Guest Blog: 7 Reasons to Bring a Tarp
My girlfriend and I balance each other out perfectly in the outdoors. She’s a climber and I’m a waterman. She knows how much food to pack, down to the calorie, and I (almost) never get us lost. She has all this camera gear, and I never get cold so there’s always room in my pack where warm layers should be.
But we have radically different ideas when it comes to shelter. I have one criterion: if it keeps the rain off, I’m good.
She, on the other hand, thinks shelter should:
Keep the rain off
- Keep the wind out
- Keep mosquitos and midges out
- Act as a barrier against things that crawl and slither
- Provide privacy
- Keep out murderers and tent burglers
Guess who wins that argument? When we camp together, we usually sleep in a tent. But I have learned (the hard way) that it pays to bring a tarp even when you’re sleeping in a tent.
Here are few things you can do with your tarp other than sleep under it:
Make a Raft
Let’s start with the Macgyver option. Maybe you’re taking a shortcut across a lake, maybe you’re bored in camp on a rest day and need a project, or maybe you actually need a raft for survival purposes.
With just a few branches and some paracord, you can turn your 3x3 tarp into a raft. You can make an oar with the tarp bag and the right shaped stick.
Improve your Campsite
Last summer, my girlfriend and I got caught in some nasty weather up on a ridgeline in Ireland. We were soaked, and it was getting dark, so we made camp in a spot that wasn’t ideal but would have to do. The tent did its job and kept us dry, but one of us had to go outside to cook.
We tried setting up the stove in the shelter of rain fly, but that just let the rain in. I did the manly thing and volunteered to brave the storm so we could have hot food. But my clothes were hanging to dry inside the tent and I didn’t want to drench them again. I cooked butt naked out in the storm, with a goat eyeing my backside the whole time.
It turns out the whole “huddling for warmth” thing is a lot less sexy when you’re actually hypothermic.
This all could have been avoided if we had a tarp to setup a sheltered kitchen.
Hide Your Stuff
With a tarp and some branches, you can hide your gear in plain site if you need to leave it unattended for any reason.
When I leave my kayak to walk down the beach or go inland, I use a tarp to camouflage it. You can do something similar to break up the silhouette of your tent.
Use it as a Ground Sheet
Or as a picnic blanket, or a place to spread out all your things when you pack, or an extra layer on the floor of your tent. This is especially handy if you happen to be an American who didn’t know about bogs ‘til you pitched your tent on one.
Sometimes you get the best use out of a tarp when you don’t overthink and just treat it like a big sheet of useful nylon.
Make a Sail for your Kayak
There are many ways to do this. My favorite is to square rig it like a Viking ship.
But really only two types of people should think about trying this: people who already know what they’re doing and have a lot of experience on the water, and desperate folks who are literally shipwrecked.
This is not a normal thing to do with your kayak and there’s so much that could go wrong. But it looks fun.
Eat Lunch in the Shade
Unlike a tent, a tarp can be set up or taken down in a minute or less. You can get out of the elements, while eating or taking a break on the trail, without having to break out the tent poles.
Even though you’ll have to get wet or roast again when you get moving, a few minutes under the tarp, can be a big morale boost in unpleasant conditions.
Have a Backup Shelter
There are hundreds of ways to set up a tarp. One reason I prefer tarps to tents is that I enjoy the challenge of adapting my setup to the surroundings and designing my own shelter to suit its location.
You may find yourself somewhere that’s less than ideal for your particular tent. Maybe someone forgot to pack the rain fly. No problem, just use your tarp. Maybe you choose a site where you don’t want to be seen. In that case, you can rig your tarp as a pup tent just a few inches off the ground.
Try making a tunnel between your tent and your friend’s. There’s nothing like a tarp to bring out the part of you that still wants to build forts out of sheets.
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About the writer
Writer, waterman, early riser.