The Best Way to Set Up a Camping Tarp


I don’t know about you guys but the first thing we do when we go camping – besides getting the lawn chairs out, having a beer, and relaxing for a while from the long drive – is to set up our camp tarp. This is my husband’s job. I try to stay clear out of the way, of flying wood and flying curse words, but he always makes me help out. Oh well, we are a team.

You’ll need a camp tarp while camping to keep out the rain – and you know it’s going to rain at least once during your camping trip. Also, it’s great for shade on a very hot day, and we have set up camp tarps as wind barriers as well. So be prepared.

After having tarps that were just too small, we finally bought a large one that measures 20 feet x 30 feet – enough to keep everything in the campsite dry, including the fire. The best way that we’ve found to set up a tarp is as follows:

Steps to setting up the best camping tarp:

• Look at every tree surrounding the campsite and decide which two you are going to use. They should align so that your main rope crosses the middle of your site – or as close as possible. If there are no trees in your campsite, move to another site. 🙂

• You need to make sure the tarp is over the campfire – we always have a fire whether it’s raining or not. Sometimes the fire pit cannot be moved so you have to work around that and pick your trees accordingly. If the campfire can be moved then you have it made.

• Make sure you have plenty of good, sturdy rope for the main line – at least 100 ft. long (you always need more than you think), and 3/8” – 1/2” in diameter. Tie one end around a piece of firewood (or a rock) and throw it up into one of the trees that you have picked out. Get it up as high as you can. The trick is getting the piece of wood to arc over a branch or crotch in the tree, and drop to where you can reach it. After trying this unsuccessfully for 10 or 20 times, take a break, have another beer – or get your daughter or son to climb the tree and throw the piece of wood around a sturdy branch. Getting the rope where you want it is usually the hardest part…

• Wrap the rope around the tree trunk 3-4 times and tie it off on a branch that you can reach with a knot that is easy to untie – a clove-hitch, half-hitch or reverse half-hitch is a good choice. When it is time to take the rope down you don’t want to have to cut the rope. Not only is this a waste, but seeing rope and string hanging around campsites is unsightly.

• Next, lay your rope loosely across the ground stretching it over to the opposite tree. This will be your ridgeline. Spread your tarp out over the ridgeline so that it is centered. You can run the rope through the middle grommets if you want to make it stay centered, but this usually makes the setup more difficult, and it’s harder to adjust the tarp later.

• Repeat the firewood throwing episode with the loose end of the rope up into the second tree and around another sturdy branch. Having another beer break is OK if this takes a long time… Pull the rope tight until you have the tarp at the desired height. It should be looking good by now. Tie off the same way you did the other side.

• You’ll need smaller pieces of rope for tying up the sides of the tarp. At least six pieces of various lengths. Attach a piece of rope to all four corners of the tarp and the middle grommet on each side. For windy days and added stability on the corners, my husband usually wraps a rock in each corner of the tarp and ties the rope around the wrapped rock. This is a useful tip to use when the corner grommets are worn or ripped out. Tie off the corners and the sides to the nearest trees using the same technique as you did the ridgeline.

• After the tarp is up and the corners are pulled out you can adjust it to whatever pitch and angle that suits your purpose by varying the tension on the ropes. If you are using the tarp for shade or wind you may want a long, steep pitch on one side. If it’s for rain, make sure both sides of the tarp slope so the rain will run off. You don’t want the rain to pool inside the tarp, so make sure the lines are fairly taught.

*Hint: You can slide the tarp back and forth along the ridgeline. When you don’t want it over the campsite – and the weather is looking good – simply untie the stays at one end and slide the tarp back out of the way. If it starts to rain, you can easily slide it over your campsite again.

We started taking the tarp down and it started to rain!

There are other methods of setting up tarps but this is our favorite way. You can use any size tarp and it is fully adjustable to suit your needs. Now it’s time to sit back and relax a bit, but only for a bit. The next job – setting up the tent!

Happy camping!!

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