Our pick for the overall best camping tarp goes to the Sea to Summit Escapist. Many folks consider the Escapist the best in the business, and we don’t disagree.
At 102 x 78 inches, it’s a large tarp and a comfortable overnight camping option for a couple of hikers and their gear. The Escapist is also available in a medium-size, which is smaller and suitable for one hiker plus their gear or two hikers and no gear. However, since both weigh about the same and tip the scales at over half a pound, the large option is the smarter buy.
This popular camping tarp is also sturdy as can be. It’s made of waterproof treated nylon and features eight anchor points with guy lines designed to fit to the bottom of trekking poles, which makes setup a breeze. When pitched, it can hold up to rain, severe winds, and thunderstorms with ease.
Bottom Line: Despite its tangy greenish/yellow color, the Escapist checks all of the boxes that matter most, earning it the top spot as the best overall camping tarp on the market today.
Best Tarps For Camping: Protection From The Elements
Looking for the Best Camping Rain Tarps?
You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:
- Why you need a camping tarp
- What you should consider when buying.
- Reviews of the best camping tarps on the market
- Our unbiased recommendation on the #1 tarp shelter
There’s a good reason all packed bugout bags have camping tarps in them. They’re compact, lightweight, and able to provide shelter and protection from the elements at a moment’s notice.
These features also make camping with tarps a popular option for hikers, backpackers, and general outdoorsmen like us who are trying to pare down our gear.
Ready to lighten your pack? Here’s a bit more about backpacking tarps and a look at some of today’s top options.
How to Choose the Right Rain Tarp for Camping
When on the hunt for a great camping tarp, you might be surprised at how many things there are to consider.
For example, will you be using the tarp as a temporary shelter while scaling the rocky face of El Capitan, or will you simply be using it for a weekend of exploring the trails out your backdoor?
Do you plan on using it as a primary camping tarp shelter, or do you want to use it as a temporary rain tarp when the conditions take a swing?
You get the point. You should ask yourself these questions and more in order to zero in on the best tarp and avoid wasting your hard-earned money.
To help you out, here are some specific things to keep in mind.
A camping tarp is a versatile and flexible piece of gear, but zeroing in on your intended use for it is the first step you should take when trying to find the right one.
Will you be using it as a quick source of shade on a hot summer day? Is it going to be your go-to to stay dry when a rainstorm suddenly strikes? Will it be your primary shelter for when you’re out backpacking?
Asking yourself these questions is a critical component of the tarp selection process. Once you’ve determined what you’ll be mostly using it for, you can look for tarps with the right specifications to meet your needs.
Further reading: Check out our guide showing you how to build four different tarp tent designs.
Your camping environment or where you pitch your camping tarp can also help you determine which model to pick. While poly tarps are cheaper and made of a strong material, they get brittle when the temperature dips.
If you’re searching for a great campsite tarp, you’ll want one made of nylon or vinyl. Tarps made of these materials offer superior resistance to rain, wind, and general wear and tear, which means they can be used in just about any camping environment.
Whether you’re looking for a rain tarp to pull out on the trail when the rain hits or a tent tarp to use as primary camping shelter, almost all models are made to hold up to summer and spring weather.
However, while we wouldn’t suggest one for wintertime use unless you’re in The Keys, there are some tremendous three-season tarps out there you can use when the leaves start to change color. A three-season tarp will allow you to backpack lightly, enjoy better protection from the elements, and experience the outdoors more months out of the year.
Most tarps come in a square or rectangular shape. Square tarps use more material and provide better protection for your gear and equipment, but they also add weight and take up more space. Rectangular tarps, on the other hand, work better for covering a sleeping bag or tent.
While these shapes are the most common, as you’ll see below, tarps come in other forms too. So, keep this in mind when shopping to make sure you pick the right tarp in the right shape for your needs.
Camping tarps also come in different sizes. While you might be tempted to go with as large a tarp as possible for added protection, the larger a tarp is, the more it usually weighs. The last thing you want when hiking or backpacking is to lug around more weight than you need.
Nonetheless, you don’t want a tarp that’s too small for your needs. A smaller tarp may be ideal for solo thru-hiking the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail, but you’ll need a larger tarp for family backcountry outings.
Most of the products in this guide are constructed of ripstop nylon. As its name suggests, this lightweight material is much more difficult to rip and tear, making it great for sheltering outdoors. Many quality tarps also have not one but two layers around the corners for even more durability.
It’s also a good idea to choose a tarp with a water-repellent coating. Not only will this help the fabric hold up better for longer, but it will keep rain from seeping through and getting you soaking wet. Trust us; you’ll thank yourself later.
Important Features to Consider in a Tarp for Shelter
When it comes to leak protection, fabric choice is essential. However, you should also consider taped seams. These tarps have seams that are taped with a special waterproof material to keep water from finding a way through.
A tarp’s anchor points are the areas where you tie a cord to pitch the tent. These tie-out points look like round metal holes, and they’re strategically placed over the edges and corners of the tarp to allow you to pitch a variety of tarp configurations.
In most cases, the more tie-outs a camping tarp has, the better. Every tarp comes with at least four tie-out points, but many of the tarps below have up to a dozen or more anchor points for greater versatility, tautness, and protection.
If you’ve never gone camping with a tarp before and are new to some of the terminology, a guy line is simply the rope or cord used to pith the tent. It goes through the anchor points, allowing you to create a taut pitch in the tarp configuration of your choosing.
Some of the camping tarps in this guide feature pre-measured guy lines to help you avoid having excess cord flying around in the wind or getting wet. Some even have reflective guy lines to help you see it and get under it safely when the campfire goes out.
Line-lock tensioners are a helpful feature designed to make tightening the guylines more straightforward and more hassle-free. They’re particularly useful to get a taut pitch. They pretty much do all of the hard work for you.
Once you have your tarp ready to pitch, tighten the line-lock tensioners found on the cords to pitch the tarp nice and taught. It might be a little confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time at all.
Reviews of Shelter Tarps for Rain or Shine: The Results
Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp
Best Camping Tarp
The Escapist the best overall camping tarp for several reasons. In other words, it checks all the boxes and has a variety of functions up its sleeve. You can use it to form a few different types of A-frame shelters, a standard overhead shelter, tent awning, windshield, or a simple ridgeline fly hammock covering.
Made of 15 D PU-coated nylon and featuring taped seams, it provides excellent weatherproof cover in all in all conditions. The Escapist doesn’t even weigh a pound, and it can pack down to water bottle-size, so it’s great for backpackers.
With it, you get eight reinforced anchor or attachment points with adjustable guylines, line-lock tensioners, and reinforced corners, making it easy to set up in a moment’s notice when the rain starts coming down. In this and every other way, it was made with the backcountry in mind. Combined with the optional Escapist Bug Tent/Net, you’ll have the perfect lightweight camping setup for trekking off the beaten path.
The only real drawback to the Escapist is its bright neon green color, which has a distinct Euro look and definitely stands out. While it’s admittedly stylish and great for the trail, you probably don’t want to use it out in the woods hunting game.
- Super tough nylon construction
- Ultra-lightweight at less than a pound
- Bright color may not appeal to all
Eagles Nest Outfitters Housefly
Best Tarp Shelter For Hammock Campers
If you love hammock camping (who doesn’t), then the Eno Housefly might be the perfect camping tarp for you. It gets its name from its two large doors, or wings, which overlap to create a full enclosure and keep you cozy, warm, and dry during a downpour.
In addition to providing the perfect setup for hammock camping, its enclosure design also makes it as close to a tent as you can get. Plus, at 128 x 106 inches, it’s spacious enough for one or two people and their gear.
Made of silicone-coated nylon, this unique hammock tent tarp is super durable and designed to hold up to the elements too. Being hit in the face with 40 mph winds? Sun or rain beating down on you? The Eno Housefly has you covered.
All that said, it weighs in at 25 ounces, making it nearly twice as heavy as the Escapist and some of the other great camping tarps on this list. However, if you don’t mind lugging around a little extra weight, it shouldn’t let you down. We think you’ll like its extra coverage and features.
- Perfect setup for hammocks
- Excellent protection from the elements
- A bit heavy for backpacking
REI Co-Op Camp 9
Best Cheap Tarp
The REI Co-Op Camp 9 is a no-frills bushcraft tarp ideal for occasional weekend warriors. It’s made of 75D polyester, which is nice because it won’t stretch when wet. However, it’s not as durable as ripstop, making it better suited for campsites than the backcountry.
The tarp is square, so it provides maximum coverage and can be pitched a number of ways. Speaking of the pitch, the no-sag design of the Camp 9 and its dual-layer reinforced main corner grommets help it maintain a taut pitch, resulting in greater stability and protection from leaks.
There are six guy out points in all, which means there are six anchor points. While more would be helpful for even greater strength and support, there are enough to make it reasonably secure in everything but severe weather.
- Large enough for two people
- No-sag design keeps it taut
- Reinforced grommets for added durability
- Polyester tarp material isn’t the best
- A little on the heavy side
MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing
Best Ultralight Tarp
If you’ve been inspired by “Into the Wild,” “Wild,” or any other “wild” film to give thru-hiking a go, the Thru-Hiker 100 Wing will work just fine. Equally suited for the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails or to serve as a lightweight shelter for a weekend backpacking trip, the Thru-Hiker is a personal favorite, and for a good reason.
For instance, the tarp is made of 20 denier ripstop nylon with 1,200 mm silicone and polyurethane. It’s also equipped with ten reinforced anchor points. Combined, these features allow it to fight off rain and wind exceptionally well. The MSR tarp can also be configured a number of ways, and you can combine it with the MSR Mesh House to enjoy a complete shelter solution when hitting the trail or the backcountry.
Best of all, it only weighs 12 ounces. While you would expect it to be lightweight since it’s made for thru-hiking, 12 ounces is pretty impressive, especially considering its durable and robust design. You can trek hundreds of miles with this model and not even know it’s there.
The only thing we found fault in was the line tensioners. In our testing, the tended to loosen when the wind picked up. However, there are simple solutions to this, and it didn’t affect our experience with the product much at all.
- Super lightweight
- Excellent materials and construction
- Super durable and weatherproof
- Line tensioners may loosen in high winds
Eno Profly XL Sil
The Eno Profly XL Sil is the result of the Asheville, NC-based company’s deep roots in the hammock camping niche. Rather than featuring a simple tarp design, it’s specifically designed to combine with other Eno products to create a safe and dry off-the-ground camping experience.
At 22 ounces, it weighs a bit more than some of the other great rain tarps for camping on this list. However, it offers 10.6 x 6.4 feet of coverage and features six reinforced anchor or guy points that allow it to be configured to a number of uses. Plus, it’s made of super-tough 210D ripstop nylon, so it will shed rain and snow away with ease and withstand years of backcountry abuse.
Our only suggestions would be to replace the included nylon rope with Paracord for even greater durability and toughness, but we can make the same suggestion with every other backpacking tarp, so there’s that.
- Flexible and versatile design
- Excellent materials and construction
- Will withstand years of abuse
- Not the lightest
Free Soldier Large Rain Shelter Tarp
Whether you’re strapped for cash or just thrifty, this Free Soldier tarp might be the camping solution for you. It’s 10 x 11 feet, so it’s large enough to shelter two people with ease. It’s also quite strong and heavily stitched to hold up well in the wind and rain, and you can tie the ends semi-closed for added protection from the elements.
Unlike a lot of models with four or six anchor points, the Free Soldier Large Rain Shelter Tar has 10, giving you plenty of setup configurations as well. The color is also nice, and the orange trim around the edges makes spotting the tent easier in thick coverage or low light conditions.
Despite all this, this budget-friendly product tips the scales at over two pounds, so it’s not the best option for lightweight gear junkies. It can also be a bit of a pain to pack up and doesn’t come with stakes or poles, so that will need to be factored in as well.
- Budget-friendly price point
- Heavy duty and well-made
- Ten anchor points for added security and flexibility
- Quite heavy
- Not the easiest to set up and pack
Last update on 2021-03-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API