Do I need a tarp under or over my tent? benefits and alternatives


When camping, you always need to be sure that you and your gear stay dry. In addition to this, you also need to make sure that your gear is protected. Without proper precautions, your gear can wear out much faster than it should.

tarp over tentSo do you need a tarp over or under your tent?

You do not have to have a tarp under your tent but it is highly recommended. Having a tarp under your tent can prevent holes and tear from appearing on the bottom of the tent as well as prevent moisture from the ground from soaking into your tent. A tarp over your tent can prevent rain from getting inside, as well as adding extra insulation against the wind.

Here’s what we will cover so you will know the benefits of using a tarp on your tent.

Benefits of a Tarp Over Your Tent

Having a tarp over or on top of your tent has many advantages. While many tents are already waterproof when you purchase them, it is still recommended to use a tarp over the tent.

  • Keeping You Dry

Having a tarp over your tent will keep you dry in case it rains while you’re camping. While many of us don’t plan on there being rain in the forecast, weather can change very quickly. Always be sure to pack a tarp with you, regardless of the forecasted weather.

In addition to possible rain, morning dew can also cause issues when you wake up. If you have a tent that is not water resistant, morning dew can soak through the tent walls, causing chills and discomfort, especially in the cold months.

  • Keeping You Warm

While having a tarp over your tent will keep you dry, it will also keep you warm. Tents are made of very thin material that will not keep you warm. Although neither tarps or tent material will keep you warm, the tarp will prevent wind from getting in your tent.

Hammock rain-flies will also keep the wind from getting inside of your tent. Even on warmer nights, wind can chill you more than you’d think.

  • Keeping Your Gear Safe

While many people don’t realize this, having a tarp over your tent will prolong the life of the tent, as well as the gear inside of it. If you’re camping in the rain, you’re going to want to stay dry. If it doesn’t stop raining and your tent gets wet, it can cause issues when it comes time to pack up.

Packing your tent when it’s wet can cause both mold and mildew issues. While it may get slightly damp while packing it up in the rain, that will be much better than letting it get soaked by not using a tarp.

tarp footprint

Benefits of a Tarp Under Your Tent

Having a tarp under your tent serves several purposes. While keeping you dry is the primary purpose, you’d be amazed at the other things that it does.

  • Protecting Your Tent

We all know that camping gear is a very pricey investment. Just as you put a case on your phone, you also want to put a tarp under your tent, as it serves the same purpose. Placing a tarp under your tent will prevent damage to the bottom of the tent. While a nice soft dirt spot is what we all dream of when setting up our tents, it doesn’t always happen that way.

Many places, specifically rural and primitive campsites, are often covered with sticks, roots, rocks, and gravel. Placing a tarp under your tent will prevent these things from ripping and tearing your tent. This method will also prevent the tent from getting dirty or muddy on the bottom, prolonging the life of the tent.

  • Keeping You Dry

Always be sure that your tarp is close to the exact same size as the bottom of your tent. If the tarp hangs out too much, water can run underneath your tent and start to puddle. This will be both uncomfortable and can cause long term damage to the tent.

Having a tarp under the tent will prevent any pre-existing moisture on the ground from entering the tent. If you’re on a backpacking trip, you can’t always plan ahead with the weather. Some areas may receive heavier rain than others, and you may have to set up in a muddier spot than you prefer.

Also, if it rains while you are out camping, the edges of a tarp can help direct water around the perimeter of the tent and help prevent standing water from getting under your tent.

How to Set Up Your Tarp

There are several different ways to set up your tarp when camping. While some systems have specific ways to set up the tarp, setting up a tarp that is not designed for the tent will require a little creativity.

Always pack plenty of paracord with you before you head out on your camping trip. While you can drape the tarp over the tent, it’s better to suspend it over the tent. Also, always be sure that you purchase a tarp that is large enough to cover the tent, but small enough to suspend between two trees.

Another great idea for suspending your tent is to use the same type of suspension system as you would with a hammock. The straps will not stretch, usually have a built-in tightening system and non-slip loops to wrap around trees.

Whatever type of material you use to suspend your tarp always tie a piece of string on the material between the trees and the tarp. This will allow water running down the straps to be caught by the knot in the string and run down the string and onto the ground instead of to the tarp.

Most tarps come with metal grommets on the corners and the sides of the tarp. These grommets will allow you to tie the paracord to the tarp and tie the other end to a tree or other stationary object.

When suspending the tarp, always be sure to hang it at a slightly slanting angle away from the tent. If rainfall occurs, this will allow the water to drain off of the tarp and prevent the tarp from getting heavy and falling.

If you’ve chosen a rainfly explicitly made for your tent, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as an improperly setup rainfly can cause you to get wet, or even cause damage to the rainfly.

Alternatives to Tarps

While tarps are excellent for keeping you dry and cutting the wind away from the hammock, there are other options on the market specifically for camping. Many tents have rain-flies that are made explicitly for that tent. These rain-flies are integrated into the pole system of the tent, so you don’t have to suspend them overhead.

If the tent that you use doesn’t have a rainfly, or there’s not one made specifically for it, you can purchase a hammock rainfly in its place. Although hammock rain-flies still must be suspended overhead, they are very lightweight and easy to set up.

Lawn tarps, plastic sheets, rain flies, and even some ponchos can be used as tarps to cover your hammock or tent. When choosing there are several things to keep in mind. Always be sure that you choose one that is at least relatively easy to set up. No one likes a headache when trying to set up their gear, especially if you’re trying to beat the rain.

In addition to ease of use, make sure that you choose a durable tarp. While there are many cheap options on the market, many of them won’t last. The longest lasting tarp will be a lawn tarp with metal grommets or a rainfly that is designed for use with a hammock or tent.

Weight is also a critical factor when choosing a tarp. There are many different tarps on the market, and some of them can be quite cumbersome. Always make sure that you pick one that you’re comfortable carrying, especially if you’re backpacking. If you’re camping near your car, you don’t have to take weight into consideration quite as much.

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Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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