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How to Choose the Best Backpacking Tarp

As any seasoned backpacker will tell you, the choice of gear can make or break a wilderness adventure. One crucial piece of equipment that often gets overlooked but is essential for any backpacking trip is the humble tarp. Whether you're a minimalist ultralight trekker or a comfort-oriented camper, a backpacking tarp can provide shelter, protection, and versatility in various outdoor scenarios. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore why you need a backpacking tarp, how to choose the best one for your needs, the benefits it offers, important features to consider, top recommendations, FAQs, and final thoughts on this indispensable piece of gear.

Why Do You Need A Backpacking Tarp?

Before delving into the specifics of choosing a backpacking tarp, it's essential to understand its significance in outdoor pursuits. A backpacking tarp serves as a lightweight, compact, and versatile alternative to traditional tents. Its primary purpose is to provide shelter from the elements, including rain, wind, and sun while offering flexibility in setup and configuration.

Unlike tents, tarps are incredibly lightweight, making them ideal for backpackers looking to minimize pack weight without sacrificing protection. They also occupy minimal space in your backpack, leaving room for other essential gear. Additionally, tarps can be pitched in various configurations, allowing you to adapt to different terrain and weather conditions.

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Tarp?

Selecting the right backpacking tarp involves considering several factors to ensure it meets your specific needs and preferences. Here's a breakdown of essential considerations:

Size and Shape

Size: Determine how many people the tarp needs to accommodate and whether you prefer a snug or spacious shelter.

Shape: Choose between rectangular, square, or asymmetric shapes based on your desired coverage and pitching options.

Material and Durability

Material: Opt for lightweight yet durable tarps such as poly tarps, vinyl tarps, and canvas tarps to balance weight and resilience.

Durability: Consider factors like tear strength, waterproofing, and UV resistance to ensure the tarp can withstand harsh outdoor conditions.

Weight and Packability

Weight: Aim for the lightest possible option without compromising durability and functionality.

Packability: Look for tarps that compress into a small stuff sack for easy storage and transportation.

Setup Versatility

Attachment Points: Choose tarps with multiple attachment points or tie-out loops to facilitate various pitching configurations.

Adaptability: Select a tarp that can be pitched in different setups (A-frame, lean-to, diamond, etc.) to accommodate diverse terrain and weather conditions.

Weather Protection

Waterproofing: Ensure the tarp's fabric is treated with a reliable waterproof coating or seam-sealed to prevent water penetration.

Wind Resistance: Opt for tarps with reinforced edges or guy-out points to withstand strong winds without flapping or collapsing.

What are the Benefits of Tarps in Backpacking?

Backpacking tarps offer a myriad of benefits that make them indispensable for outdoor enthusiasts:

Lightweight: Tarps are significantly lighter than tents, making them ideal for long-distance backpacking where every ounce counts.

Versatility: Tarps can be pitched in various configurations to suit different terrains, weather conditions, and personal preferences.

Compactness: Tarps pack down smaller than tents, freeing up valuable space in your backpack for other essentials.

Breathability: Unlike tents, tarps provide excellent airflow, reducing condensation and enhancing comfort during warm weather.

Cost-Effective: Tarps are generally more affordable than tents, making them a budget-friendly option for backpackers.

Connection with Nature: Sleeping under a tarp allows you to experience the sights, sounds, and sensations of the wilderness more intimately than enclosed shelters.

What Features Are Important for Backpacking Tarp?

When shopping for a backpacking tarp, several key features can enhance its performance and usability:

Reinforced Corners: Reinforced corners or grommets prevent tearing and provide secure anchor points for guy lines.

Reflective Guy Lines: Reflective guy lines improve visibility in low-light conditions, reducing the risk of tripping over guylines at night.

Integrated Doors: Some tarps feature integrated doors or flaps that can be deployed to provide additional protection against wind and rain.

UV Resistance: UV-resistant coatings prolong the lifespan of the tarp and prevent degradation from prolonged sun exposure.

Packed Size: Consider the packed size of the tarp to ensure it fits comfortably in your backpack without taking up excessive space.

Ease of Setup: Look for tarps with intuitive setup systems and clear instructions to simplify pitching, especially in adverse weather conditions.

What are the Best Tarps for Backpacking?

While the best backpacking tarp ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences, several popular options consistently receive high praise from outdoor enthusiasts:

Green Camo Tarps

Green Camo Tarps are the perfect outdoor essential for those seeking both functionality and stealth. Designed with the iconic mossy oak pattern, these tarps seamlessly blend into natural surroundings, making them ideal for campers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Crafted to provide reliable protection from the elements, our green camo tarps offer versatile coverage wherever you roam. Whether you're setting up camp in the wilderness or creating a hidden shelter, these tarps ensure you stay concealed while staying shielded from wind, rain, and sun. With their natural or military-inspired aesthetic, our camouflage tarps deliver durability and versatility for all your outdoor adventures.


  • 3-4 oz/sq. yard
  • 4-5 MIL Thick
  • 10 x 8 Weave
  • 900 Denier Thick
  • 100% Waterproof
  • 100% high-density polyethylene
  • UV-treated on both sides for excellent sunlight protection
  • Wind, rot, and mildew resistant
  • Rope-reinforced hemmed edges
  • Double-reinforced corners for added strength
  • Aluminum grommets every 36 inches
  • Available colors: Mossy oak pattern on the outside; military green on the inside

Blue Poly Tarps

Introducing Tarp Supply Inc.®'s Blue Poly Tarps – the go-to solution for multi-purpose utility cover needs. These tarps are renowned for their versatility and affordability, making them a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts and professionals alike. Designed to provide temporary protection against the elements, including rain, dirt, and snow, these tarps offer reliable coverage without breaking the bank. Crafted from durable polyethylene material, they are lightweight and easy to maneuver, ensuring hassle-free deployment in various situations. Whether you're camping, landscaping, or tackling DIY projects, Tarp Supply Inc.®'s Blue Poly Tarps have you covered.


  • 3-4 oz/sq yard
  • 4-5 MIL Thick
  • 8 x 8 Weave
  • Waterproof
  • NOT Flame Resistant
  • High-Density Woven Polyethylene
  • UV treated on both sides for superior sunlight protection
  • Rot, wind, and mildew resistant
  • Rope-reinforced hemmed edges for added strength
  • Colors available: Blue

Flame Retardant Off-White Poly Tarps

Flame Retardant Off White Poly Tarps are your ultimate solution for heavy-duty weather protection, offering unparalleled resilience in both warm and cold climates. Crafted to withstand extreme conditions, these tarps provide reliable shelter for various applications, from indoor equipment protection to outdoor construction projects.

Featuring a durable flame retardant material, these tarps offer enhanced safety and peace of mind. Their arctic flexibility ensures they remain robust and functional even in the harshest environments. Whether you're securing equipment outdoors or roofing a structure, these tarps deliver exceptional performance.

The off-white, pale yellow color of these tarps not only adds a touch of sophistication but also enhances visibility, making them ideal for canopy covers and side walls. However, if you require water-resistant and breathable flame-resistant tarps, our flame-retardant canvas line offers a suitable alternative.


  • Heavy duty high-density polyethylene
  • Industrial strength, rust-resistant grommets every 24 around the sides and in each corner
  • Heat-sealed seams, rope-reinforced hems corner reinforcement
  • 100% Waterproof; rot, mildew, acid, and grease resistant
  • UV-treated on both sides
  • 7 oz per sq. yard, 14 x 14 weave count
  • Industry Standard Cut Size (Finished Size is 5-7% or up to 6 inches less after edges are folded and hemmed)
  • Made in the USA. Made on Demand.

Backpacking Tarps FAQs

  1. Are backpacking tarps suitable for all seasons?

Backpacking tarps can be used in all seasons with proper setup and insulation. However, they may require additional accessories such as bivy sacks or bug nets in colder or buggy conditions.

  1. How do I pitch a backpacking tarp?

Backpacking tarps can be pitched using various configurations, including A-frame, lean-to, diamond, and flying diamond setups. Practice pitching your tarp in different configurations before your trip to ensure familiarity and proficiency.

  1. Can I use a backpacking tarp instead of a tent?

Yes, tarps can serve as a lightweight and versatile alternative to tents for backpacking. However, they offer less protection and privacy compared to fully enclosed shelters.

  1. Are backpacking tarps waterproof?

Most backpacking tarps are treated with waterproof coatings or seam-sealed to prevent water penetration. However, it's essential to ensure proper setup and maintenance to maximize waterproofing effectiveness.

  1. How do I care for my tarp?

To prolong the lifespan of your backpacking tarps, avoid storing it damp or dirty, clean it regularly with mild soap and water, and inspect for any signs of wear or damage after each use.

Final Thoughts: Backpacking Tarp

A backpacking tarp is more than just a piece of gear; it's a versatile shelter system that offers lightweight protection and unparalleled flexibility in the backcountry. By choosing the right tarp and mastering its setup and configuration, you can elevate your outdoor experience to new heights. Whether you're embarking on a solo trek through rugged terrain or camping with friends in the wilderness, a backpacking tarp provides the freedom to customize your shelter according to your needs and surroundings.

With its lightweight design and compact packability, a backpacking tarp allows you to travel farther and faster without sacrificing essential protection from the elements. Its versatility shines through as you pitch it in various configurations, adapting seamlessly to changing weather conditions and terrain features.

Beyond its practical utility, a backpacking tarp fosters a deeper connection with nature. As you lie beneath its shelter, listening to the sounds of the forest or gazing at the stars overhead, you become intimately attuned to the rhythms of the natural world. There's a sense of liberation that comes from sleeping under a tarp, unencumbered by the confines of a tent, and fully immersed in the beauty of the outdoors.

In conclusion, whether you're a seasoned backpacker or a novice adventurer, a backpacking tarp is a must-have piece of gear for your outdoor excursions. Its versatility, lightweight design, and adaptability make it an indispensable tool for enhancing comfort, safety, and enjoyment in the backcountry. So, before you embark on your next wilderness adventure, be sure to pack a quality backpacking tarp—it might just be the difference between a good trip and an unforgettable one.

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