Tarp camping is the oldest and one of the simplest ways of camping out without a proper tent.
The tarp (short for tarpaulin, actually) is just a waterproof rain shelter or “roof” that you can stretch between trees and poles so it keeps the rain off you from above. And if there is driving wind from one side, you may need to set up the tarp so it protects you from that side as well as from above.
The tarp you use to keep off the rain and dew at night may be something purpose-built, it could be a cheap blue Chinese plastic tarp, or it might be a waterproof military-type poncho. Some people buy or make their own shape and design using lightweight canvas or even parachute silk for their tarpaulin… It’s entirely up to you what your preferences are, and depends on your budget and how much weight you are willing to carry.
Be sure to carry enough rope to put up your poncho or tarp in a variety of different arrangements because no two campsite locations will ever to be the same. Make sure you have any corner and edge ties reinforced or they will tear. The same applies if you are going to have holes with metal grommets along the edges.
One well-known design for a versatile camping tarp starts with a 10 foot x 10 foot square of canvas. With grommets and holes on the corners and along the edges, it can be staked down or hung up nice and taut. And by adding a few sewn-on (and reinforced) cloth ties or straps along the center line and diagonals (think of the X and + lines on the British flag design), the tarp can be turned into different tent shapes when preferred.
Don’t forget, though… You will still need a waterproof ground sheet (ground cloth) to keep your sleeping bag from absorbing dampness from the ground below you while you sleep.
You will also need a few tent pegs so you can stake down the edge(s) of the tarp where necessary. Sometimes you will be able to find a large rock for the purpose, and hopefully a couple or more trees. But improvisation is also the name of the game when you’re out tarp camping.
OLD CAMPER’S TIP
If you ever need to “make do” a camping tarp in a hurry, and you don’t have sewn on tabs or reinforced holes. Pick up a selection of pebbles and push them against the plastic corners, then tie your cord around the wrapped pebble. This absorbs much of the stretching forces that would otherwise tear your makeshift camping tarp.
Next, we take a look at Hammock Camping.