What kind of tarp to choose?

Tarp, hiking tarp, travel tarpaulin, bivouac sheet or basha – these are all names under which lies the apparent simplicity of an ordinary piece of waterproof material equipped with multiple attachment points with which to build a shelter.

It’s just that and yet so much more. At first glance, a tarp seems to be an extremely simple and multifunctional solution at the same time.

What kind of tarp to choose?

Certainly a suitably lightweight, packable and strong at the same time. A tarp provides protection from precipitation (rain, snow), sun (UV radiation), wind. In most cases, the tarp is ment to blend in with its surroundings. Most often, therefore, camping tarps come in green, olive or even camouflage colors. This type of functionality is provided by virtually all companies that offer tarps. Some tarps additionally act as an emergency blanket, or so-called NRC film. An emergency blanket is a tarp covered with a metalized layer that wicks away heat in order to improve thermal comfort and attract the attention of emergency services. In order to simultaneously fulfill two seemingly contradictory conditions – camouflage and attracting attention, such tarps (e.g., THERMO-Tarps) are covered with a silvery heat-wicking layer on one side, and are painted green or with a camouflage pattern on the other. The silver layer has an additional advantage – in the evening the light of a flashlight reflects off the tarp walls. This makes it brighter. So a seemingly simple camping tarp can sometimes be quite a sophisticated structure made of top-quality materials


HD – Heavy Duty Tarps

Heavy duty tarps (aka sails)  designed for stationary all-season use on patios, terraces in beer gardens, etc. As a rule, in the shape of a triangle, less often rectangular. Made, as a rule, of rubberized canvas or cotton with a weight of a few to several kilograms. Due to their purpose, they are heavy and not very packable. In return, they are the most resistant to weather conditions. If you plan to spend your vacation in one place – this may be the solution for you.


Construction tarp

plandeka budowlana jako tarp. Jaki tarp wybrać? byshmen blog

Temporary tarps for technical applications. In the absolute majority of cases quadrangle shaped, relatively light and not very durable. Their advantage is the low price. As a form of test of sleeping under the tarp it may be some kind of solution. By the fact that they are not dedicated for this type of activity, it may be more difficult for you to properly unfold such a tarp in the field due to the small number of mounting points. Especially if this is your first bushcraft experience.





Camping tarps

There’s a huge selection in camping tarps. They come in a variety of characteristics and, above all, multiple shapes. Designed for various types of travel. Particularly noteworthy are:


Ultralight tarps are tarps designed primarily for hiking and biking enthusiasts. That kind of tarpaulins are the absolute opposite of Heavy Duty tarps. Here the most important parameters are weight and packability. Depending on the size and shape, the weights vary between 200g (2×3 tarps) and 700g (4x3m). Such tarps are, of course, strong enough to withstand inclement weather, but they require proper spacing and more delicate handling. They are intended more for those people with previous outdoor experience.




Which tarp to choose?

It depends on what it is to be used for. Here are the most common sizes and shapes that will help you make the best choice.


Tarp 3×3

This square tarp has a reputation for being the most versatile and it is certainly owned by most bushcraft enthusiasts. The weight, depending on the type of material, varies from ~0.4kg to ~1kg. It is suitable for building all kinds of shelters. You can both set it up on the ground as a two or even three-person shelter, and as a canopy for a hammock. For more on tarp setting up configurations, see Tarpology. If you are just getting started with your tarp adventure, the best way to go would be the universal 3×3 size as a certainly safe and appropriate choice.

Tarp 1,4 – 1,7m x 2-3m

A range of the smallest tarp with primarily rectangular or trapezoid shapes. The weight ranges in a wide range of ~0.2kg to ~0.6kg.
In this group of tarps you will also find various types of ponchos and paddles, whose additional functionality is a camping sheet. Such tarpaulins serve as an emergency shelter to spread on the ground or as a substitute for a bivi bag to wait out bad weather. Due to their very small practical size, they are not suitable as a canopy for a hammock. Instead, they can be used as a hammock cover, from the bottom to protect against wind and splashing. In this case, it is worth getting tarp expanders, which will serve to attach such a mini tarp (or poncho) under the hammock. Thanks to the expanders, such a cover will gently adhere to the hammock, and at the same time the tarp will be protected from overloading and possible tearing. If you need additional cover – this should be your choice.

Tarp 2×3 – 2×3,5

A lightweight one-person tarp (it is 30% lighter than an equivalent 3×3 tarp),

It is suitable for sleeping on the ground, as well as protecting a hammock. The weight is depending on type of material and varies from ~0.3kg to ~0.6kg. Like the smallest tarps, they are rectangular or trapezoidal in shape. When set up on the ground in the most common type A arrangement, it provides comfort for one person + luggage + a dog, for example. As a hammock protection – it does its job well. Using it as a canopy, it is worthwhile to hang it diagonally – A 2×3 Tarp gives a canopy of 3.6m. This length shields the hammock from the rain, along with the system for hanging it. When you hang it around the hammock in an “emergency bed” configuration, it will protect the person lying in the hammock from the wind and rain from both below and above. Remember to use expanders in this case – this will protect your tarp from overloading and make the cover from below do its job. If the tarp has a thermal insulation layer it will perform its function even better. If the weight is a priority for you – this is a group of tarps designed for your needs.

Tarp 3×4 – 3,5×4

Tarp ultralight as a hammock tent

These are tarp sizes that provide real comfort sleeping in a hammock during bushcraft trips.

Becuase of the weight range from ~0.7kg to ~1.4kg they are preferred rather by people traveling with some kind of vehicle like a bike, motorcycle, canoe or kayak. Here we have a variety of shapes from the most multifunctional rectangles to hexagons, which provide a slightly lower weight, but are only suitable for one layout (type A). These relatively large tarps, protect the hammock along with the hanging system. In the case of rectangular tarps, they can be used to create a kind of tent around the hammock, providing the user with a measure of intimacy, which is sometimes very convenient (for example, when camping at a campsite). Rectangular tarps used as shelters on the ground provide really a lot of space, hence they are rather designed for multi-person sleeping. If you value comfort and convenience during an encounter with adventure – these are the tarps for you. Due to their relatively large surface area, it is worthwhile to protect them especially well against wind entrainment.


Tarps 4×4 and larger

A group of tarps designed due to their weight (more than 1.5kg) and size after packing rather for those travellers moving in vehicles such as OFFROAD. The huge tarps serve primarily as a camping canopy of the space for daytime activities. If the tarp has a thermal insulation layer, the temperature during a hot day can be lowered up tu to 5C. Such large tarps work well as a canopy for two hammocks. For the full comfort of the sleepers, the distance between the hammocks should be not less than 1m (so that the hammocks do not bump against each other) hence, for example, the THERMO-Tarp 4×4 has two longitudinal straps so that each user has the top of the canopy above him, which can significantly increase the comfort of camping. The large surface area requires the tarps to be protected especially well against wind entrainment.

If you are traveling with your family or in a group – this is the choice for you.

Back to list