How to Tarp Tent: A Setup Guide in The Easy Way to Stay Dry Outdoors!

Heading out into the wilderness? Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or prepping for an emergency, learning how to tarp tent is an indispensable survival skill.

This ingeniously simple shelter system lets you camp dry and comfortable with just a lightweight tarp and some trekking poles.

In this guide, you’ll become an expert at rigging up a sturdy tarp tent shelter to brave any conditions.

Learn:

  • Ultralight tarp tent basics and essential gear
  • Step-by-step instructions for multiple tarp pitching methods
  • Tips for waterproofing and venting your tarp tent setup
  • Improvised bushcraft techniques using found materials
  • Creative tarp tent hacks, mods and multi-tarp designs
  • When tarp tents beat traditional tents (and when they don’t)

By the end, you’ll have all the knowledge needed to quickly rig up a dry, durable home away from home using just a tarp – the perfect skill for survivalists, backpackers, and anyone getting into bushcrafting.

Let’s get started!

Advantages of Tarp Tents

  • Extremely lightweight (tarp could weigh under 1 lb)
  • Very compact and packable
  • Quick to pitch and strike
  • Affordable and easy to improvise
  • Versatile for diverse camping needs
  • Provides adequate cover while allowing ventilation

Tarp tents make an ideal shelter for backpackers looking to shave weight, minimalists on a budget, those needing a quick temporary shelter, or in an emergency survival situation where gear is limited.

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Essential Gear for Tarp Tenting

To set up an effective tarp tent, you’ll need the following core pieces of gear:

GearRecommended
Tarpaulin8×10 ft silnylon or polyester tarp rated for camping use
TarpShapeRectangular or hex/diamond tarp preferred
SupportTrekking poles or 2-3 equal length sticks/poles
Stakes6-12 aluminum or plastic stakes
Guylines30-50 ft of guyline cord
GroundsheetPolycryo or Tyvek groundsheet (optional)
Bug NettingHead mesh netting or bivy (optional)

Tips:

  • Silnylon or sil-polyester tarps are ideal for weight and packability
  • Larger tarps like 10×12 ft provide more coverage but are heavier
  • Trekking poles allow adjustable, freestanding pitches
  • For ultralightweight setups, ditch bug netting and just use the tarp

How to Tarp Tent – Basic Pitching Methods

There are a number of ways to pitch a tarp to create a tarp tent shelter. The easiest and most common methods include:

The A-Frame Pitch

  • Use two trekking poles or sticks as ridgeline supports
  • Drape tarp over ridgeline and stake out four corners
  • Provides generous headroom but is semi-exposed on both ends
  • Good starter pitch, requires precise pole positioning

The Lean-To Pitch

  • Use one pole/stick at an angle as the main support
  • Stake one end of tarp to ground and drape over pole
  • Simpler pitch but lacks much headroom for sitting up
  • Condensation can be an issue with this lower-angled pitch

The Diamond Pitch

  • Similar to A-frame but tarp is pulled downward on four sides
  • Creates a diamond-shaped pitch with four stake-out points
  • Lower but well-protected space ideal for solo use
  • Needs precise pole positioning or tends to deform
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Pro Tip: The A-frame and diamond pitches shine in harsh weather, while a lean-to works better in warm conditions.

Waterproofing and Ventilating Your Tarp Tent

The key to making your tarp tent setup dry and comfortable lies in picking the right spot, pitching it properly for water runoff, and venting adequately:

  • Site Selection: Avoid depressions or areas that puddle, pick a spot with natural drainage
  • Angling the Tarp: Pitch tarp with slight nose-down angle toward the lower end to encourage water sheering
  • Staking and Guying Out: Use all available stake-out points and guylines to hold shape and prevent deforming
  • Venting: Set up with the foot-end oriented toward prevailing wind to pull in cross breezes for airflow

Follow these steps and a properly rigged tarp shelter will keep you dry even in moderate rain or light showers.

Lightweight Tarp Camping and Packing Tips

Tarp camping allows you to make your overall camping setup lighter, easier to pack, and more versatile:

  • Weight Savings: Typical backpacking tarps weigh 8-16 oz vs 2-4 lbs for a tent
  • Packability: Most tarps stuff down smaller than a 1L bottle
  • Using Trekking Poles: Allows leaving dedicated tent poles at home
  • Modular System: Combine tarp with minimal accessories like bug bivies

Tips:

  • Look for silnylon or sil/PU coated nylon tarps under 1 lb for max packability
  • Pack the tarp body loosely stuffed, not folded
  • Arrange ridgeline guylines at ends to rig quickly with trekking poles
  • Match tarp size to your tent’s capacity rating (e.g. 8×10 for 1-2 person use)

Improvised and Bushcraft Tarp Tent Setups

Part of the beauty of tarp tents is their adaptability to improvised camping:

  • Use Found Sticks/Branches: Sustainable option in place of trekking poles
  • Stake With Rocks or Logs: When stakes aren’t available or terrain is too hard
  • Add Debris Insulation: Use leaves, pine boughs or bark for thermal protection
  • Orient For Best Runoff: Take advantage of slope angle and wind direction
  • Reduce Footprint: Make a minimalist lean-to only when you need basic cover
  • Layer For Heavy Rain: Overlap two tarps, use extra guylines for high winds
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A bushcraft tarp tent prioritizes adaptation to your environment rather than freestanding perfection.

Advanced Tarp Tenting Techniques

For more experienced campers, tarps allow for creative modifications and hacks:

  • Making A-Frame Doors: Use two trekking poles to create zippered door openings
  • Add Vestibule Storage: Hang additional tarp of the side for dry gear storage
  • Catenary Ridgelines: Use a curved ridgeline for more usable headroom
  • Complex Multi-Tarp Setups: Combine multiple tarps for “walled” tent designs
  • Group Sized Superships: Really large modular tarps pitched by 3+ people
  • Wrap Tarp for Wind/Snow: Bury, wrap and stack for 4-season alpine camping

With practice, tarp tents are endlessly hackable for customization and optimization.

Pros and Cons of Tarp Tents vs Traditional Tents

Wondering if a tarp tent is the right camping shelter for your needs? Consider these pros and cons:

Tarp Tent Pros:

  • Ultralight and compact for easy carrying
  • Quick to pitch and strike for mobile camping
  • Budget-friendly and DIY-able for survival use
  • Better views and airflow than a tent
  • Customizable for unique needs or conditions

Tarp Tent Cons:

  • Less weatherproof unless properly rigged
  • Limited privacy/bug protection without additions
  • Requires some learning curve for pitching
  • Less amenities for “glamping” style camping

When to Use Tarp Tents:

  • Backpacking or adventure camping when weight matters
  • Combined with minimalist bivy or bug shelters
  • Temporary survival shelters from limited gear
  • Anytime you need an ultralight, budget-friendly option

For many camping styles, a tarp tent is a very capable all-weather shelter – as long as you’re willing to give up some amenities. They provide excellent utility for backpackers and survival preparedness on a budget.

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