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What is a Tarp [Sizes, Costs, Setup Variants]

What is a tarp? Many Bushcrafters swear by the tarp. Today I will introduce you to this special variant of a roof.

from Martin Gebhardt | Gear | no comment yet | reading time 7 Min
Updated on 12 June 2024 53.485 views 97% found this guide helpful
What is a Tarp [Sizes, Costs, Setup Variants]

Martin Gebhardt

From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.

👉 The key facts from this guide

  • What is a tarp: A tarp is a simple, usually rectangular tent tarpaulin that serves as an airy roof and protects against rain and direct sunlight.
  • Advantages: Tarps are ultra-lightweight and have a small pack size, making them ideal for bushcraft and survival. They also offer a variety of setup options and protection against sun and rain.
  • Disadvantages: With a tarp, you have to additionally shield the ground and high-quality tarps can be expensive.
  • Usage: Tarps can be used as rain and sun protection, as a shelter for you and your equipment, or even as a makeshift stretcher in emergency situations.
  • Sizes and costs: The most common size of a tarp is 3 x 3 meters and the costs can range from about €40 for cheap models to over €300 for high-quality models.
  • Setup: There are many ways to set up a tarp, including the lean-to, rain fly, shelter, and A-frame.

If you're wondering what a Tarp is, then you've come to the right place.

Many Bushcrafters swear by the tarp, I'm sure you've also read or heard about it.

Today I will introduce you to this special variant of a roof.

What is a Tarp?

A tarp is a large, flexible sheet used for outdoor shelter. It offers protection from sun, rain and wind. Tarps are lightweight, durable and easy to transport, making them ideal for camping, bushcraft and outdoor adventures.

In general, a tarp is a simple tarpaulin. More specifically, it is a rectangular tent tarp that is equipped with its eyelets.

This is either tensioned with paracord (Here is my article about paracord), a rope or similar through the eyelets or, in some setups, additionally secured with tarp poles.

The cheapest tarps are mostly made of polyester-PU. The advantage lies in the affordable purchase. Such tarps are completely sufficient for occasional bushcraft trips in temperate climates.

The term "Tarps" is English, it comes from American English. "Tarp" is a short form of "tarpaulin", which means "tarp" or "cover". The verb "to tarp" means "to cover".

Advantages of a tarp

There are several advantages why a tarp is so popular in the field of Bushcraft and Survival.

  • Weight: A tarp is ultralight compared to a whole tent. You can feel it less in your backpack during long marches. It is ideal for Bushcrafters who want to travel ultralight or minimalist. This way, you are much lighter and also faster on the go.
  • Packed Size: In addition to the low weight, there is also the small size and thus a tiny packed size. This gives you significantly more space for other things in your backpack.
  • Variety: You have the possibility to set up a tent in exactly one way. With a tarp, there is a great variety. There are many options for setting up your tarp.
  • Protection: The tarp protects you from direct sunlight, but even more importantly, from rain.

Disadvantages of a tarp

You will also have to accept a few disadvantages if you choose a tarp.

  • Ground: You have to additionally shield the ground with a tarp. In most setup methods, it is not intended for parts of the tarp to serve as a groundsheet.
  • Price: Unfortunately, most high-quality tarps from reputable manufacturers are not inexpensive.

Read also

35 Tarp hacks every outdoor enthusiast should know - You think you know your Tarp? Think again! I reveal 35 incredible Tarp tricks that will take your outdoor experience to the next level.

What can I use my tarp for?

The primary purpose of your tarp is to use it as a rain protection and protection against direct sunlight.

It is an open alternative to the tent. This also offers many possibilities to set up your tarp to use it as a shelter.

So, your tarp serves as a shelter for you and your friends, as well as protection for your backpack, utensils, and tools, but also for your firewood and possibly even the fire itself.

A tarp with hammock
A tarp with hammock

Under certain circumstances, you may find yourself in situations where you have to repurpose your tarp. Let's say you are still on the go, haven't found a campsite yet, and haven't set up camp.

Right at this moment, the rain is pouring down on you. Now is the opportunity to unpack your tarp and use it as a rain cover for your backpack and for yourself.

If you are out with friends and one of them injures their leg, use your tarp as a stretcher. However, make sure that you have a tarp that is sturdy enough for this purpose.

Tarps are also commonly used as sun sails.

What sizes are available?

The most common size of a tarp is 3 x 3 meters.

You will probably encounter these dimensions most frequently. You should also not choose a smaller tarp.

With 3 x 3 meters, you have enough space for everything you need and of course, also for your companion.

Other common sizes are 2 x 3 m, 4 x 4 m, and 3.5 x 4.5 m.

In between, above and below you will also find almost everything.

I recommend, however, that you decide a size of at least 7, preferably 9 square meters.

How much does a tarp cost?

Cheap tarps are available starting at around €40,- to €50,- and up.

There are hardly any limits when it comes to the price range. I have also seen tarps for well over €300.

If, however, this is too expensive for you and you just want to try out whether you are even the tarp type, I have a tip for you.

For starters, the hardware store tarp for 5 to 15 euros is generally sufficient.

This, however, comes with a few disadvantages. It rustles louder, reflects more, and usually has only a few eyelets that you need to use for setting it up.

It is also possible to sew your own tarp
It is also possible to sew your own tarp

Can I sew a tarp myself?

Yes, of course you can sew your tarp. You just need to be skilled with a sewing machine.

I have created a detailed step-by-step guide for this, which you can find here:

How to sew your tarp - the complete guide with tools, materials, and costs

How do I set up a tarp?

As I mentioned above, there are many variations and options for setting up your tarp.

Here in the picture you can already see a few variations.

Tarp Setup Forms
Tarp Setup Forms

I will now introduce you to some of the most well-known construction variants. These are my four favorites, but there are still numerous alternatives.

What do I actually need?

To set up your tarp, you will need a few utensils:

  • The tarp.
  • Trekking poles, branches, professional poles or multiple tripods.
  • Paracord, rope or similar for guy lines.
  • Pegs (you have the option to carve your own).
  • Possibly carabiners.

Take the rope if possible. Paracord is less static and needs to be tightened again in case of rain or damp weather (but that's also not a problem).

Seat selection

When choosing a seat, first make sure you feel comfortable.

It is also important that the lying surface is as even and free from sharp objects as possible.

Then look up. If you see rotten, dead branches or the like above you, clear them out of the way to prevent any surprises later on.

Moreover, make sure that you set up your camp not near wild roads and wildlife crossings. Otherwise, you won't have a peaceful night.

In general, I advise you to experiment with your tarp yourself. This way, you will find the ideal setup variant for you.

Variant 1: The pitched roof (also known as Lean-To)

Fast and effective. Spread the tarp flat on the ground and secure one side directly to the ground. Thread your cord through the other two corners that you haven't secured.

Set up the tarp similar to a tent using two poles (or attach it to trees on the left and right) and tighten the ropes. The slanted roof is now complete.

Tarp Sloping Roof
Tarp Sloping Roof

Variant 2: The Rain Fly (also known as Flying A-Frame)

Like a tent, but in the air. You don't need any poles to anchor it. But you do need more rope and a suitable environment.

First, tie a small loop in your guy line with an Achterknoten. Attach a carabiner to the loop. Thread the cord around a thick tree and attach it to the carabiner. Then you need to tighten it. Stretch a cord at the desired height parallel to the ground, where you want the highest point of your shelter to be.

That works best between two trees. So, connect the loose end of your string to another tree. For this, a topsail bowline is suitable.

Then work on both sides of the tensioned cord and insert a Prusik loop on each side (so that the rain runs off there) and then place your tarp in the middle. Tighten the tarp by adjusting the two Prusik knots.

You can now either tie the hanging sides to the ground at the four corners with a string or tie two more strings. Your roof is finished.

Tarp Rain Fly
Tarp Rain Fly

Variant 3: The Shelter

Simple and particularly wind stable. Spread out your tarp flat on the ground for that.

Then you stake down one of the short sides, as well as a third corner. Now you have one side and three corners staked down.

Stretch the other, unsecured short side up now with a stick in the middle.

Tighten the fourth corner nice and tight now.

To make the setup even more stable, also secure the pole with a rope. And there you have built a deep, particularly aerodynamic shelter.

Tarp Shelter
Tarp Shelter

Variant 4: The A-Frame

The classic and very flexible. Proceed with the A-Frame exactly the same way as with the Rain Fly.

Don't hang your ridge cord too high. The difference to the Rain Fly is that you anchor the sides of the A-frame directly to the ground with carabiners, while those of the Rain Fly are floating in the air, so to speak.

Tarp A-Frame
Tarp A-Frame

Purchase Recommendations

Do you want to start quickly and easily? Then take the tarp from Unigear. It is waterproof, with eyelets + 6 pegs + 6 ropes.

When purchasing, you acquire a compact and good beginner version.

Unigear Hammock Rain Fly Waterproof Tent Tarp, 9.8x9.8ft, UV Protection and PU 3000mm Waterproof, Lightweight for Camping, Backpacking and Outdoor Adventure

Data updated 16 hours ago

Unigear Hammock Rain Fly Waterproof Tent Tarp, 9.8x9.8ft, UV Protection and PU 3000mm Waterproof, Lightweight for Camping, Backpacking and Outdoor Adventure

  • STAY DRY IN THE RAIN: Unigear tent tarp is made of super strong 210D rip-stop Oxford fabric, PU 3000mm waterproof. It offers an excellent protection against rain, sudden downpours, snow and high winds. Open size is 300x300cm/10x10ft.
  • NO MORE RIPPING & LEAKING: To offer a safer and tougher shelter, all the 8 fix points on the rain fly are reinforced a triangle dual layer. Besides, all fix points are used double reinforced stitches, which can prevent ripping and leaking even in extreme conditions.
  • BLOCK THE SUN: Coated with PU Inner layer, Unigear lightweight tarp can provide a UV protection in the sun. Perfects for hammock camping, backpacking, hiking, or other adventure.
  • MULTIPLE USES: The rain fly can be widely used as survival tarp, hammock shelter, outdoor kitchen cover, simple tent, tent footprint, ground sheet and instant shade. Come with 6 stakes and 6 ropes, you can set up different shapes easily.
  • AFTER-SALES SERVICE: If you meet the installtion or any quality problems, please simply e-mail us the problem at any time, and we’ll take care of you.


View Product

If you're looking for a slightly better tarp, then get a tarp from DD Hammocks.

If you are looking for a really good tarp, then you are well served with the tarps from "Aqua Quest". Here you can't go wrong and have purchased a durable tarp.

AquaQuest Defender wasserdichte Campingplane – robuster Zeltunterstand oder Regenschutz – Wandern, Bushcraft und Hängematte, 3 x 2 m Olivgrün

Data updated 17 hours ago

AquaQuest Defender wasserdichte Campingplane – robuster Zeltunterstand oder Regenschutz – Wandern, Bushcraft und Hängematte, 3 x 2 m Olivgrün

  • ÜBERRAGENDE QUALITÄT: Materialien und präzise Verarbeitung werden in jedes AquaQuest Tarp gesteckt. Seit 1994 ist AQ die Marke für Tarps, der Sie für maximales Vertrauen in Ihren Unterstand vertrauen können.
  • HÖCHSTE WASSERDICHTHEIT auf dem Markt: Die einzigartige Dualbeschichtungsformel des Defender erzielt eine branchenführende Wasserdichtigkeit von 20,000 mm, die Sie auch unter extremsten Bedingungen trocken und komfortabel hält.
  • ROBUSTES Nylonmaterial, robuste Gurtbandschlaufen, verstärkte Kantenlinien und kräftige Nähte haben dem Defender den Ruf als robusteste Camping- und Bushcraft-Tarp eingebracht.
  • DIE DEFENDER 3 x 2 (Mittel) Tarp verfügt über 21 Befestigungspunkte, wiegt 1,1 kg und bietet eine Abdeckung von bis zu 6 m². Diese Größe eignet sich ideal für schnelle und einfache Aufstellungen, die grundlegende Schutzbedürfnisse erfüllen. Kann bis zu 2 Benutzer aufnehmen.
  • LEBENSLANGE GARANTIE für alle AquaQuest-Produkte, plus sachkundigen und reaktionsschnellen Kundenservice. Mit 30 Jahren Erfahrung genießen Sie volles Vertrauen und kein Risiko von einem bewährten Branchenführer.


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If the recommendations are not enough for you and you want to buy a tarp, then be sure to read my Tarp Buying Guide with additional recommendations.

What about you? Do you own a tarp?

How do you prefer to build it?

Or have you heard about this alternative to the tent for the first time today? If that's the case - could I convince you?

Will you get yourself a tarp and give it a try?

You are welcome to share your experiences in this field in the comments.

Take care, Martin
Martin Gebhardt

Author of the guide

Martin Gebhardt

Hey, I'm Martin. On my blog, you will learn the basics and numerous details about living in the wild. I think survival, bushcraft and the good life in nature are the keys to happiness. Find me here on Instagram or on YouTube. You can find more about my mission on the About Me page.

Since this is a gear guide, here ...

🤝8 reasons to trust my recommendation

  1. Practical Experience: I have tested most of the products I recommend under extreme conditions myself.

  2. Independence: As a wilderness mentor, I am not tied to any specific brands - this means my recommendations are unbiased.

  3. Expertise: My many years of experience allow me to understand the intricacies and details of various products that a layperson might overlook.

  4. Target group understanding: I understand the needs and challenges of outdoor enthusiasts, from beginners to seasoned experts.

  5. Quality focus: I attach great importance to quality and longevity. These are characteristics that are crucial in the wild.

  6. Clear communication: I try to explain the pros and cons of each product clearly and understandably so that you can make an informed decision.

  7. Currentness: I always keep my guides up to date and adapt them to new findings or products.

  8. Community Feedback: I work in wilderness schools, teach courses myself, attend courses and am active in various outdoor and survival communities and therefore integrate the feedback and experiences of others into my recommendations.

So when I introduce the best survival knives or flashlights, you can be sure that every recommendation is based on solid experience and extensive knowledge.

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Free 35 Survival Hacks you'll love!

You will get 35 easy-to-implement survival hacks so that you don't have to stand aimlessly in the forest from tomorrow when things get tough. Take your skills to the next level!