11 Reasons You May Want to Switch to Tarp Camping

1) You get claustrophobic in a tent

Cooped up in a nylon wrapper can be disorienting and uncomfortable. Tarps can be pitched with ceilings high enough to stand under and open on all sides. For drastically less weight, they can be outright tremendous, big enough to sleep a dozen hikers, or just to give yourself a comfortable vantage of the torrential rain outside. And with a simple lean-to tarp setup, you’re open to quickly and easily pinpoint exactly what that rustling is in the distance.

My camp setup

My camp setup on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont

2) You love star gazing

We go to the woods to be in nature. To zip ourselves up in a tent denies us the ability to observe one of the most beautiful reasons to escape civilization: an uninhibited view of our corner of the wonderful Milky Way galaxy. On clear nights, sleep half-under and half-out, and wake up with incredible views of the starlit sky above.

North Woodstock, NH Photo credit: Garret Ward https://www.flickr.com/photos/garretwardphotography/

North Woodstock, NH Photo credit: Garret Ward

3) You’re tired of late night bathroom runs

In a tarp, a simple roll to the side allows for easy access to the world’s urinal. Just slip down the quilt or sleeping bag and let it flow. Just make sure to remember to avoid that spot when packing up in the morning.

4) You’re sick of waking up with a damp sleeping bag

Even double walled tents trap a large portion of the moisture from our breath and perspiration, making tents a muggy, damp climate compared to the comfortable air outside.

5) You want to drop some pack weight

The heaviest tarps weigh in at half the weight of the lightest tents and the lightest cuben fiber tarps can weigh in at little over two ounces. That’s only slightly heavier than a Snicker’s Bar. Think of all the extra food you could bring with that weight savings. Check out my gear list to see how crazy light tarp camping can be.

6) It can double as a poncho

Many companies, including Sea to Summit, make a silnylon poncho-tarp which can replace your rain jacket, rain pants, and your pack cover. And the best part is, it’s infinitely breathable rain gear because it’s drafty, unlike normal form-fitting rain gear.

7) You’re on a budget

Camping doesn’t need to be super expensive and a simple flat tarp is a perfect demonstration of that. A single person tarp can be fashioned out of materials from a local hardware store for less than $10 and a single-person silnylon tarp can be found for around $70.

8) You’re minimalist by nature

Nothing says “one with the woods” like sleeping under a tarp. If you’ve always admired the Survivorman approach but aren’t too keen on the whole risk-of-dying part, take the middle ground and use a tarp.

9) You like versatility in your gear

Tents need a fixed area to squeeze into. With guylines stretched out on all sides, finding a site large enough can end up being a somewhat daunting proposition. For tarps rather, you can adjust the setup to fit the site. If the site is still too small for a lean-to pitched tarp, use the smaller area A-frame setup. In wooded sites, you can depend on tying guylines to trees to set up shelter. If you use trekking poles, you can pitch a tarp nearly anywhere, and if you don’t use poles you can carry a carbon fiber pole specifically for the tarp or even simply depend on found materials like sticks and trees.

10) They’re not as uncomfortable as you may think

On buggy nights a simple 4 ounce no see um netting can prevent any uncomfortable drawbacks of open air camping. Personally, I just use a headnet and wrap up tight in my quilt to protect the rest of my body. On cold nights, a tight A-frame pitch can shield you from the wind while letting out enough of the damp air to keep your quilt or bag well lofted. And in even the heaviest of downpours, a large tarp can keep you completely dry.

11) You’re looking to learn something new

Learning about tarp camping can be an exciting adventure in itself. Without a bathtub floor or netting, it commands that you better understand campsite selection. You can learn dozens of different setups for varying conditions and if you really get creative, you can order some silnylon or cuben fiber and have a go at making your own tarp.

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Comments 11

  • Sherri Marshall : Aug 8th

    This is a fantastic article, my husband and I will be travelling across Australia this summer, and I was dreading taking a tent. This has given me ideas on how to lose a pile of excess baggage. Thanks! And good luck with your studies!

    • Grayson Cobb : Aug 8th

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

    • Grayson Cobb : Aug 8th

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Ashley UpChurch-Kreykes : Aug 14th

    Love this! My husband and I hiked Katahdin to TN last year, and around mile 20 he convinced me to ditch my hammock and join him in the tarp. It was the best decision I made on the trail! I agree with all your sentiments!

    • Grayson Cobb : Aug 27th

      I’m glad you liked it! Tarps are great. So much lighter than the hammock 🙂

  • Lauren : Dec 11th

    Really good and helpful info, thanks! Keep reading on the benefits of tarps. My only concern is the draftiness of it? We’ve spent a couple summers working and hiking in Yellowstone, and we’ve been slowly chipping away at our pack weight. Think we may be converting in the future! Lol

  • Nikki : Feb 1st

    Great article! I think this tarp camping idea is definitely something I could get behind. I was nervous about the threat of bugs and sideways rain as I started the article, but you clarified solutions by the end. Good idea with the bug net only for your head. Did you ever have any problems with spiders or other critters joining you? I read a book about a guy who hiked the AT and he mentioned one night a skunk cozied up between his legs and they slept there together (he in fear, mostly).
    Very cool ideas here, Grayson!

  • Melanie Campbell : Dec 3rd

    Love this! I will try it when the weather is good for tarp camping.
    Thanks for sharing!


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