How to Make Tarp Shelters for Camping? A Beginner’s Guide

Imagine this: you’re out in the wilderness, surrounded by the serene beauty of nature. The air is crisp, the scenery breathtaking, and the sense of adventure palpable. But as the sun begins to set, you realize you need a shelter. That’s where tarp shelters come into play.

Tarp shelters, a staple in the world of camping and outdoor survival, offer a lightweight and versatile solution to your camping comfort needs. They are your shield against the elements, your cozy retreat after a day of exploration, and your safe haven in the heart of the wilderness.

To make a tarp shelter for camping, you’ll need a durable, waterproof tarp, stakes, a sturdy rope or cord, and tent pegs. Choose a flat, hazard-free location and set up your shelter, ensuring it’s secure and taut. With these essentials and a bit of practice, you’ll be able to create a comfortable refuge in the wilderness, enhancing your camping experience.

There’s a variety of tarp shelter designs at your disposal, each with its unique benefits and suited for different camping scenarios. From the classic A-frame tarp shelter, known for its simplicity and effectiveness, to the Adirondack tarp shelter, which provides excellent windbreak, the options are plentiful.

You might also consider the Holden tent tarp shelter, a popular choice for its spacious interior and superior rain protection. Or perhaps the ridge-line lean-to tarp shelter, a minimalist design that’s quick to set up and perfect for solo campers. So, let’s dive into the world of tarp shelters and discover how you can enhance your camping experience.

tarp shelters for camping

Essential Materials for Building a Tarp Shelter

Creating a tarp shelter is a skill that every outdoor enthusiast should master. But before you can start building, you need to gather the right materials. Let’s dive into the essential gear you’ll need to construct your tarp shelter.


Your tarp is the main component of your shelter. It’s your shield against the elements, your roof, and your walls. When choosing a tarp, consider its size, material, and durability. A good camping tarp is typically waterproof, lightweight, and durable. It should be large enough to provide ample coverage but compact enough for easy packing.


Stakes are crucial for securing your tarp shelter to the ground. They provide stability, ensuring your shelter stays put even in windy conditions. You can use commercial tent stakes or improvise with sticks or other natural materials. Remember, the more robust and durable your stakes, the more secure your tarp shelter will be.

Rope or Cord

A sturdy rope or cord is another essential item for your tarp shelter setup. It serves as the ridge-line for your shelter, providing support and structure. Paracord is a popular choice among campers due to its strength and versatility. Ensure your rope is long enough to span between two trees or other anchor points.

Tent Pegs

Tent pegs are similar to stakes but are used to secure the ropes or cords to the ground. They help maintain the tension in your shelter, keeping the tarp taut and the structure stable. Like stakes, tent pegs can be commercial or improvised.

Here’s a quick checklist for your tarp shelter materials:

  • Tarp: Your main shelter component. Choose a durable, waterproof, and appropriately-sized tarp.
  • Stakes: Used to secure your tarp to the ground. Can be commercial stakes or improvised from natural materials.
  • Rope or Cord: Acts as the ridge-line for your shelter. Paracord is a popular choice.
  • Tent Pegs: Secures the ropes or cords to the ground. Helps maintain tension and stability in your shelter.

Gathering these materials is the first step in your tarp shelter building journey. With these in hand, you’re ready to start constructing your shelter, enhancing your camping comfort, and truly embracing the wilderness experience.

tarp shelters

Choosing the Perfect Location for Your Tarp Shelter

Selecting the right location for your tarp shelter is as crucial as the materials you use. A well-chosen spot can enhance your camping comfort, while a poorly chosen one can lead to a restless night. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing your tarp shelter location.

Seek Flat Ground

First and foremost, look for flat ground. A level surface ensures a comfortable sleep and a stable shelter. It also makes the setup process easier and more efficient. Avoid areas with noticeable dips or mounds, as they can lead to uncomfortable sleeping conditions and potential water pooling during rain.

Beware of Overhead Hazards

Next, cast your eyes upwards. Check for dead branches or loose rocks that could potentially fall. These are known as “widow-makers” in the camping world for a reason. Even in the calmest weather, a slight breeze can bring these hazards crashing down. So, ensure your chosen spot is free from such dangers.

Find Suitable Trees

Finally, if your tarp shelter design requires a ridge-line, you’ll need to find two suitable trees. They should be sturdy and ideally spaced about 10 to 15 feet apart. The trees will serve as your main support, so make sure they are alive and well-rooted.

In summary, when choosing your tarp shelter location:

  • Seek flat ground: This ensures a comfortable sleep and a stable shelter.
  • Beware of overhead hazards: Always check for potential dangers like dead branches or loose rocks.
  • Find suitable trees: If your shelter design requires a ridge-line, find two sturdy trees about 10 to 15 feet apart.

Remember, your shelter is your home in the wilderness. Take the time to choose your location wisely, and you’ll enhance your overall camping experience.

camping tarp shelters

Building Different Types of Tarp Shelters

Mastering the art of building tarp shelters can significantly enhance your camping experience. Each simple design offers unique benefits and suits different camping scenarios. Let’s delve into the construction of four popular tarp shelter simple designs.

1. A-Frame Tarp Shelter

The A-Frame is a classic and straightforward tarp shelter configuration. It is versatile and suitable for various weather conditions.


  1. Identify two trees that are at least 9 feet apart (or more, depending on your tarp size).
  2. Tie the paracord around both trees at about 4 to 5 feet off the ground. Ensure your ridgeline is as tight as possible.
  3. Drape the tarp over the paracord and stake each corner to the ground. Make sure all sides are taut to prevent wind or rain from disrupting your setup.


  • Can comfortably accommodate 2 or more people.
  • Quick and easy to set up.
  • Provides excellent protection during inclement weather.


  • Does not include a groundsheet.
  • Offers somewhat limited headroom.

2. Tipi Tarp Shelter

The Tipi common tarp shelter configuration is a hybrid of the A-frame shelter and stealth shelter. It has a classic conical shape, providing room to sit but sacrificing some legroom.


  1. Attach one tie-out point to the ridgeline, while the others are staked to the ground.


  • Provides more headroom to sit up within.
  • Includes a groundsheet.
  • Easy to set up.


  • More exposed to the elements.
  • Offers less legroom.
  • Limited space inside.

3. Lean-To Tarp Shelter

The Lean-To tarp shelter is a simple setup that provides protection on one side.


  1. Find two trees that are 9 or more feet apart, and tie a tight ridgeline around them.
  2. Stake each corner to the ground on one side of the tarp.
  3. Fold the other side over the ridgeline and use guylines to make it taut.


  • Quick and easy to set up.
  • Provides plenty of room for gear.
  • Suitable for use with a fire.


  • Not effective against strong winds.
  • Exposed to the elements.
  • Does not include a groundsheet.

4. Ridge Line Lean-To Tarp Shelter

The Ridge Line Lean-To is a shelter that provides protection from sun and wind, depending on its direction. However, it may not be as effective in storms.


  1. Similar to the classic lean-to, but with an additional “awning.”


  • Provides protection from sun and rain.
  • Offers wind protection from two sides.
  • Provides plenty of space for gear.


  • Not suitable for high winds or heavy rain.
  • Does not include a groundsheet.

5. Stealth Tarp Shelter

The Stealth setup is perfect for stealth camping, where the goal is to remain out of sight from both people and dangerous animals.


  1. Requires a ridgeline, three paracord prusik loops, and many tie-out points on the tarp.
  2. The ridgeline should be at about your waist height.
  3. Tie three prusik loops around the ridgeline and use them to attach one side of the tarp.
  4. Stake out the middle tie-out points on the tarp and fold the rest underneath to create a floor for your shelter.


  • Stable in strong winds.
  • Includes a groundsheet.
  • Low profile for stealth camping.


  • No headroom to sit up.
  • Longer setup time.
  • Limited space inside.

6. Tortilla Tarp Shelter

The Tortilla shelter provides decent sun and wind protection from one side, as well as flooring. It’s easy to make, and you only need a single tree or a hiking pole.


  1. Lay the tarp in a diamond shape, with two corners facing a tree.
  2. Stake the bottom tarp corner to the ground, and tie the other one to that tree.
  3. Stake out the other tarp corners while making sure they’re staying taut.


  • One of the easiest tarp shelters to set up.
  • Provides protection from wind and sun on one side.
  • Offers decent floor space.
  • Includes a groundsheet.


  • Not suitable for harsh or bad weather.
  • Only offers single side protection.
  • Limited room to set up.

7. Tarp Tent Shelter

The Tarp Tent shelter is ideal when there are no suitable trees around for setting up a ridgeline. It requires a trekking pole to use as center support.


  1. All the edges need to be staked outwards to create a taut construction held by the center pole.


  • No ridgeline or trees needed for this setup.
  • Great for rain and strong winds.
  • Requires minimal space for setup.


  • Longer setup time.
  • Center pole reduces space inside.
  • No groundsheet.

8. Bivy Bag Cornet Tarp Shelter

The Bivy Bag Cornet Tarp tent configuration is suitable if there’s only a single tree that you can use. It doesn’t provide much space inside but will definitely keep you safe from weather elements.


  1. Tie a paracord around the tree at a height of 4 to 5 feet.
  2. Stake the other part of the rope to the ground.
  3. Throw the tarp over the paracord diagonally and stake its corners out. The floor should meet at one side.


  • Provides good wind deflection.
  • Offers great protection from the rain.
  • Includes a groundsheet to protect from damp ground.


  • Very little room on the inside.
  • Won’t be able to sit up or stand up.

Each of these tarp shelter designs offers unique benefits and suits different camping scenarios. By mastering these setups, you’ll be well-prepared for your next camping adventure, no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

crafting a tarp shelter

Crafting a Tarp Shelter Without Trees

Trees are often the go-to anchor points when setting up a tarp shelter. But what happens when you’re in an open field or a desert with no trees in sight? Fear not, you can still create a sturdy tarp shelter using stakes and guy ropes. Here’s how.

Using Stakes and Guy Ropes

First, lay your tarp flat on the ground. Now, take a stake and drive it into the ground through one of the corner grommets of your tarp. Repeat this process for all corners, ensuring the tarp is taut and secure.

Next, take your guy ropes and tie one end to the remaining grommets on your tarp. Pull the rope out at an angle and secure it to the ground with another stake. This will raise the tarp off the ground, creating a sloped roof for your shelter. Repeat this process for all sides, adjusting the tension in the ropes as necessary to maintain a taut structure.

The Role of Grommets

Grommets play a crucial role in this setup. These metal rings reinforce the holes in your tarp, preventing the material from tearing when you apply tension. They provide secure points to attach your stakes and guy ropes, ensuring your shelter remains sturdy and stable, even in windy conditions.

In summary, here’s how to set up a tarp shelter without trees:

  • Lay your tarp flat on the ground.
  • Drive a stake through each corner grommet, securing the tarp to the ground.
  • Attach guy ropes to the remaining grommets and secure them to the ground with stakes, creating a sloped roof.

Remember, the key to a successful tarp shelter without trees lies in the tension. Keep your tarp taut and your stakes firmly grounded, and you’ll have a sturdy, reliable shelter, ready to protect you from the elements.

Maintaining Your Tarp Shelter

A well-maintained tarp shelter can serve you for many camping trips, providing a reliable refuge in the wilderness. Here’s how to keep your tarp shelter in top condition.

Checking for Wear and Tear

Regularly inspect your tarp for signs of wear and tear. Look for small tears, loose grommets, or frayed edges. These might seem insignificant, but they can quickly escalate into larger issues if left unattended. A small tear can grow under the tension of a tightly pitched shelter, and a loose grommet can tear out, leaving a large hole in your tarp. Address these issues promptly to prolong the life of your tarp.

Proper Storage

Proper storage space is crucial to maintaining your tarp shelter. Always ensure your tarp is completely dry before packing it away. Storing a damp tarp can lead to mold and mildew, which can weaken the material and create unpleasant odors. Fold your tarp neatly, avoiding creasing the material excessively, and store it in a dry, cool place.

Cleaning Your Tarp Shelter

Clean your tarp shelter regularly to remove dirt, sap, or other debris. Use a mild soap and warm water, and gently scrub the tarp with a soft brush. Avoid using harsh detergents or scrubbing too vigorously, as this can damage the material. Rinse thoroughly and allow the tarp to air dry completely before storing.

In summary, maintaining your tarp shelter involves:

  • Regularly inspecting for wear and tear.
  • Storing your tarp properly, ensuring it’s dry and folded neatly.
  • Cleaning your tarp gently with mild soap and warm water.

By taking the time to care for your tarp shelter, you’ll ensure it remains a reliable part of your camping gear for many adventures to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to tarp shelters, several questions often arise. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about tarp shelters.

What is the best material for a shelter tarp?

The best material for an emergency shelter tarp is typically a durable, waterproof fabric like ripstop nylon or polyethylene. These materials are resistant to tearing, lightweight tarp, and provide excellent or extra protection against the elements.

What do I need for a tarp shelter?

To set up a simple tarp shelter, you’ll need a tarp, stakes, a sturdy rope or cord, and tent pegs. Depending on the specific design of your shelter, you might also need additional items like poles or guy ropes.

What is the best tarp setup for camping?

The best tarp setup for camping depends on your specific needs and the conditions you’ll be camping in. For example, an A-frame tarp shelter is a versatile choice suitable for various conditions, while a ridge-line lean-to tarp shelter is perfect for solo campers seeking a lightweight setup.

How do you make a shelter tarp that provides protection from rain?

To make a rain suitable shelter tarp, you’ll want a design that provides excellent overhead maximum protection. An A-frame tarp shelter or a Holden tent tarp shelter are both excellent choices. Ensure your tarp is angled so that rainwater can run off the sides, and secure it tightly to prevent wind from getting underneath.

Remember, the key to a successful tarp shelter lies in choosing the right materials, selecting the appropriate design for your needs, and maintaining your shelter properly. With these tips, you’ll be well-prepared for your next camping adventure.


Mastering the art of tarp shelter construction is a game-changer for any outdoor enthusiast. It’s a skill that not only enhances your camping comfort but also boosts your confidence in the wilderness. From the minimalist ridge-line lean-to to the spacious Holden tent, there’s a tarp shelter design to suit every camper’s needs.

Remember, the key to a successful tarp shelter lies in the details. Choose a durable, waterproof tarp. Select a flat, hazard-free location. Gather your stakes, ropes, and tent pegs. And most importantly, take the time to practice setting up your shelter before you head out on your adventure.

With these tips in mind, you’re ready to embrace the great outdoors. So grab your tarp and start planning your next camping adventure. The wilderness is waiting, and with your tarp shelter skills, you’re more than ready to answer the call. Happy camping!