Tarp Setups for Rainy Trips & Emergencies

Setting up a tarp can be useful for rainy backpacking trips, or in case of an emergency while hiking, they can provide crucial shelter from the elements. In this post, learn more about guylines, knots, and setup details for three different tarp configurations.

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

 

Backpacking in inclement weather doesn’t have include hunkering down in your tent during the rain. I’ve used tarp setups recently on several rainy trips for cooking meals out of the rain. While you could cook in your vestibule, using a tarp will keep food smells away from your tent (important in bear country), and is much more fun on group trips since everyone can hang out together under the tarp at meal time.

Equipment for tarp setup

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

For the tarp setups covered in this post, I used the following equipment:

  • 6’x8′ tarp
  • guyline
  • stakes
  • trekking poles – extended to 125 cm height
  • optional – small plastic bags for protecting trekking pole handles

Types of Tarps

Budget tarps: made of coated polyethylene, these inexpensive tarps can be found at most hardware stores for $5-10. While heavier and bulkier than other options, the low cost and ease of availability make this type of tarp a popular choice. For the most versatility, look for a tarp with evenly spaced grommets. In general the blue tarps that are available only provide grommets on the corners and in the centers on each side, while the brown tarps usually have more grommets on the long side, making multiple configurations possible.

Lightweight Silnylon tarps are less bulky and lighter in weight than polyethylene tarps and are available in multiple sizes and shapes. Costs generally range from $00 to $00.

Ultralight Dyneema tarps: by far the lightest and smallest packable tarps, they are also the most expensive and can cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up.

 

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

Single Tarp Ridgeline Setup

  1. Setup a ridgeline between two trees, using a bowline knot at one end and a taut line hitch on the other end.
  2. Drape the tarp over the ridgeline, lining up the second set of grommets or ?? with the ridgeline.
  3. Add a prusik knot at each end of the tarp and tie the tarp to it using the ends of the knot guyline.
  4. Attach two guylines to the corner grommets or ?? on the other end of the tarp.
  5. Place trekking pole tip side up on the corners.
  6. Stake two guylines for each trekking pole at angles to the corner.
  7. Add one guyline to each of the back corners and stake them.
  8. Adjust all guylines at the adjustable hitch loops.

 

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

two guylines attached to a corner grommet to secure a trekking pole

Two tarp setup

For more space, the setup below uses two 6×8′ tarps overlapping each other at the top. Configure the first tarp as shown above, then repeat the process for the other side, attaching the second tarp under the first one on the ridgeline so there isn’t a gap at the top.

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

two tarp setup for a larger group

Knots to use

I like to use the Knots 3D app (Apple Store  |  Google Play) to learn knots. The app includes more than 150 knots, with the ability to view 3D animations for each.

These are the knots I use in the tarp setups shown here:

  • bowline
  • taut line hitch
  • prusik
  • adjustable hitch
Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

bowline with a slip knot for ease in releasing

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

taut line hitch (on the right)

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

prusik knot

Emergency shelter setups

When you need to create an emergency shelter, these tarp setups are quick and easy.

A-frame shelter

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

  1. Find the center of the long sides of the tarp and place trekking poles in the grommets or tabs on each end, staking to secure it with a guyline.
  2. Stake each of the four corners.

Closed end A-frame shelter

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

  1. Find the center of the long sides of the tarp and place a trekking pole in the grommets or tabs on one end, staking to secure it with a guyline.
  2. Stake the two corners on the sides of the trekking pole.
  3. Stake the back corners and center of the opposite end of the tarp.

Ridgeline setup without trekking poles

Tarp Setups for Backpacking Trips & Emergencies

This setup is the same as the single tarp ridgeline setup, but doesn’t use trekking poles. Instead, stake the front corners using longer guylines.