CAMPING & HIKING

Best Tarp: A Versatile Necessity for any Lightweight Camping Trip

Tarp as shade
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

When you’re camping out in the woods, having the best tarp available could mean the difference between a comfortable sleep with dry gear and a cold, wet night that ruins your trip.  But tarps by themselves are not very useful, so it is also important to know what else you need to bring along to hang them properly to keep you warm and dry.  And once you figure out how versatile they can be, you’ll be using your tarp in ways you never thought possible.

Tarps and Their Accessories

Tarps are made of a few different materials, and which you purchase will depend on what type of camping you are planning to do.  They may also come in kits, with all the accessories needed to hang one included, but this isn’t always the case.  Be sure to check this out first, to be sure you have everything needed before you head out into the woods.

Tarp materials

Canvas is one of the most durable materials available to make a tarp, withstanding heat and flame with little to no damage, but it is quite heavy, making it useless for backpackers and hikers who need to travel light. That’s why the best backpacking tarp should be made of a synthetic material, such as nylon or polyester.  They are much lighter and easier to compress and carry.

Materials for tarp

Synthetic tarps are usually made with a coarser weave, making them more durable as well, though if cut, they will tear all the way through with little effort.  The best material is RipStop nylon, because it has a heavier thread woven into the fabric, which will stop any tears long before they do any real damage.

Stakes

These are necessary for use with your camping tarp, especially on windy days, to keep your tarp above you where it belongs. They can be made of plastic, aluminum, or even steel, and come in a variety of lengths.

The longer the stake, the further you can stick it in the ground, which is necessary for softer areas, such as sand or mud.  Many of the stakes that come in a kit are not the best quality, so check them out first, in case you need to replace them with a heavier, sturdier brand.

Cords

You can’t hang a tent without a rope, so be sure you have a lot of it before you start your trip. As with stakes, the quality in a kit may not be the best for long-term use, so purchasing a stronger cord is a good idea.

Cords for tarps

You’ll need enough to tie the tarp to trees or poles, as well as to use with the stakes to tie your tarp down.  Make sure you have enough with you to do all this, and even some extras, just in case.

Poles

You won’t always need poles, but they can come in handy if there are no trees available, or if you plan on using your tarp to make an awning to extend the front of your tent. This will help to keep any gear dry that you plan on keeping outside.  Adjustable poles are best, and the sturdier the better, so you don’t have to worry about them collapsing while you sleep.

Uses for Your Tarp

The best camping tarp is as versatile as it is strong.  It will have uses you may never even expect, so here’s a few options for you to consider for your next camping trip.

  • Covering your hammock while you sleep
  • Making a shelter when sleeping on the ground
  • An awning for your tent, so your gear can stay dry outside
  • An extra rainfly to keep your tent dry
  • Protecting the bottom of your tent on rugged terrain
  • Covering cooking and eating areas
  • Covering gear in a truck bed or on the ground
  • Keeping a wood pile dry
  • Hanging vertically to block the wind
  • Reflecting heat from the campfire to keep you warm
  • Hanging above as a sun shade, or to keep you dry in the rain
  • Creating a private bathroom area when none are available
  • Making a Slip ‘N Slide to keep the kids entertained on flat or hilly areas
  • Covering a boat and all its belongings

With so many uses, a tarp is a lightweight and necessary addition to any camping trip.  It may be simple, but you can definitely use it in a variety of ways while you’re camping.

Tarp covering firewoods

If you need a few examples to get you started, here’s a few tarps to choose from, all great options for a variety of camping adventures.

Tarps Reviewed

Ultimate Survival Base Hex Tarp

Ultimate Survival Base Hex TarpWeight: 13 oz (tarp only), 1 lb. 8 oz (packed)

Dimensions: 108 x 96 x 41 inches, 10 x 4 inches when packed

Specific Features: Highly visible orange on one side, aluminized on second side, guy lines, steel stakes, stuff sack

Best Use: Rain, sun, and wind protection when camping or boating, heat reflection, signaling

The Hex tarp is extremely lightweight and comes with almost everything you need to keep warm and dry, no matter how wet the weather is.  The bright orange on one side of this tarp is highly visible, allowing you to be seen from above in an emergency.

The reflective aluminum on the other side can be placed facing a fire to reflect the heat back to you, or to do the same with your own body heat when used as a thermal blanket or rain cover.  This silvery coating can also be used as a signal when help is needed, so the safety features are actually doubled with this tarp.

Steel stakes give you extra support when you need to secure it to the ground, especially on a windy day when shelter is a must.  The guy lines allow you to easily attach it to nearby trees as a rain cover, though if no trees are nearby, you will need to bring along your own poles.

Though perfect for a rain shelter, there are some tent models that may be a bit long to be completely covered, requiring a bit of creative hanging.  When it’s time to pack up, this tarp and all its accessories can be stored in the included stuff sack for easy transport.

Related: Ultimate Survival also has an All-Weather Tarp that has the same two-sided technology and includes the same stakes and guy lines, but this tarp doesn’t come with a stuff sack.  It is also smaller, so if you only need single person protection, the All-Weather tarp is a lighter option.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Noah’s Tarp Shelter

Kelty Noahs Tarp ShelterWeight: 9’ tarp: 1 lb 8 oz (tarp only), 1 lb 12 oz (packed), 12’ tarp: 2lbs (tarp only), 2lbs 4 oz (packed), 16’ tarp: 3 lbs 10 oz (tarp only), 3 lbs 15 oz (packed)

Dimensions: 9 x 9 feet, 12 x 12 feet, 16 x 16 feet

Specific Features: Comes in 3 sizes, 68D 800 mm polyester, taped seams, attached corner guyline, metal stakes, roll top cube carry bag

Best Use: Weather protection when tent or hammock camping, boating, backpacking, outdoor sporting events or music festivals

The Noah’s tarp comes in three different sizes, the smallest for single person use, while the largest is capable of covering a large tent or a couple of hammocks.  It is great for use in wet weather, thanks to the fully taped seams and water resistant polyester.

There is a seam that runs down the center of the tarp with a grommet at each corner.  These grommets can be used to hang the tarp on poles when there are no trees available, though the poles are not included and must be purchased separately.  At every corner of the tarp is an adjustable guyline for easy setup at any height.

There are handy storage pockets at the corners for the guylines, to make storage simple and keeps the cords from tangling when packing and unpacking.  The guyout points are also reinforced to reduce any tearing during tightening or when the tarp is blowing about in heavy winds.

The carry bag is square, requiring the tarp to be folded rather than rolled up, which could be a bit more time-consuming if in a rush, but the bag is large enough to store the tarp and all its accessories, and even a few other belongings if you have limited space in a backpack.  Despite being a 3 season tent, some have even used it during the winter with no issues of leakage or tearing when coated with heavy snow.

Related: There is also an Upslope Tarp available from Kelty, which offers multiple options for trekking pole pitches and is perfect for use with either hammocks or as extended tent awnings.  It is lighter than the Noah’s tarps, but is smaller than even the 9’ tarp and may be a tight fit for 2 people beneath it.

Check the price on Amazon

Aqua Quest Guide Sil Tarp

Aqua Quest Guide Sil TarpWeight: 15.8 oz (tarp), 1.1 lbs (packed)

Dimensions: 10 x 7 feet (tarp only), 12 x 5 x 3 inches (packed)

Specific Features: 40D RipStop fabric with dual silicone and PU coating, reinforced stitching, heat taped seams, reinforced webbing loops, stuff sack

Best Use: Weather protection when camping, hiking, for backyard use, for emergency situations

Staying dry all night long will no longer be an issue when sleeping under the Guide Sil tarp, even during the heaviest downpour.  The coated RipStop fabric won’t allow leaks or even absorb the water raining down on it, no matter how long the storm lasts, thanks to the 20,000mm Hydrostatic resistance.

This tarp is super lightweight and compact enough to stuff into a 32 oz. bottle for easy carrying.  It also comes with a stuff sack for traveling, which can hold the tarp and any stakes and cords needed, though these are only included when you purchase the kit.  There are 12 reinforced webbing loops on the edges of the tarp to ensure your shelter is secure enough to keep the wind out.

There is also a center loop for hanging it up over a hammock or to cover any cooking areas.  This tent can be set up teepee style, as an A-frame shelter, or hung straight down to block the wind, giving you multiple options to meet all your camping needs.

Related: The Guide Sil Tarp also comes in a Large and an Extra Large Size. The large measures 13 x 10 feet, while the XL is 20 x 13 feet.  They’re made from the same waterproof material, with the only other difference being the amount of webbing loops, since larger tarps will obviously require more support.

Check the price on Amazon

Chinook All-Purpose Tarp

Chinook All-Purpose TarpWeight: N/A

Dimensions: 9.6 x 9.6 feet (small), 12 x 9.6 feet (medium), 14 x 12 feet (large)

Specific Features: RipStop polyester taffeta with 2000mm PU waterproof coating, UV-resistant treatment, PU tape on center seams, nylon webbing guy loops and center tie points, stakes, guyline, stuff sack

Best Use: All-purpose weather protection, group camping, backpacking, water sports, backyard use

With three different sizes to choose from, you will always have the perfect size of tarp for your needs, regardless of whether you prefer minimalist backpacking trips or ultra-heavy camping trips with the family or a group of friends.

These tarps are multi-functional, perfect for sheltering your sleeping areas, your fire pit, a barbecue, or just as a wind or sun blocker.  They are compact and made of lightweight RipStop polyester taffeta that is coated for maximum waterproofing.  The taped center seams add extra protection against leaks, so there will be no worries about dripping water in the middle of the tarp during a heavy rainstorm.

There is also a protective UV-resistant treatment to help keep this tarp safe from the harmful rays of the sun.  The center tie point is perfect for setting up this tarp teepee-style, and there are numerous grommets and guy loops to tie it tightly to the available trees or some purchased poles for a sturdy shelter that will last your entire trip.

Though not listed, there are 8 stakes and a long length of guyline included with the tarp, all of which fit nicely with the tarp in the included stuff sack.  This tarp comes in both green and sand colors, perfect for blending into any surroundings.

Related: Chinook only makes one other style of tarp, the Guide Silicone Tarp, which comes only in green, with two sizes to choose from.  These are 6’7” x 9’10” in the smaller size, and 9’10” x 12’10” for the larger model.  The only other difference is that the Guide Silicone tarp is made of 40D nylon fabric with a silicone coating on one side, and the 2000mm PU waterproof coating on the other side.

Check the price on Amazon

Paria Sanctuary SilTarp

Paria Sanctuary SilTarpWeight: 0.97 lbs (tarp), 1.28 lbs (full kit)

Dimensions: 10 x 8 feet (tarp), 9 x 5 x 4 inches (packed)

Specific Features: 30D RipStop nylon with dual silicon/PU coating, 5000mm Hydro-static resistance, 12 perimeter attachment loops, 1 center top loop,, 1.5mm reflective Dyneema guylines (6 x 10 foot lines), 6 micro-lok adjusters, 6 aluminum alloy Y-stakes, stuff sack

Best Use: Weather protection when backpacking, hiking, camping, climbing, backyard use, can be used as a water catcher

This amazingly compact and lightweight tarp comes complete with everything you need for setup, all packed tightly into an easy to carry stuff sack, perfect for any minimalist backpacker or climber.  The dual waterproof coating combined with the double-stitched, factory taped seams give you a durable and ultra-strong 5000mm of hydro-static resistance, keeping you dry even in the heaviest rain.

The 6 lengths of Dyneema guylines will ensure you have enough rope to tie down with, and it is reflective, so you won’t need to worry about tripping over invisible lines when the sun goes down.  The aluminum stakes are aero-space quality, though some have found them a bit flimsy, but this could depend on what kind of ground you are trying to pound them into.

If you find the line a bit looser than you’d like, tightening them will be simple using the micro-lok adjusters.  If there are no trees available to use when setting up your shelter, Paria also has poles available for sale, but none are included in the kit.

This small tarp is great for single person use, or for covering a small cooking area.  Packing the tarp may be a bit tricky, as there are no instructions on how to fold it properly, but with a bit of practice, it should be simple to compress it small enough to fit back into its small sack, along with all of its accessories.

Related: The Sanctuary SilTarp is the only tarp available from Paria Outdoor Products at this time.

Check the price on Amazon

Eagles Nest Outfitters DryFly Rain Tarp

Eagles Nest Outfitters DryFly TarpWeight: 1.375 lbs

Dimensions: 10’6” x 5’2” (tarp)

Specific Features: 210D RipStop nylon taffeta with PU coating, stitched and taped seams, built-in stuff sack

Best Use: Weather protection for hammock camping, backpacking, car camping, cover for cooking areas

This tarp is small and lightweight, perfect for hanging over a hammock for quick and effective rain coverage throughout your trip.  The 210D nylon taffeta RipStop fabric is polyurethane-treated to keep the rain from soaking through and dripping on you all night long.

The seams are both stitched and taped, so leaks will never be an issue, regardless of the amount of rain pouring down.  The large coverage area is great for covering a cooking area or keeping your bags and other gear dry.  There is an 8-point guy system that allows you to secure the tarp right over your hammock, without sacrificing on head room.

Keep in mind that the stakes and guylines needed for hanging and pegging down your tarp are not included.  You’ll need to purchase these separately before you head out on the road.  The stuff sack is built-in to the tarp, making it convenient to roll up and carry or store when not in use, without the hassle of searching for a misplaced bag.

This tarp comes in grey, olive, or navy, but due to the fact that ENO does their best to reduce the amount of waste produced with their products, the color of the stitching and the stuff sack may not be exactly what is pictured when you order one of their tarps.

Related: ENO also makes a ProFly Rain Tarp and a ProFly XL Rain Tarp, both of which are similar to the DryFly tarp.  Both are made with the same type of nylon fabric with the PU coating, but the ProFly is a bit wider at 6’4”.  The XL is quite larger with dimensions of 13’ x 9’2”.

Check the price on Amazon

Driftsun Water Resistant Lightweight Easy Set Up Tarp

Driftsun Water Resistant Lightweight TarpWeight: N/A

Dimensions: 12 x 12 feet

Specific Features: Heavy duty water resistant nylon material, 6 guylines, 6 stakes, 6 feet of adjustable poles, carry bag

Best Use: Weather protection for camping, backpacking, boating, fishing, backyard use, outdoor festivals, sporting events

This heavy duty camping shelter is great for keeping you dry in the rain and shaded from the heat of the sun.  It is large enough to cover a tent, a cooking area, a couple of hammocks, or a large amount of gear, depending on your needs.  Included with the tarp is everything you need for setup, including adjustable poles that have a total height of 6 feet.

The guylines are also adjustable, making it easy to tighten them during setup.  There are 6 stakes in the kit, but many have found them incapable of holding up under heavy winds, due to their short length and lightweight materials.  In average conditions, they work fine, but if expecting extreme weather, it may be necessary to buy heavy duty stakes to ensure your tarp stays where you hang it.

The tarp itself is quite versatile, with 2 grommets and 10 webbing loops for multiple configurations for all situations.  When it is time to pack up, or you need to store your tarp at the end of the season, the handy carry bag holds the tarp and all its accessories.

Related: Though they have a variety of outdoor items for sale, this is the only tarp Driftsun has manufactured at this time.

Check the price on Amazon

In Conclusion

Having a tarp or two on your camping trip can keep you shaded, dry, and having a great time, no matter what the weather brings. They have so many uses, and as long as you have the necessary gear to hang one properly, you will never regret packing one in with the rest of your gear.

Very versatile tarp

If you have found a tarp you think is as good as the ones we’ve reviewed here, feel free to mention it in the comments section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Greg Abbot

    Tarps are such a convenient way to become more versatile and prepared as a camper and adventurer. I noticed that there was a wide variety of Hydrostatic measurements within some of your suggestions, ranging from 5,000 mm to 20,000 mm. Could you expand a bit on what that difference might mean if I were out camping with one or the other?

  • Mark Foster

    In a nutshell, hydrostatic head and resistance tells you just how water-resistant the material is or in simpler terms, how waterproof the tarp is. Materials are tested using a hydrostatic head so :

    Waterproof Rating (mm) | Can withstand

    0-5,000mm | Very light rain, dry snow, no pressure
    20,000mm+ | Heavy rain, wet snow, high pressure

  • Michelle Greer

    That’s a fantastic idea to put it above the hammock while you’re sleeping. I never would have thought of that. I would not have thought of putting it above a tent for rain, either. What a great idea. Read all fantastic views about the Aqua Quest. I didn’t see anything negative to say about. That makes me feel pretty confident in purchasing one.

  • Mark Foster

    Hi Michelle and great choice! Aqua Quest is durable and you’ll find a lot of great features. The 20,000mm Hydrostatic resistance is a dream! It ensures that your tent will continue to stand even in the worst of weather.

  • Adam White

    I’ve been looking at getting a really nice tarp for my patio but I’ve been looking out some really expensive ones. I saw this article and realized I can just buy one of these awesome tarps and save my money! I just really wanted something for summer for shade, maybe a little something to shade some of my container plants, too. Tarps are so versatile! I love this article. Thanks for giving me a great idea.

    • Mark Foster

      I’m so pleased to have helped you out with other options Adam. These are very affordable tarps – but they aren’t lemons either. All are from trusted brands and you can count on these to offer you the best experience every time. You can even put these up for some playtime shades if you have kids. They can color, do their outdoor crafts and more without the sting of the sun. 🙂

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