7 Tips For Using A Tarp Over A Tent

Last Updated on 01/11/2022

Tarp Over A Tent

When and How to Put a Tarp Over a Tent

A tarp over tent setup is an easy way to add extra protection to your camping setup. Hanging a tarp over your tent not only shelter you from rain, but it will keep you better insulated and your tent will breathe better, too. You can use a tarp to extend your porch and extend your storage options, too. 

Camping in wet weather can test the extreme capabilities of your tent. It can also leave you feeling a little cramped inside your tent, no matter how large it is. Carrying a rain tarp with you opens up a whole load of opportunities to create more space, or to reinforce your tent.

If you’re camping for just one night, you may be able to forego the extra protection. However, if you are planning to head out for long-term camping, especially in a static location, the extra protection for your tent is invaluable.

In this article, we look at why you might want to put a tarp over the tent. We then go further and explain exactly how to put a tarp over a tent, so that you get it right every time. For a more comprehensive guide to tarp camping, click the link.

Benefits to Using a Tarp Over Tents

There are some useful benefits to pitching a tarp over a tent and sometimes when it is borderline essential. Here are some of the key advantages:

Improve Waterproofing

The key benefit to fitting a tarp over your tent is that it gives you extra protection from the elements. Whether heavy rain or continued damp conditions, layering a tarp over your tent is going to limit the amount of moisture that reaches you.

Every tent has its hydrostatic limit. This is the pressure at which water will seep through the material and can be reached by heavy, or persistent rain. Tarps may have a similar or slightly higher limit than a tent outer, but when only a little moisture passes through the tent, it’s easy for the tent to keep that out.

Increase Warmth

Moisture cools down the outer of a tent. A sodden tent outer is also going to keep the air inside the tent damp. Both of these, combined with cool weather, will limit your ability to get warm. Insulated tents are one solution but they are relatively new and still carry a high price tag.

Getting warm inside your tent is something we all look forward to at the end of a long day on the hill. But do tents really keep you warm? Adding a tarp over the top of your tent keeps everything dryer and better ventilated, so you are going to be able to stay warmer.

More Shade on a Morning

If you like to sleep in, you will appreciate how much darker your tarp keeps you in the morning. Away from just this time of day, though, shading your tent can be just as important as keeping it dry. Check out these incredible blackout tents if sleeping in is important to you, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

In the summer heat, tents can quickly become unbearably warm. If you’re trying to relax in your tent under the heat of the sun, you will appreciate how much cooler you are with a tarp over the top of your tent. It will also limit UV damage, which can wear out your tent over time.

Extend the Porch

There’s nothing quite like having space when you’re camping. If you are out for multiple nights, it can quickly get tiresome, being cramped up inside your tent. This is particularly difficult if it rains persistently.

Using a tarp, you can extend the porch space and give yourself the freedom to move around outside your tent, while staying dry. This gives you space to cook, stow equipment, and fix or dry your kit, too.

Keep the Inside Tent Dry

Keeping the inside of your tent dry in wet weather is a challenge but makes a massive difference to your comfort and warmth on a night. This extra space is a great way to make sure you don’t tread a load of moisture into the inside of your tent. You have space to change your clothes, too, so you won’t have to wear a load of wet clothing into your tent.

As well as this side of the benefit, a tent that is dry on the outside will vent better and gather less condensation on the inside. This means that your tent is going to stay much drier inside than it would without a tarp over the top.

Downsides to Putting a Rainfly Over Your Tent

As well as the benefits of having a tarp over tent, there are some considerations to take heed of before you go rushing to buy one:

Extra Weight

Anything you want to take with you camping has to be carried in. A tarp might not seem like much extra weight to carry, but every little bit makes a difference. Be sure that you definitely need to use a tarp before packing it in your bag.

If you only have a small backpack then the extra volume of a rain flysheet can have an impact too. The benefit of a tarp is that it does have multiple uses as a groundsheet, poncho, or as a stand-alone shelter for camping, cooking, or as a communal area.

Liability in High Wind

In strong winds and exposed areas, tarps can be more of a hazard than a help. Even if your tarp is cinched tightly down to your tent, wind can catch it and cause it to flap and even potentially take off completely. A tarp that flaps against the outer of your tent is likely to wear them both, too, causing long-term damage.

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time using tarps, they are difficult to set up to properly deflect wind. If it’s going to be windy, we would suggest avoiding tarps, if you can’t find a sheltered area. Beach tents are often exposed to high winds and sand storms so a tarp can be more trouble than it’s worth in this case.

Can Impair the Tent Frame Structure

Depending on how your tent goes up, putting a tarp over your tent may impact its structural stability. If your tarp is well clear of your tent, this isn’t going to be a problem. However, if you plan to use the tent as an attachment point, or fit the tarp closer to the tent, you should check that your plan will work before committing to it.

If you plan to attach your tarp directly to your tent and cinch it down, you should be sure that this doesn’t impact the strength of the tent. Pulling too tightly on the structure can damage poles, which can snap or deform. Any deformation in the tent can impact its waterproofness or sturdiness.

View our guide to tarp poles for ideas on how to pitch your tarp above and clear of your tent’s outer shell. Doing this will also improve waterproofing and ventilation so that condensation can escape the inside of your tent.

putting a tarp over a tent

What Size Tarp for Over Tent?

Tents come in all shapes and sizes. Different tents therefore will need different sized tarps to cover them. You don’t always need a tarp that drapes over the entire tent, as we will come to when we explain how to set up a tarp over a tent. This, then, is just a rough guide for sizes.

If you are camping in a one-person tent, chances are you are out on a multi-day trek. In this instance, you want the smallest tarp that will comprehensively cover your tent. A 2×2 meter (6.6 x 6.6 ft.) tarp should be more than enough for what you need, without taking up too much space in your pack.

To cover a 2-4 person tent, you should be able to use a 3 x 3 meter (9.9 x 9.9 ft.) tarp. This will depend on the exact size of your tent and how you want to cover it, of course.

Tents for more than 4 people are uncommon on treks. These are usually large tents that are used for car camping. To cover a tent for 4+ people, you will need a 4 x 4 meter (13 x 13 ft.) tarp as a minimum. You may find it easier to use two separate tarps for this, as one enormous tarp can be difficult to manage.

How to Put a Tarp Over A Tent

So now we get into the technical bit, how to set up a tarp over a tent. We’ll start by saying that there is no one way that is going to work in all weather conditions. If you want to explore all the options for how to make use of a tarp, there are videos like this one to give you some ideas.

We’re going to look at the basic ridgeline or A-frame setup. We’re also going to assume you have trees to set your tarp up, but if you don’t, you can always use sticks or hiking poles to create a ridgeline. If you do this, you may struggle to get the tarp higher than the tent.

  • Step 1: Start by pitching your tent properly. Make sure everything is pulled taught and your gear is stowed away while you set your tarp up. This will ensure that you don’t lose equipment or stand on anything while you are working.
  • Step 2: Unfold your tarp and make sure that your lines are not tangled up, but are ready to use. Find the ridgeline of your tarp and attach either end to a tree, with the tarp pulled tight. If you don’t have a tree to hand, you can use strong sticks to make a frame, and use this to secure the tarp ridgeline.
  • Step 3: Once your ridgeline is secure, peg out one corner and work your way around. Elastic is a popular choice for tarp lines. It offers a good level of security but has a little give in the wind.
  • Step 4: If you have few trees or no trees, you may have to get creative with how you cover your tent with your tarp. The things you need to remember are that your tarp performs best if it sits clear of the tent. You should also consider how much clearance you need over the porch area, or create an additional porch if you need the space.
  • Step 5: Remember not to pull your tarp so tight as to impact the structure of your tent. Fold and secure any loose bits of the tarp to avoid them flapping in the wind.

However, you set your tarp up, make sure there is no space for water to pool. Any rain that falls on your tarp should drain off immediately, otherwise, there is the risk it may pour through over time.

how to put a tarp over a tent

How to Put a Tarp Over A Tent Without Trees

There are a couple of different ways you can put a tarp over a tent with no trees for support. You can use tarp poles (or hiking poles if you have a small tent) to create some central support by either staking them out or designing an A-frame shelter. You can also use other people’s tents around you if they’ll let you or if there are some trees nearby you can try and scavenge some long branches in place of tarp poles.

To stake out some poles you may have to use two guy lines for each pole to create an anchor in two directions. It often helps to stake down the tarp where it will meet the ground first and then add your poles one at a time. Lean-to shelters work well with small tents or when the wind is blowing from one direction.

7 Things to Consider When Using a Tarp Over Tent

If you are new to tarp camping then taking the following 7 features into consideration will save you some time and money:

1. Size of the Tarp

Your tarp size should match your tent. If you are at all unsure, measure your tent width and lengthways, as well as the height, to get dimensions for your tarp. If your tent is an unusual shape, you should allow extra tarp material to make sure the whole tent is covered.

2. Materials

Tarps are usually made from some plastic-based fabric, often either polypropylene or polyester. You can get a range of tarps with different thicknesses. Obviously, the thicker the tarp, the harder wearing and more waterproof it is likely to be.

We recommend you go for a lighter-weight polyester-style tarp. These are usually treated with some water-repellent chemical which helps the water drain off more effectively.

3. Weight

Heavy-duty tarps are often just that. They are heavier to carry and bulkier when they’re packed. Lighter-weight polyester tarps are better suited to camping and have enough durability to withstand some rough nights out in wild conditions.

If you are on a trek, you are going to be packing this down regularly into your bag, not to mention raising the tarp over your tent each night. A heavy-duty tarp is not the best option for this sort of trip.

4. Eyelets and Attachment Points

You will need to peg your tarp to the ground. This means that your tarp needs to have some form of attachment points, either for direct pegging, or attaching tarp lines.

Most tarps come with some form of attachment points, but if you have gone down the route of making your own bespoke tarp, remember to reinforce some attachment points. Fitting eyelets is an easy way to keep your tarp in good condition, even if the pegs or lines pull a little.

5. Extra Pegs

Your tent will most likely have the right amount of pegs to secure it. You’re going to need to pack some extra pegs to secure your tarp, too. While we don’t want to be carrying unnecessary weight, it is worth throwing a few more pegs in, so you have a range of options when it comes to your tarp setup.

6. Ventilation

Your tent relies on ventilation to stay dry inside. Wrapping a tarp closely to the outside of your tent will limit its ability to vent properly. Think about how you are raising your tarp to maximize weather resistance without losing ventilation.

Get this right, and you will have the best night’s sleep possible.

7. Using Additional Tarp Poles

Raising the corners of your tarp can give you more space, as well as increasing ventilation. If there are no trees around to do this for you, you can use tarp poles or similar under the corners. Of course, on a trek, you won’t want to carry extra poles just for this job, but your trekking poles can come in handy here.

If you are on a canoe, or kayak trip, your pole or paddles are effective ways to raise the corners of a tarp.

Should You Put a Tarp Over a Tent?

So this entire article boils down to this one question, should you put a tarp over your tent? The answer is only if you need to otherwise most half-decent tents will be sufficient to keep the rain out. The times when you might need a tarp over your tent are when your tent has been compromised and lets water in when it rains.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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