Tarpology - Setting up your Tarp in different configurations

Sunday, 09 November 2008 20:00

By Jed

Introduction to Tarps

Next to tents, the tarp is the most important bit of shelter the canoeist carries. We've all been there, in the driving rain, at the end of a long day with the group now split between 3 or 4 damp orange kennels and the wretched cursing cook with stove hissing, the rain bouncing off his back and spitting in the cooking oil. All kit wet with no prospect of drying it and each tent floor getting more slippery with fine slurry by the minute. In the morning? More of the same please! So with this picture of gloom in our minds, let's recap, why the tarp? Well it's:

A huge faffing area to sort out rations or to get out of wet clobber and into dry

A drying room with kit draped over lines to drip and steam by the fire while toddies are slurped and tales of daring-do are told


A briefing area

A cookhouse with covered food prep area

A spare tent

A lunch time shelter to feed and warm a tired group

Mainly it's the social centre for the evening where we can chill out, chat and still enjoy the view without getting soaked. When rigged high we can stand up and stretch our legs. When clamped down it's a warm cosy haven reflecting the heat of the fire against sleet and
biting winds.

A tarp is compact, light and immensely versatile and there is no good reason to be without one.



I've used everything from ex-military hoochis/bashas and builders tarps to custom made shelter sheets and domes. If price is an issue, get down to B&Q and get a cheap one, they wear out quickly but basically you get what you pay for. Points to look for:

• PU proofed nylon pretty much as good as it gets

Silicon proofing is good but heavy rain will spit through

Avoid canvas, it's immensely heavy, gets wet stays wet and if you touch it, it will dribble through. In the dry you can get spark holes in nylon, with canvas it will smoulder away all night.

Gofor webbing loops and plenty of them (look for bar-tacking and
gate-stitch), brass grommets will rip out, especially with builders tarps



I've tried vast tarps and titchy tarps and reckon1, for a solo/tandem little tarp, go for nothing less than 3m long and 2m wide. Big tarp for groups, the bigger the better up to about 5m max and the same wide. To me, the perfect sizes are: little tarp 3m x 2.4m, altbig tarp 4.5m x 3m


To rig a tarp quickly and effectively you will need:

Long lines min length 15 m, at least 2. Your tracking lines are ideal

Guy lines 4 m long, at least 6

Short ties 60cm then doubled, at least 8

Pegs, alloy, 20 cm long, at least 10. On sand and loose shingle rather than carry a
of alternative 40cm pegs I tie on to and
bury logs/ sticks/ boulders etc.

Paddle or pole locating bags negate the need for knots when your
hands are cold, wet and as dextrous as
pig's tits


In the Scottish highlands flat ground is at a premium and finding any may well dictate the location. But here are some points to consider:

A breeze of 3 mph will keep the midges grounded, a gale will turn your tarp into a hang glider

If you can be choosy, avoid frost-hollows, moss, bogs, smooth bare earth that was mud and will be again!

In the wilds avoid rigging it over a game trail! Enough said.

Pitch away from the tents so folks can get some shut eye while the world-righting debate in the tarp continues. Actually, pitch the
tarp first and on the prime
location - that's my motto!

Now consider: access to water, nice view etc


A tarp can swiftly become a chaotic hellhole, so nominate a "Commandant", someone pugnacious, with an almost maniacal control fetish would be ideal and then let him/her dictate precisely what goes where. Here are some guidelines:

If the tarp is rigged high, under trees let's say, the fire/stove needs to be on the side away from the wind to carry the smoke and
sparks away while keeping the rain out of the

If hunkered low the tarp front needs to be parallel to the wind, this carries the smoke across and away and avoids (tail to wind)
eddying in, (facing wind) smoke and sparks
blown straight in


Tough and light, the Truenorth Little Tarp is a versatile 2 person shelter for outdoorsmen whether they are canoeists, fellsmen, sea kayakers or wilderness travellers. It provides a snug bolthole in foul weather or a refuge from the blazing sun. In larger groups it can be teamed up with the Big Tarp for additional space, to close off an extra side or even as a groundsheet in soggy conditions. The Little Tarp is also ideal as a swift group shelter for a lunch stop when the Big Tarp has been left in base camp. It is designed to be rigged across a canoe, from trees, maybe over a hammock, with trekking poles or canoe paddles using the guy lines and mesh pockets. l have given a few ideas in the sketched diagrams on how to rig the Little Tarp but other innovative ways will be suggested by your imagination. In use, task, terrain and weather will dictate the shape you choose. The Little Tarp can also be put to work in many other roles: perhaps as a spinnaker or gaff rig sail for an open canoe, as a kit store or when expertly folded as a watertight canoe pack to protect your equipment from rain and spray.

A Few Favourite Rigging Options The Little Tarp can be rigged in a multitude of ways symmetrical or asymmetrical it doesn't really matter. Here are my 5 favourites, but first the "key":alt



The Truenorth Big Tarp is the most versatile piece of equipment in the wilderness traveller's outfit and is considered by experienced outdoorsmen to be indispensable to any expedition. As a shelter it keeps off wind and rain and blazing sun. It is at once a cookhouse, drying room, kit-sorting area, and probably most importantly the social centre for the evening by the campfire. For a 4 to 8 man expedition the

altBig Tarp is the perfect size. In stormy conditions it provides a safe refuge en route to warm up a chilled group of up to 12 adults or an uncountable number of kids. The Truenorth Big Tarp is incredibly light yet tough and reinforced where the material takes the strain. It is designed to be supported from trees, or rigged over trekking poles or canoe paddles using the guy lines and reinforced mesh pockets. In just how many configurations you can rig this paragon of shelters is only limited by your imagination. The sketched diagrams suggest a few of our favourites; in use, task, terrain and weather will dictate the shape you choose. One cunning configuration is to rig the Big Tarp on one pole or paddle and fold in the surplus as a bombproof shelter for 2 with fitted groundsheet. The Big Tarp can also be put to work in many other roles. With a crisp breeze at your back and rigged as a sail it provides a raft of boats with a free ride on long stretches of broad river or open water. On wet ground, sand or long wet grass it can be a dry flat floor to sort out kit, or, when expertly folded, a watertight cache or canoe pack to protect your equipment from rain dust and spray.





Click on either image (above or below)to enlarge.




Thank you to Jed at TrueNorth for writing this article,
and granting permission for its reuse.


This entire document was scanned using OCR Technology from a photocopy-sheet,
I apologise for any spelling mistakes, it literally was the machines fault :p

Comments (22)
22 Thursday, 07 April 2016 21:50
On a survival course, I set up my 3x3mtr tarp in a mini tipi/wedge config.
The instructor (of many years experience) seemed impressed. Said he'd never seen a tarp used in that way.

21 Thursday, 23 October 2014 23:32
Really like your site so far. Informative without the " extreme" atmosphere of most in the U.S. This seems the way most U.K. bushcraft and survivalist folks are. I don't mean to say none of you wouldn't like to carry a little sidearm now and then, but it's a slippery slope. I owned a shotgun as a kid, but since have only recently considered buying a handgun, not sure why.
20 Tuesday, 01 April 2014 03:45
doctor prepper
Thanks for the very helpful article. brought back many memories of younger days. early retirement means looking forward to getting 'out there' again.
can't wait to try some of the variations shown, as now the proud possessor of a tarp and hammock.
Thanks again Vinny
19 Sunday, 23 June 2013 16:59
Yeah Wow!!
I've camped out a lot under my basher but I've never thought of folding it anything like those designs.
My basher is a little small though, so I'll just have to treat myself to a new one.
18 Sunday, 09 June 2013 09:31
Have used Tarps in many configs but I love the intro explaining the purpose of a tarp, explains clearly why one is required
17 Sunday, 03 March 2013 08:52
Tony Ball
Enjoyed reading this, I've yet to use a Tarp myself, and sleep out using one but we all have to start sometime, cheers........
16 Monday, 28 January 2013 10:52
Moltes gràcies per la informació. M'és molt útil ja que estic practicant i practicant en refugis de circunstancies amb tarp.
15 Wednesday, 21 November 2012 21:30
bob dingle
great reading this artical will have to try a few new ones out in the spring!!
14 Saturday, 10 November 2012 21:23
Odd Hjelen
Really nice article, good descriptions even for cheap constr. tarps.

Thanks for sharing.
13 Friday, 12 October 2012 08:56
Elen Sentier
Just what I needed back at the end of Aug :-). No matter, it's now squirrelled away in my camping folder. Thanks Jed.
12 Tuesday, 09 October 2012 04:49
Alan F. Hall
I have a Kelty Noah's Tarp. Its use is oriented toward the diamond shape of it. If set up on a ridgeline you would have the two pointy ends at each end on the line. What is this all about? It does not seem to make any sense to me. Is their any advantage to it. I modified it to incllude two tag so that I can hang it rom the ridge lie like a square or rect. tarp.
11 Thursday, 04 October 2012 16:28
Liam Malarky
From memory, that second diagram/drawing looks awfy like its from Eddie McGee's survival handbook.

Helpful drawings though :-)
10 Monday, 06 August 2012 21:30
Enjoyed that, I made my light weight tent into a tarp after a cow walked through it.
its better than ever, eaven lighter, and pack smaller to boot
9 Tuesday, 03 April 2012 10:53
Great diagrams and instructions as always. I get my 2 x mil- com tarps today, looking forward to using them.
8 Sunday, 15 January 2012 23:14
Luke Jackson
Great article, i've tried using tarp as a windbreak and camped with one as a basha but these variations are infinately better, good show. Blessed Be )O(
7 Monday, 14 November 2011 20:36
Brilliant Article - just bought a 1.9 x 2.9 blue tarpaulin from B&Q for only a fiver! Bright blue but hopefully keeps me dry and will get used to using them and will invest in a camo tarp maybe bigger and a hammock!
6 Thursday, 31 March 2011 08:40
Mark Massey
Thanks for this article. planning on getting a hammock and tarp some time this summer.
5 Sunday, 21 November 2010 16:12
Great article, i have only ever used mine as a hammock basha, and a wind break with ground sheet. Next spring i will try a few variations.
4 Monday, 17 May 2010 07:21
William Morella
muy bueno !
3 Thursday, 29 April 2010 06:01
Great article. Went camping with just my tarp and a blanket for the first time. Tried to set it up in the sole survivor and tipi configurations and failed misserably. Ended up folding it up and wrapping up in it next to the fire.

Practice setting up before you actually use it!!! :D
2 Saturday, 12 December 2009 22:46
excellent article
1 Thursday, 09 July 2009 01:40
Good Stuff here!
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