Tarp Camping

Top 10 Tarp Shelter Configurations


In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the top tarp shelter configurations that you can use to protect yourself from the elements in a variety of situations.

Tarps are a camper’s best friend. Not only are they versatile and able to be used for a variety of tasks, but they’re also lightweight and easy to pack.

We’re going to take you through ten of the best tarp shelter configurations for camping, survivalists, and outdoorsmen.

Whether you’re looking to keep warm and dry, or just need some shade from the sun, one of these setups will work perfectly for you.

But before we take a look at my favourite tarp shelter configurations, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to set them up.

top 10 tarp shelter configurations

Setting Up a Tarp Shelter – What You’ll Need

Before you head off on your next adventure with a tarp shelter configuration in mind, you’ll need to take some time getting to known your equipment and actually how to set it up.

Pitching a tarp shelter is not as easy as it sounds.

Some set ups are easier than others. Some provide better protection from the elements and some will truly test your camping skills.

What you’ll need: This list is the bare minimum of what you’ll need to start your tarp shelter adventures.

  1. Trees. Some setups will need one, others may need two trees. You’ll need patience to find the perfect pairing of tree’s to help you erect your shelter.
  2. Guy Lines. Guy lines, “guylines” or “guy ropes” will be needed to help you anchor your tarp to the ground and tie around a tree for stability.
  3. Anchors. Stakes or rocks can be used to help secure your guy lines to the ground.

1. The A-Frame

The A-frame tarp shelter is a popular choice for campers and hikers alike, thanks to its simple design and easy setup. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

First, the shelter offers minimal protection from the elements. If you’re expecting rain or high winds, you may want to choose a different type of shelter.

However, if you’re looking for a simple, lightweight shelter that’s easy to set up and take down, an A-frame tarp just might be the perfect option.

How to make an A-Frame Tarp Shelter:

  1. Find a flat area with 2 trees around 10ft apart
  2. Tie 1 guy line around each tree roughly 4-5ft from the ground
  3. Ensure the line is tight to prevent the tarp from sagging
  4. Throw your tarp over the line ensuring it’s even on both sides
  5. Hammer in stakes into the ground on each corner of the tarp
A-frame tarp shelter configuration

2. The Lean-To

There’s something to be said for the simplicity of a lean-to tarp shelter. 

The lean-to is a fantastic starter shelter for those who are inexperienced and it’s great for camping or backpacking.

With the Lean-to, there are some similar disadvantages as the A-Frame above.

First, it offers very little protection from the elements. If it rains, you’ll likely get wet. If it’s windy, expect to be exposed to the full brunt of the gale.

Again, it’s not the most private of tarp configurations either. If you’re looking for a little more discreteness while you’re camping, a lean-to tarp shelter probably won’t be high on your list.

But it’s a fast shelter to erect and it will offer good wind protection from one side. Unfortunately there is no floor so you may need a ground sheet to protect you from the cold ground.

How to make a Lean-to Tarp Shelter

  1. Find a flat area with 2 trees around 10ft apart
  2. Tie 1 guy line around each tree roughly 4-5ft from the ground
  3. Ensure the line is tight to prevent the tarp from sagging
  4. Fold the edge of the tarp over your guy line
  5. Use the metal eyelets on your tarp to fasten it to the horizontal guy line
  6. Pull the tarp taught at a 30 degree angle and hammer in stakes on each end
lean-to tarp shelter configuration

3. The Fly Roof with Poles

This simple tarp shelter is another easy to erect design and acts as a great sunshade shelter. There will be enough room underneath to socialize and protect your items under rainfall.

However, you will not be protected from any wind as there are not sides to this design.

The downside of this design is that you’ll have to carry 4 extra poles with you so you are able to erect this type of tarp shelter. This shelter will also not last very long under heavy rain as the center will collect rain and make it sag.

How to make a Fly Roof With Poles Tarp Shelter

  1. Find a flat area with a soft ground
  2. Attach your poles to the metal eyelets of your tarp at each corner
  3. Hammer in your poles into the soft ground
  4. Pull each other tight before hammering each one
  5. Attach a guy line at each corner as well
  6. Pull each guy line right and hammer the stakes into the ground, ensuring your shelter will not fall over
fly roof with poles tarp shelter configuration

4. The Body Bag

While the name is slightly off-putting, the Body Bag tarp configuration is extremely lightweight and compact– making them ideal for backpacking or emergency situations. They also provide excellent protection from the elements.

Their major disadvantage is that body bag tarps can be a bit claustrophobic.

They’re also not particularly comfortable if you’re trying to sleep in one. They are much more suited for quick naps.

However, if you’re looking for a lightweight, waterproof shelter with adequate ground cover, a body bag tarp is definitely worth considering.

How to make a Body Bag Tarp Shelter

  1. Attach a guy line between 2 trees, slightly lower than normal
  2. Fold your tarp over the taught guy line
  3. Ensure opposite ends of your tarp meet
  4. Secure your tarp to the ground using stakes, with an effort to create a tringle shape at the opening
body bad tarp shelter configuration

5. The Envelope

The envelope tarp shelter is another simple configuration for inexperienced tarp campers or those who just wish for a quick method to get their base camp up and running.

This fast and simple design offers good protection from wind and rain on one side.

You of course will not be sheltered from the other side, so placement is key for this design.

How to make an Envelope Tarp Shelter

  1. Find a soft flat patch of ground in between two nicely spaced trees
  2. Lay your tarp flat on the ground between the two trees
  3. Peg or hammer in stakes on the outside corners
  4. On the opposite side of the tarp, secure the top to the taught guy line
  5. Locate the remaining crease in your tarp and pull in tight to the ground to create an envelope shape
  6. Secure that to the ground using at least two more stakes
The envelope tarp shelter configuration

6. The Diamond Fly/Plough Point

A diamond fly (or plough-point) does have its advantages. 

It’s easy to set up and take down, and it’s a great way to protect your gear from the elements.

However, the diamond fly point tarp shelter is not the best choice for windy conditions. The shelter can act like a sail, catching the wind and making it difficult to keep the structure in place.

In addition, the shelter can also feel a bit cramped if you’re trying to fit more than two people inside at any given time.

How to make a Diamond Fly/Plough Point Tarp Shelter

  1. Lay your tarp on the ground in a diamond shape with one tip pointing at the stump of a tree
  2. Hammer a stake and a guy line into the diamond tip that’s furthest away from the tree
  3. Tie the lose end of the guy line around your tree, roughly 5ft high
  4. Ensure the angle of your guy line is about 45 degrees
  5. Stake the other two corners of your tarp into the ground to secure your shelter
The diamond fly / plough point tarp shelter configuration

7. The Hammock Shelter

A hammock is one of the most versatile pieces of camping gear you can own. It can be used as a comfortable chair, a makeshift bed- or even a storage area for your gear.

Additionally, if you add a tarp to your setup, you can turn your hammock into a shelter that will protect you from the elements.

However, there are some distinct downsides to using a hammock as your primary shelter.

Firstly, it can be difficult to find two trees that are the right distance apart to set up the hammock.

Secondly, you may need to use an insulated sleeping bag in order to stay warm- especially in colder weather.

This tarp shelter configuration can provide good protection from the rain and wind. No groundsheet is needed, as, of course, you’ll be sleeping in a suspended hammock away from the cold ground.

All in all: If you’re looking for a lightweight and comfortable shelter option, a hammock shelter can be an excellent choice.

How to make a Hammock Tarp Shelter

  1. Find two sturdy trees the appropriate distance apart for your hammock
  2. Secure your hammock as normal
  3. Once your hammock is secure, tie a guy line around each tree, so it becomes taught above your hammock
  4. Fold your tarp over the guy line in a diamond shape so two corners are pointing to the ground
  5. Take the two corners into the ground, ensuring the tarp is pulled tight
  6. If available, secure your guy line to the top corners of your tarp using the metal eyelets
The hammock tarp shelter configuration

8. The Adirondack

Adirondack tarps are a type of tent that gets its name from the Adirondack mountains in New York.

The Adirondack is a tarp shelter for the more experienced camper due to it’s complexity.

Practice creating these shelter before you head out camping is definitely a must for anyone, just to be sure you know what you’re doing.

The Adirondack, in short, is a slightly modified lean-to, with added protection from both sides, front and offers a small floor space.

They’re roomy enough to fit two people comfortably. They also offer good protection from the elements on three sides. You can even cook under it!

How to make an Adirondack Tarp Shelter

  1. Lay your tarp out in a diamond shape
  2. Add pegs to the second tie out loops on either side of your tarp
  3. Pull out the two front corners and peg them inline with the back
  4. Attach the two remaining corners to the guy rope, leaving a triangle shape on top
  5. Use another guy rope to attach the remaining triangle to the ground in front, creating a small lean-to cover
The adironrack tarp shelter configuration

9. The Forester

One of the best things about forester tents is that they offer a lot of protection from the elements

If you’re camping in an area with high winds or heavy rains, a forester tent can help you stay dry and comfortable

They’re also generally very spacious, so you’ll have plenty of room to move around inside.

However, one downside to forester tents is that they can be a bit cumbersome to configure

If you’re not experienced in setting up tents, it’s definitely worth getting some help from someone who knows what they’re doing.

How to make a Forester Tarp Shelter

  1. Lay your tarp out in a diamond shape with one point of the diamond aimed at a tree
  2. Stake in the point furthest away from the tree
  3. Fold the point closest to the tree inwards towards the center of the tarp and attach a guy line
  4. Use this guy line to attack it to the tree at a 45 degree angle
  5. Stake in the edges of your shelter, to the left and right of your doorway
  6. Fold the doorway edges neatly as these flaps will give you added protection from the elements
the forester tarp shelter configuration

10. The Holden Tent

And finally, we have the Holden Tent.

A simple, be effective tarp tent configuration that is easy to construct for those with little to no experience in tarp tent building.

A square shaped tarp is ideal, but it’s possible with other shaped tarps.

How to make a Holden Tent Tarp Shelter

  1. Place your tarp on a flat surface and stake in one of the long edges
  2. Find the center of the opposite long side and place a pole or branch under this point
  3. Raise the pole/branch so it’s at 90 degrees and ensure it’s secure in the ground
  4. Stake in the final corners so they are angled inwards to give you maximum protection from the elements
the holden tarp shelter configuration

In Summary

There are many different types of tarp shelter that offer unique advantages and disadvantages depending on the conditions. 

Some are better for sunny conditions, are more spacious, or offer more protection against the elements. 

Ultimately, it depends on your individual needs and purposes as to which type of tarp tent is best for you.

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

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