At first glance, a camping tarp can seem simple: a big piece of waterproof fabric, typically square or rectangular, meant to offer a bit of extra cover. Pitch it and you get protection from the rain and shelter from the sun. But the best tarps can also be used to create a wind shield, help protect your basecamp kitchen or serve as a lightweight tarp tent, using trekking poles as anchors. Simply put, a tarp can make the difference from wiling away miserable hours in your tent while it storms outside and staying outdoors, comfortable and dry while enjoying the elements — which is kind of the point of camping. Tarps also naturally perform well in non-camping situations like tailgating, music festivals and pretty much any other activity where the weather is a factor. But in selecting our top picks for camping tarps, we focused on both car camping and backpacking activities.
When looking for the right tarp, the two big considerations are its size and its materials. The former is... straightforward; the bigger space you want to cover, the larger the footprint, while solo or two-person outings can likely get away with a tarp that’s around seven by eight feet. As far as fabrics, camping tarps basically break out into two categories: heavy-duty (which are made of more durable — and also heavier — fabrics that don’t compress easily, but can handle all sorts of weather) and lightweight (which are…yes, lighter and thus more suited for backpackers, and also pack down into small stuff sacks and protect you from weather, but require more scientific set-up). Beyond that, look for tarps with multiple reinforced attachment points — the four corners are a minimum, but the more places you can latch onto, the easier it is to set up and secure a taut fit. Some also include nice add-ons like guy lines and small grommets to let you use hiking poles to convert the tent into a makeshift tent. It should be noted that most tarps don’t come with rope, which you’ll need to secure the tarp to the nearest tree, pole or car rack; telescoping poles (trekking or otherwise) and stakes are also solid add-ons to help you configure the optimal set-up in the wild.
Now that we have the basics covered, keep scrolling to see our picks for the best camping tarps to buy today.
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The Escapist Tarp wears its many functions on its sleeve — literally. The stuff sack includes illustrations for how you can pitch your tarp, as a standard overhead shelter, as well as a handful of A-frame shelters (from classic to ridgeline to tapered), a wind shield (with or without a roof), tent awning, a bivy and as ridgeline fly to cover a hammock. Made of taped seam-sealed waterproof 15 D PU-coated nylon, it provides cover against all conditions, but it only weighs 15.5 ounces and packs down to the size of a water bottle, making it ideal for backpackers. You get eight bar-tack reinforced tie-out points, with reinforced corners with cord locks and guy lines that can be adjusted while under the tarp, a nice feature when the rain is really coming down. Sea to Summit made the Escapist with the backcountry in mind, and it’s easy to convert the tarp into a variety of tents as well, with or without poles, though the tie-outs are configured to fit the tip of trekking poles, which can make... set-up a breeze. It also works with Sea to Summit’s Escapist Bug Tent/Net, which together get closer to a full-fledged tent at a fraction of the weight of other models. The tarp comes in two sizes; medium measures 6.6 by 8.6 feet, while the large is 10 by 10 feet.
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This workhorse is probably what most people picture when they think about tarps — in part because it’s practically ubiquitous in camping, as well as to keep firewood dry, line the back (or cover) the bed of a pickup, cover a boat or perform any other sort of rugged weather-proof task outside. Made of durable ripstop polyethylene and laminated on both sides, it’ll stand up to years of serious abuse from Mother Nature, as well as other trials. The edges are reinforced with rope, and it comes with heavy-duty rust-resistant grommets positioned every three to four feet (depending on the tarp’s size). It’s far from the lightest camping tarp, and it’s tough to pack down (even when using compression straps; and doesn’t come with a stuff), but its reliable — and, given its low price point — easy to replace in the unlikely event that you need a replacement. It comes in a variety sizes, from 5 by 7 feet up to 24 by 36 feet.
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If Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (or the movie by the same name) inspired you to try your hand at thru-hiking the Pacific Crest or Appalachian trails — or if you just fancy a low-weight way to carry shelter on a two- or three-night backpacking trip, the MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing will work as double duty, providing shelter overhead, or as your actual tent, without adding on much pack weight. It comes in two sizes, 70 and 100 square feet, though both are big enough to accommodate two to three sleeping bags, and weighs as little as 12 ounces. Made of 20D ripstop nylon along with 1,200 mm polyurethane and silicone, it’ll fight off wind and rain, and comes with ten reinforced tie points spaced out to accommodate a trekking pole tent set-up, with four flanking the “edges” and only one on either side of the point where you’d pitch the pole to create an A-frame shelter. Naturally, the tarp does easy double duty as a traditional tarp, and it can also be paired with MSR’s Thru-Hiker Mesh House for a... complete backcountry shelter solution.
04 of 08
Asheville, NC-based Eagles Nest Outfitters were deep into the camping hammock game long before ultralight hammocks started trending with the Millennials, and they still make some of the best camping hammocks on the market. Their ENO ProFly Rain Tarp has been specifically designed to marry with their other products to provide reliable foul-weather protection to keep hammock sleepers dry and off the ground. It weighs a modest 22 ounces and unfolds to provide a 10.6 by 6.4 feet of coverage. That said, with six reinforced guy points, you can easily put the ProFly to other uses, providing cover for your side-country kitchen or blocking a persistent wind. Made of 210D ripstop nylon, it’ll shed away rain and snow and will stand up to years of ritualistic abuse.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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The almost-aptly-named Noah’s Tarp won’t help you survive a flood — or house two of every known animal species — but it might be the most weather-proof camping tarp on this list. It comes with fully taped seam construction and is made of no-snag coated polyester taffeta that lets you pitch it tight, essential when the weather gets really foul. Unlike most other tarps, it has loop tie-ins that extend off the tarp's edges and also runs tie loops down the tarp’s center spines to let you create a veritable exoskeleton of support via poles or rope tie-offs. Smartly-engineered pockets at the four corners let you store lengths of the included rope, and it also comes with stakes and a carry sack. The three-season tarp comes in three sizes (81 square feet, 144 square feet and 256 square feet), and a starting weight of one pound and eight ounces means it’s more appropriate for camping than backpacking.
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At 100 square feet (10 by 10 feet), it’s the same size as most lighter/backcountry-friendly tarps. But with Velcro lining three of its edges, it’s easy to buy a few and configure them to fit larger groups. Its 18 individual reinforced tie-out points allow for a variety of set-ups and ways to assure a taut configuration. Better still, each can be used with a hiking pole. Out of the box, you get enough space for three to four sleeping bags, and a 3 mm light-reflective guy cord is included. Made of 15D, PU-coated, 1,200 mm-rated nylon it’s robust enough to stand up to the foulest conditions of Mother Nature, with fully taped seams for increased durability. But it only weighs 15.5 ounces, suitable for lightweight hikers to haul, either to supplement their existing shelter, serve as the main tent or to build out an expansive camping tarp city.
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Unlike most tarps, the Sanctuary SilTarp comes with everything you need to get your shelter pitched in a snap, including six aluminum Y stakes, 60 feet of 1.5 mm reflective Dyneema guy line rope and six micro line-lock adjusters to help tighten things down. As with other lightweight tarps, it’s made of ripstop nylon with a silicon/PU dual-coating and fully taped seams to fend off wind and rain. Unlike other tarps on this list, however, you can choose from a variety of cuts and sizes, including a 10 by 7.5 feet tapered cut (which wings out wider on one side), two flat cut sizes (standard rectangles), as well as two hexagonal cuts with curved edges, with the largest dimension measuring in at 12 by 10 feet. The cut dictates the number of perimeter attachment points, which range from 16 (flat cut) to 12 (tapered) to six (hex). This allows you find the perfect tarp for your conditions, from simple sun-rain-wind protection to adding shelter to your hammock.
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If you need a tarp that can do it all (from camping to working as a canopy for your deck or porch to whatever other rugged duties you might demand of a tarp), this is the only option. Unlike most tarps on this list, it’s not made of various thicknesses of PU-coated poly. This one comes in vinyl, making it impervious to the soak-through that can happen when lesser tarps start to collect pools of water, and it’s and highly damage-resistant; no fabric can fend off punctures, but this one will stand up to almost anything save a knife blade. It measures eight by ten feet and includes reinforced grommets every two feet on all sides, with double-thick hems that have been heat-sealed for added strength. At ten pounds it’s pretty much the opposite of lightweight, but it packs into a relatively truck-friendly 12x10x4-inch package.
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