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How To Set Up The Perfect Tarp

In this article I’ll be teaching you how to set up the perfect tarp – a task that can sometime’s be tricky. That’s because the tarp’s a versatile piece of equipment, and can be set-up a number of different ways to suit a wide range of settings and conditions.

You can use them to make a tent to keep out the wind, or secure them high overhead in order to make a canopy to have a fire under in the summer. How, where and when you put up your tarp is completely up to you – and that’s the beauty of them.

With summer and the warm weather upon us, now’s the perfect time to spend a night under a tarp – especially if it’s something you’ve never done before. However, that said, there can be a bit of a learning curve involved which is why summer’s the ideal time for first-time tarp users to try it.

In this blog I’m going to take you through my Top 5 tarp configurations, teach you how to set up a tarp, and reveal a few of my expert tarp tips and tricks. So let’s get cracking: There are three main systems for setting up your tarp – ridgeline, fixed point ties and free standing. Which of these you use will depend on your environment and the elements you’re up against.

For instance, If you’re out on the hills where there aren’t any trees you will need to know how to set up your tarp on the ground in a free standing set-up, using trekking poles or dedicated tarp poles to provide height. The use of a ridgeline is a personal preference of mine and essential for larger tarps, while small lightweight tarps can be setup with fixed lines on either end, thus reducing weight in your pack. Let’s take a look at some of the different options you have when it comes to setting up your tarp…

How to set up a tarp in different configurations:

  • The A-Frame

A tarp set up in the A-Frame configuration is ideal for use with a hammock or when sleeping on the ground. It’s an arrangement that works well in most conditions, is simple to set up and gives you plenty of cover from the elements. It also provides you with more than enough room for a sleeping area and work space. A 3m x 3m tarp will be enough for most people although larger tarps will be required for a group shelter.

You can set up a tarp in an A-Frame at any height, and with the sides touching the ground on cold nights. It can also be set up so you can stand underneath it and have it as a kitchen or work area. However, remember to pay attention to wind direction when setting out your tarp in an A-Frame and place a closed side facing the wind otherwise it will funnel through your tarp at night.

  • The Diamond Configuration

A tarp in a diamond configuration provides a longer, central cover which is ideal for use with a hammock. It’s a versatile configuration, giving good usable space, but less side cover than the A-frame set up.

A diamond set up can be arranged with two sides on the floor to provide you with shelter from the elements. However, problems can arise if the centre of the tarp droops. In windy conditions your tarp can flap causing you a sleepless night, or pools of water can form in saggy areas; so use of a ridgeline is best for larger tarps as it allows the middle to be secured to the line.

  • The Lean-to

A one sided tarp set up, or Lean to, can be great for summer use or if you’re using an open fire for warmth. It provides a good sleeping area but one draw-back is there’s not much work space.

Another problem with this arrangement is it can prove problematic in strong winds, as it will act like a sale and bow out considerably due to the large surface area.

  • Ground tent

Now these are great options for when you’re out on the hills. They provide you with the maximum possible cover, and can be set up to be free standing with walking poles or sticks to support the tarp. What this means is lightweight camping anywhere that takes your fancy.

You’ll require extra tent pegs for a ground tent set-up too, so make sure you pack more than you normally carry. These are the most complex of configurations and there are a couple of different ways to go about it, but they’re worth practicing. For now though, let’s stick to the basics…

How to set up your tarp – The Basics:

When using one of the more basic configurations from the examples above (the A-Frame, Lean-to or Diamond Configuration), the first thing you need to do when setting up a tarp is identify a potential site. Ideally, look for somewhere with flat ground between two trees, with enough space in between them to secure your tarp.

Once you’ve identified a potential site carry out a few quick checks to make sure it’s safe. Check the trees you’re securing your tarp to aren’t dead and liable to come down on you in the night, and sweep the area for any potential hazards. Look for loose tree limbs above you that could fall on you and avoid anything that looks questionable.

Finally, check the ground for potential trip hazards by creating a clearing on the floor (a root sticking out of the ground can make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep). Once you’re happy you’ve found somewhere safe to set up your tarp the process follows a basic procedure:

• Set-up your ridge-line

• Attach your tarp to the ridge-line

• Add tension and adjust the ridge-line

• Secure your tarp’s corners

• Peg out the remaining guylines

How to create a ridge-line:

I recommend a 10m cord from DD Hammocks for all ridgelines and suspension of tarps. It’s 6mm thick and very strong. Although it’s a little heavier than para cord, it won’t cut into your hands and your knots pull out easier. Also, it allows you to use Prusik knots in conjunction with your ridgeline, as they run more easily on a cord thicker than that used to tie them, while still locking as intended.

When tying your ridge line, I recommend using a Siberian hitch to secure the line to the first tree and a trucker’s hitch to provide easy manageable tension at the other; both of these knots are quick release making packing your tarp away quick at simple. And both knots can be used with fixed lines attached to your tarp if you don’t want to use a ridgeline.

Two Prusik knots (created using para cord or proper Fixed Loop Tarp Fasteners) left attached to the ridge line and small carabiners on the tarp allow the tarp to be attached to the ridgeline quickly and provide tension through the middle of the tarp stopping it sagging in the middle. I always tie a knot in the centre loop of my DD tarp so I can adjust the sag in the middle.

Pegging Out Your Tarp’s Guy Lines:

Most tarps come with guy lines ready to attach with plastic tension devices. These normally work fine, but in time, can break or slacken off. Replacing them with longer cord and a sliding knot or upgraded device can give greater diversity and rigidity to your tarp and set up.

There are many mechanical devices you can use to quickly adjust the tension in your guy lines. Nite Ize make a simple solution called The Figure 9 Carabiner, they are stronger than a plastic alternative.

But as with any piece of kit Figure 9 Carabiners and plastic attachments can be lost or broken, so it’s worth knowing how to tie a knot that can slide and provide tension. Knowledge costs nothing and weighs nothing, so learning how to tie a Taut Line Hitch is time well spent. There are other more complex knots but the taut line is simple and works well. Other alternatives include:

Top tips for putting up a tarp while camping:

1. How to avoid a saggy middle: Tying a simple over hand knot in the centre loop and clipping it onto the ridge line will avoid a saggy middle.

2. Sand bags: On a beach fill stuff sacks with sand and bury them to provide a good anchor for guy lines, the higher the wind the deeper you will have to bury them.

3. Opening up the tarp: You don’t always want your tarp to be pitched flush to the ground. In better conditions you can open one (or both) sides up. Loop the guy line around a stick or walking pole to raise the side of the tarp before pegging it into the ground. Adjust the height so you can see out from under the tarp, you will let more light in and be able to enjoy nature even more!

4. What to do if a tether point breaks on your tarp: wrap the fabric around a marble sized pebble or piece of wood and use a constrictor knot around it to attach the new guy line to the tarp.

5. Before you set up your tarp look up. Look for hung up trees, dead wood or anything else that could fall on you in the night. I once set up my camp below a wood peckers nest, this was great to watch but at 4am when they decided it was time to get up I wasn’t so impressed.

6. Weave sticks and branches at one end of your A-Frame tarp set up to reduce air flow through the tarp, this can make it feel several degrees warmer inside and greatly improve your nights sleep.

Try A Tarp For Yourself:

There’s no better way to get close to nature than with a night under a tarp. It’s a totally different experience to spending a night in a tent. And a greater connection to nature isn’t the only reason people like wild camping with them. They’re versatile, light and have a number of different uses – all of which make them a great choice for anyone serious about spending time outdoors.

For instance, if  you’re backpacking and want to save weight, or if you don’t have the space for a tent and poles in your pack, a tarp is the answer. They can be slung up over a hammock, used as protection from the elements while you hunker down for lunch, or used alongside a tent to create sheltered cooking or kitchen areas.

And of course – they work great as your primary shelter. So take a look at A&B’s great range of tarps and open up a whole new world of possibilities for your wild camping trips this summer.