Best Camping Tarps for Ultralight Backpacking + TOP 15 Reviews 2019

Best Camping Tarps for Ultralight Backpacking + TOP 15 Reviews 2019
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Sleeping under a tarp is becoming a popular alternative to tent camping.

If you prioritize light weight and don’t mind being a little more in touch with nature, a tarp tent could be an excellent choice.

Read on for reviews of the best camping tarps and everything you need to know about tarp camping.

Top 15 Best Camping Tarp Reviews 2019

Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Review: This is an excellent quality, well designed tarp made of 15D Ultra-Sil Nano nylon. It comes in 2 sizes and can be set up in multiple ways.

Pros

  • Very user-friendly and versatile.
  • Can be set up either between trees or with 2 hiking poles.
  • The stuff sack includes instructions for different setup configurations.
  • If you’re a newbie to tarp camping, Sea to Summit also do a tent inner that is compatible with the tarp so you can have a little backup if the occasion calls for it.

Cons

  • Pretty pricey.

Takeaway

This is definitely one of the best tarps for backpacking and one of the best waterproof tarps for camping.

MSR Thru-Hiker 100 Wing Canopy Shelter

Review: Another top of the line lightweight tarp that is ideal for ultralight thru-hikers and can be used alone or with the MSR mesh tent.

It is made of waterproof silnylon and packs down into a tiny pocket.

Pros

  • One of the lightest tarps on the market weighing only 1 lbs.
  • Compatible with the MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh Tent for insect prone areas.
  • Shelters 2-3 people.
  • Comes with 6 red ultralight stakes and 6 reflective guy lines.

Cons

  • Again, this is not a cheap option.

Takeaway

Easily one of the best lightweight tarps for camping and due to its high quality, one of the best long lasting waterproof tarps.

Eagles Nest Outfitters Housefly Rain Tarp

Review: This tarp uses a slightly different design to the A frame styles above, with extra flaps to form overlapping doors at the ends for wind and rain protection.

Made of 210D ripstop nylon, it weighs just over a pound and is durable and ideal for harsher weather conditions.

Pros

  • Overlapping doors provides more rain protection than the simple 2 wall A-frame tarp styles.
  • Robust and durable so will cope with stormy weather.
  • Compatible with ENO hammocks.

Cons

  • 8 stakes required for setup need to be purchased separately.

Takeaway

This is one of the best tarps for hammock camping.

Rab Siltarp 2 Shelter

Review: This is a top quality ultralight tarp by leading UK brand, Rab. It is made of silicone impregnated 30D Cordura which is light, strong and waterproof.

Pros

  • Multiple webbing loops support a variety of set ups.
  • Weighs just 14 oz.
  • Can be set up using trees if you don’t want to use trekking poles.
  • Durable material is very waterproof.

Cons

  • A little pricey.

Takeaway

This is the best survival tarp for its extremely lightweight and versatility of set up.

Rab Element Solo Shelter

Review: Another excellent option from Rab, this shelter resembles more of an ultralight tent and is designed to be used more at ground level.

2 people can fit very snugly without their gear but its ideally a 1 person shelter.

Pros

  • Easy to set up, even in the wind.
  • Extremely lightweight (around 11 oz.).
  • Compatible with the Rab mesh tent for insect prone camping trips.
  • Affordable for a high end product.

Cons

  • No attachments for guy lines along the sides makes its less likely to stand up to more severe weather.
  • Not quite long enough for people 6’ and taller.
  • Doesn’t come with stakes or guy lines.

Takeaway

If you’re into minimalist camping and you’re pretty confident you won’t experience a storm, this is one of the best tarps for backpacking.

Aqua Quest Guide Tarp

Review: This tarp is one of the best on the market for its balance of waterproofing and light weight.

Made of 40D ripstop nylon and treated with both PU and silicone coatings, this tarp is durable and weather proof.

Pros

  • Very waterproof with both PU and silicon coatings.
  • Comes in a range of different sizes with the smallest weighing only 14.4 oz.
  • Multiple tie out points along all edges and in the middle makes for a very secure set up.

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with stakes or guy lines.

Takeaway

This is one of the best waterproof tarps for camping and the large size option of this tarp makes for the best survival tarp for groups of people.

ENO Profly XL Rain Tarp

Review: This is another versatile and top quality product from ENO. It’s heavier than most backpackers will want to bother with, but it’s large enough to cover 2 hammocks so maybe you buddy can carry the food!

Pros

  • 8 attachment points makes this tarp stable and secure.
  • Large size (13’ x 9’2”) provides excellent coverage from wind and rain.
  • Large enough to cover 2 hammocks.

Cons

  • Weighs a little over 2 lbs.
  • Stakes sold separately.

Takeaway

Easily one of the best rain tarps for camping due to its large size, secure set up and high level of waterproofing.

Kelty Noah’s Tarp

Review: This is a solid performer in the tarp world and at a very affordable price. If you need a larger size is also comes in a 12’ x 12’ option.

The only drawback is the weight.

Pros

  • Come with stakes and 4 adjustable guy lines.
  • Has plenty of tie out points so can be set up in different configurations.
  • Affordable and very durable for the price.
  • 9’ x 9’ is a decent size.

Cons

  • 1 lb 12 oz is unfortunately pretty heavy for a tarp.

Takeaway

Apart from the weight, this is an excellent mid-range camping tarp, and the large size is especially suited to car campers.

Paria Sanctuary SilTarp

Review: This is an excellent midrange tarp. It is very lightweight, waterproof, and comes with everything you need to set it up (except for the hiking poles).

Pros

  • Waterproof 30D PU coated ripstop nylon.
  • Comes with 6 aluminum Y-stakes, 60’ of guy line and 6 adjusters.
  • Extremely lightweight (13 oz.)

Cons

  • Stakes could be stronger.

Takeaway

An excellent, easy to use package ideal for beginner tarp campers.

Chill Gorilla Hex Hammock Rainfly Tarp

Review: Made of PU coated ripstop nylon, this tarp is durable, waterproof and windproof while being excellent value for money.

The hex cut shape is designed to give maximum coverage for minimum weight, which it does, but your options for different setups are limited as a result.

Pros

  • Comes with 4 aluminum stakes and 6 guy lines.
  • Has 6 guy points which is adequate for the 1 set up option.
  • Large coverage area.
  • 4 lbs. is reasonably lightweight.

Cons

  • Only 1 feasible set up option.

Takeaway

This one of the best camping tarps for backpackers on a budget.

Free Soldier Waterproof Portable Tarp

Review: This tarp is an excellent balance of durability, low price and weight. It manages to be very durable while remaining affordable and not excessively heavy.

Pros

  • An incredible 16 guy points makes for a very versatile tarp.
  • Comes with 4 guy lines.
  • Made of durable 210 T ripstop PU coated polyester.

Cons

  • Possibly a little heavier (around 2 lbs.) than ultralight backpackers will like.

Takeaway

An excellent tarp from a versatility point of view.

Redcamp Waterproof Camping Tarp

Review: This is a lightweight tarp at a very low price. So, as expected, the durability leaves a bit to be desired.

However, this is still a reasonable quality tarp given its budget price point.

Pros

  • Very cheap.
  • Lightweight (18 oz).
  • Comes in a range of different sizes.

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with stakes or guy lines.
  • Not enough grommet holes for a variety of set up options.

Takeaway

Probably not a reliable, long term choice, but ideal if you want to try out tarp camping or just want an extra roof over your tent in bad weather.

Yuedge Camping Tarp

Review: This is another budget tarp with impressive potential considering its low price. It comes with everything you need for set up (minus the trees or hiking poles) and with a little sewing ingenuity, you could add some more guy line attachments and make this little beast stand up to any storm.

Pros

  • Comes with 6 adjustable guy lines and aluminum stakes.
  • Lightweight (22 oz).
  • Water resistant polyester sheds rain effectively.

Cons

  • No guy line or stake points along the middle edges of the tarp means it probably won’t cope well in a storm.

Takeaway

This is the best budget camping tarp for moderate weather conditions.

W-UpBird Tarp

Review: This is a simple tarp that won’t lend itself to much versatility, but for the price, it’s durable and waterproof which are pretty important criteria for a tarp.

Pros

  • 210T Dacron material is durable and waterproof.
  • Comes with 8 nylon guy lines and aluminum stakes.
  • 10’x10’ is a pretty decent coverage area.

Cons

  • Heavy (1.86 lbs).
  • Just 4 guy line attachments in the corners which limit you to 2 basic setups.

Takeaway

You can’t expect much from a tarp this cheap, but this tarp is surprisingly functional despite its low price.

MSR Rendezvous 120 Wing Canopy Shelter

Review: If you’re literally just looking for a roof and aren’t much concerned with walls, this is your tarp.

It will provide protection from condensation and rain falling directly from above while allowing you to be at one with nature.

Pros

  • Comes with 2 poles.
  • Covers large area (120 sq. ft.).
  • Very stable in the wind.

Cons

  • Doesn’t provide much in the way of shelter from side winds and rain.
  • Heavy (3.6 lbs).

Takeaway

Probably more suited as an extra roof over a regular tent in heavy rains than a stand alone tarp.

How to Choose the Best Camping Tarp

outdoor hammock camping tarp

First, you need to decide how you’re going to use your tarp.

Camping tarps can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used as a roof when sleeping in a hammock to provide shelter from rain and, to a degree, wind.

They can be used at ground level instead of a tent for an ultralight thru-hiking alternative.

And, they can be used as an extra roof over and above your regular tent, providing an extra line of defense and extending the living area of your tent during bad weather.

Even the most waterproof tents can be a miserable place to hang out in torrential rain without a tarp overhead.

All three uses have their place and will slightly alter the criteria for choosing the best tarps for camping.

Weight

This is probably the most important factor if you’re a backpacker.

Your tent can be one of the heaviest items in your pack, and when you’re hiking multiple miles a day and carrying your life on your back, every ounce matters.

Tarps are much, much lighter than tents, and that’s why we love them!

But not all tarps are created equal weight wise. There are still some lower quality tarps that are heavier than a good lightweight tent.

Good tarps for backpacking will be as light as possible.

Alternatively, if you’re car camping, the weight doesn’t really matter. High quality camping tarps can be as heavy as you like.

Go crazy and get the most heavy duty, waterproof beast available and be safe in the knowledge that it won’t need replacing at the end of the season.

Size

Size also depends on the purpose. Obviously, if you’re car camping, the bigger the better. But if you’re backpacking, bigger will mean heavier.

So, it’s a case of striking a balance between a good amount of coverage to protect you from the elements, and not so big that it’s unnecessarily heavy or hard to put up.

In saying that, the protection you get from wind and rain will directly correspond to size, as opposed to tents where small can still be fine in a storm situation.

With a tarp, you don’t get any protection from splashing, and minimal protection from crosswinds.

Think about the minimum size tent you’d be happy with in a storm and then go bigger for your tarp.

silhouette photo of outdoor camping

Waterproofing

This may seem like an obvious point to consider, but tarps aren’t created equal from a waterproofing point of view either.

And we all know that backpacking in the rain isn’t fun unless you’re guaranteed a dry place to sleep at the end of the day.

Though silnylon tends to be associated more with high end tents, it really comes down to the quality of the material and the reliability of the manufacturer.

Both silnylon and PU coated materials can perform equally well from a waterproofing perspective provided they are good quality.

The difference is in weight and longevity.

Silnylon is lighter and typically lasts longer before the waterproofing fails. PU coated materials are heavier and usually require recoating after a few of seasons of moderate use.

Number of Guy Line and Stake Attachments

Here is where it gets simple: the more the better.

You can’t have too many guy line attachments and holes for stakes.

The more you can reinforce your tarp, the more stable and weatherproof it will be, and the more variety of configurations you will have at your disposal.

But, don’t give up on the options with minimal attachments.

If you have some basic DIY skills you can add more attachments and make an average tarp into a high performing tarp.

camping hammock with rain fly

Why Sleep Under a Tarp?

When there are perfectly good ultralight tents available, it begs the question.

But tarps justify themselves in more ways than one.

Tarps are always going to be lighter than a tent because there is less material to carry, and because of this, they are cheaper too.

Ultralight tents can be mighty expensive but you can get a very decent tarp for less than $100.

But for tarp converts, it’s more than just a practicality thing.

Tarp lovers who start out doing it for the weight, stay for the nature.

Sleeping under a tarp puts you more in touch with the natural environment and can end up being a more satisfying experience than being safe and secluded inside your tent.

When you set up a tarp, you can have plants growing inside that don’t need to be crushed by your groundsheet, you can get sky views that aren’t filtered by mesh, and you basically feel more at one with nature.

Many tarp converts say they’ll never go back to sleeping in a tent for this reason.

The Best Way to Set Up a Camping Tarp

There are different ways of setting up camping tarps depending on whether you have trees available and how much protection you’re looking for from either rain, wind, or both.

Tarps typically won’t give you failsafe protection from all sides at the same time, or from wind and rain at the same time from all sides, unless you have a really big one!

  • The simplest way to set up a tarp is in a basic A-frame style using 2 hiking poles or two trees, and a minimum of 4 stakes at ground level. This style gives good protection from vertical rain, condensation and wind from 2 directions, but leaves both ends open.
  • An easy variation of this set up is to take out 1 hiking pole and stake down the entire end giving you a 3-wall lean-to style shelter.
  • The next most common way to set up a tarp rotates the tarp 90˚ and suspends it above the ground between two trees to shelter a hammock. The tarp then forms a diamond shape with 2 corners tied to the trees and the other 2 corners staked out with guy lines.

Regardless of how you choose to set up your tarp, it’s important that everything is nice and tight so there’ll be no flapping in the wind or any risk of the tarp flying away.

The durability of the stakes is also pretty important so it’s worth investing in a good set of at least 8 stakes.

Check out this video for a clear demonstration of 4 ways to set up a camping tarp.

Tips for Sleeping Comfortably Under a Tarp

Carry a Ground Sheet (or Some Tyvek Building Paper)

Though some hardly souls will sleep directly on the ground, you don’t have to. Sleeping on a groundsheet can provide an extra layer of insulation against cold, damp ground.

And, if it rains too quickly to soak into the ground around the tarp, the water should hopefully channel under the groundsheet.

Furthermore, once it rains, things can get muddy pretty quickly. Keeping all of your stuff on a groundsheet will mean you can set up your tarp on the muddy ground and stay relatively clean.

Invest in a Decent Sleeping Pad

How comfortable your sleeping pad is will make a huge difference to how well you sleep.

Investing in a well-padded, insulated sleeping pad could be the difference between you tossing and turning all night, or getting a good night’s sleep and completely forgetting you’re sleeping under a tarp.

Consider a Mesh Bivy Sack if You’re Concerned About Bugs

There are some great mesh tents out there that are compatible with tarp setups for when a bath tub floor is beneficial or you’re hiking through a particularly insect-prone area.

But, you can also just buy a mesh bivvy and get insect protection on a smaller, but just as effective scale.

Make Use of Rocks When it’s Windy

If you don’t have an unlimited number of trees within easy tying distance of your guy lines, the ground is too hard for stakes, or you’ve run out of stakes, rocks can make an excellent substitute.

Tie the ends of your surplus guy lines around some heavy rocks and then tighten the guy lines until they’re taught.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the best camping tarps and are looking forward to experiencing the liberating experience that is tarp camping.

Feel free, to share your thoughts below and don’t forget to download our travel ebook if you haven’t yet.

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