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Dry Campers Guide: 5 Best Camping Tarps [Plus Setup and Care Tips]

Posted in: Camping Gear

If you love camping and being dry, then you're in the right place. In this post, you'll learn how to choose the best tarp for your needs, our picks for the best camping tarps, plus how to set up and care for them.

Best camping tarps

Campers Guide to the Best Camping Tarps

Your tarp is your first line of defense against that dreaded drip, drip, drip splattering on your face in the middle of the night when you are camping, so the rain stays where it belongs: outside your tent.

This makes a good quality tarp an essential bit of kit for all campers, trekkers, backpackers and anyone else planning to spend any length of time camping in the great outdoors.

Tarps galore will be discussed along with how to put them up, care for them, maintain them and even repair them if something should go wrong like an insanely large pine cone tearing it, or a bear attack. Okay we’re just joking, if it faces a bear attack, chances are you will need a new one. Bears are big.

You will find everything you need to find the best camping tarp in one of these sections:

  1. How to choose your camping tarp: 7 factors to consider (jump to section)
  2. 5 best camping tarps: Best value, backpacking, lightweight, hammock, premium (jump to section)
  3. How to set up your camping tarp: Rigging it for maximum benefit (jump to section)
  4. Camp tarp care: Repairs, tears, waterproofing (jump to section)

Just want the best tarp so you can go camping? Here's our top pick – the best value for almost every application.


Top Pick: 10 x 10ft Camping Tarp

This lightweight waterproof  70D ripstop nylon tarp weighs just 1.9 lbs and compresses down to just 5.25 x 4.75 x 3.5 inches. Rated with hydrostatic resistance of 20,000 mm – this is 100% waterproof.

Check this tarp on Amazon

This is our top pic for the best camping tarp because it's one of the highest rated tarps available and is great for extra water protection above your tent, shelter for your food prep / campfire area, or for your hammock.

This isn't your cheapest option. See below for less expensive tarps. For me, I'm happy to spend a little extra on my tarp and get a long life.

Best lightweight camping tarp


7 Factors to Choose Your Camping Tarp

Let’s start with things you need to consider when purchasing your tarp. Here are a few things to mull over when making your choice.

  1. Material: Every year camping gear seems to gets lighter, stronger and more durable. Polyester, ripstop, 70D nylon, reinforced stitching, heat taped etc. It can all get very confusing when you start reading about ‘everything tarp’.
  2. Stitching: All stitching should be reinforced, preferably with added reinforcement around the grommets (the holes the ropes go through).
  3. Strength: Something to support the fabric making it harder to tear, rip, puncture or be susceptible to abrasion. You don’t want a tarp that rips on the first trip.
  4. Grommets: These are the points where your tarp will experience the most stress because this is where the anchoring system is. When the wind picks up or the rain pelts down, these points are under the most duress and most likely to rip. Grommets should always be reinforced, preferably with triple stitching and an additional fabric adding another layer of protection.
  5. Weight: For backpackers, trekkers, thru-hikers or those just wanting to walk to their campsite with all of their stuff, weight plays a crucial part. If you have to carry the gear, you want it as lightweight as possible.
  6. Color: Feeling at one with nature is the whole reason for your excursion out into the wilds so blending in adds to the harmony you feel. A hot pink tarp does not blend in and may in fact startle the wildlife. So neutral tones are best. There are those that love their camouflage, so if you choose this be sure to remember where it is so you can find it again and don’t trip over it! Another option is safety colors. Yellow or red are also popular in snowy environments and help rescuers find you if something does happen.
  7. Waterproofing: Waterproof and water resistant are very different things. One has the rain beading and running off your tarp without having the chance to touch you. The other, well, if you like a big fat water drop on your face in the middle of the night then that’s fine too. They are better for dessert camping or in areas with a low annual rainfall. Just remember to consider where most of your time will be spent. Plus, you can always waterproof later, we cover that in the Tarp Care section of this guide.

Best camping tarp


5 Best Camping Tarps for Dry Campers

There is a tarp for every occasion these days, so here you’ll find lightweight tarps, the best tarps for backpacking, camping and even those designed for hammocks. Specially crafted to make your life easier, this buyers guide will cover them all.

Now that you know what to look for here are some great choices for each type of camping.

1. Great Little All-Rounder Camping Tarp

Some tarps are so versatile and adaptable that they are called all-rounders meaning you can camp in the desert or the snow and everywhere in between. They will adapt to any terrain.

Check current price on this tarp

UST Tarp and Camping Shelter fits this category. Lightweight (1.75 pound) this tarp has everything you need plus built in safety features for wilderness survival. It is reversible with an aluminum underside that can be used as a thermal blanket or emergency signal for help.

Another great feature is a zipper so it can form a makeshift tent keeping you and your gear drier as well as a backup just in case you forget yours. Available in a neutral green to blend in with the landscape or a safety yellow for camping under snowy conditions. Easy to handle, it goes up in minutes and comes with all guy ropes and stakes needed in a handy pouch.

2. Best Backpacking Tarp

When backpacking you’ll want something ultra-lightweight because you’re the one that has to carry it. Plus, if it’s lightweight that means it usually packs down really small cutting down on the room it takes up in your pack.

Check current price for this tarp

Bear Butt has 100% faith in their gear and so they should. As they say ‘even if a ninja comes by and chops it to pieces’ which would have to happen for this tarp to let you down, they’ll refund your money. Reinforced in all the right places, tear resistant, it’s made of a waterproof polyester fabric that will keep you dry.

The super strong guy ropes even have reflective tracers so you don’t trip over them and they are visible no matter what weather conditions you find yourself in. It’s lightweight, only weighing a pound so it’s easy to add into your pack.

3. Best ultralight camping tarp

An ultralight tarp does not mean an ultra-weak tarp. This is a great lightweight, waterproof, tear and puncture resistant tarp that packs down small and is easy to stow away in your camping gear, car or trailer.

Check current price for this tarp

Made of 210T Dacron means it is incredibly strong and durable so it will accompany you for years to come on all of your camping trips. Easy to put up, 8 guy ropes means it is not going anywhere and even the stakes are aluminum so they are ultra-lightweight too.

4. Best tarp for hammock camping

Chill Gorilla Hammock Rain Fly ticks all the boxes. Tough with two reinforced center lines and 9 tie downs it can stand up to more than an average summer afternoon sprinkle.

Check current price for this tarp

Tear and puncture resistant, the tie down loops, grommets and entire edge are reinforced so it is extremely durable. Weighing just over a pound including 4 stakes and 6 super strong guy ropes it easily fits in any pack or outer pocket of your bag. Multiple configuration options mean you can camp in any terrain.

Check our our hammock camping guide

5. Best premium camping tarp

Our Top Pick! Agua Quest Defender Tarp guarantees to keep you dry with a 20,000mm hydrostatic resistance so the water beads and runs off smoothly ensuring your time in the great outdoors is spent warm and cozy. Available in ultra-light, medium weight and heavy duty, they all have double waterproofing, heat taped seams for leakage prevention and are made of tough tear, puncture and ripstop rip resistant nylon.

Check current price for this tarp

Reinforced stitching provides peace of mind even when the wind picks up and all of its 24 reinforced webbing loops are under strain. Even with everything mother nature can throw at it, their rigorous testing has shown exceptional durability which is why it’s our pick for best premium camping tarp.

Watch on YouTube

Waterproof camping tarp


How to Set Up Your Camping Tarp

There are two main ways to set up a tarp. Diagonally, which is called a diamond, or the traditional way forming a square that will cover a tent, act as a sunshade or provide a cooking area for your campsite.

Hammock campers use the diamond method, while tent campers usually prefer the traditional method. Here’s a list of instructions for both:

Tarp Setup for Your Tent

  • Choose your tent site and set up your tent
  • Throw your tarp over the tent, adjust to your liking
  • Attach the guy ropes to the corners of the tarp
  • Tie the corners off to tree trunks to the height of your choosing. If there are no trees nearby, boulders or rock outcrops can be used. Be inventive, you can tie it to any inanimate object.

Tarp Setup for Your Hammock

  • Set up your hammock
  • On a diagonal, lay your tarp across the hammock
  • Tie off either end to the same tree trunk as your hammock at the height of your choosing. Remember your hammock sags when you are in it so it can be a little closer if you prefer.
  • Stake down the sides using the stakes provided until they are taught allowing for maximum room and rain runoff.

Check out the best camping hammocks for beginners.

Setup a Tarp with No Knots

Watch on YouTube

Helpful Hint: Tie an additional rope around a rock and throw it over a high branch once it’s connected to your center line (if it has a loop). This will help prevent sagging in the middle and improve runoff in a downpour.

Best hammock camping tarps


Tarp Care: Repairs and Waterproofing

A good tarp is going to last you for years. Unless a bear attacks (here's how to keep them away) or it's in a ninja sword fight – it is easy to repair your tarp without having to spend the money to replace it.

There are great products that will even reseal and repair at the same time. Here are some pointers on how to repair that tear.

  1. Make sure the tarp is clean and completely dry
  2. Lay it out on a flat clean surface where it will not be disturbed while drying (think garage workbench, not living room floor)
  3. Check the seams for tears while you are there. If you find any, then place tape on the other side holding it in place. This can be removed once the glue or repairing agent is dry.
  4. Apply the repairing agent and leave to dry overnight before packing it away with your camping gear.

There are also excellent repair tapes on the market like Gear Aid Tenacious Tape for Fabric Repair which will stick to any fabric allowing you to repair your tarp and tent in the field. This is a great bit of kit to keep handy when camping.

Waterproofing Your Tarp

There are two types of waterproofing for your tarp. Along the seams and the actual fabric itself. Most tarp fabrics are treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) which as time wears on you will see flake off or water can begin to seep through. It is easy to reapply and should only be a ten-minute job.

To reseal your seams and ensure they are waterproof again, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Make sure your tarp is clean and dry. If it is a little dirty, then wipe with rubbing alcohol or a damp cloth.
  2. Once it is dry, lay it on a flat surface and apply the sealant to the seams and any small tears you can find along them. A sealant like Gear Aid Seam Grip works beautifully.
  3. Leave to dry as per instructions, then pack away with your camping gear.

Re-doing your Durable Water Repellent

Your tarp is the one bit of camping kit that takes the most punishment. It has to deal with harsh sun's harmful UV rays which starts to break the DWR down quickly so it should be checked twice as often as your tent.

Some products have the added benefit of being able to be applied while your tarp is still wet cutting down on your chore time. Nikwax Tent and Gear Solar Proof comes highly reviewed.

This is an easy job. Here’s how:

  1. Set up your tarp and make sure it’s clean. If not, then wash it.
  2. Spray the DWR on in one even coating. Wipe off excess.
  3. Walk away and leave to dry. Easy peasy, job done!
  4. Pack it up when dry and return to your camping gear.

Repair Pulled Out Grommet

Watch on YouTube

Best backpacking camping tarp


Your Turn

Have a tarp hanging tip? Join me in the comments!

Now go forth and get camping!

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GudGear - and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

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