A camping shelter made with a tarp can be less expensive, lighter, and more flexible than a traditional tent. Here are some instructions on how to make a tarp shelter using only a few other readily available materials to protect you from the elements on your next camping trip.
Choose a campsite that is flat and large enough for your shelter. Look for two trees about 10 to 30 feet apart. If you cannot find an area with suitable trees, you can use two poles to form the ridgeline. If it might rain, look for a site where water will not collect. If it is windy, look for a site that is protected from wind. Never set up camp near dead or unstable trees, in a flood plain, or under one large tree that could get struck by lightning.
Tie one end of a rope around a tree or pole at shoulder height or higher using a bowline knot. Tie the other end of the rope around the other tree or pole with a trucker’s hitch. Make the line as tight as possible so your tarp shelter will be secure.
Center the tarp on the ridgeline. Most tarps have grommets or loops that can be used to tie them down with parachute cord, also known as paracord or P-cord. Use cord 25 to 50 inches or longer. Tie one end of the P-cord to the grommet or loop on the edge of the tarp right above the ridgeline using a bowline knot. Use the other end of the P-cord to tie the tarp to the ridgeline with a taut line hitch. This will let you slide the tarp on the ridgeline and set up multiple tarp shelters on a single ridgeline. Tie both sides of the tarp securely to the ridgeline.
Attach loops to the corners and edges of the tarp so you can stake it to the ground. Tie P-cords to each corner of the tarp and up to three points along the outer edge to attach them to stakes. Tie the other end of the P-cord to itself using a taut line hitch, making a loop. This will let you slide the hitch up or down the cord to adjust the size of the loop. Drive a stake through each loop and into the ground and pull the lines tight. The corner stakes should be at a 45-degree angle from the tarp.
Make the tarp as smooth as possible. You can stake each corner down loosely and tighten them one at a time to keep the tarp centered on the ridgeline. You can also tighten or loosen the lines by sliding the taut line hitch up or down to adjust the size of the loop in the P-cord. If you don’t have tent stakes, you can secure the loop to a large rock or limb or tie the P-cord to a tree or rock. Put another tarp on the ground to provide a surface for sleeping.
You can adapt your tarp shelter for various weather conditions. In warm weather, use a higher ridgeline and place the stakes farther from the tarp to allow for more air circulation. If you are using a rectangular tarp, you can run the long dimension down the ridgeline to create a more open shelter. In windy weather, set up your shelter with one side facing the wind. Use a slightly lower ridgeline and stake the side facing the wind very close to the ground. You can also use additional guidelines. If it is raining, use a low ridgeline and stake all the sides of the tarp as close as possible to the ground. You can create more shade by attaching your tarp to the ridgeline off-center. You can also use things in the environment, such as fallen trees, to customize your tarp shelter.