Do I Need a Tarp Under my Tent?

Tarpaulin is usually sold as an add-on and are rarely included in tent bundles. As a result, you might be wondering if they’re really necessary.

Whilst the answer could easily be no because it isn’t entirely necessary, the benefits of having tarpaulin may convince you otherwise. An experienced camper will find it hard to go on any trips without a helpful supply of tarpaulin.

What is a Tarp?

Tarpaulin, or tarp for short, are sheets of waterproof material that are used frequently in camping but are also used in a variety of different ways. Tarpaulin can also be used to cover van’s cargo, be used for print banners, and are used a lot in the construction industry to keep structures dry. Tarp can be made from canvas cloth or polyester coated with polyurethane.

Why Should I Use a Tarp?

Tarps are used pretty universally as a way to keep things dry. Specifically cargo, new buildings and tents. The methods used to keep tents dry also ensures they are well insulated, and so tarpaulin can also be used as a method of keeping warm. Tarpaulin has many applications in camping and can be used either underneath or above a tent. Or both, if you have more than one sheet. 

Benefits of Having Tarp Under a Tent

Setting up tarp under your tent might not be the first thing that crosses your mind when thinking about tarpaulin’s uses, but it is a good idea for a variety of reasons.

  1. It keeps your tent’s base insulated – The cold can really affect you when you’re camping, and when the nights draw in it can become uncomfortably cold. Any insulation inside a tent is welcome, and luckily having tarpaulin underneath your tent adds some much appreciated insulation. Keeping tarp over your tent can keep the sides insulated, so there’s no need to neglect your tent’s base when that too could be insulated very easily as well. 
  2. It adds another layer of cushioning – The flooring of a tent is notorious for being uncomfortable and bumpy – regardless of where you’re camping. People use mats and other fitted sheets to add a little bit more comfort to the bottom of their tents, and luckily tarpaulin also adds a very thin layer beneath your tent as well. Whilst this isn’t its main benefit by any means, it’s still an extra bonus especially if you can’t carry a bunch of extra fitted sheets or mats to your campsite.
  3. It keeps your tent’s base dry – This is the main benefit of putting tarp under a tent. A tent’s flooring is one of the more vulnerable parts of the tent, as it’s constantly scraping and moving around on the bumpy terrain that it’s placed on. It can pick up water damage from wet soil, and paired with the potential for holes to form, make it a very important part of the tent to keep protected and safe. Imagine if a hole had formed in the bottom of your tent and you only realised when water started seeping in from the muddy grass below. 

Tarpaulin acts as a barrier between the bottom of the tent and the terrain below. With the material it’s made from, tarp is durable and more able to withstand any rough and tumble that can occur whilst you’re camping in a particularly bumpy or rugged terrain. 

Do I Need a Tarp Over my Tent?

Tarpaulin over a tent can act as either an insulating material or as a way to keep your tent in the shade, depending on how it’s set up. If you’re visiting a particularly sunny area, it might be best to invest in some tarpaulin which you can use as a shade. Alternatively, if it’s a rainy area, this shade could be used as a shelter from the rain. Whether or not you want to use tarpaulin is up to you, but it’s strongly advised to have it in case a situation arises where you need it. Tarpaulin is lightweight, easy to carry along with camping equipment and is quick and easy to set up. It’s benefits outweigh the cons as it can make camping much easier, especially if it decides to rain. 

Benefits of Having Tarp Over a Tent

Having tarp over your tent has a variety of benefits, and is useful in a multitude of different ways. 

  1. It keeps you and your tent dry – One of the fears when it comes to camping is if there’s a sudden downpouring of rain. This is why it’s important to waterproof your tent, to ensure that no damage is made to it or the equipment housed inside. Keeping yourself and your tent as dry as possible makes for a much easier camping trip, and it is easier to pack dry equipment away. 
  2. It keeps your tent warm – Warmth is hard to come by when camping, especially at nighttime, when the temperature plummets. Keeping tarpaulin over your tent can help insulate it and add an extra layer of warmth to help you get through the night. Whilst there are a lot of ways to heat your tent without electricity, using tarpaulin as an insulating layer is among the most popular. 
  3. It can keep your gear safe and dry – Using tarpaulin as a cover can ensure that even some kit that doesn’t fit in the tent can remain dry. Depending on how big the tarpaulin is, it can protect things that are usually left outside of the tent, such as gas canisters, shoes, water bottles etc.
  4. It can provide shade – Whilst tarpaulin can provide a shelter when it’s rainy, it can also help you keep out of the sun on hot days. 

How to Set Up Tarp

There are a couple of ways to set up your tarp, and the way you set it up can dictate its purpose. For instance, tarp set up for insulating won’t be done in the same way as tarp set up for sun cover and shade. It can also depend on the shape of the tent you’re using. It can lead to a lot of trial and error as you try to find the best way to set up your tarpaulin around your tent. 

Setting up Tarp Under a Tent

Setting up a tarp under a tent is a fairly straightforward exercise. The only issues you can possibly run into involve the actual size of the tarp you’re using.
Tarp under a tent can be used to protect the actual base of the tent from damage caused by rain or other elements. For the tarp to work correctly under a tent, it needs to be the same size as the base of the tent, and no bigger. The reason behind this is so that no rain, snow, or other elements can get caught on the exposed tarp and make their way under the tent where they can become trapped. Rain water can pool between the tarp and the tent if the tarp is bigger than the base of the tent, which can lead to unpleasant smells, mold or rot. 

To set the tarp under a tent, lay it out first before assembling the tent on top of it. This will give you the opportunity to line it up perfectly and see how large it is compared to the base of the tent. If you’re happy with the results, pin the tarpaulin down using pegs using the grommets that are usually already features of the tarpaulin. 

Setting up Tarp Over a Tent

When placed over a tent, tarp can be both draped or suspended. Draping tarp over the tent is better for insulation, whilst suspending it is better for shelter and shade. Of course, you can take two pieces of tarp and do both for that little bit of added security. 

Tarp can be suspended between trees or poles using the grommets that are usually already installed in the tarp. When bringing tarp along  when camping, be sure to remember to bring some paracord or some other rope to fasten it to the suspenders which you will be using, whether they be trees or poles. The tarp being used over a tent should be larger than the tent itself to ensure full coverage. 

When suspended, the tarp should also be lower on one side to ensure that the rain doesn’t begin to pool on top of it. In addition to this, a piece of string or paracord can be left atop of the tarp, overhanging, to further allow any water to use it as a means to drip down. 

When using the tarp to drape over a tent, ensure it’s as tight and secure as possible by pulling it over the assembled tent. Then, using pegs, secure it safely to the ground using the grommets.  Keeping the tarp as tightly draped as possible is to ensure that no water can get trapped between the tarp and the exterior of the tent, which can result in a musty smell, mold or other unsavory effects. 

Alternatives to Tarp

Whilst tarp is ideal for camping, you may not have access to it or would rather use an alternative. Luckily, there are other materials and equipment available that mimic the benefits of tarpaulin. 

  1. Gazebos – Whilst a gazebo can be laborious to carry for long walks, if you’re camping close to your car or only have a short walk to the campsite, it might be worth taking one with you. Gazebos can be bought fairly cheaply and come in a variety of sizes. They can be used as a cover for your tent, or even just as a cover for an extra seating area. They are beneficial as they can be used to shelter from the rain and sun, but as their sides are bare, you can’t be entirely shielded from the elements whilst sitting under one. Another benefit of using a gazebo is that they are self-supported and don’t require trees or other poles to support them.
  2. Picnic Vinyl Cloth – A rather unconventional alternative, picnic vinyl cloth makes a good substitute for tarp due to its vinyl material. It’s made to sustain stains, wet weather and is durable enough for reuse. It’s a thin material, which means it’s lightweight, and due to the density it isn’t hard to make holes in it if you need to prop it up. Due to how thin it is, it might not be best to use for insulation, but it is a decent alternative to tarp if you’re mostly intending on using it as a covering. It’s also available in a lot of colors and patterns!
  3. Ponchos/ Other Waterproof Clothing – The only problem with using ponchos or similar clothing is that the size and shape could become an issue very quickly. Whilst you shouldn’t use these items as an alternative, they would make a reasonable backup in the case of an emergency, for if you needed to make a makeshift tarpaulin. 

Related Articles:

How to Keep Your Tent Cool

How to Waterproof a Tent

Can I Leave my Dog Alone in the Tent

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