How to Put A Tarp Over a Tent

How to Put A Tarp Over a Tent

Want to know how to put a tarp over a tent? Pretty easy.

To create an A-frame, the simplest tarp shelter, start by placing your tarp over a fairly taut guy line. Then stake down the corners of your tarp to create an A-looking shelter.

But, there’s more; I’ll share the specific details about in the guide below.

Plus, understand that depending on the size of the tent, conditions, location, and size, there’re a couple of other techniques you can use to create a tarp shelter.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking. The rigging process looks pretty straightforward. But the truth is even the most experienced hangers occasionally struggle to pitch a tarp over a tent.

Personally, before I learned how to pitch a tarp on my tent, I could get it blowing all over the place, especially when the wind picked up.

My tarp set up also put a damper on my camping experience, especially when inclement weather.

Fortunately, those days are gone. I’ll share the exact method, a step-by-step guide I use to put a tarp over my tent.

Hopefully, by the end of the guide, you’ll enjoy the full benefits of a properly-pitched tarp, including a drier tent and more comfortable outdoor adventures.

Read on!

Shelter Terminology

Shelter Terminology

Here’s a list of words that you’ll find helpful in our guide on how to put a tarp over a tent.

Ridgeline: This is the line you lay your tent on. Usually, the ridgeline cord is created by tying a cord between two tent poles or a tree.

Windowmakers: refers to the dead trees, dead branches, and debris that are yet to wither and fall. I’d suggest you keep your tent away from such an environment.

A-Frame: It’s one of the popular and traditional tarp configurations. Usually, the A-frame shelter resembles the letter A, with tarp sides laying on both sides.

Apex:  The highest point of your tarp.

Windbreaker: A structure or object that shields you from the incoming winds and their effect.

Guyline: Strings or bungee cords that secure your tarp on the ground

Taut: Pull the cords and guy lines to make them tense

Putting a Tarp Over a Tent

Putting a Tarp Over a Tent

The most critical thing when creating a tarp shelter is the right tarp.

See, even with the right setup, a poor tarp quality will definitely put a damper on your camping experience.

Consider the choice of material. How durable and reliable is the tarp? You don’t want a tarp that will allow water to seep and make all your stuff wet and such.

It should also be durable and not a single-season basic shelter. My Unigear tent tarp hasn’t broken down on me for quite a long time now.

Also, consider the size. If the tarp is too small, then it ultimately beats the purpose of having it in the first place.

There shouldn’t be sections of your tent sticking outside the tarp and getting exposed to the elements.

The rule of thumb that I use when getting a rain fly is choosing one that is twice as big as the footprint of my tent.

3 Tarp Shelter Configurations

3 Tarp Shelter Configurations

As I mentioned in the introduction, there’re a few different ways to rig a tarp over your tent.

The rigging technique will depend on various factors, including landscape, wind direction, and location.


The A-frame method is the most popular technique of rigging a tarp over a tent.

It’s the Roll Royce of the rigging techniques and usually my go-to method.

I’m a big fan of the A-frame, not just because of its simplicity but also its effectiveness.

As its name suggests, the A-frame technique provides a traditional A-shaped profile that keeps your tent shielded from bad weather.

We’ll go into details about the A-frame technique much later.

2)Lean-to Tarp

If the A-frame was the Rolls Royce of tarp setup, the lean-to frame is the Ferrari.

It’s a step-down to our first method, and simply an A-frame split in half. This tarp configuration has more tarp on one side than the other.

The lean-to tarp provides one-sided protection and is often very situational. For example, I use this technique to shield my tent against the blowing wind.

3)Arrowhead tarp

An arrowhead tarp is a triangular-shaped tarp design with a pointed nose, hence the name.

It’s a great configuration and scores highly in terms of space. The tarp design offers a load of space and is ideal when you’ve plenty of goods and supplies to protect.

To set up the arrowhead tarp, you simply need to stake the three sides of your tent and raise the fourth one.

Different Types of Knots

Different Types of Knots

Even with the best tent configuration, your tent is likely to blow away or lose its form if it’s not secured using a knot.

Therefore, you must have a basic understanding of some of the popular types of knots.

But before I share that, let’s first have a basic understanding of the knot terminology.

Knot Terminology

  • Working end: Part of the rope where you tie your knot.
  • Standing end: Part of the rope that isn’t knotted.
  • Tail: Part of the rope attaches to other objects such as poles or ground.
  • Loop: Exactly like its name suggest. It’s the actual knot.
  • Bight: A type of loop created when the rope curves or folds adjacent to each other.
  • Hitch: Connects a rope to another object or rope
  • Elbow: Created by twisting the loop to make it sturdier.

With that out of the way, now let’s look at the three popular types of loops.

1)Bowline knot

The bowline knot is one of the classic knot techniques.

It’s worth knowing about the bowline knot because it hardly slips and is quite handy for setting the ridgeline on tent poles or trees.

2)Taut-Line Hitch

The bowline knot works well for wrapping the ridgeline around the nearby tree.

But for the second tree, pole, or nearby structure, you’ll need the taut-line hitch.

It’s a non-slip knot, but its selling point, at least in my opinion, is its flexibility. It allows you to tighten or loosen the tension of the ridgeline, depending on your needs.

3)Prusik Hitch

The Prusik knot, also known as a sliding knot, is a great way for tightening the tarp guy lines or even the ridgeline loops.

Building a Basic A-Frame Tarp Shelter over your Camping Tent

Building a Basic A-Frame Tarp Shelter over your Camping Tent

In the section below, we’ll focus on building one of the simplest but most effective rain fly shelter configurations- the A-frame.

It’s a traditional shelter design and quite practical in various environments, from rain to snow.

Setting an A-frame tarp is also quick and effortless.

Preparing Location for Rigging a Tent Tarp

You’ll need to prepare for the setup first. Here’re some of the prepping guidelines I follow;

  • Choose a clear and generally elevated campsite ground. The slight slope should provide an easy way for the collected water to flow away from your campground. If you’ve your tarp flat, it’ll collect water, which will weigh it down.
  • If you don’t have pitching poles, consider a location with some spread-out trees. They should act as an alternative for holding the ridgeline.
  • At the same time, ensure the location is free from windowmakers.
  • Before setting up your dry tent, clear your pitching location from all branches, rocks, and other debris to avoid puncturing your tent and provide a comfortable sleeping location.

After prepping your tent location, it’s time to get the rubber on the road, and here’s a step-by-step guide on how to put a tarp over a tent.

Step 1

Set up the guy lines on your tent. Use the holes provided or “guy out” loops on your tent to attach the guy lines.

They’re crucial for securing your tarp and taut guyline tension, especially during windy conditions.

Step 2

Set up the ridgeline.

Distance two poles, other structures, or find two trees less than 9ft distance. Tie one side of the cord on one of the trees and do the same for the other.

But if your tarp has a middle small loop that the ridgeline should go through, you’ll need to slide the cord first before tying it to the second tree.

When setting up the ridgeline, you must consider the tarp height. Set it higher than the tent you plan to pitch under. Don’t go too high either because it won’t give you extra protection when the winds or rains start to pour sideways. I usually set my tarp three to four feet above my tent.

Step 3

Lay your tent over the ridgeline. While at it, ensure both sides are evenly split by half on both sides.

Also, spread the tarp as much as you can.

Step 4

Stake your tent pegs, and using the guy lines you had attached on the tarp, secure and keep the tarp tight.

It’s important to ensure the tarp is taut to allow rainwater to flow from the tent effectively. Pull the guy lines to keep the tent dry.

Now, in most cases, it’s easy to misjudge the tautness of the guylines and your tarp, which is bad for your tarp. The water collected will ultimately destroy your tent and even allow water to seep in.

To check the effectiveness of rainwater disposal, consider chucking water over the tent and see if it holds up to water and whether it’ll drain the rainwater.

In addition, consider creating a drip line a few inches from the ridgeline for diverting the rainwater from your tarp. Properly placed drip lines will ensure your tent stays dry at all times.

How To Make A Tarp Shelter Without Trees

How To Make A Tarp Shelter Without Trees

Generally, most campers find it easy to set up their tents in a wooded area. However, there will be times when you won’t have access to good trees to attach your tarp to.

Over my camping journey, I’ve experienced this situation several times. At first, it was frustrating, but I later learned there’re a couple of alternatives to the trees. One of my favorite replacement options is the tent poles.

But as we know, tent stakes can’t stand on their own.

An easy way to overcome this obstacle is by staking the tent on one side. From there, insert the poles through the tarp grommets in the middle of the tarp before staking the poles.

Use guy lines to secure the poles and then stake the remaining corners of the other side. Again, be sure to tighten the tarp to ensure there’s no accumulation of rainwater.

Other Uses of Tarps

Other Uses of Tarps

While tarps are generally used to provide a protective shield over a tent, they’ve multiple uses in the wild.

Just like scarves are to clothing, I love that the uses of tarps go much beyond covering your tent. They’re like Swiss knives and have many uses, which we’ll briefly look at in the section below.

Works as a Groundsheet

A tarp acts as an effective groundsheet or tent footprint.

I know a tent might seem sturdy, but it’s prone to wear, especially when subjected to ground debris for a long time.

So, having a tarp below the tent floor is a great way to avoid faster tent wearing because it’s sturdier.

On top of that, an extra layer of material under your tent will make your stay more comfortable and liveable, especially when you’re sleeping.

The final benefit of using a tent as a groundsheet is it’ll save your tent from mold and mildew. See, even when camping on dry ground, it’s likely your tent will draw moisture from the ground, which in turn causes the growth of mold and mildew.

But if you plan to use your tent as a groundsheet, ensure there’s no edge sticking out from below. Otherwise, you’ll have to bear with water collecting and creating a pool from below your wet tent.

Shelter your Fire and Cooking Spot

It’s generally not recommended to cook inside your camping tent.

But what happens if it’s also raining outside?

A tarp offers a reliable way to set up your cooking station, so you never have to miss your favorite meals because of the weather.

In fact, you can use a tarp to set up a campfire, even when it’s pouring.

But, you’ll need to consider the choice of material for your tarp. Ideally, I would suggest you go with a classic tarpaulin over the traditional nylon tarps because of its fire-retardant capabilities.

Secondly, consider the configuration of your tent. I’d suggest a lean-to configuration because it has more “aerial” space for the campfire. It’s also airy enough for the smoke to escape.

Side Protection

Sometimes, winds blow the rain directionally, so your shelter will do little to save you from getting wet.

The good news is if the wind is blowing in one direction, you can set up your tarp to provide a sideway shield.

Impromptu Shelter

Unless you’ve a pop-up tent, setting one can be quite a hassle and time-consuming, especially when it starts to rain.

On the other hand, a tarp can provide an impromptu shelter when you’re first setting up your tent in the rain.

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

Tarps are probably the most versatile piece of gear you could bring on your camping trip.

They serve quite a lot of purpose, from shielding your tent acting as groundsheets to providing cover against the directional winds.

And for so much of their use, you might think they’re bulky, but far from it. It’s easy to bring the tarps with you on your next camping trip.

Tart setup is also a breeze, quite effortless and quick. It also offers an inexpensive way to stay dry and protected.

I don’t see any reason you should have a tarp in your list of camping gear.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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