Tarp shelter configurations

A Guide To Tarp Shelter Configurations

Today on the blog, I’ve got tarps on the brain. Tarp shelter configurations, to be specific. The weather here is especially balmy at the moment, so it’s a great time to be thinking about using a tarp as a shelter on the trail.

Using a tarp as a tent has a lot of advantages. Two obvious ones are size and weight – tarps generally take up minimal room in your pack, and are very lightweight compared to full tents. But there’s also something special about sleeping under a minimalist shelter. Being closer to the ground, seeing and hearing nature around you – for my money, that’s the best way to camp out.

If you’ve never used a camping tarp before and are thinking about making the switch – maybe from a traditional tent – you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover how to make a rain shelter with a tarp, and show you a few basic configurations that are adaptable for a wide variety of uses.

What You’ll Need

For these examples, we’re using a Terra Hiker Tarp from Amazon, and the fantastic, wallet-friendly Flame’s Creed 3 x 3. We’ll have a review of the Flame’s Creed coming soon, so stay tuned!

But any tarp should suffice as long as it’s big enough to shelter under, and has some eyelets for pegs and trekking poles. How big is big enough? Many people swear by only using tarps that are 3 x 3 or larger, like the Flame’s Creed. For my money, that size can sometimes be overkill. If the weather is clear and you don’t mind being a tad exposed, you can easily get away with something smaller like the Terra Hiker.

We’re also using guy ropes and tent pegs along with the tarp. These are fairly essential, but are pretty cheap to come by. Alternatively, you can borrow pegs and guys from a tent you already own.

Having a trekking pole helps out a lot too, but isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. If you’re going somewhere with a lot of tree cover, you may be able to find sticks that would serve instead of trekking poles. This approach saves the weight of carrying a pole with you. The downside is the uncertainty of whether or not you’ll be able to set up your tarp at all if you can’t find good, sturdy sticks to use!

How To Make A Tarp Shelter

We’ll take a look at some basic configurations in a moment. But first, when setting up a tarp shelter it’s important to consider location.

Being close to a decent cluster of trees has many benefits. For example, being under tree cover can help you deal with much more rain than your tarp alone would allow. Similarly, trees will help screen you from the sun if you’re using a tarp with smaller surface area. Tree cover can also help camouflage you from a distance if you happen to be stealth camping. Plus, free firewood nearby, am I right?

So basically, when tarp camping, I recommend being near some trees if you can 🙂

Building A Tarp Shelter – Configurations

Diamond / Arrowhead

So, let’s take a look at some basic tarp shelter setups. First up, we have a simple arrowhead / diamond configuration. In this example, 3 corners of the tarp are pegged into the ground through the eyelet first. The fourth corner is then raised up with guy rope, and tied around a tree limb. If you prefer, you can stake a walking pole into the ground and use this instead of a tree branch. If you take this approach, make sure you attach a guy rope to the trekking pole and peg this out, for tension. You can see pictures below of how it should look.

Lean To / Windbreak

Next, there’s a simple lean to or windbreak design. This configuration is, as the name suggests, great for keeping the wind off, but won’t keep you dry if the heavens open. To set up a windbreak, begin by staking in the longest side of your tarp with tent pegs. Next, put some extended trekking poles into the corner eyelets of the opposite ends to raise the tarp up. You’ll also want some guy ropes running from the trekking poles to stakes in the ground, for tension. Here’s a picture of how it should look.

Tarp shelter configuration: Windbreak


Many decide to go for a classic A-frame type shelter when using a tarp. This configuration will give you a traditional tent-type shelter, albeit not as waterproof. To set this up, tie a guy rope between two appropriately spaced trees. If you can’t find any trees the right length apart, you may need to use trekking poles instead. Next, drape your tarp over the guy rope and peg down the sides to create an A shape. It might take some adjustment to get the tarp draped exactly across the centre, so peg the sides down only slightly if you need to adjust. Let’s look at an example.

Tarp shelter configuration: A-Frame

Half A-Frame

Something I like to do if I need to get a shelter up in a hurry is go for a Half A-Frame setup. This configuration gives you a decent enough ‘quick and dirty’ shelter, but is not as robust as a full A-frame. If you’ve got a decent sized tarp and clear conditions, it still provides plenty of space and cover as a lazy tarp shelter. To build the 1/2 A-Frame, simply follow the guidelines for a trekking pole A-Frame above but use a trekking pole on only one side. Where the other trekking pole would go, simply peg the tarp directly into the ground instead. Here’s a picture of how it looks when set up.

Until Next Time.

Well folks, I hope you enjoyed this article on tarp shelter configurations. Hopefully you now have an understanding of these 4 easy, basic configurations we’ve looked at. But remember, there are plenty more ways that you can set up a tarp for shelter. The only limit is your imagination. Well, that and how many eyelets your tarp has 🙂

If you like this sort of thing and want to hear more, don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog. Until next time!

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