Three Tips to Trick Out Your Tarp

Camping under a tarp is a great way to reduce pack weight and really go minimal when camping. I use a tarp when hammock camping, but still prefer a lightweight tent when sleeping on the ground. With winter coming and hibernation season for ticks, chiggers, and bugs, I may try sleeping on the ground under a tarp.

After using the tarp with the hammock a few times, I wanted to improve upon my setup. I went about adding a few extras to improve setup time and usability. These improvements were discovered on the web on various forums and on YouTube. While my version of these modifications may be unique, the basic ideas were first developed by others who graciously shared their ideas.

The tarp I am using is a Warbonnet Superfly. This is a large four season tarp with doors on each end. Any tarp that you have should work, providing the tie-outs are available. Click here to check out a review of the Warbonnet Superfly.

Velcro keepers
Velcro keepers

My first improvement is an aid for setup. Leaving the guy lines attached to the tie out points of my tarp saves the time it takes to dig them out, find the right one, and attach each one with a lark‘s head knot. Leaving the lines attached is nice, but the lines tend to tangle when the tarp is crammed into its stuff sack. I bought a roll of Velcro that has “hooks” on one side and “loops” on the other. Small notches in the Velcro strips allow them to go through the tie outs, and the notches keep the Velcro in place. When the stakes are pulled up, I roll up the lines and wrap them in the Velcro. No more tangles!

Spreader poles closeup
Spreader poles closeup

Next, is a trick to keep a nice taut pitch for the tarp when the materials get damp and tend to sag overnight. Buy yourself some shock cord and cut it into 6 to 10 inch sections. Tie a knot in each end. Attach the shock cord to the guy lines so that there is a loop in the guy line when the shock cord is not stretched. When setting up the tarp, stretch the loop out of the guy line which will place tension on the shock cord. Now, when the tarp begins to sag, the shock cord will spring back and take up the slack.

Spreader poles in action
Spreader poles in action

Lastly, I wanted a bit more head room inside the tarp when pitched. The Superfly has pull outs in the center of each side of the tarp. Guy lines can be attached to these pull outs and then tied to trees. This allows the sides of the tarp to be pulled outward. I found that trees were not always available, and I didn‘t like all of the lines up in the air to get in the way. A couple of tent pole repair kits were bought for about $6 each. Three of the four pole sections of the kit are cut to about 18 inches long. This provided enough total length and allowed the poles to fold up short enough to fit in my pack. Lay each pole across the ridge line of the tarp and attach the ends to the tie outs below. Use loops of line made with taut line hitches to allow for adjustments.  Tighten the lines and pull the tarp upwards to widen the tarp pitch at the top. I‘m not sure I‘ll carry the poles on every trip, but they do work well.

Also, check out some guy line tensioners to speed up setup time even more. NiteIze makes a great product called Figure 9DutchWare makes several products that work extremely well. I have not tried them, but the MSR CamRing line tensioner is also available.

There are plenty of discussions on these improvements on the web. YouTube is a particularly great resource for knot tying videos. Get out there and see what ideas for improvement you can discover.

– Mark

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Kenneth Gladman

I have never been good at setting up tents when camping. I always get frustrated at the time and effort it takes. I would much rather have something like this with a tarp.

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