Setting Up a Tarp

I am a recent convert to sleeping in shelters when backpacking on long distance trails. Before that, I would always bring an enclosed single person shelter, like a hammock or a tarptent, but 4+ inches of rain on Vermont’s Long Trail over a three day period changed my mind. Trust me, you can adapt to the invasion of your private space and snorers when it is raining cats and dogs. Plus the rain acts like a big white noise generator.

Even if you plan on staying in shelters, it is important to bring along a fall back shelter system in case a shelter or hut is already full or if you run out of gas between between shelters. I’m addressing this by bringing a tarp, which will let me shave some additional weight of my gear list, trading in a 28 oz tent for an 11 oz tarp and a 3 oz bug net. This is a big weight reduction for me and will bring my base pack weight under 11 lbs.

I’ve been using tarps for a few years as a component of my Hennessey Hammock sleep system so I already own a few. But, the following video from Mike Lummio at bushcraftnorthwe provides some great tips about how to set up a tarp on the ground. For me, Mike’s use of a standalone ridge line and prussic knots is great advice which I’m going to implement on my next section hike when I have some time to kill at a shelter and can sit around and set up the knots. The prussic knots also prevent water from running down the ridgeline and dripping onto you when it is raining.

Do you sleep under a tarp regularly? What kind of tarp do you use?

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  1. Hello,

    I've used a tarp (set up as I show here:… in cool weather, but as the warmth comes, and the bugs follow, I'm divided as to whether I should bring a tarp or a tent. If I had a good bug net to easily arrange inside the tarp, then I'd go light-weight. But I've not come across any good instructions on how to do this…



  2. Killer topic! I backpack in the northwest regularly, and have learned the hard way to always prepare for rain. My tarp methodology needs serious refining!

  3. Only slept under a tarp a couple of times.One issue in the areas I go is a lack of trees LOL

    We posted on our blog here:… about making a tarp into a tent (using a treking pole.)

    This is the direct link to You Tube –

  4. Mungo – I just bought a 3oz bug net from Gossamer gear for $30 that was recommended by my tarp camping friend Quoddy. All you need to hang it is some kind of sewn in loop on the inside ceiling of your tarp that you can hang it from. I'll be testing it out this weekend, but it looks like a sure thing.

  5. Consider a head bug net for tarp camping. This is every bit as light weight and can be far cheaper than a Gossamer or similar manufacturer. I found a no see um mesh head net for only $3 at Dicks Sporting Goods. It works just as well, with no need for an extra line or loop or anything.

  6. Does anyone still Tarp camp? I am new to Ultralight and have opted to go this route myself since I cannot afford a Cuban Fiber Tent.

    • Yep, but we sleep with cuben fiber tents and tarps, not cubans.

      • Phil, why would you camp with both “tents and tarps” when one of either would be sufficient? This seems redundant to me regardless of the material they are made of. Also, forgive my typo but what do you have against Cuba? It is a territory of the USA you know?

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