Using a tarp for camping ( 17 Must know hacks )

tarp over tentTarps are an essential element when it comes to camping and are the ideal piece of gear because of their versatility and affordability.  Most tarps are also very lightweight so it’s easy to throw one in your backpack without compromising on weight even if you’re unsure that you’ll end up using it.

So what are some hacks that you can you use a tarp for while camping?

  1. Temporary Tent, lean to or Shelter
  2. Protection from wind, rain and the sun
  3. A shelter for your pet or pets
  4. For hunting camping
  5. Camping bathroom area
  6. Eating and meal preparation
  7. Fun and games
  8. Emergency and rescues hacks
  9. Protecting your car from dirty camping gear
  10. A clean dry place to lie down or rest
  11. Protecting your camping gear
  12. Temporary tent repairs
  13. Water collection
  14. Wild-life camouflage
  15. Gathering and keeping wood dry
  16. Sleeping bag moisture barrier
  17. Hammock weather protection

You may see some familiar hacks for a tarp but there are probably several that you haven’t seen or though of before. These are the hacks that we think are the most useful and shows that a simple tarp can do so much.

Once you finish this article, check out this one that we wrote- 8 Real Tips For Sleeping Comfortably In A Tent (Easy to do advice)

1. Temporary Tent, lean to or Shelter hacks

One of the most common uses for a tarp is as a portable shelter or makeshift tent.  Although tarps do not provide as much coverage as an actual tent, they are a lightweight option for those camping in the summer months.

Those new to camping can also use a tarp as a cost-effective way to see if they enjoy it without spending a lot of money on an actual tent.  Tarps are also perfect for those on a budget who still want to get outside and enjoy nature without spending a fortune.

Just drape the tarp over a rope that you’ve tied between two trees.  If the tarp is big enough, a small section can be folded onto the ground. A tarp can also be attached to your car on one side and connected to a tree on the other.  Alternately, use poles to prop it up if there are no trees nearby for the perfect car camping experience.

Using a tarp as a tent is also advantageous when you need to camp close to your fire.  Because tents made from nylon can be damaged by sparks and don’t concentrate heat as well, a tarp is a great alternative.  Tarps reflect warmth better and, if a lump of coal burns a hole in it, they can be patched quite cheaply and easily by using duct tape.

Another shelter option that can be created using a tarp is a hammock.  This is beneficial when you need a raised place to sleep if the ground is wet or your campsite gets flooded.  Just run a rope through the grommets and pull together to make the tarp’s edges form a point.  Then tie the rope tightly and tie it to a tree.  Do this with both sides of the tarp and attach to another tree or any other solid structure.

If you do not have a footprint for your tent, a tarp is perfect. This will protect the bottom of your tent. For more information read this article. Why Do You Need a Footprint for Your Tent?

tarp shelter

2. Protection from Wind, Water, and Sun tarp hacks

If you lose the rainfly to your tent or forget it at home, drape a tarp over your tent, or hang it above the tent, for protection from the water.  Even if you do have a rainfly, when the rain is heavy or there is a storm, a tarp can help the tent stand up against the onslaught of water.

Even if you brought along a tent to use during your camping trip, still take a tarp for other uses, such as a ground sheet.  Put the tarp under the tent for an additional layer of insulation and protection from moisture.

This will also help keep your tent clean and protect it from getting damaged if you aren’t able to camp on a smooth surface or tent mound.  Just make sure the tarp is folded so it’s the same size as, or smaller than, your tent so any rain won’t begin to collect and pool underneath the tent.

Tarps are perfect for creating a windbreak or sunshade on hot or windy days.  It is fast and easy to put together by just using a rope stretched between two trees.  While the floor space will be smaller, one entire side will be shielded by the tarp, allowing you to relax or sleep without getting assaulted by the wind or scorched by the sun.

Tarps are a great means of protection on a windy day when you need to light a fire and your matches keep getting blown out.  Or if you’re trying to cook but the wind constantly blows your food and utensils around, making it difficult to prepare a meal.  In the afternoon, relax on the tarp and read a book or take a nap without having to worry about getting sunburnt.

The tarp can also be used to protect a kitchen or cooking area during the day so food containers don’t get blown over and trash doesn’t get blown away.  It’s also a good way to concentrate heat from the campfire toward your tent when sleeping at night.

also, hanging a tarp on one side of the tent where the most wind comes will also give a little more protection if your tent isn’t that sturdy.

During extremely hot weather, a tarp can also be used to create a shelter from the heat. All you have to do is find a natural hollow in the ground or dig a trench.  It is recommended that the ditch be at least 18 to 23 inches deep.  Cover the trench with your tarp and you can lie in it or sleep there to remain cool from the heat of the day or the sun overhead.

An unexpected rainstorm can also wreak havoc on any camping trip, especially if you forgot to bring along a raincoat.  Trash bags can be used to make a temporary poncho in such a situation, but their flimsy nature usually means they can only be used once.

A tarp, on the other hand, can be cut and modified to create a durable poncho that will hold up for multiple wears.  It’s also great protection when hiking in the woods, traveling through the underbrush, or on trails that have a lot of thorns or even poison oak and ivy.

In a pinch, a tarp can also be used to replace a pillow or blanket.  Just wrap it around you to stay warm when sitting around the campfire at night.  To use it as a pillow, fold it multiple times until it becomes a small rectangle.  If you find it uncomfortable to lie on, try wrapping a shirt or sweatshirt over it for extra softness.

While camping at a campsite that allows you to collect your own firewood, use your tarp to cover the stack of wood so it doesn’t get wet if it rains.  Use a few pieces of wood or heavy rocks to weigh the tarp down once you drape it over your wood supply.

Got a lot of gear and supplies in the back of your pickup truck?  Cover it up with a tarp to protect from rain, wind, and damage from wildlife.  If your tent doesn’t have a vestibule, just grab your tarp and cover any boots or backpacks that you want to stay safe and dry.  Weigh the tarp down with some rocks or other heavy equipment such as hiking poles that you don’t mind getting wet.

3. Tarps for Pets While Camping

When camping with a pet, a tarp has many uses to not only take care of your animal but also help keep things a bit cleaner.  If it starts raining, protect your pet by putting up a tarp overhead and allowing them to seek shelter underneath.

However, if your dog has already got wet and you don’t want to bring them inside the tent until they dry off, you can create a temporary shelter for them using a tarp so they aren’t exposed to the elements.  If your pet is joining you inside the tent, put a tarp down so they don’t get the tent floor dirty or muddy if they’ve been playing outside all day.

After the camping trip is over, put the tarp down in the backseat of your car so your muddy dog doesn’t get the interior dirty.  This also works well for kids that got muddy or wet playing out in the rain and need transported home without soaking the seats of the car.

4. Tarps for Hunting Camping

For those who enjoy hunting trips while they are camping, a tarp is invaluable for creating an area to clean animals.  Spread the tarp down and do any skinning or butchering on top of it so the scraps aren’t left near your campsite to attract other wildlife or scavengers.

After you finish, transport the tent far away to dispose of the leftovers and then easily clean the tarp by spraying it with soap and water.  The tarp will also dry quickly because it’s made of plastic and be ready to use again the next day.

The tarp can also be used to drag any game that you shot back to the camping area.  Instead of having to carry it yourself, just put it on the tarp and drag it along the ground.  Once you’re at the campsite, the same tarp can be used as the aforementioned cleaning area.

While hunting, if you need to lie down on the ground to shoot, a tarp can be placed underneath for insulation and to keep you clean and dry.  Camouflage tarps can be used to disguise a hunting blind or to create your own pop-up style blind by making a temporary structure to hunt behind.

5. Make a Private Camping Bathroom Area

While camping in the backcountry, especially with a group of people, privacy is often at a minimum.  In this case, you can hang a tarp up to create a private bathroom area.   If you have two tarps, you can designate one bathroom for men and the other for women.

Just make sure any location you choose is far enough away from your campsite, kitchen area,  and any nearby trails. It should also be at least 200 feet away from any body of water so you don’t contaminate lakes, ponds, or streams.  For solid waste, make sure to dig a hole about 4 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep to bury it adequately.

Additionally, some campsites have spots that are incredibly close to one another, leaving little personal space.  For added privacy, hang a tarp between the two sites to block out neighbors and create your own little area to enjoy.

6. Camping Eating and Meal Preparation With A Tarp

When planning a picnic at some point during your hike, skip a blanket and opt for a tarp instead. Because they are so lightweight and, when folded, do not take up much room, a tarp can be thrown in a backpack without losing valuable space for food and snacks.  Then, when you reach the summit or a beautiful vista, pull the tarp out and put it down on the ground to be used as a picnic blanket.

A tarp will work well as a tablecloth to cover a dirty picnic table and is easy to clean up if there are food spills or sticky messes.  If there’s no picnic table at the campsite, put a tarp down over a rock or bench to stay clean while eating meals.

Putting a clean tarp down in the kitchen or cooking area of your campsite allows you to unpack food without it touching the ground.  It will also keep pesky insects away and, if anything is knocked over or spills, just spray the tarp down or wipe it with some sanitizing wipes.

Food can also be stored inside a tarp by turning it into a container.  Run a rope through the grommets and cinch the tarp together to make a sort of bag.  Alternately, dig a hole and line it with the tarp, then put put any food or supplies in the hole and cover it with the tarp.

slip and slide on tarp

7. Fun & Games with Tarps

If you’re staying at a designated campsite with a water hookup, a tarp can create summer fun on a hot day.  Make a fast and cheap slip ‘n slide for the kids to play on in the afternoon or whenever they’re bored.  Just find a small hill that doesn’t have any hard bumps or rocks, lay the tarp down and make sure it is wet enough before you slide down it.

Tarps can be used creatively so you can also challenge the kids to come up with their own tarp-based games.  Try tossing an object to one another and, if it goes off the tarp, they have to reach for it while keeping one foot or hand on the tarp.  Create your own makeshift Twister game by using leaves or twigs to mark locations on the tarp.  Or give the kids a tarp and see who can make the best fort or tent out of it.

8. Emergency & Rescue tarp hacks

A tarp can be turned into a stretcher to transport any injured pets or people to safety if there is ever an emergency while camping or hiking.  Grab some sturdy sticks or branches from the ground and wrap the tarp around both of the makeshift poles.

A stretcher should be about 10 inches wider than the patient’s body so make sure there is adequate room to lie comfortably but not so much space that it sags and drags along the ground.  Depending on the weight of the injured party and the durability of the materials, this could be an effective means of rescue.

Should you get stranded while camping and need rescue, a brightly colored tarp can be put down to catch the attention of planes overhead.  Use rocks to spell out a message for help or fold the tarp and use it as a flag to wave in the air and get someone’s attention.

9. Keep you vehicle clean from dirty camping gear

Line the bed of a pickup truck with a tarp to transport any dirty gear back home after a camping trip is done.  Alternately, put it down inside the car or on the floor if you have to drive back with muddy hiking boots on. Also, a tarp works great at keep your car clean, if you have to haul your camping gear in the back seat or in the trunk.

10. A clean dry place to lay down

Having great weather while camping?  Do a little sunbathing and put a tarp down in place of a beach towel.  Tarps are much bigger that traditional towels, allowing you room to spread out and relax.  A tarp will also keep bugs from crawling on you and stop you from getting dirty or having leaves and grass stick to your body.

Also, this works great for hiking camping. If you want to lie down for a quick nap or rest, simply throw a tarp down as a temporary clean dry place to lay.

11. Protect your camping gear and equipment

If you bring any valuable gear like bikes or ATVs while camping, cover them up to protect them from rain or morning dew.  While mountain biking on the trails, a tarp is good protection should it start raining mid-ride.

This works great for protecting any gear that you can not get into whatever shelter you are using. Simply cover any of your camping gear or equipment to protect it from the elements. If there is a storm, make sure there is something heavy around the edges of the tarp to prevent it from flying up in the wind.

12. Makeshift tent repair

Use a tarp in place of a door if the one on your tent breaks or the zipper won’t close.  Use duct tape to secure it in place so mosquitoes don’t get inside. Also, if you get a rip in your tent, you can use a tarp in a similar way for a makeshift repair.

13. Your tarp can collect water.

During a rainy day, hang a tarp to catch some clean water. In some areas, you can use this same technique to collect morning dew.  Then use it later for cleaning your gear or washing other tarps off.  Make sure to boil and/or purify any water before drinking it or cooking with it so you don’t get sick.

14. Camouflage from wild-life

If you are camping to watch wild-life, take wildlife photographs or simply want to stay hidden from wild-life.  Use a camouflage tarp to hide out so birds and animals don’t see you.  Create a shelter to hide behind while watching animals, or taking photographs.

15. Tarps can help gather wood and protect it from moisture.

When you go out to gather wood, you can lay the tarp down on the ground and then walk around the area in search of sticks or twigs.  Once you find them, simply toss them onto the tarp so they are collected in one area.  Then, grab a partner and each of you can take one end of the tarp and easily transport the firewood back to your campsite.

Also, once you have a wood supply, you can use your tarp under and over the wood to help prevent rain or dew from soaking into the wood.

16. Use a tarp to add a moisture barrier to a sleeping bag

When nighttime temperatures dip low, a tarp can effectively be used to wrap the exterior of your sleeping bag.  If you have to sleep outside and it rains, or if your tent leaks, a sleeping bag that gets wet may result in a loss of insulation.

A tarp can keep it dry even though it isn’t the smoothest or softest thing to wrap around you.  However, beware that a tarp will trap any moisture that is inside already so it’s not ideal for ventilation, but still has its uses, especially for waterproofing.

17. Use a tarp to cover you camping hammock.

If you are hammock camping and you are surprised by unexpected weather, a tarp can save the day. If caught by unexpected rainstorms, use your tarp as a hammock rainfly. Simply tie a rope several inches above you hammock to the same trees that your hammock is attached to. The drape the tarp over the rope making a tent like covering over your hammock.

Hopefully the tarp touches the ground on each side so that you can either add some rocks to the edges or run some stakes through the grommets to prevent the wind from blowing the tarp of the rope.

As you can see, the uses for tarps while camping is almost limitless.  Because tarps are cheap and light, there’s no excuse not to have one, or more, along with you at all times when spending time in nature.  You never know when they might come in handy for protection or simply to make your trip more enjoyable.  For a true experience of sleeping under the stars, make a tarp tent and enjoy the night sky in a way that you’ll never forget.

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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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