Oct 13, 2023

A Beginner's Guide to Tarp Camping: Backpacking with Confidence

Are you unfamiliar with the difference between an A-Frame and a Lean-To when it comes to tarp camping? Learn how to master the art of rigging a tarp for a safe, secure, and dry night under the stars with our beginner's guide.

For many seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, the allure of sleeping under a tarp far surpasses the traditional tent experience. But why would anyone abandon a high-performing, meticulously designed tent in favor of a basic, seemingly leak-prone shelter? And is tarp camping only for those who want to be different just for the sake of it?

Well, the appeal of tarp camping is threefold. First, while a tent can feel confining and restricting, a tarp provides an open and airy experience that allows you to fully connect with nature and your surroundings. You'll feel the fresh air on your face and gaze at the twinkling stars above, offering a more intimate connection with the great outdoors. Second, tarps are more versatile, weatherproof, and technically advanced than you might think, offering numerous pitching options tailored to weather conditions and terrain. Lastly, when compared to expensive modern tents, a good tarp doesn't have to break the bank. In fact, it often provides better value for money, especially for those looking to embrace ultra-light backpacking.

What is a Tarp? At its core, a tarp is a single-sheet waterproof material used to create a customized shelter. By utilizing pegs, guylines, walking poles, and optional groundsheets or bug nets, you can configure a tarp into various shapes and layouts. This adaptability allows you to adjust your shelter to the prevailing weather conditions. Pitch it high for space and views on clear days, or pitch it low for stability and protection during storms.

Choosing a tarp over a tent won't necessarily expose you to more wind and rain. With some practice, you can learn to pitch your tarp effectively to keep you comfortable in the mountains, regardless of the weather. You have a plethora of options, from the simple A-Frame and Lean-To to the more complex Tipi or C Fly Wedge.

Types of Tarps: Flat, Shaped, or Tarp-Tents Tarps come in three main types: flat, shaped, and tarp-tents. Flat tarps, which are square or rectangular, are the simplest choice. Shaped tarps have multiple sides (heptagonal or hexagonal) or curved edges, designed by manufacturers for precise pitching. Tarp-tents blur the line between tarp and tent, with various pitching methods and advanced features like zips and doors.

Choosing the right type can be tricky. Flat tarps work well in forests where you can hang a ridgeline between trees and are perfect for beginners or for warm, dry spring and summer camping. Shaped tarps are ideal for low-profile pitches, offering better protection from the elements but at a higher cost. The cutouts in shaped tarps may improve ventilation and reduce condensation. Tarp-tents provide more headroom and bug protection but come with a higher price tag, more weight, and reduced versatility.


Choosing a Tarp: Key Features to Consider

  • Weight: For a minimalist experience, opt for the lightest tarp possible, taking into account the weight of poles, pegs, guylines, and bivvy.
  • Size: A solo tarp should be around 2.5mx1.8m, although a larger tarp offers more versatility at the expense of added weight.
  • Seams: Choose a tarp with sealed seams or apply sealant yourself to ensure waterproofing.
  • Attachment Points: Look for a tarp with eight or more attachment points for guylines and pegs, providing greater versatility and stability.
  • Prop Points: Integrated grommets that accommodate trekking pole tips enhance the tarp's integrity and stability.
  • Waterproofing: A tarp's hydrostatic head rating of 3,000mm+ is ideal for rainy adventures.
  • Materials: Ultralight, thin materials are suitable for experienced campers, while thicker materials offer durability and affordability, albeit with added weight.
  • Extras: Features like integrated zips, doors, groundsheets, or bug mesh inners enhance functionality.

Four Ways to Set Up a Tarp Before you embark on your outdoor adventure, practice setting up your tarp in your garden to ensure a secure, stable pitch. Consider the number of pegs and guylines needed for an effective setup. Additionally, select the right trekking poles, as Z-shaped poles are generally unsuitable for tarps; telescopic poles are a better choice.

To protect your sleeping bag from moisture, you can use a bivvy, a polycro groundsheet, or pitch your tarp in a way that creates a groundsheet. When selecting a camping spot, aim for a flat, dry, and sheltered location, and position your tarp so that the entrance faces away from the prevailing wind. There are countless tarp orientation options, but here are four of the best and most common:

1. A-Frame (with Poles)

  • Create a steep-walled, A-shaped shelter with twin openings using trekking poles and guylines.
  • For more ventilation, use guylines instead of pegs in the four corners to create a 'Floating' A-Frame.
  • For improved weatherproofing, create a 'Closed' A-Frame by ditching one pole and pegging down the tarp's rear.
A-Frame tarp
Closed A-Frame tarp                                                                                                                Floating A-Frame

2. Lean-To

  • Form an angled rectangle with the tarp's rear pegged down and the front raised using trekking poles.
  • For better protection, use two-sided lean-to with a rear wall and lipped canopy created with poles and tensioned guylines.
  • Opt for the C Fly Wedge, resembling the basic lean-to but with an extra pegged-out fold at the bottom for a groundsheet.
A lean-to tarp with a curved lip

3. Side-V

  • Shape the tarp like a V on its side, with a makeshift groundsheet and sloping roof/wall.
  • Stake out a rectangular groundsheet and use two poles and accompanying guylines to create the angled roof.
  • Use only one pole centrally and peg down the sides for a tent-like structure with groundsheet and a single opening.


4. Tipi

  • Use one central pole and guylines to create a wigwam-shaped shelter with good headroom and a triangular opening.
  • Peg down all other rig points for stability.
  • Secure the pole in the tarp's middle for a wraparound-style or attach it to the tarp edge for an airier structure.

With the right setup and a bit of practice, you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility of tarp camping in various environments and conditions. So, why not give it a try and experience the magic of sleeping under the stars in your tarp shelter?

KASSICO, a leading aluminum box factory in Ningbo, China, has 21 years of production experience. Since 2015, combining the advantages of camping kitchen boxes, KASSICO has expanded its business scope to outdoor camping gear and equipment, including design and supply of camp furniture, camping tents, camp kitchenware, camping lights, tools, etc. With multiple sets of outdoor product solutions. KASSICO provides customers around the world with hundreds of innovative and affordable outdoor products. We will be your reliable suppliers, and we will try our best to serve you better and to be your honest partner. 
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