Heading out into the wild? Take a camping tarp along to keep you dry. These packable heroes fold down small, protect you from the elements and can be arranged any which way you need whilst camping.
However, there's a lot of choice out there when it comes to camping tarps – the good, the bad, and the won't-last-one-windy night. To help you get out exploring, we've put together a beast of a buying guide. Let's get stuck in.
BEST WILD CAMPING TARP: BUYING GUIDE
Tarps are an essential bit of wild camping equipment, helping protect your camp from the wet, and you from the elements. They're usually pretty lightweight and easy to pack, and are worth their weight in gold if you find yourself stuck in a downpour. Adjustable and versatile, they can be made to perfectly suit your set-up. Here are just a few key things to keep in mind when tarp camping.
WHEN WOULD YOU USE A CAMPING TARP?
A good camping tarp will come in handy for myriad of reasons. Most commonly, camping tarps are used when hammock camping, to provide weather protection and shelter where hammocks do not. Hammock camping is becoming an increasingly popular way to sleep out in the wild these days and a tarp is the perfect accompaniment.
Tarps can also be very useful for basic shelter on day trips too, for erecting shelter on a rainy day when you want to get dry and eat your lunch in peace. This becomes even more useful when you have crying, wet children.
A tarp is also a great piece of outdoor gear on a campsite. If you're camping with some friends in tents, tarps can provide a great common area to shelter under or even store kit (climbers, we're looking at you). In short, they're an all-round great investment you won't regret.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR TARP FOR WILD CAMPING
All camping tarps aren't made equal. They vary drastically in price and durability, so think realistically about what you're going to be using yours for. For short camping trips in mild weather you can get away with something on the lower end of the budget scale, while for longer treks in unpredictable climates, you're going to need something a bit more substantial.
If you're going to be using a camping tarp in the UK, let's be honest, you want something reliably waterproof that will not let you down. Don't just go out and buy the most lightweight tarp you can find before checking its other properties too.
If you're planning on going hammock camping, don't forget that tarps make great hammock shelters. Just don't forget to add the weight of the two together. If they weigh more than a tent put together, is it really worth it? Remember that you'll be carrying it on your back (and even lightweight items start to feel heavy during a long trip) so be realistic about what you can carry.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAMPING TARPS
There are lots of different types of camping tarps to choose from. Some come with inner nets, are free-standing and function almost like a double-wall tent. You can also remove the net to reduce weight. Pyramid camping tarps have inner nets and no floor, so they're preconstructed in the shape of a diamond that you can set up quickly and easily.
And then you have the traditional flat tarp, which can be arranged over your camp, and are best attached to trees. Choose your trees carefully and be nice to them. As ever, Leave no Trace...drink.
TENTS VS TARPS?
Despite the comfort, warmth and protection they offer, tents can be one of your heaviest pieces of kit. Camping tarps can offer similar benefits at a fraction of the weight. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that you will sacrifice a little comfort and protection, and so tarps alone may not be the best option for newbie campers or more extreme expeds.
WHAT ARE CAMPING TARPS MADE OF?
When deciding on a tarp, you're going to need to look for durable fabrics that can stand up to strong winds and sudden downpours. Waterproof fabric is a non-negotiable no-brainer (because nothing ruins a camping trip quite like soggy sleeping bags and an extinguished fire). Look out for reinforced materials like tough nylon and TPU. Just be sure to look at the eco details though as some are full of nasties.
HOW MUCH SHOULD A TARP WEIGH?
It's tempting to go for the most lightweight option available, but it's important to note that, in general, the lightest camping tarp may not be the hardiest. It's a balancing act.
For bushcraft and survival, we'd recommend a more heavy duty camping tarp as you're usually based on a single spot as opposed to on the move all day everyday. Lightweight tarps are excellent for backpackers and those on the move, wanting to set up camp somewhere new every night and have some general weather protection.
CAMPING TARP COLOURS
The best camping tarps will be able to blend into your surrounding. The colour of your tarp may not seem like an important buying credential but camo colours are definitely best best for wild camping where you're trying to stay out of the way of wildlife an onlookers.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
Tough, versatile and protective, a camping tarp is an essential part of any serious camper's kit. We hope this handy guide has helped you figure out the right camping tarp for your next trip (you'll be thanking us when the heavens open). Our best bet is the Sea to Summit Escapist tarp, which combines clever features with ease of use, whilst staying lightweight and easy to carry.
BEST CAMPING TARP UK: FAQS
1. What is the difference between a flat and a shaped tarp?
Flat tarps are square and flat, designed to stretch over your camp or tent. They're versatile and leave the sides open. Shaped tarps can be placed over you or your tent, offering 360 protection.
2. Where should I set up my tarp?
When setting up your tarp, it's important to consider water drainage and wind breaks. If you're using a camping tarp rather than a tent, you usually won't have a floor, so make sure water flows away from your campsite to avoid waking up wet. You'll also want to look for somewhere relatively sheltered to protect you from the elements.
3. What can I use a tarp for?
Camping tarps are multi-tasking heroes and have limitless applications (we might be exaggerating a bit, but they're pretty damn useful). Use yours as a groundsheet for your camp, suspend it between trees as a shelter, A-frame over your tent or hammock… the choice is yours.
Whilst a camping tarp will keep you dry, you'll need a decent sleeping bag to keep you warm.