Learning how to setup a tarp tent is a very important skill to know if you’re a fan of the outdoors and constantly go camping. Although setting up the perfect tarp tent can be sometimes tricky, today’s article will give you the step by step instructions you need to follow to succeed.
While a tarp is generally used to cover an existing tent and offer additional protection against the elements, in extreme situations or if you don’t have a regular tent, you can simply set up a simple tarp tent instead.
We wrote an article recommending the best tarp for camping, so make sure to check it out after reading this one to make sure you buy the best and safest tarp for you.
How to setup a tarp tent
Before the actual building of your tent, you need to go through some very important tasks. These will ensure that you set it up in the best possible area and you’ll get an enjoyable and safe camping experience.
1. Find a Perfect Spot
First of all, you need to find the perfect location for your tent. You should have enough room for the tent itself, be away from potential dangers (rotten trees, rocky slopes or such) but still close enough to be protected from the elements.
Alternately, if you are in a national park, find a spot for your setup in a designated camping area.
Take some time to find a nice flat area because if you are planning to sleep in the tent, it’s very important for the ground to be as comfortable as possible.
Even if you have a mattress or plan to use a base to sleep on, some hard objects like pointy rocks or twigs may make the entire experience very uncomfortable.
If the ground is not as flat as you’d like it to be, you can use resources around you to improve it.
For example, if there are pine trees in the area, spread a thin layer of pine needles and make the ground a little softer for better sleeping. For more tips and trick on how to properly set-up your tent, check out our dedicated article.
Another important aspect to consider is land inclination. If possible, the ground should slope slightly for potential water to runoff away from your tent.
Even if you have a waterproof tent like a tarp one would be, the places that are lower than the surrounding area will pool with water in cases it rains. And you never want to run the risk of being awoken during the night, in a cold pool of rain water!
Check out our read article on DIY tent footprints to better understand the options you have in this area.
2. Don’t Forget to the Direction of the Wind
The direction the wind is blowing from is also one important factor to consider before setting up your tarp tent.
The right way to position you tent is with the entrance away from the prevailing wind, so your shelter won’t blow away and create some extra tension on the stakes.
Since the direction of the wind can change during the night, you might want to build your tent closer to trees in order to create a windbreak. Make sure to thoroughly inspect them before though – you don’t want any rotten trees or branches to put you in danger!
3. Find out Where the Sun will Rise
Before setting up the tent, it is also good to predict the sun’s path, so you can wake up gently and comfortably at a time of your choosing.
In summer, with the warm mornings, tents can be like ovens if you set up your tarp tent in the direct path of the sun. Place the tarp in an ideal position so you will remain in the shade during the morning.
4. Create A Well-organized Campsite
An organized campsite means that the sleeping area will be away from cooking and toilets areas.
A fire should not be close enough to spray sparks onto the tarp tent, but if the camping area is just too small, ensure your campfire is completely out before going to bed. Actually, make sure that the fire is out no matter how far it is from your tent!
Take into account the main purpose of the tarp tent and make it as large as you need it to be, keeping the above concerns in mind.
How to make the tarp tent
Once you found the perfect place and took all the other things into consideration, it’s time to actually set it up.
It is completely up to you to decide what material you should use. By using a heavier construction, you will have greater abrasion resistance and tear strength.
On the other hand, you will be carrying it with you on your back while hiking, so you will likely want to use lightweight tarp tent.
Here are the step by step instructions you need to follow to set up your tarp tent properly:
1. Start by setting the tarp on the ground where you will put up the tent. It’s essential to use a solid stick that’s high enough near what will be the entrance of your tent and build up from there.
If you don’t have the required items with you, search for a stick that is tall enough for the job, but also strong yet flexible. Test its capacity to support the tarp by putting some weight on it.
It’s better to break one or two sticks this way instead of having the tent fall over your head eventually!
If your tarp is big enough, a second stick can be used at the back to provide some extra height. How big the stick is depends on how much tarp you have on hand – make sure it’s low enough for the tarp to fully be on the ground, with a margin of a couple of inches at least.
Finally, once the setup is complete, the edges should be folded up and tucked below the tent.
2. Improve the quality of your tent if you have more materials on hand.
For example, the basic frame of a tent has two poles, which are put across each other to form an X. In order to put them inside the tent, you need to fit the furthest of each pole into the eyelet through their corners of the tarp.
The second option, if there are no flaps available you could attach plastic slip at each pole the tent has on its top.
3. Finally, it’s time to raise the tent. This might be a task for two people, so it’s going to be a lot easier if you have company.
Simply pull the large pole (plus others if you have them) and slowly raise the tent.
When the poles are fitted in the connection spots, it is supposed for them to bend. In case the tent needs a coaxing, make a square be pulling the corners of the tent apart, and take care of the poles because they need to be unassailable and straighten out.
After you raise the tent, fix those hooks in the right place and attach all the others important parts so that the tent stand up durable.
4. Next, we’re going to make sure that the tarp tent we’re setting up is firmly attached to the ground and will offer enough protection.
Depending on what you have on hand, you will have to use poles or sticks from the surrounding areas.
Every tent has a different way of how the poles should be connected. The tent poles might be banded together with paracords or ropes, or more simply to have numbers and marks so that you can connect them with yourself.
Start with the front, by fixing two poles to the side of the entrance area. From that point on, simply follow along the line to the back and add as many poles as are necessary to keep the tarp tent in place.
Make sure that the poles or sticks that you use for setting up are firmly inserted in the ground and no wind will pull them out. Take your time over this step of setting up the tent since it’s extremely important overall.
Tent stakes might be easy to bend, but if you are on the hard rocky ground, you will probably be obligated to use some blunt objects to knock down a little.
When you don’t have problems with the ground, use the standard metal tent stakes, in order to fit through the flaps at the corner, and push them into the ground.
And this is it! You have now set up a basic tarp tent that is perfect for an emergency situation or if you don’t have a regular tent available on hand. If you do, then it’s best to plan for the worst and check out our piece on how to waterproof your tent.
If you want some alternatives and a more visual guide, check out the video below that shows you some additional designs (although a bit more complicated) for a tarp tent:
Different quick tarp tent setups you can try
There are a lot of different tarp shelters designs you can go for, very easy to set up but also less secure.
But knowing these can help a lot, especially if you want to build a temporary shelter and do it quickly. You won’t need a lot of tools for that – usually the tarp and simply having some solid paracord on hand will be enough.
The most common shelter and can be made very easy. You just need to string paracord between two trees.
Then you just need to drop over the tarp and stake it down. This way you will create a tent that will provide rain and snow run off, but also a decent wind deflection.
Although you should know that you won’t have floor and in case you don’t stretch the paracord tight, there may be sagging in the middle area.
Sun shade tarp shelter
This shelter is parallel to the ground and it may provide about 100 square feet of a sunshade.
If you decide to make this type of shelter, you should find four anchoring point/trees to tie the paracord.
However, the sun shade tarp shelter may provide good protection from the sun, but if the rain comes it can’t be supported for a long time.
Lean-to tarp shelter
A very good option if you want wind protection or providing sunshade. It is also very easy and simple to make.
First, on the windward side secure the tarp to the ground, and after that support the tarp with the paracord into two anchor points. This way, you will create a 30-degree angle tarp shelter, which is pretty basic but gets the job done.
It will protect you from the rain or sun heat, but not against other elements because of the fact that doesn’t have floor and sides.
Tub tent tarp shelter
With this tarp shelter, you will have a floor properly secured to the ground. Although the construction process is not complicated, you should secure the paracord in the middle of two trees and drape over the tarp with the opposite ends secured together.
The tub tent tarp may afford 3 feet of width and around 3 feet of headroom, which is enough for a single adult.
The only difference is that the mushroom shelter adds central support pole at the midpoint of the tarp.
It is very suitable if it’s raining or snowing because it provides great runoff, and very secure because the four corners of the tarp are secured well enough.
Based on the length of the pole, the mushroom tarp shelter can adjust its height. The disadvantage of this shelter is that it won’t provide a protection from the wind or cold.
Dining fly tarp shelter
Besides the sun protection, this shelter has enough headroom and space to move around comfortably.
Although like the other designs, it does not have protection from the sides but at least it will keep the rain away.
This dining fly tarp shelter may be a tough shelter if you properly tie down and stake the tarp. And the amount of headroom will be controlled by the height of the support pole.
This is a favorite shelter design to many campers because it provides very good ventilation but also has proper coverage.
A tarp tent is a wonderful shelter for the adventure explorers. It can be setup very quickly and easily. Your tarp tent may be positioned in a several ways that will give you many options regardless of your personal preferences.
With a fire built in front of the tent, space will be filled with light, warmth and will also keep the bugs away.
You should also consider the weather conditions in choosing a tarp tent model that is stable enough and will not collapse in case of rain or snow.
When, where and how you setup your tarp tent is completely up to your preferences, and that is the beauty of it.
There is a bit of learning involved, so now is the best time to get some practice in before you head out on your camping trip. Get the friends and family involved as well so that you can all learn together and learn where your strengths and weaknesses are.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.
4 thoughts on “Tarp Tent Setup: Step by Step Instructions for a Safe Camping Shelter Experience”
I enjoyed this especially the video, which you included. As for the design, I have always followed the A-frame shelter because it is easy to set up. Just like what you have mentioned, it is also good for wind deflection, which is always a plus. Next time, I will try the mushroom shelter one.
Thank you so much for giving clear instructions. You have perfectly explained every step. I will surely be printing this as a guide on my next camping adventure. It is nice too that you have included the factors to consider like the location and wind direction. Great job Daniel!
Good luck out there.
Thank you so much!