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Best Tarp: A Handy Buyer’s Guide for Camping Tarps

Tarp shelter
Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

Tarps or tarpaulins have been around for a while. You can agree with me that they are an amazing way of creating a dry hang out space when you are out with a group or alone during a wet trip. While they may not be as comfortable as your house could, if you love outdoor activities you will most certainly love your experience with tarps.

If you go to the market, you will notice that tarps come in different sizes, weight, material, cost, shape and colors. This review looks at all there is about tarpaulins and the best tarp for you.

Types of Tarpaulins

Polythene Tarps

Uses: Camping covers, camping tarps, hurricane tarps, construction covers, temporary covers.

These are plastic based materials. Poly tarps can come in orange, white, brown, blue, silver, camouflage and many others. It is an all purpose cover for construction, camping or backyard. You can find a poly tarp literally anywhere in the market. The price range is quite wide depending on the size.

Poly tarp

PROS:

  • They are least experience of all types of tarps
  • Poly tarps are waterproof
  • Comes in a wide range of colors and sizes
  • Flexible
  • Chemical resistant

CONS:    

  • With time they may disintegrate without UV light
  • As compared to other types of tarps, poly tarps are not as durable

Canvas Tarps

Uses: Equipment covers, supply covers, construction covers and salvage covers.

These types of tarps have been in use for many years. They are normally woven fabric that is made of natural or synthetic fibers. Canvas tarps are a favorite of painters because they may not be 100% waterproof and thus they absorb paint although they do not leak through. They therefore maintain a dry soft surface on the bottom of the material.

Canvas tarp

PROS:

  • Environment friendly
  • Due to the fact that they do not trap heat under the sun, they are said to be breathable
  • Do not stain covered surface
  • Treatable with chemicals or solutions
  • Durable if well maintained

CONS:    

  • Not waterproof as water could slowly drip through
  • Not UV coated
  • May shrink slightly with time

Vinyl Tarps

Uses: Baseball field covers, construction covers, equipment covers, truck covers

These kinds of tarps are usually made of polyester core that is laminated with vinyl or PVC. Some are open weaved to allow for sunlight and air to flow through. If put under normal conditions, these kinds of tarps can last up to 10 times more as compared to other tarps because they have much better tear resistance and are likely to perform better in harsh conditions.

Vinyl roof tarp

PROS:

  • Durable and will last for ages
  • Strong and resistant to rot
  • Superior quality and performance
  • Waterproof

CONS:    

  • May not be UV protected
  • Coated vinyl covers may fade their colors with time.

Truck Tarps

They are made of heavy duty poly coating that is very strong. They are made for the purposes of covering trucks that travel over long distances. The ends of truck tarpaulins have double reinforced fabric. Their interior seams are heat sealed.

Truck tarp

These types of tarpaulins come with D rings and thus ensuring a safe and secure fit surrounding the perimeter of the truck tarp covering. For additional secure fitting, in each corner of the tarp you will find solid brass grommets surrounding the perimeter.

Hay tarps

Just as the name suggests, hay tarps are used by farmers to cover bales of hay. They are made of D rings and grommets and thus the reason as to why they are used for heavy duty tasks.

Hay tarp

One of the great reasons as to why they are loved by farmers is owed to the fact that their material can be UV treated and so they cannot be damaged even with direct sunlight. Hay tarps are also very strong and are waterproof to withstand huge amounts of rain as well as winds.

Lumber Tarps

These harps should always be kept dry and must be U.V treated. So as to fasten the tarp to the lumber grommets should be built in with a very close frequency. Because every lumber mill or construction site differs with one another, the uses of lumber tarps are also varied.

Lumber tarp

The most preferred and suggested lumber tarps are heavy duty silver U.V. treated lumber tarps that have a black center.

Mesh Tarps

These are made of nylon tarp threading which weaves a component that looks like a screen. Mesh tarps are often used for water or wind to penetrate through. Mesh tarps prohibit hard rain from going through an applied area. When making a shade screen tent, covers and sides made of mesh tarps weaken winds which may come to sweep the canopy tent.

Mesh tarp

On one side of the mesh tarp enters the heavy winds and it slowly blows through to the other side and finally the wind gets defused by the mesh tarp material.

If you are looking to secure your tent or canopy, you should consider this tarp because it can be used as side walls that protect the tent or canopy from heavy blowing winds and thus keep the structure strong and stable. Construction companies prefer using black mesh tarps for the purposes of privacy where as green meshes are utilized in tennis and golf courts to complement to the garden setting.

Baseball Tarps

These can be found in the sizes of 100 x 100 up to 170 x 170. Baseball taps are expected to be cool and dry therefore because of these they must be waterproof. The tarp may be folded and rolled up to be stored and used for a later day because they are durable. In the event it gets rained on, the baseball tarp should be removed to allow room for the grass to breathe.

Baseball tarp

What to look for when buying a tarp

If you have been of the sense that tarps are all made equal, now you know better. We have established that tarps come in different kinds each with its own special benefits and uses. If you are considering buying a tarp, it is important that you check out the following points before you dish out any money from your pocket.

Is the Tarp Waterproof or Not?

Check out the label on the tarp to know whether the tarp is simply water resistant or fully water proof. If this is not on the label, you can ask the sales consultant of the store you are buying from whether what you have picked is the right one for your needs. Checking online on reviews could also give you a clear head start.

What thickness should the tarp have?

If you are in the heavy construction or loading sector then thickness should be something to get concerned over. Otherwise when it comes to other activities such as camping, you should not worry much about the thickness of your tarp. If you are out camping a relatively thin tarp can protect you from the rains.

Tarpaulin

Is the tarp durable for my specifications?

At the store get to inquire whether the tarp you would like to purchase is strong and durable. If you are going to use it to tie down important content, be certain that the holes at the end of the tarp seem to be sturdy and secure. Getting to hear about the experiences of others is also one way to know whether you are eyeing the best backpacking tarp.

The difference between cut size and finished size of tarps

Most buyers tend to confuse the terms cut size and finished size. Well, these are not the same. Cut size simply means the size of a fabric when the fabric has been cut and before the final tarp is produced. Once the hems of the fabric are stitched and sewn the size of the finished tarp becomes slightly smaller as compared to the actual cut size. On the other hand, finished size is the size of the actual finished tarp. These two common terms are standards of measurements used in the tarp industry in USA as well as Canada.

Shapes and Sizes of Tarps

Small Tarp

Most tarps come in square and rectangle shapes. The reason behind this is because they provide most flexibility and coverage. Small rectangles that measure 5 x 8.5 ft when hung diagonally provide basic coverage for hammocks. An 8 x 8 square tarp when pitched diagonally over a hammock its more than 10 foot ridge line offers about 1 foot to one and a half feet of coverage beyond the ends of the hammock.

Tarp

This kind of tarp can be hung at 4.5 to 5 feet above the surface of the earth and its sides can be staked to the ground. Hex shaped tarpaulins have in the recent times emerged. It is less weighty and offers less protection than the rectangle ones and more weighty and offers more protection than the squared ones.

Large tarps

These kinds of tarps usually measure about 10 x 12 meters and have several features such as catenary cut edges. They are best when the weather is unpredictable and when situations need extended stays. Despite their large sizes, they still remain to be viable shelters for light weight backpacking community.

Best Tarps You Can Buy

REI Co-op Camp Tarp 12

Weight: 2 lbs 1 ozREI Co-op Camp Tarp 12

Covered area: 144 square feet

Features: No-sag design, square, symmetrical cut, multiple webbing loop

Best for: Camping

This is one of the best tarps because it is light weight and versatile thus can be used for a wide range of activities. It is secure and ensures your camp and gear is well protected from damage. It has no sag design for a taut pitch and the square symmetrical cut ensures maximum coverage as well as pitch versatility. Setting up the REI Co-op Camp Tarp 12 is quite easy thanks to the several loop lash points along the edges.

The main corner grommets have a double layer reinforcement to provide a strong and stable pitch. The tarp also comes with 6 reflective guy lines for visibility at night or when in the dark.  Another amazing fact about this tarpaulin is the fact that it has a 75D polyester that does not stretch even when wet. However, it does come with tarp poles so you have to buy the REI adjustable poles separately.

Check the price on Amazon

MSR Thru Hiker 70 Wing

Color: BlueMSR Thru Hiker 70 Wing

Size: One size

Weight: 70 wing (0.38 kg)/100 wing (0.49 kg)

Features: Ultralight, adaptable, compact

Best for: Camping, hiking

This tarpaulin is very light thus carrying it around is very easy. You do not have to worry about the rainy days as MSR Thru Hiker 70 Wing provides ample rain protection. You will find it very easy to adapt to the environment you are in with regards to how you set it up as you can use trekking or accessory poles or simply just suspend it on a tree and enjoy the rest of your outdoor activity.

Apart from it being ultra light, both wings can be packed down tiny and comfortably fit in the smallest of all back packs. It is compatible in the sense that either of its wings can actually get paired with thru-hiker mesh house 2 or 3. With MSR Thru Hiker 70 Wing you can be certain to enjoy your outdoor sessions either alone or with a group.

Check the price on Amazon

Rab Element Solo Shelter

Size: It comes in one size onlyRab Element Solo Shelter

Color: Yellow

Weight: 5.94 pounds

Features: Minimalist design, 2 guyline points, open at both ends

Best for: Camping, hiking

This is among the best tarps and it measures 1.76 meters squared by 18.94 square feet. It is very light because it is made of ultra light 30d silicone impregnated cordura fabric. It has a very simple design as you only have to set it up with two trekking poles.

However, it does not come with the trekking poles so you will have to buy those separately. It has two guy line points. Rab Element Solo Shelter is open at both ends and thus allowing easy penetration of light and flow of fresh air. Your experience with this tarp will definitely be unforgettable.

Check the price on Amazon

Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Size: It comes in large size onlySea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Color: It comes in different colors

Weight: 13 oz

Features: Sun/wind protection, eight Hypalon tie-out points

Best for: Camping, hiking, backpacking

Escape from your busy schedule and take some time away to some serene and quite environment. But to make that moment memorable, ensure you carry with you the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp. With it you can enjoy some cool shade and quietness as it protects you from the heat of the sun as well as from strong winds.

The material pressure head measures 1200 mm and thus giving you maximum coverage. Just like Rab Element Solo Shelter, it is open at both ends to allow room for the penetration of sunlight as well as flow of fresh air. It is set up using two trekking poles which come separately from the tarp.

Check the price on Amazon

Big Agnes Deep Creek Tarp

Color: Yellow/redBig Agnes Deep Creek Tarp

Size: It only comes in small size

Features: 2 adjustable poles, reflective guylines with cord adjusters, additional pole attachment

Best for: Camping, hiking, backpacking

This tarpaulin shelter creates an outdoor living area to protect you from the elements. Its shape is versatile and it comes with two adjustable trekking poles which are included in the package. Because of its versatile shape, it allows a multitude of pitch configurations.

Big Agnes Deep Creek Tarp has an additional pole attachment point at the center of the tarpaulin for the purposes of more set up options. The additional pole attachment point also increases the stability of the tarp in the event of a strong wind. It has reflective guy lines that are equipped with cord adjusters as well as several guy out points. What’s even more exciting is that it has stash pockets at the corners for guy line storage.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Upslope tarp

Size: It comes in one size onlyKelty Upslope Tarp

Weight: 1 lb 7 oz/65 kg

Color: It comes in various colors

Floor area: 37 ft2

Features: 40D Sil Nylon, 40D Sil Nylon, guyline storage pockets

Best for: Camping, hiking, backpacking

This tarp is made of 40D sil nylon and the package comes together with trekking poles for the purposes of providing an ultra light shelter on the go anytime. It has guy line storage pockets which ensure that your lines are properly organized. The tarp also has adjustable stake loops for solid pitch and thus providing stability of the tarp in strong winds. Kelty Upslope Tarp covers a floor area of 37 ft2 area.

Check the price on Amazon

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters- ProFly Sil Nylon Rain Tarp

Color: LichenENO Eagles Nest Outfitters

Weight: 1 lb

Dimensions: 1 x 10 x 13 inches

Features: 15D silicone impregnated ripstop nylon, quick setup, lightweight

Best for: Camping, hiking, backpacking

It’s definitely a contender for the best camping tarp, this one has 15D silicone impregnated rip stop nylon to provide excellent waterproof ability and also to make it be of lighter weight as compared to other tarps. Its set up is super fast and easy as it shoots up in a heartbeat using only four guy points. However, it provides a sprawling overhead shelter.

The tarpaulin actually measures only 16 ounces and comes with an already built in stuff stack. This makes it the best choice to take on a trip or store when not being used. ProFly Sil Nylon Rain Tarp is versatile and durable and thus you can use it to shelter your dog, equipment, clothes or your back country kitchen. It is also important to have in mind that it does not come with stakes so you have to buy them separately.

Check the price on Amazon

Closing Thoughts

Tarps are diverse and come in various sizes, colors, makes and for different purposes. As we have already seen, the type of material used will highly determine the weight of a particular tarp. Shopping for a tarp is not a matter of just picking any tarp that meets your eye. As mentioned earlier, be certain of its durability, ability to prevent water from penetrating, its resistance from chemical solutions and flexibility.

If this review has been a great eye opener for you, feel free to drop your comments and share.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Nelson
Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.

  • Chris Towns

    The Rab Element Solo Shelter is a good tarp. It’s light, very easy to set up (it takes me less than a minute to put it all together) and meshes really well with the mesh bug tent that is sold by Rab. Also, the color doesn’t seem to fade all that much, which is a nice plus.

  • Sean Nelson

    One of my favorite tarps and for good reasons too: they are sturdy and affordable. Also, they get the job done especially when you need to cook something and the wind is not cooperating at all. The Rab Element Solo Shelter is a great buy and will last for years.
    Also, thanks for dropping by Chris!

  • Jessica Gallagher

    We like the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp. One of the best things we like about it is that it is ultra lightweight. And it fits back into its bag with no problem whatsoever. It’s a very well thought out design and integrates well with the bug net tent. We’re very happy with this tarp!

  • Sean Nelson

    Don’t you just love the color? It’s a very sturdy tarp and one that won’t fold up in any wind, that’s for sure. You can even put your trekking poles up to set it up. What I love about it? It’s affordability and compactness.

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