How to Choose the Right Camping Tarp
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.
Your camping environment or where you pitch your camping tarp can also help you determine which tarp 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 the best camping tarp, you’ll want one made of nylon or vinyl, like the Sea to Summit Escapist and each of the other camping tarps we’ll get to in a minute. 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 camping tarps are made to hold up to summer and spring weather.
However, while we wouldn’t suggest any camping tarp 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 camping tarps 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 of ripstop nylon 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.
Camping Tarp Features
If you’re looking for a quality tarp for camping, it’s a wise idea to go with one made of ripstop nylon. In addition to being waterproof, ripstop nylon features a woven crosshatch sewing pattern for extra strength to prevent rips or tears.
When it comes to leak protection, fabric choice is essential. However, you should also consider a camping tarp with 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 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 anchor points a camping tarp has, the better. Every tarp has at least four anchor 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 used a camping 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 guy lines 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 guy lines 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.
The Best Camping Tarp – The Results
Sea to Summit Escapist
Best Camping TarpSea to Summit Escapist Tarp, Large
- Best Use: Technical but versatile and ultralight tarp shelter for…
- Shape: Rectangular, Tie-outs are die-cut and circular bartacked to hold the…
- Features: Has eight super strong durable tie-out points that have cord…
- Material: Made from tape seam-sealed waterproof 15 denier Ultra-Sil Nano
- Specs: Lightweight; 10.5 oz / 300g
The Escapist by Sea to Summit is 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 ripstop 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 guy lines, 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 ripstop nylon construction
- Weighs less than a pound
- Bright color may not appeal to allBottom-Line: The Sea to Summit Escapist checks all the boxes and then some, making it one of our favorite backpacking and camping essentials.
Best Camping Tarp for Hammock CampersENO – Eagles Nest Outfitters HouseFly Rain Tarp, Ultralight Camping Tarp, Lichen
- RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY: Part rain tarp, part waterproof fortress, the HouseFly…
- SAFE FROM ANY STORM: When the storm hits, you and your gear will be safe…
- YOU STAY IN, THE WEATHER STAYS OUT: Features overlapping doors complete…
- ADVENTURE READY: Wherever your travels take you, the HouseFly is the…
- PLEASE NOTE: ENO attempts to reduce potential waste by using every bit of…
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 a camping tarp 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
- Spacious for a camping tarp
- A bit heavy for backpackingBottom-Line: The Eno Housefly’s unique wings and setup make it great for creating a warm, cozy, and protected environment for hours of hammock lounging.
REI Co-Op Camp 9
Best Camping Tarp for Weekend Warriors
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 nylon, 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 lines 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 sideBottom-Line: The REI Co-Op Camp 9 offers a robust design and reasonable protection without breaking the bank. If you’re an occasional weekend backpacker who rarely goes off the beaten path for more than a day or two, it’s worth a look.
MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing
Best Camping Tarp for Thru-HikersMSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing Canopy Shelter
- Ultralight: ample rain Protection with Minimal impact on total pack weight
- Adaptable: set up with trekking or Accessory poles, or suspend from a tree
- Compact: both wings pack down tiny and fit in the smallest of backpacks
- Compatible: either Wing can be paired with thru-hiker mesh house 2 or 3
- Weight: 70 Wing (0.38kg)/100 Wing (0.49kg)
If you’ve been inspired by “Into the Wild,” “Wild,” or any other “wild” film to give thru-hiking a go, the MSR 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, it’s made of ripstop nylon. However, it’s not just any nylon. It’s made of 20D 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 Thru-Hiker can also be configured a number of ways, and you can combine it with the Thru-Hiker 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 the MSR Thru-Hiker 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 Thru-Hiker much at all.
- Very lightweight
- Excellent materials and construction
- Super durable and weatherproof
- Line tensioners may loosen in high windsBottom-Line: The MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing is a tremendous all-around camping tarp with a lightweight design and excellent features for extended backpacking adventures.
Eno Profly XL Sil
Most Versatile Camping TarpENO – Eagles Nest Outfitters ProFly XL Rain Tarp, Ultralight Camping Tarp, Charcoal
- RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY: Made of polyurethane-treated 210D ripstop nylon, the…
- SAFE FROM ANY STORM: Features six points to connect, so you can feel secure…
- ADVENTURE READY: Weighing only 34 ounces, the ProFly XL is a full 2 feet…
- KEEP YOUR GEAR DRY: The ProFly XL Rain Tarp is versatile and durable,…
- PLEASE NOTE: ENO attempts to reduce potential waste by using every bit of…
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 camping tarp, so there’s that.
- Flexible and versatile design
- Excellent materials and construction
- Will withstand years of abuse
- Not the lightest camping tarp aroundBottom-Line: The Eno Profly XL Sil is versatile, well-made, and ready for years of abuse on the trail, making it a reliable option for anyone into backpacking in the great outdoors.
Free Soldier Large Rain Shelter Tarp
Best Budget Camping TarpFREE SOLDIER Waterproof Portable Tarp Multifunctional Outdoor Camping Traveling Awning Backpacking Tarp Shelter Rain Tarp (Brown)
- WATERPROOF & UV PROTECTION – Hammock Camping Tarp made of 210T ripstop…
- STRONG & STABLE – This Camping Awnings using heat sealing and melting…
- HEAVY DUTY & PORTABLE – Large size in 118″ × 126″ when expended, enough…
- ACCESSORIES & SIMPLE TO OPERATE – Comes with everything of survival…
- OUTSTANDING QUALITY – FREE SOLDIER Waterproof Portable Tarp apply to heavy…
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 camping tarps 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 Free Soldier camping tarp 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
- Surprisingly durable and well-made
- Ten anchor points for added security and flexibility
- Quite heavy
- Not the easiest to set up and packBottom-Line: If you’re on the hunt for a large, sturdy camping tarp that won’t bust your budget and you don’t mind carrying around a little extra weight, then the Free Soldier might be right up your alley. As far as bang for your buck goes, it’s one of the best around.
Last update on 2020-03-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API