200. A tarp, on the other hand, is unlikely to cost more than $20 or $30, which means you can afford to have two or three with you and still come out ahead on both cost and pack weight. Throw in ropes and stakes, and the total cost is still far below that of a tent. However, don’t try to go too cheap and get a tarp that isn’t waterproof or you’ll regret it every time you use it and rain starts pouring down. Also, don’t set your tarp up with an open end facing the prevailing wind or you’ll regret that, too.

Versatile

Rain Fly EVOLUTION 12x10/10x10 Hammock Waterproof Tent TARP
This waterproof tent tarp, or rainfly, can also be used for a number of other purposes around camp.Rain Fly

Tarps are so versatile that the same tarp you make a tent from can be used for any number of other things around camp. Other camp uses for a good tarp include protecting the bottom of your tent, protecting the top of your tent in the rain, covering equipment, providing temporary shelter for a lunch break on the trail, blocking wind in your campsite, keeping your firewood dry, creating a sun shelter, covering your bathroom area, and making a shelter with walls—and those are just a few ideas for camp. You can use the same tarp for many things around the house, too, including making a fort for the kids, blocking wind from your patio fire pit, keeping items dry, and covering plants in the event of an unexpected freeze.