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Tarp camping in the rain
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Steve Zavoda
(Anotherdyemention) - F

Locale: NE Ohio
Tarp camping in the rain on 03/11/2014 16:36:20 MDT Print View

I'm considering using a tarp for backpacking but can't find anything on what to do if it's raining sideways (from wind) into the opening at the end. Obviously it'd be ideal to have the sides facing the wind but what about when it changes direction and it's blowing right in?

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/11/2014 16:45:49 MDT Print View

Does your tarp have center guy out points (along the ridge line)? If it does, you can find an overhanging branch/limb and tie your center guy points to it. This will support your tarp from above instead of from the sides like a traditional a-frame. Then all of your other guy out points can be staked directly into the ground giving you protection from all sides. You will end up with a sort of rectangular umbrella shape. Similar to a pyramid tent except the peak is tied to an object above instead of supported by a pole (and the end product is different because it's a rectangle/square). Leave one side high enough that you can slide yourself in it.
I wish I had some pictures of this to show you. Hopefully that wasn't too confusing.

Edited by justin_baker on 03/11/2014 16:53:59 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/11/2014 16:51:11 MDT Print View

Or you can set up an a-frame or lean to that is so low to the ground that you your bag is almost touching the tarp. At that low of an angle you would need 90 degree horizontal rain getting blown in at ground level.

Edited by justin_baker on 03/11/2014 16:59:30 MDT.

Steve Zavoda
(Anotherdyemention) - F

Locale: NE Ohio
Re on 03/11/2014 16:57:53 MDT Print View

Thanks, I know what you mean by hanging it from above. And I guess I didn't think about just setting it up right above my sleeping bag. Seems pretty obvious now tht you mentioned that lol. Oh well. Thanks for the replies.

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/11/2014 18:01:13 MDT Print View

Tarps with a A frame Cat cut (like the MLD Grace Duo or the GG Q-Twinn) allow you to pitch the sides to the ground and then pitch the end fairly close to the ground you will basically have three sides of protection. With square shaped tarps you can go with the Half Pyramid pitch with also gives you three sides of protection.

Robb Watts
(rwatts) - M

Locale: Western PA
Tarps and rough weather on 03/11/2014 19:16:54 MDT Print View

We've used a tarp (currently a 10 x 14 silnylon) year round in PA/WV since the late 70's and only a few times faced rain that can defeat your ingenuity in the quest to stay protected (blowing and drifting snow is another matter entirely). Very rarely do we need to lower the windward edge of the tarp close to the ground but this is mainly a function of using such a big tarp for two people and a dog: I have a 5 x 9 tarp that is much less protective even for one person (and of course my dog). It's actually quite exciting siting bone dry watching the rain pouring down a few feet from your face. Take a bivy just in case (bourbon helps too).

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Tarps in the rain on 03/11/2014 19:41:23 MDT Print View

In heavy rain I would very comfy in my hammock and my winter tarp with doors :)

Steve B
(geokite) - F

Locale: Southern California
Concern on 03/11/2014 19:43:11 MDT Print View

Your concern about blowing rain down the length of the tarp happened to me above tree line in the Sierras (Guitar Lake thunderstorm). While I was using a MLD Serenity shelter with a full nylon door, the design doesn't support the door very well (not tight enough to deflect the wind). Not a fun experience. After that I swore I would only use tarps with beaks. Sold that tarp, made a new one with beaks.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/11/2014 22:59:07 MDT Print View

MLD Trailstar.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Location, location, location on 03/12/2014 02:55:34 MDT Print View

I try to avoid places where the wind hit's hard, especially when rain may hammer down. It's asking for trouble, even as far as a peaceful sleep free of flapping tarp material goes.

I look for a site well protected from wind, on a lee slope, and/or in a clearing in brush or thick trees, etc.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Tarping on 03/12/2014 04:32:32 MDT Print View

I agree with Buck. Half of sucessfull tarp camping is selecting good ground. It really isn't any different than sleeping in the basic lean-to's found throughout the NE.

There is not much you can do after a tarp is set up to avoid major wind shifts. Near lakes and other large bodies of water, all you can do is avoid immediate beaches. Woods, brush stands, and other sheltered areas are best. Generally, in the northern latitiudes anyway, the winds come out of the west. In a ravine or valley it might be better to set the tarp up at right angles to the valley, though. Winds .will often flow up/down along the stream bed.

Use a somewhat larger tarp. In the western deserts, a 5'x7' tarp is often enough. In the east, that doesn't work very well. I use a 7x9 tarp and find it barely adequate in high summer. A 9x9 gives me more dry space for clothing or a partner. In shoulder seasons, a 10x10 is better due to the large number of rain storms. A 7x11 shaped tarp, with front beak & small 12" back opening, is good for solo camping. I have used this in some wild thunder storms, and stayed dry. I try to figure about a 45 degree angle from any edge left open to the weather.

Some storms will blow spray in anyway, but this is usually in the form of mist, or small droplets that almost float in the air. Not a lot you can do with that. The solution is a full coverage tent at a lot more weight. It is rare for heavy and violent wind storms to last more than 24 hours. Stuff may get damp from the mist, but rarely truly wet.

josh wagner
(StainlessSteel) - F
doors? on 03/12/2014 09:02:54 MDT Print View

you could carry a grizz beak (that doubles as a rain skirt)

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 09:41:01 MDT Print View

If you are using a large 8'x10' tarp, it usually isn't much of a problem, though the large size can be a disadvantage in strong winds. My current solo sized tarp does need a bit more care in rain since its shorter in length. My worry is more about the head end then the foot end since my tarp is much shorter at the foot end since its not a true rectangle as you don't need headroom on that end. Due to being a cat cut tarp, I only use an A-Frame type setup though I may have the wind side staked directly the the ground while the other side may be staked high up in the air.

If in wind, you normally stake the tarp lower to the ground (lower your trekking pole height or tie it lower to a tree and make the tarp wider but lower to the ground) so that it acts less like a sail. This also means you'll have less rain blown under since the opening at the ends is shorter. In really strong winds, this may mean you are crawling into/out of the tarp. As Buck stated, you normally look for a sheltered spot, if available where boulders, trees, brush, logs, will block off some of the wind. Staying dry in a tarp is mostly about campsite selection.

I normally use my treking poles at the ends and stake it to the ground, but if rain is threatening and a large tree is available, I'll often tie the head end to the large tree instead which blocks a large part of the opening. In the past, I've put my packcover on my pack and used it and my rain coat to block off some of the opening after the wind shifted. I know some hikers who like to carry umbrellas for sun and rain and they use those to help close off part of the end.

I've been tarp camping since 2006. I've only been bothered by wind blown rain inside the tarp a couple of times when I was forced to camp in less ideal campsites with strong winds. Worse case, you collapse it and rotate the tarp around and put it back up. I normally don't bother and only did so maybe twice since the wind direction was often changing. Only 1 time did I get really wet underneath my tarp and that was due to a really poor campsite selection that I will never repeat. I normally carry a water resistant bivy sack for such situations and because I normally cowboy camp if it isn't raining.

On the plus side, a tarp has less condensation issues than a tent which can keep you drier in some conditions. When I hiked the PCT through Washington in 2009, I seemed to stay drier with my tarp then many other thru-hikers in their single wall tents and tarp tents due to this issue.

Edited by Miner on 03/12/2014 09:45:16 MDT.

David Gardner
(GearMaker) - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 10:19:47 MDT Print View

Depending on the number and spacing of your side tie-outs, it may be possible to stake the corners in and under until they meet, essentially closing off the end. In the pictures below I use a zipper to then connect the sides of the end, but you can pitch it the same way without the zipper and get just a narrow slit at the end. If you do it at both ends, then you essentially have a floorless tent which can take horizontal rain from any direction.

a frame

Pitched as an A-frame


Ends folded in an under until they meet


Side view of ends folded in and under


Both ends closed off

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 11:23:43 MDT Print View

Tarp Camping In The Rain

Edited by annapurna on 03/12/2014 11:24:59 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 13:15:25 MDT Print View

Tarps can be light, but you pay in exposure. I think they are viable for summer use in forested areas, but can't imagine a blow above treeline. Rain isn't so much the problem, but WIND will getcha. Vertically falling rain is just pitter patter on the roof.

It's all about site selection and pitching to suit the weather. As you noted, the stinker is having the weather change directions after you have pitched for the night. There's little choice but to live with it or get up and re-pitch, both making for a wet night. A bivy can help, but that adds to the cost and weight.

Shaped tarps with beaks and cantenary sides can improve wind and weather performance, but they are limited to basic a-frame pitches. If you get a big flat tarp, it can be pitched in many configurations to suit the weather and number of users.

That's why floorless tent designs are popular. They can give 360° protection for a few ounces more. They are limited to one configuration in most cases. The Borah Gear Borahgami is a notable exception.

Edited by dwambaugh on 03/12/2014 13:19:05 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 13:18:34 MDT Print View

This is one of my favs.

The key thing is pitching it very low to the ground, but using the center/top guy outs to give you more head room in the center of the tarp. Obviously being in a forest with lots of trees and branches to tie off to gives you more options.

Edited by justin_baker on 03/12/2014 13:23:21 MDT.

Larry Swearingen
(Larry_Swearingen) - M

Locale: NE Indiana
Tarp pitching on 03/12/2014 13:27:25 MDT Print View

>>Obviously being in a forest with lots of trees and branches to tie off to gives you more options.<<

AND lots of guy line helps.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Tarp pitching on 03/12/2014 13:33:58 MDT Print View

Yep, in bad weather I carry generous amounts and lengths of guy lines and 10 + stakes for all of the stake out points. It's a chunk of weight to add on but worth it.

In good weather I carry maybe 6 stakes, 3 for each side, and two lines for ridelines. That's it. I mostly cowboy camp in fair weather and don't mind being limited to a simple a-frame pinned directly to the ground if it happens to rain.

Duane Bindschadler
(DLBVenice) - M

Locale: Venice
Re: Tarp camping in the rain on 03/12/2014 15:58:52 MDT Print View

There's a good discussion and some good advice in this article