Camping Tarp – How to Put up a Tarp?


With summer looking to be a wet one, any ideas on good ways to put up a camping tarp? Trees, poles…? Reaching a campground when it’s raining and cold, it’s not always easy putting up a tarp.


First, you want to put a tarp up first

Well, let me offer what feeble advice I have, as a person who’s only been tent camping once. But I think that weekend I spent all my time putting up a rain tarp.

Camping Tarp

Camping Tarp

First, you want to put a tarp up first. That way the rest of setup can take place in somewhat dry conditions. Immediately on arrival, my brother erected a 20×18 foot tarp over his pad area and the park rangers ran over to ask what was going on. But I digress.

He used trees and some framing left over from when they remodeled their kitchen. For the trees he had a weight he made himself (he still hasn’t told me how heavy, but you need heavy enough to carry the rope over a tree limb) and this he tied to his ropes and tossed over several high tree branches. And I mean high. 20 feet up. He tied the ropes then down on the trunk at chest high level.

First thing he did (and we eventually did this too) is tie a diagonal rope between two trees about 15 feet up. This is the peak of your tarp “roof.” You lay the whole tarp over this rope and at an angle so it seems divided into two triangles. Laying the tarp over a rope helps ease the stress on the grommets. I think, I’ll have to ask, before he threw the ropes over the high limbs he did thread them through the grommets at the corners of the main diagonal, to hold them in place.

Then the other corners were tied down lower on other trees, or in a case where a decent tree was not forthcoming, fed through the hole in the top of one of the framing pieces and staked down. That way the tarp acted like a house’s roof and all water flowed downward and off the tarp.

He was careful to make sure the water flowed off in a good place! My first attempt had the water flowing off in front of my tent! Not a good move!

He didn’t really worry about any “valleys” in the tarp as long as the water eventually flowed off in one direction. So I think even with your low sides one “edge” should be lower than the other. Plan where the water is going to go, off away from your tent or dining area and down a hill somewhere.

One thing he did was thread all ropes through the grommets in a line to reduce stress on the grommets.

His campsite was really nice and dry, and we spent a lot of time there. He had the main large camping tarp over his tent and tent entrance, and then another smaller one over the dining area and fire. Yeah, it’s got to be up quite a bit if you have it over a fire! It rained quite hard one afternoon and we had a complete cookout under the smaller tarp (which was pretty big actually now that I think about it). There was a mesmerizing water show on the tarp. We’d watch drops collect, then group, then roll off the tarp with a splash. Away from us, ha ha.

A nice advantage to a tarp setup like this is you don’t get water near your tent at all. I had quite a bit of water collecting around my tent, and although it stayed dry this made me quite nervous. But he was dry all around his tent about a foot out. Pretty cool. And it was a “hotel” as another poster put it.

I’m not sure which Eureka it is, but it is brown and tan and has the hollow aluminum poles. About 10-12 foot square. A monster. They sleep four in it and I think they use air mattresses.

I’ve also been looking at gazebos and whatnot (Kelty has some amazing-looking fancy flies that cost an arm and a leg) because I have a gander for a site at this same state park that only has trees on one side. The other side is a beautiful rock pile so it would seem like I was camping in a glen. Maybe I should get one that can take screens if I want in case the rain stops and it gets buggy. I haven’t decided though whether a 10 x 10 footprint is big enough for my 8 x 8 tent. You want the water to drain off FAR AWAY from your tent. I’d also kind of like whatever I come up with to stretch far out enough in front of my tent so I can come out of it, get my shoes or boots on or whatever, and have umbrellas or rain ponchos out there to put on. It was kind of awkward to put wet shoes on in the tent and then run to the car to get a rain poncho.

If it’s raining set up your BIG camping tarp right off

Not to think I’m all that, but I’ve been tarping for years, and can get them to do almost anything anywhere!

First, if it’s raining set up your BIG camping tarp right off. Pick a spot so that the tent (or at least the tent door) is under one end of the tarp, and you can build a fire under the opposite edge. Now the challenge is to get the tarp up right in that spot.

Sometimes I’ll use a ridge line that runs down the long axis of the tarp through the grommets closest to the center: toss a rope with a rock tied around it over a branch about 12′-15′ feet up and tie it off around the trunk at a comfortable height. Then string your rope through the grommet nearest the center of the short edge, run the rope UNDER the tarp and back up through the corresponding grommet on the other short edge. Make the higher end of your ridge line on the end where you’ll build the fire, to keep the tarp up high enough that it doesn’t melt.

Once you get the tarp hanging on the ridge line, start tying the corners off. I try to use trees if possible, even if it means stringing out 25′ of cord (always have LOTS & LOTS of cord). If there is no tree, then I use those four section aluminum tent poles, like the ones from Campmor. These poles need two lines, at 90 degrees from each other, tent staked securely in the ground.

After you get the corners up, and the tarp fairly tight (not too tight or you’ll tear out the grommets) I look at where the water will drain. If the long edges are tight water will run off easily, but often pockets of rain water collect, till they weigh too much and suddenly dump off – sometimes just in the exact wrong place. To avoid this try tying a small rock (cigarette pack size) around a 2′ piece of cord and tying it to a grommet about where you want the water to drain. This makes a low spot on the edge and keeps the water from collecting. Usually one of these per long edge is good. We used to just stake down a line from the grommet instead of using the “dangling rock” method, but it just gives you an extra line to trip over.

If the center of your tarp sags, put the picnic table under, and ontop of it use one of your corner poles as a center pole, after putting something (pop bottle for example) on the pointy end so it doesn’t poke through.

If you’re going to be in the dessert, or on the beach you know you’re going to need at least four corner poles and maybe one center pole. Also, regular tent stakes don’t work. If you don’t have sand anchor tent stakes, buy a box of small trash bags, fill them with sand, tie off the opening, bury it partially in the sand and use that as your “tent stake”

There’s a zillion other tricks, but this should get you going pretty well. Good luck.

Photo by al_green.

Tags: , .