Ultimate Guide To Tarp Camping


Camping can be a thrilling adventure. It is the most enjoyable way to spend time with Mother Nature. While many campers and backpackers prefer using a tent, some find pleasure in sleeping under a tarp.

Tents provide a warm shelter and get you to sleep comfortably in the wilderness. However, most of them are bulky and heavy to carry on the trail and may not even be that easy to set up. A backpacker will prefer something lightweight and one that can be pitched easily, and that’s where tarps come in.

Tarp camping is one of the most inexpensive ways to spend the night in the woods. A camping tarp will not occupy too much space in the backpack and setting it up will be a cakewalk.

Reasons Why You May Want To Ditch Your Tent For A Tarp

1. You Love To See The Stars

The reason why we go to the backcountry is to enjoy nature. Zipping ourselves up in a tent robs us the opportunity to observe some of the most stunning wonders of the sky like the constellations, milky way galaxy, nebulae, and globular clusters, just to mention a few. Sleep half out and half under on clear nights and enjoy amazing views of the beautiful celestial bodies.

2. You Want To Avoid Late Night Bathroom Runs

If you are sleeping under a tarp, a simple slip down of the sleeping bag will allow you easy and convenient access to nature’s urinal. Unlike a tent where you have to unzip yourself out, just roll the bag to one side and quietly do your business.

3. You Are Tired Of Finding Your Gear Damp In The Morning

Even the most expensive tents will trap a huge portion of moisture when you exhale at night, leaving your hiking or camping gear wet. If you are using a four-season tent, for instance, which is known to be minimally ventilated, then things inside there may not be so great for you.  Better sleep under a tarp and enjoy the comfortable air outside.

4. You Like Cooking Indoors

When it is cold in the evenings, you want to stay as warm as possible. Even cooking outside your shelter can be a little difficult especially if it is raining or the area is freezing.

One advantage of having a tarp is that you can make a campfire just next to it, and enjoy cooking your food under a shelter. The tarp will retain heat from the fire keeping you warm. You can’t do the same with a tent. In fact, you don’t want a fire flame near your tent or filling it with smoke.

Understanding The Tarp Sleep System

Although camping with a tarp is less expensive compared to a tent, there are a few requirements you need to meet to erect your shelter properly and enjoy the nights in the wilderness. For starters, you need at least two raised points like trees and sticks where you will tie the tarp to. If you are camping in an area that has little or no vegetation, you can use trekking poles to elevate your tarp.

Next, you will need something to protect you from the chilly and rough ground, so a sleeping bag is a must. A sleeping pad will also be an excellent add-on if you are camping on the extremely cold ground.

You also have to make sure that whatever area you pitch your tarp is free from strong winds, or you will need to bring a windbreak. A mosquito net will also be necessary to keep bugs and stinging insects at bay.

To Buy Or Make Your Own?

Depending on how deeper your pocket is, you can decide to buy or make your own camping tarp. There are many types of tarps to choose from in the market. Some are ridiculously priced while others are incredibly cheap.

However, it all sums up to the features you are looking for in a tarp. Is it the shape? Are you into something that can accommodate more than one camper? Of course, tarps with advanced features will have a higher price tag than those with less fancy designs.

If you are on a budget, you may consider building your own camping tarp. All you need is a simple tarp fabric with rings at the edges where you will hook the ropes, a nylon cord, and guy lines. You can easily obtain these from your local hardware and it will cost you way less than buying a brand new camping tarp.

How To Set Up A Camping Tarp


If you are a serious camper, then you must know that areas with enough trees are better for pitching a tarp than those where you have to improvise ways to hook it. First, trees will provide firm support, and second, you will have a natural windbreak so you won’t need to pack your usual one.

When setting up your tarp, make sure to use strong but easy to remember knots so that even releasing them gets easier. Pitch your tarp at about shoulder height especially if you will be making your campfire under it – you don’t want to meet your shelter! Nevertheless, if it is raining, you may want to lower this height so that rainwater doesn’t splash onto your sleeping bag, backpack, food storage, or anything else under the tarp.

To anchor the guy lines, use rocks, sticks, plants, or logs lying around. If you are camping in an area with little vegetation, however, you can bring tent pegs or anything else that can hook the lines strong enough to the ground.

If the area is infested with stinging insects, put up your mosquito net. For midges and other smaller bugs, ensure that the tent holes are small enough. To be on the safe side, make sure your net is treated before heading out.

If you don’t want to sleep on the ground, you may want to consider adding a hammock to the setup. You will use the same tarp set up, only that you will pitch it a little higher.

How To Stay Dry Under A Tarp

Usually when tarp camping, the chances of you and your gear getting wet are much higher than when sleeping in a tent. Mugginess can be as a result of splashbacks, whereby drops from rainwater strike the ground next to the tarp and bounce back spraying everything around them including your outdoor gear with water. Splashbacks are not necessarily a threat to your survival but can be a real threat to your gear especially if not cleaned and dried properly before storage.

To avoid splashbacks, set up your tarp lower so that the distance between the ground and the tarp edges is reduced. Also, move the center of the tarp (probably where you will be putting your sleeping bag and the rest of your belongings) away from the edges so that even if splashbacks occur, they won’t get you and your gear wet.

If you have a bivy sack, this is the best moment to use it. If it is large enough, it will accommodate you, your gear, and sleeping insulation perfectly so none of your items gets wet from the splashbacks. It will also provide additional protection against bugs and wind and keep you warmer.

Apart from splashbacks, you could also get wet from floods.  If you pitch your tarp in an area where rainwater pools under you or places with poor drainage, you will wake up with a wet sleeping bag. The best spots to consider for tarp camping would be those that are slightly raised with porous absorbent soil. Even if rain falls, the water will seep into the soil rather than splashback to you and your equipment.

If you are backpacking in the rain and there is a possibility of you setting up your tarp on wet ground, be sure to bring a groundsheet. This stuff is made from lightweight material so you can easily stash it on your pack without adding unnecessary weight, yet it is tough enough to protect you from the rough, cold ground. Some campers will bring both a bivy sack and a sleeping pad when hiking in wet weather just to make sure that they stay dry throughout the night.

How To Deal With Damp Gear

Sometimes, however careful you are pitching your tarp, things get soggy. If you are planning to spend several days in the woods, then you must find a way to dry your gear so that you can continue enjoying your adventure and most importantly have an amazing goodnight’s sleep. If your sleeping bag got damp, hang it up to dry during breakfast. And during the day, when you are having your lunch or taking a rest, put it out in the sun.

Outdoor activities can be fun but you still have to remember to do the most important things like keeping your gear dry even if it means stopping on the trail and laying it out in the sun. If you are camping in a spot near home, you can hike to your house and put the gear in a drier for a few minutes then head back to the trail.

Camping gear gets wet all the time, so come up with a damp management plan. Better sit and watch your gear dry than lay in the dark cursing the night for being too long because your sleeping bag is still wet.

Global Surf Overview

For some campers, tarp camping feels like a punishment, but for those who love the feeling of being one with Mother Nature and watching the sky while they sleep, it can be an awesome adventure.

But a tarp must be pitched right to keep you and your gear dry and enable you to enjoy the nights in the woods. Get your camping spot right from the word go so that you don’t set up your shelter in a windy or poorly drained area. Make sure to have a sleeping pad, a mosquito net, and a bivy sack to beef up protection against cold grounds and stinging bugs.

More Camping Reviews:


  1. Sleeping Under A Tarp, onlinecavemen.com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!