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tarps for camping and hiking


  • tarps have many uses and your choice of tarp will depend upon how you wish to use it:
    • emergency shelter when hiking (you may still need a bivy for warmth and mesh head net for bug protection)
    • use as a ground sheet to reduce risk of water (even if using an enclosed tarp tent)
    • rain / shade protection for your camping shelter (eg. mesh tent, hammock, swag, or no tent)
    • awning to extend from your car or your tent
    • provision of extra protection of your tent during storms (in severe storms you may be better off taking down your tent so it is not damaged and can be set up after the storm has passed)
    • temporary protective cover to assist in recovery and prevent further water issues from damage to house/vehicle/etc after storms
  • light, compact, versatile - as long as you know how to pitch them
  • tarps require use of mosquito nets or a bivvy to keep you from the bugs, but in the desert can be used primarily as a windbreak without a bug net
  • flat tarps in A-frame pitch takes longer to set up than those with catenary cut tarp
  • in storm mode, flat tarps only provide 3 sided protection which can be more problematic compared to pyramidal tarps
  • tarp ponchos can be very useful for some types of hikes and for emergency rain/shelter use
    • they are not good for1):
      • extended wet and windy conditions such as in Tasmania or NZ
      • long alpine trails above the tree line as they are too exposed
      • narrow trails where they are likely to continuously snag on branches
  • nothing short of a concrete bunker is likely to protect you from a tree falling, tornado, cyclone or bushfires - tarps will have minimal or no help to you in these conditions!
  • large hailstones will compromise your vehicle windows as well as house roof tiling - a light tarp is not likely to protect during the storm but may have a use after the storm has passed
  • tarps need to be well made and expertly set up to withstand very strong winds
  • If you are riding out a lengthy storm underneath a tarp, especially a small tarp, you will want to make sure it is pitched tautly and in an appropriate location.
  • you probably shouldn't be relying upon a tarp shelter when hiking above the tree line in alpine conditions in weather that is not optimal - you may be better off keep walking until you find protection or use a tent designed for those conditions.
  • the smallest tarp for shelters when hiking for most people should be 1.6×2.7m (smaller tarps can be OK for shorter people or when using a bivy)

tarp material - strength/durability/waterproofing vs weight vs price

Dyneema cuben fibre (DCF)

  • this approaches the most ideal material in terms of tear resistant strength, durability, waterproofing and weight but it is VERY EXPENSIVE and is used in ultralight tarps and tents and is the preferred option for 2000km trail hikes
  • 0.51oz (17g/m2) 100XT Dyneema is probably the best strength Dyneema for tarp purposes
    • you can get even lighter, less expensive Dyneema but they will not last long
  • generally provides 15,000mm waterhead protection
  • does not stretch as much as most other lightweight fabrics nor does it sag when wet as does silnylon, the lack of stretch may make it less suitable for some types of pitches where stretching the fabric is needed
  • better UV resistance than nylon
  • although the fibre is 15x stronger than steel per weight, it is subject to abrasion damage due to the Mylar layer
  • seam failure from needle hole expansion is a common issue with films and nonwovens, so seams have to be bonded and/or hot taped and tape adhesives are often a weak point and can degrade before the rest of the shelter wears out

ripstop nylon

  • a superlight tarp which provides a great material for strength, durability, waterproofing (although not as good as Dyneema cuben fibre on any of these and is heavier much much more affordable)
  • usually is PU coated for waterproofing to around 3000mm waterhead
  • some are also siliconised for better UV protection but this increases their sag when wet
  • most are 20D for superlight purposes (15D versions are lighter but less durable, while 30-40D are much stronger but heavier placing them in the “light” tarp category)

taffeta nylon

  • taffeta nylon is heavier than rip-stop but stronger
  • often used in tent floors

other nylon

  • a light material although not as strong as ripstop nylon for same weight
  • nylon is more abrasion resistant and has a much better strength-to-weight ratio than polyester due to its stretchiness but absorbs more water in the rain which makes it heavier and larger when wet and thus it sags more, and the stretchiness tends to give a less aesthetic pitch, and is more susceptible to UV degradation
  • usually is PU coated for waterproofing to around 3000mm waterhead
  • some are also siliconised for better UV protection but this increases their sag when wet

reinforced ripstop PVC


  • whilst lighter 30D and 75D PU-coated polyester (~105gsm) is used as tent flies and 100D (~150gsm) to 210D is used for tent floors, heavier duty polyester is what is generally used in the traditional heavy tarps found in most 4WD and building retail shops
  • they are great for car camping and home uses where weight is not an issue and they are generally very cheap but strong


XF film

  • a patented Swiss film that makes tarps strong and waterproof

ripstop polycotton canvas

  • 8oz versions as used by OzTents have 1500mm waterhead rating

tarps size and minimizing risk of damage

  • the minimum size for most camping uses is a 3m x 3m tarp as you need to allow for the wet zone around the edges in the rain
  • most tarps are subject to damage from:
    • sharp objects - hence avoid dragging them over a load and instead, lift them onto a load and don't drop heavy objects onto a tarp
    • abrasion - avoid placing over sharper objects, and consider rotating tarp
    • UV damage - most will deteriorate over time in the sun, some much more than others, if continuous use is needed, turn tarp over periodically.
    • mildew - don’t roll up or fold tarpaulins when they are wet. This will result in growth of mold and eventual rotting.
    • tears to tie down points
      • Don’t over tighten a tarp when tieing it down.
      • Consider using tarp clips if needing additional tie-down points.
      • for high wind situations consider using tarps with D-rings
      • When used for an awning, always make sure rain or condensation can drain away and not collect in the middle
      • use appropriate tie methods for eyelets
      • ensure number of tie downs are sufficient - consider using tarp clips if needing additional tie-down points
      • ensure a rope is secured OVER a larger tarp to avoid it becoming a parachute and further straining the eyelets
      • ensure all tie down points are actually tied down

comparison of tarp materials

material approx. gram per sq.m weight for 3x3m tarp waterproofing cost for 3x3m tarp
Dyneema cuben fibre 24gsm ~220g 15,000mm $AU600-800
15D UltraSil silnylon eg. Sea to Summit 39gsm 350g 1500mm? $AU320
20D ripstop PU silnylon eg. Mont BatWing 50gsm ~450g 3000mm $AU280
DD Hammocks Superlight PU nylon (?20D) 54gsm 490g 3000mm $AU150
30D ripstop silnylon eg. WE Overhang Ultralight 78gsm 700g 1500mm $AU400
40D PU silnylon eg. Aqua Quest Guide 100gsm 910g 5000mm $AU150
75D ripstop polyester eg. WE Overhang 117gsm 1050g 3000mm $AU260
105GSM polyethylene “Medium Duty” 105gms ~1050g start at ~$AU17 or $AU30 for clear versions
160GSM polyethylene “Heavy Duty” 160gsm ~1700g start at ~$AU30
205GSM polyethylene “Extreme” 205gsm ~2200g start at $AU80
290GSM polyethylene ABCTarp 290gsm ~3000g $AU60
500GSM reinforced PVC Marson 500gsm ~5000g $AU100
680GSM reinforced ripstop PVC Marson Titan 680gsm ~7000g $AU150

tarp as shelter

ultra-light hiking tarps under 500g

superlight hiking tarps under 1kg

heavier car camping tarps

  • polyethylene tarps
    • these are the basic types and tend to be heavy (a 3×3.6m tarp averages 2kg but can be much more)
    • standard lightweight poly tarps are 1000 denier material in a 10 x 10 mesh, with 0.04 mm lamination on each side.
    • heavy-duty tarps have a tighter 14 x 14 mesh, and thicker laminate.
    • often have a top and bottom layer in the manufacture to make them waterproof
    • thickness is measured as grams per square meter (GSM) and thus weight is approximately this GSM x area thus a a 1.8m x 2.4m 105GSM tarp will weigh around 450g (eyelets and hem add slightly to this weight)
    • eg.
      • Wanderer 12’ x 20’ Medium Duty 105GSM Tarp - basic 3.6x6m tarp at BCF $AU45
      • Boab 12’ x 18’ Premium Heavy Duty 160GSM Tarp with twin needle stitching for strength
      • Wanderer 12’ x 20’ Extreme Heavy Duty 205GSM Tarp - 3.6x6m tarp with 22 D-rings, twin needle stitching, 5.1kg at BCF $AU90
    • Integrated TPO eyelets are welded into the tarp during manufacture for superior strength “4x stronger than normal eyelets”
    • made from polyolefin which is stronger, thinner and lighter than the basic polyethylene tarps while still being UV resistant, chemical resistant, waterproof and mildew resistant and is completely recyclable
    • sizes: 1.8×2.4m $AU33; 2.4x3m $AU54; 3×3.6m $AU74; 3.6×5.5m; 4.9×6.1m; 6.1×6.1m; 6.1×9.1m;
    • 70GSM medium duty camping ground sheet but generally not suitable for covers or suspended shelters
    • 120GSM heavy duty can be used as a cover but generally not suitable for suspended shelters
    • 150GSM extra heavy duty - can be used as a cover or as a suspended shelter
  • polyester tarps

awnings for cars

  • they are at high risk of damage during strong winds and so generally should be taken down before storms or strong winds
  • they are very popular for those who sleep in swags as they provide the rain protection to avoid swags getting soaked

tall 4WD cars

  • there are many side or rear awning systems available
  • most are quite heavy and have attached poles which are quick to set up

standard height cars

  • side awnings can be fitted to most cars with roof rack systems but the low height of these makes them problematic for standing under
  • this can be resolved by using domed awnings - essentially like elevated tent fly systems

domed awnings

australia/tarps.txt · Last modified: 2022/09/09 18:37 by gary1

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