The 5 Best Backpacking Tarps Reviews & 10 Tarp Camping Tips

by Ally Mash | Last Updated:   October 18th, 2021
The 5 Best Backpacking Tarps Reviews & 10 Tarp Camping Tips


A backpacking tarp is a multipurpose camping gear that every backpacker should have. As a backpacker, a tarp can become your shelter on a hot day and save you from the glare of the sun. Also, it can provide you with a safe space to prepare your meals during a downpour.

However, a backpacking tarp is arguably the heaviest camping gear you will be carrying on your camping trip. So, you have to do your best to ensure that you have an ultralight tarp. This will make your journey through the wild much more convenient.

As your guide on Adventures Pursuit, I’ll be taking you through a review of the best backpacking tarps that money can buy. I will also be providing you with a buying guide later in the article so you won’t have to do any extra research.

So, let’s get started.

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Reviewing The 5 Best Tarps For Backpacking

Sanctuary SilTarp

What separates this backpacking tarp from others on the market is that it offers all you need to pitch your shelter in an instant. It comes with six Y-stakes, a 60 feet long Dyneema guy line, and six micro line-loc adjusters to secure your shelter.

The tarp is manufactured using a 30 Denier ripstop nylon material. This high-quality material has completely taped seams and a double coating of silicone and polyurethane. So, you can rely on it for excellent weather protection.

Another usual thing about the Sanctuary SilTarp is that you can select between different cuts and sizes. The shapes available consist of a 10 by 7.5 ft tapered cut, two flat cut sizes, and two curved-edge hexagonal cuts.

The largest size available is 12 by 10 ft. You can get an idea of the number of attachment points available by taking a look at the cuts. The flat cut has 16 attachment points, the tapered cut has 12, and the hex cut has 6. So, whether you need simple weather protection or shelter for your hammock, you will be able to select the right tarp.

Pros
  • It is perfect for multiple scenarios
  • It is lightweight
  • It is waterproof
  • It has all you need to set up a quick shelter
Cons
  • The tie-outs aren’t of the best quality

Eagles Nest Outfitters Housefly

The ENO Housefly tarp is something that you shouldn’t overlook if you are a fan of hammock camping. As its name suggests, it features two wing-like doors that overlap to provide a full enclosure. This design will ensure that you remain warm and dry away from the wind and rain.

Aside from being ideal for hammock camping, the enclosure design of the ENO Housefly makes it almost as good as a tent. Its dimensions of 128 × 108 inches also mean that it has enough room for two hikers and their gear.

Additionally, the nylon material used in manufacturing the tent is coated with silicone for increased durability and weather protection. So, you will never have to bother about the elements of the weather.

On the downside, the tarp weighs more than the Sanctuary SilTarp. But if you like the additional cover that it provides, then the little extra weight shouldn’t be so much trouble.

Pros
  • It is the ideal tarp for hammocks
  • It offers excellent protection from the sun, rain, and wind
  • It offers a lot of space
  • It is versatile
Cons
  • It is not the lightest tarp

MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing

If you’ve seen the “Into the Wild” movie and decided to give thru-hiking a trial, this tarp can be your perfect companion. You can take it on a journey to the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails. It is also a good ultralight tarp to have on your weekend backpacking trips.

One of the best things about this camping gear is that it is manufactured using 20 Denier rip-stop nylon. It also has ten reinforced points and a waterproof coating of 1,200 silicone and polyurethane. Together, these features give the tarp an incredible ability to withstand wind and rain.

Additionally, you will have the option of configuring the tarp in multiple ways. To create a highly reliable shelter for your camping trip, you can use a combination of the MSR tarp and the MSR Mesh House.

Finally, the tarp weighs just 1.15 pounds. This is very impressive even for a tarp that is meant for thru-hiking. So, it won’t weigh you down even if you carry it for hundreds of miles. I would like to note that its lightweight doesn’t make it less durable in any way.

Pros
  • It is an ultralight tarp
  • It is built with high-quality materials
  • It is highly durable and waterproof
Cons
  • The line tensioners can’t survive strong winds

Eagles Nest Outfitters ProFly Rain Tarp

The ENO ProFly is a durable and waterproof tarp that will be an excellent investment for any backpacker. It is the second tarp on this list that is produced by ENO which is a highly reputable company.

With this fantastic backpacking shelter, you will never have to worry about bad weather conditions. This is because the tarp has excellent water shedding properties thanks to the polyurethane-coated 210D rip-stop nylon it is built of.

Additionally, the ENO ProFly has six contact points to ensure that you are well protected in stormy or windy weather. It was designed with hammock sleepers in mind and it can also serve as a groundsheet due to its resistance to damage.

Despite its durability, the ENO ProFly is lightweight and can be folded to a very compact size. This makes it a suitable option for backpackers and hikers. Finally, the tarp is super easy to set up. Even a beginner will be able to pitch it without fuss.

Pros
  • It is easy to pitch
  • It is highly durable
  • It is versatile
  • It packs down small
Cons
  • It is not the lightest tarp

Kelty Noah’s Rain Tarp Sun Shelter

If you are in search of a backpacking tarp that is minimalistic, lightweight, and fast, Kelty Noah’s tarp is something you should look at. It is a simple backpacking shelter that has all the right features.

The tarp is spacious enough to shelter between 4 to 8 hikers. But despite its large coverage, it is lightweight and can be moved around easily in its carry bag. You can rely on this tarp to provide you with a safe shade on both sunny and rainy days.

It is made of a 68D polyester material with a waterproof rating of 800 mm. It also comes with fully taped seams for increased weather protection. Since the tarp is super easy to pitch, you don’t need to be an experienced camper to use it.

The tarp also features a 4-point shape and several guy-out points to give you several options for its configuration. With the standard configuration, the tarp offers excellent protection from the sun and rain. Meanwhile, the standard configuration is highly suitable for hammock camping.

Pros
  • It is waterproof
  • It is versatile
  • It is spacious yet lightweight
  • It has a carry bag
  • It comes at an affordable price
Cons
  • It has a poor waterproof rating
  • The ground stakes aren’t durable

Our Top Choice


We have now gone through the 5 top-rated backpacking tarps on the market. But which of them is the best backpacking tarp? Well, the only right answer is the Sanctuary Sil Tarp.

I have chosen it as the best ultralight tarp because it is a complete package. Regardless of the size or shape you purchase, you will receive a complete kit that includes a tarp, guy lines, stakes, adjusters, and a carry bag. As a result, you won’t have to buy any extras.

Another impressive thing about the Sanctuary SilTarp is that it has several attachment points. This isn’t a common feature of camping tarps and the benefit is that you have a variety of configurations to choose from in the wild.

Furthermore, the Sanctuary SilTarp is a great backpacking tarp because it is lightweight. It will also be an excellent choice for hikers in need of temporary shelters.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Backpacking Tarp

If you want to have the best experience in the great outdoors, you shouldn’t just proceed to buy a high-quality tarp. Why?

You may not know it, but a good quality tarp may be unsuitable for your camping needs. This can make your camping trip very inconvenient.

If you wish to avoid getting into such a situation, there are certain questions that you need to ask yourself. These include questions such as:

  • In what environment will I be using my ultralight tarp?
  • How will I be using my tarp? Is it going to be my main shelter, a backup, or a casual awning?
  • Will I be hiking alone or will I be camping with my loved ones?
  • Will I be using my tarp at high altitudes where weather patterns are irregular?

After asking yourself these questions, you may check out the factors explained below. This will give you a clear idea of what tarp will be perfect for you.

Usage

One of the most essential factors that you should be considering when buying a tarp is how you will be using it. Are you going to be using it during sunny days? Or is it going be serving as your emergency shelter during rainstorms? Knowing the difference between these options is vital.

Another question that you need to ask yourself is if the tarp is going to be your main shelter. A tarp is a multipurpose camping gear and knowing what you will be using it for will help you find the right one for you.

Once you get a clear idea of how you will be using your tarp, you may then check the specifications of each product that you are interested in. For instance, a tarp with a waterproof coating will be the right choice if you need protection from the rain. Also, a tarp that’s going to serve as your main shelter should have multiple mounting options.

Seasons

The majority of tarps that are available today are suitable for both spring and summer. However, if you will be backpacking through the months that leaves change their colors, you should purchase a 3-season tarp. Such a tarp will help you stay dry during the storms.

Weight

One of the best things about backpacking tarps is that they allow you do away with the weight associated with regular tents. Though opting for an ultralight tent is always a good idea, it isn’t compulsory for backpacking.

However, you should note that people who go camping with tarps often have to combine them with either a hammock or bivy sack. This adds at least one pound to the weight of their camping gear with their sleeping bags included.

Size

Size is another factor that you need to consider when buying a tarp. There are days when it will rain irregularly. If your tarp isn’t of the right size on such days, it won’t be able to offer you enough coverage. So, you need to opt for a tarp that offers enough room for the number of people that will be using it.

For example, a two-person tent will be the right choice if you will be camping with one person. A two-person tent should offer up to 60 square feet of space. This will give you some extra room to keep your gear and cook. You may also need some space to erect a wall that will shield you from the wind, especially if it’s blowing rain towards you.

Material

Your camping tarp should be made of waterproof material to ensure that you stay dry during the rain. This will also help you keep your camping supplies dry.

In addition to being waterproof, the best backpacking tarp for you should be durable. Durable tarps tend to last longer because they do not get damaged easily. However, you should note that the more durable a tent is, the heavier it will be.

Though different materials are used in the production of camping tarps today, the most popular options are nylon and polyester. Other materials are:

Ripstop Nylon

A good number of the tarps that I reviewed are made of this fabric. Ripstop nylon tarps are usually very durable due to the crosshatch pattern used in producing them. Since nylon is already waterproof, ripstop nylon tarps are known to be highly reliable.

Silpoly

Silpoly is a lightweight and water-resistant material that is made of a combination of polyester and silicone. Silpoly tarps are known to be affordable, durable, and portable.

Cuben Fiber

This material is also known as Dyneema Composite Fabric and it is used in the production of the lightest tarps available. As a result, cuben fiber tents are a favorite of ultralight backpackers. They also have very strong seams so they require seam sealing. However, they are more expensive than other materials.

Silnylon

Silnylon is made with a combination of polyester and silicone. It is durable and waterproof but heavier than the materials that I mentioned earlier.

Shape

Tarps come in different shapes with each of them having its unique advantages. These are the most popular options:

Flat Tarps

A flat tarp may either have a square or rectangular shape. When you purchase a flat tarp, you get versatile camping gear that can be set up in various ways. Also, flat tarps are known to offer better weather protection thanks to their large footprints. They are quite affordable and easy to pitch too. On the downside, flat tarps tend to be heavier than shaped tarps.

Shaped Tarps

A shaped tarp may either be hexagonal, diagonal, or curved at the edges. Less fabric is used in their production due to their shaped edges and this makes them lighter than flat tarps. Their lightweight makes them a popular choice for backpackers. However, they are not known to be versatile. Shaped tarps are super easy to pitch.

Affordability

Now, this may be a bit surprising. However, ultralight tarps tend to be the most expensive tarps on the market. They are designed for thru-hikers who don’t want to bother about wet supplies. If you aren’t an ultralight hiker or backpacker, then you should consider opting for something heavier and less costly.

Color

Though this isn’t one of the most essential features of a camping tarp, it can make some difference. Brighter colors are known to limit UV degradation because they reflect sunlight, but on the other hand, absorb most of the light.

Features Of Backpacking Tarps

Backpacking tarp on top of a hammock

In this section, I’ll be explaining the major features of tarps that you should know about. They are

Reinforced Anchor Points

These are the areas that you will have to attach your strings to when you want to create a taut pitch. Their positions are specifically chosen to allow you popular tarp configurations. Most of the tarps that are available today have between 6 to 14 anchor points.

The anchor points of your tarp are the round metal holes that are spread evenly along its edges. When reinforced, anchor points have double layers of fabric to offer more durability. Hence, you will be able to tighten the strings without worrying about damaging your tarp.

Taped Seams

Taped seams are another way by which tarps are waterproofed. When a tarp is said to have taped seams, it means that the seams have been secured with waterproof material. This is done to prevent any form of moisture from getting into your tarp.

Guy Lines

A guy line is a cord, string, or rope that is usually used to attach tarps to the ground. Your guy line is what you will pass through your anchor points to get your taut pitch.

Some tarps like the Sanctuary SilTarp have premeasured guy lines. This will make life much easier for you and save you time as you will have the exact amount of rope you need.

Additionally, a lot of guy lines are made to be reflective. The benefit of this is that it will help you identify your tent at night and also avoid trip accidents.

You may watch this video to learn how to use a guy line correctly:

Line-Lock Tensioners

The function of line-lock tensioners is to help you tighten your guy lines without fuss. After setting up your tarp, you can proceed to tighten the line-lock tensioners on the guy lines.

To do this, grab the cord that you have staked into the ground and at the same time, draw the loose cord that has been attached to the guy line with a line lock.

The line locks will do the hard work whenever you are trying to create a taut pitch. Tightening a line lock is like buckling on a small life jacket. However, you may find it a little difficult to understand how they work in the beginning.

Check out this helpful video to learn how to use line-lock tensioners:

How To Pitch A Tarp

After purchasing a suitable tarp, the next step will be to learn how to pitch it. You may be tempted to go for the popular A-Frame every time due to the ease of setting up. However, it isn’t suitable for all situations. Hence, the best thing is to learn as many configurations as possible.

I’ll be taking you through the details of ten popular tarp configurations below:

The Stealth

As the name of this tarp configuration suggests, it is a low-key setup that is meant for stealth camping. It is not the easiest tarp to pitch because it has several requirements. However, the stealth tarp handles the elements of the weather excellently due to the presence of the groundsheet. Another thing about this setup is that it offers limited space.

The Tipi

The Tipi tarp is a blend of the stealth and A-Frame configurations. It offers more legroom than the stealth configuration and the setup provides adequate airflow so you won’t have to worry about condensation. The downside of this openness is that the tarp offers limited weather protection. A tipi tarp is easy to pitch. To set it up, you will have to tie a tie-out point to a ridgeline and some stakes to secure the tarp.

The A-Frame

The A-frame is very popular amongst campers thanks to the ease and speed at which it can be set up. All that you will have to do is to erect a ridgeline at the center and stakes on the sides. This will create the A shape. The advantage of using the A-frame is that it provides enough room for two campers or more. Also, the presence of the steep-pitched sides offers adequate protection from the elements of the weather.

The Lean-To

To put it simply, the lean-to tarp use half the design of the A-frame. Rather than requiring you to put stakes on the two sides of the tarp, you will only have to put stakes on a single side. The second side is then folded over the ridgeline and secured with guy lines. Additionally, the process of setting up the lean-to tarp is simple but the structure is very open. It has enough space for several campers and you can even cook under it. You should only use this configuration in favorable weather conditions due to its openness.

The Tarp Tent

If you need a tarp shelter but can’t create a ridgeline, you don’t have to worry. The tarp tent doesn’t require a ridgeline as it is supported by a center pole instead. You can also rely on this setup to protect you in harsh weather conditions. However, it offers limited interior space. Another issue with the tarp tent is that it is difficult to set up. So, you will need some time to learn.

The Headspace

Also known as plough point, the headspace tarp offers abundant room for a small group. You may also start a small fire or prepare a meal under it. It is very easy to set up too. First, you will need a tree that you will use as an attachment point. After that, you will need some guy lines or stakes for holding the corners in place. Though this configuration. doesn’t offer proper weather protection, you will always be able to adjust the tarp’s direction thanks to its fast setup.

The Bunker

Another name for this configuration is the half cone fly. It is a low shelter that features three sides. The entrance of the structure is pitched off the ground with either a pole or tree-to-tree ridgeline while a stake is used to hold the back of the tarp in place. Also, the sides of the structure have to be stretched out with the aid of guy lines with multiple stakes securing it to the ground. It offers excellent weather protection but limited space. The difficulty of setting it up is average.

The Diamond

This tarp configuration is a favorite of hammock sleepers. You have the option of either setting up a diamond tarp or folding a rectangular tarp into a square. To suspend the tarp over your hammock, you will need a ridgeline and two guy lines on both sides of the tarp. It is quite easy to pitch and it offers adequate weather protection.

The C-Fly Wedge

Just as the name of this configuration implies, it appears like the letter “C” when pitched. It is similar to the simple lean-to tarp but has an additional fold that serves as a groundsheet. Setting it up is a bit easy, however, it requires several tools. The needed supplies consist of a tree-to-tree ridgeline, two guy lines, and about six stakes. The c-fly wedge will only shield you from the elements of the weather on one side.

The Mini-Mid

Pyramid shelters have become very popular and there is a wide variety of them available for you to choose from. The number one reason for their popularity is that they are extremely weather-resistant and this is due to their design. They are perfect for exposed environments that are without vegetation.

Mini-mids are small pyramid structures that can be as high as five feet. You will need to erect a trekking pole at the center of the structure to create headroom space and strong walls that touch the ground. The structure will need a good amount of space but this is only a little price for the protection that you will be getting. A pyramid shelter offers abundant interior space. However, the single-door construction present in the majority of pyramid shelters makes them slightly unsuitable for more than one person.

10 Tips for Tarp Camping

There are some things that you need to know before going on a tarp camping trip. Hence, I’ve made the important tips for tarp camping available below:

  1. You should practice some tarp configurations before stepping into the great outdoors. This will be very beneficial when the weather changes suddenly and you need to set up your tent in a short time.
  2. Your first option should always be to set up your tarp on flat ground.
  3. Setting up your tarp in dips is wrong. Though it appears like a natural shelter, this type of ground is bound to become flooded when it rains.
  4. You should consider the direction of the wind before setting up your tarp. The importance of this is to avoid having your shelter facing the wind directly.
  5. Carrying trekking poles will prove to be beneficial on your camping trips. You can use a trekking pole to support your tarp in environments that have no trees.
  6. If you are a beginner, you should try tarp camping in favorable weather conditions before trying it in inclement weather. That way, you can get some valuable experience.
  7. A footprint will help you keep your shelter nice and dry.
  8. A bivvy sack will be a great addition to your camping gear. It will give you added protection from the wind and keep you warm. It will also keep the bugs away to an extent. Additionally, it will be beneficial to give your sleeping bag cover from the morning dew and rainwater splashback.
  9. If you want to make your shelter more secure, you should peg two or more sides into the ground. This will help you feel more protected and also serve as a shield against the wind.
  10. Your cord should always be longer than the length you need. This will offer you more flexibility while setting up your tent.

The Benefits of Tarp Camping

There are several benefits of using a tarp for backpacking. Below are some of the most important ones:

  • Weather Protection: Tarps are the number one choice for several campers around the world for protection from the elements of the weather. You can rely on a tarp to provide you with cover from the sun, rain, and wind.
  • Space: Unlike tents, tarps offer campers lots of space. You can set a tarp as high or as low as you desire. Also, you won’t be closed in by walls when you sleep in a tarp.
  • Accessibility: Tents are very accessible. You will be able to move in and out of the tarp with ease since there are no zips or doors. This could be very beneficial when you need to pee at night.
  • Great Views: Since tarps have no walls, you will be able to watch all the beauty of nature under one.
  • Ventilation: Sleeping under a tarp is very pleasant thanks to the abundant ventilation. The air is always fresh unlike in confined tent spaces.
  • Portability: Tarps are lighter and smaller than tents. So, they are much easier to carry around.
  • Affordability: A tarp is a perfect option for you if you are on a budget. Tarps cost much lesser than tents.
  • Ease of Use: Tarps are super easy to set up. This make a tarp the best shelter to have when the weather changes suddenly
  • Versatility: There are several ways by which you can use a tarp during your camping trip. It can be used as your main shelter, hammock tarp, footprint, an extra roof over your tent, a sunshade, a cover for the cooking area, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are tarps and tents the same?

A tarp is a sheet of protective material that offers weather protection while a tent is a complete shelter that has walls, a floor, and a roof. Also, tarps are made with waterproof materials while tents aren’t. So, anyone camping in a tent will need a rainfly when it rains. Finally, tarps are usually much lighter than tents due to the fewer materials used in their production.

Can I put a tarp under a tent?

Yes, you can place a tarp under your tent to add an extra layer of protection. This prevents water from getting into your tent from the ground and also ensures that no damage is done to your tent floor.

What are the advantages of tarp camping?

The major advantages of using a tarp are that you will find it easy to set up and it will only add a little weight to your gear. Tarps are specially designed for backpackers so that they can move around with ease. Additionally, tarps at suitable for hammock camping.

How can I ensure that my camping tarp stays dry?

If your tarp is to remain dry even when it rains, it has to be waterproof and come with hot sealed seams. That way, rain, and moisture will be unable to penetrate its surface.

Are camping tarps worth the investment?

When the lightweight and compactness consider of a tarp are considered, it is easy to see why they are the favorite of backpackers. You will also have peace of mind when you know that you have all the protection you need from the elements of the weather.

Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.