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The Basics of Tarp Tent Camping: Tarp Shelters Beginner’s Guide

Tarp tent camping is an excellent way to experience the outdoors with a lightweight and minimalist approach. Camping tarps provide protection from the elements while offering versatility and flexibility. Here’s a beginner’s guide to the basics of tarp tent camping:

Choosing the Right Tarp

  • Material: Look for lightweight, waterproof, and durable materials like silnylon or polyester.
  • Size: Choose a size appropriate for your needs. Common sizes range from 8×10 feet to 10×12 feet.
  • Shape: Rectangular tarps are versatile, while catenary-cut or hexagonal tarps offer better wind resistance.

Setting Up Your Tarp

  • Location: Choose a flat and well-drained area. Avoid low spots where water might collect.
  • Orientation: Set up your tarp so that the longer sides run perpendicular to the prevailing wind.

Tarp shelters are popular in bushcraft and camping due to their versatility and adaptability. Here are several tarp shelter setups suitable for bushcraft and camping in the woods:

A-Frame Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between two trees at the desired height.
  • Attach the tarp to the ridgeline with the midpoint centered.
  • Stake down the corners, creating an A-frame shape.


  • Quick and easy to set up.
  • Provides good protection against rain and wind.
Tarp and hammock

Lean-To Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between two trees, slanting it for the desired shelter angle.
  • Attach one side of the tarp to the ridgeline.
  • Stake the other side to the ground.


  • Efficient use of space.
  • Offers protection from rain and wind.

Plow Point Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between two trees at chest height.
  • Attach the tarp with one corner facing down to the ground.
  • Stake the other three corners to the ground.


  • Low profile for better wind resistance.
  • Good protection from rain and snow.

Diamond Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between two trees at the desired height.
  • Attach the tarp to the ridgeline with the midpoint centered.
  • Stake down all four corners to create a diamond shape.


  • Versatile and adjustable for various weather conditions.
  • Allows good ventilation.
Tarp camping in Brazil

Cave Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between two trees.
  • Drape the tarp over the ridgeline, allowing the ends to touch the ground.
  • Stake down the sides to create a semi-enclosed space.


  • Provides excellent protection from wind and rain.
  • Creates a cozy, cave-like atmosphere.

Bushcraft Bedroll Shelter


  • Lay a groundsheet or tarp on the ground.
  • Place your sleeping bag and gear on one side.
  • Pull the other side of the tarp over your belongings to create a basic shelter.


  • Quick and minimalist setup.
  • Suitable for a lightweight, on-the-go approach.

Teepee Shelter


  • Tie a ridgeline between three trees in a triangular shape.
  • Attach the tarp to the ridgeline with the midpoint centered.
  • Stake down the edges to create a teepee-like structure.


  • Provides 360-degree coverage.
  • Good for windy conditions.
Raindrops on a tarp

Debris Hut with Tarp


  • Construct a basic debris hut frame with branches.
  • Drape the tarp over the frame, securing it in place.
  • Add natural debris on top for insulation.


  • Combines the insulating properties of natural materials with the waterproofing of a tarp.
  • Suitable for colder weather.

Guy Lines and Stakes

  • Stability: Use guylines to secure your tarp and provide stability. Attach guylines to each corner and tension them appropriately.
  • Stakes: Invest in lightweight but sturdy stakes. Consider using a variety of stakes for different ground types.

Weather Considerations

  • Wind: Ensure your tarp is pitched low to the ground to minimize wind exposure. Adjust the pitch angle based on wind direction.
  • Rain: Set up your tarp with a slight slope to allow rain to run off. Use a groundsheet or bathtub floor to prevent water from seeping in.

Bug Protection

Bivy Sack or Bug Net: Consider using a bivy sack or bug net if camping in areas with a high insect population.

Camping with a tarp in the forest

Leave No Trace

  • Campsite Selection: Follow Leave No Trace principles when choosing a campsite. Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams.
  • Campfire Considerations: Check local regulations regarding campfires, and if allowed, use established fire rings.

Gear Tips

  • Sleep System: Invest in a quality sleeping bag and sleeping pad for insulation from the ground.
  • Backpack: Ensure your backpack is suitable for the gear and conditions you’ll encounter.

Practice Before You Go

Set Up at Home: Familiarize yourself with your tarp and pitching techniques in your backyard before heading into the wilderness.

Emergency Preparedness

  • Navigation: Carry a map and compass, and know how to use them.
  • First Aid Kit: Always have a basic first aid kit on hand.
  • Communication: Carry a fully charged cell phone or other communication device.

Continuous Learning

  • Learn from Experience: Each trip is an opportunity to learn and refine your tarp camping skills.
  • Community and Resources: Join online forums or local groups to share experiences and gain insights from other tarp campers.

Remember that tarp tent camping requires some practice to master the various pitching techniques and adapt to different conditions. As you gain experience, you’ll develop a keen sense of what works best for you in different environments.


  • Matt Stellson
    Posted January 24, 2024 at 3:23 am

    Hey guys,

    Really good information – love it.
    I was looking at buying a new, small bushcraft tent but I’m just gonna have a try at tarp camping instead. Cheers for the info!

    Thanks, Matt

    • Post Author
      Posted January 24, 2024 at 9:02 am

      Glad this was useful and inspiring to you, Matt!


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