Tents, Tarps & Shelters

Best Camping Tarps – 6 Lightweight Backpacking Shelters Rated & Reviewed

best camping tarps
Bertie
Written by Bertie

There comes a point in every camping career when you start to think about ditching your tent and trying out a tarp. And no, I don’t mean a footprint (although you could use one as a shelter at a push). No, I mean a dedicated shelter, because the best camping tarps are specifically designed with protection against the elements, durability and stability in mind.

The tipping point usually comes when you’ve pared down your gear over and over again and you realise that the single heaviest thing you always pack is...your tent. And you start thinking “what if, instead of shaving off a few ounces, I could lighten my pack by a whole pound or more?”

There are other reasons, too, of course. You might love waking up in the outdoors and feel that a tent is just too enclosed for you to enjoy the raw beauty of nature. Or you might want to test yourself against the elements a bit more. But whatever the reason, you’re looking down the rabbit hole and wondering if you should go down. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of camping tarps!

Image

Product Name

Weight

Our Opinion

Price

Rating

Sanctuary SilTarp

from 14oz

best all-rounder

$$$

2lbs 3oz

best large tarp

$$

1lb 6oz

most popular

$$$

1lb

best budget tarp

$

from 1lb 12oz

most versatile

$$$

2lbs

tent alternative

$$$$

Sanctiary SilTarp - best camping tarp

​Specs

Size: 10’ x 8’ to 12’ x 10’

Cut: Tapered, Flat & Hex

Attachment Points: 12-16

Weight: from 14oz

Durability: Excellent

Price: $$$

The Good

Sanctuary offer a range of sizes, cuts and weights. But the great thing is they all come as complete kits so you don’t have to worry about buying all the bits and pieces. You get guys lines, adjustors, stakes and a compression sack. The silicon/PU treatment and taped seams on all their tarps make them very effective against the rain. All of them have generous attachment points allowing for loads of set up configurations. And whatever you buy will also come with a lifetime guarantee.

The Less Good

The price point is a bit high on this product but is completely justified by the quality of the tarps themselves. One thing we did notice is that the stakes that are supplied leave a bit to be desired. Replacing these could help.

A Great Choice If…

This is a great choice if you are looking for a tarp that will last and has infinite configurations. Can’t recommend it enough!

Free Soldier - best large backpacking tarp

Specs

Size: 10’ x 11’

Cut: Flat

Attachment Points: 10

Weight: 2.3lbs

Durability: Good

Price: $$

The Good

This is a pretty large tarp and can easily accommodate 2 people. With 10 attachment points, it offers a multitude of set up configurations. The orange trim along the edges can help keep the tarp’s edges visible in low light and thick coverage. And it’s really good value.

The Less Good

While this tarp comes with cord, it does not include poles or stakes. The stuff sack is a little on the small side so it can be a bit fiddly to pack up. It’s also heavy for its size, meaning that it may not be ideal if you are wanting to travel ultralight.

A Great Choice If…

If you’re looking for a large, strong tarp that’s inexpensive and you aren’t worried about carrying a few extra ounces then you definitely want to consider the Free Soldier.

ENO ProFly - most popular camping tarp

​Specs

Size: 10’6” x 6’4”

Cut: Hex

Attachment Points: 6

Weight: 1lb 6oz

Durability: Excellent

Price: $$$

The Good

The tarp is treated with a polyurethane that offers good protection in heavier rains. The streamlined A-Shape allows water to pour off of it quickly. The tarp comes with six guy line attachments. Nylon rope is included. The size, when set up, may prove to be an ideal shelter for clothes and equipment or even a pet.

The Less Good

Replacing the nylon rope with a more durable Paracord would improve the durability. Stakes are not included but can be purchased easily. The coverage may prove a bit short for taller campers, but we found the length adequate.

A Great Choice If…

If you’re looking for a tarp that’s small, compressible and durable this won’t disappoint. Excellent for weekend camping and thru-hiking.

RollingFox - best budget camping tarp

​Specs

Size: 11’ x 9’

Cut: Diamond

Attachment Points: 16

Weight: 1lb

Durability: OK

Price: $

The Good

The tarp comes with a PV waterproof coating. The diamond shaped is reasonably sized by our estimates. The covering comes with four guy lines and stakes. The design may prove ideal for hammock camping, or as a wind block when car or motorcycle camping. A major plus is that the manufacturer offers a lifetime, 100 percent money back guarantee for this tarp.

The Less Good

The diamond shape may not offer you as much protection as a more traditional tarp and may limit its uses somewhat. Wind-driven rain may still challenge this tarp’s width, but can be overcome with added protection. The light colored material may be more vulnerable to fading over time, but this will not affect the tarp’s functionality.

A Great Choice If…

This may be a great choice if you are on a budget or are looking for a tarp for occasional use.

Kelty Noah's Backpacking Tarps

Specs

Size: 9’ - 16’’

Cut: Flat

Attachment Points: 12

Weight: from 1lb 12oz

Durability: Good

Price: $$$

The Good

This tarp is made from a lightweight polyester. The product is equipped with two grommets for pole fastening as well as adjustable guylines for each. A multitude of guy out attachment points are offered on all four sides.

The unique shape should offer you light protection against the elements. The tarp can add protection when used as a second covering over your tent. Besides backpacking and camping, this tarp would work at festivals and sporting events. This product also comes with a carry bag.

The Less Good

The tarp works with poles that aren't included. You can buy these separately or you can use your own. The shape is not standard, making it a bit difficult to assemble the first time. The seams may benefit from additional water protection. You will want to pack the tarp carefully to avoid tangled lines.

A Great Choice If…

This tarp may be a great choice for hiking, biking and kayaking.

Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT Review

​Specs

Size: 2 person

Cut: N/A

Attachment Points: 13

Weight: 2lbs

Durability: Good

Price: $$$$

The Good

This is more of a tent-tarp hybrid than a true tarp. The layout comes with poles and stakes. Optional loops allow a tree support should you wish to avoid using the poles. The material is bright and the guylines are reflective, giving your equipment high visibility. The three season rating offers added protection against the elements with a single door and rear ventilation window.

The Less Good

This tarp could be a little tricky to set up, but practicing before your trip will make it easier. While this tarp is enclosed, you will still need to carry a footprint in order to remain out of the dirt. The poles used for set up may get in your way a bit. While condensation can be an issue (especially in colder weather), we did not find this to be a problem.

A Great Choice If…

If you aren’t quite ready to go whole hog on the tarp thing but want a super-lightweight tent, then this is a really interesting option for you.


What To Consider When Buying A Camping Tarp

Getting closer to nature is important and a tarp shelter will allow you to do that more effectively than a tent. Traditionally, tarps were made from a cotton or polyester canvas. These have been challenged by less-bulky and lighter materials like poly tarps (made from Polyethylene) or vinyl tarps. Bulk and weight are not the only reasons backpackers select these materials. Canvas is not waterproof and can be susceptible to mildew or shrinkage over time.

Shape

Tarps often come in a rectangular or square shape and vary in size considerably. When selecting a tarp you will want to consider what you plan to use it for. Square tarps use more material which takes up space and adds weight. Rectangular shapes work well as protection for your sleeping bag or tent, while square designs will offer your equipment and campsite additional protection from the elements.

Durability

Durability is a major consideration, and poly tarps are usually the least durable choice while vinyl is the longest-lasting. Other design features that affect durability are the attachment points and the quality of seam work on the tarp. Another component to consider is what the material has been treated with. Waterproof or water-resistant coatings add to the longevity and flame-resistant or UV protections should not be overlooked during selection.

Attachment Points

Tarps have limited durability and use without attachment points. Any product that you contemplate buying should have a minimum of four of these. Ideally, six or more points will make the tarp more securable and offer greater versatility. Manufacturers that pay attention to how these are constructed and what they are made of will often be offering a superior product.

​Where You Intend To Pitch

Your camping environment can also help to determine what tarp to select. While poly and vinyl tarps are both made of strong material, vinyl will offer you superior wind and tear resistance. Poly tarps can become brittle in cold weather while vinyl can perform adequately in temperatures as low as -40. Color is another consideration, as brighter colors can mark your location while natural colors can hide it.

These factors help to determine the price range of any product you will consider for purchase. Poly tarps tend to be the most economical choice, while the more durable vinyl tarps will cost you more. Tarp shape and the number of tie-down points add to the cost as well. Finally, the more a tarp is protected from the elements, the less protected your wallet will be.

How to Configure a Tarp - 25 Ways

Check out this awesome infographic from RollingFox showing loads of different ways to set a tarp shelter up.

25 Tarp Configurations Infographic

If, after all this, you've decided that a tarp isn't actually for you, don't forget to check out my reviews of the best 1 person tents, the best 2 person tents and the best 3 person tents as viable alternatives to a camping tarp.

Alternatively, if you've gone the other way and decided to use a hammock,  read my reviews of the best hammock tarps.


Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Best tarps for camping & backpacking
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About the author

Bertie

Bertie

I’m Bertie and I’ve been enjoying the wilderness for as long as I can remember. I get out camping, hiking and backpacking whenever I can. And when I can’t, I enjoy writing about outdoor-related stuff!

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