Who needs a tent? Not Kale, or you, after reading this guide to tarp camping.
The humble tarp, it ain’t much to look at but this versatile piece of gear is a must have for every explorer’s kit. Now many of us probably already use a tarp in some way or other while adventuring, be it as a ground sheet for your tent or an awning for your car, but have you ever slept under one? Yep, just a tarp.
This might sound a bit crazy to some of us but hear me out, when you get past the first few hurdles, camping under the stars is highly addictive!
Probably the best thing about tarp camping is how simple it is. A tarp, some rope and pegs are all you’ll need. If you’re into carrying less gear, so you can explore further, a tarp is about as ultralight as it gets. Throw in a branch or two, a conveniently-placed tree or rock and a dash of creativity and your bush palace awaits!
Already sold? Check out these other tarp brands
Location, location, location!
Now I can’t stress this enough, location is everything when it comes to tarp camping! There are definitely a few more considerations to keep in mind but don’t let this hold you back. Some helpful tips when picking a campsite are:
Get creative! There are an almost infinite amount of shelters you can build with a tarp. We tarp nerds call this tarpology.
We’ve all seen the basic A frame but this is the time to let your creative side shine! Use that big rock as a wall to soak up and reflect the heat of your fire or make use of the abundance of sticks and build yourself a lean-to.
Which way is the wind blowing?
Check the forecast and ensure you set up your tarp to be shielding you from the breeze overnight. You can use a compass to ensure you set up in a way that protects you from the prevailing wind.
Summer camping? Flip things around and use the wind to your advantage to make the most of mother nature’s air conditioner!
This is a big one that stops a lot of would-be tarp enthusiasts from diving in. Luckily, in winter, it’s generally too cold for most creepy crawlies so I don’t think too much about this in the colder months.
In summer however, I try to avoid camping near bodies of water, insects love these warm and humid areas. Head uphill a little bit and you’ll be much comfier. There are also a number of products, like these two excellent options from Sea2Summit, that can help keep the bugs out from the minimalist to the extreme.
The last thing you want is to be caught in the bush unprepared. Check the weather forecast before you leave and make sure you build a shelter that’s appropriate for the conditions.
If you’re expecting rough weather you’ll want something aerodynamic that can handle strong weather and will shield you from as many angles as possible. Check out this enclosed design that uses just one stick and some rope.
Now at this stage you might be thinking ‘with all these extra considerations, why don’t I just stick to my tent?’. So here are some very good reasons to give tarp camping a crack!
Why You Should Make a Shelter With a Tarp Instead of a Tent
You haven’t truly camped until you’ve fallen asleep looking up at millions of stars while comfy and warm in your sleeping bag. There’s something so special about feeling a breeze on your face and listening to the sounds of the bush while the dark emu sits in the sky above you.
In the same vein; how many times have you vowed to get up early to catch the sunrise only to wake up much too late in a hot, stuffy tent? Position your tarp shelter facing east to wake up with the kookaburras and catch sunrise from your bed.
In short, tarp camping keeps you way more connected to the landscape around you.
Simplicity, Versatility & Safety
When I go hiking I like to have a rough idea of where I’d like to spend the night but being flexible is essential. I’ve rocked up to crowded mountain huts and river camps too many times while seeking solitude. My tarp setup means I can be flexible and build a comfy shelter almost anywhere and in most conditions.*
It weighs absolutely nothing! I keep a tarp in my car at all times as well as my daypack. Sometimes I’m just having too nice of a time and decide to spend the night.
Your tarp can also be an essential item in emergencies. It’s way more than just a shelter, this versatile piece of kit can be fashioned into any number of items in a jiffy. Once while hiking in the mountains, during summer, a freak snowstorm stranded us in a hut for three days. One of our party didn’t have a waterproof jacket to make the trek home which could have easily turned into a very dangerous situation in -11°C wind chill.
With a bit of creativity and some rope we turned our tarp into a long, hooded poncho: he ended up staying warmer and drier than the rest of us with our Gore-Tex shells!
*Being able to camp anywhere doesn’t mean you should, make sure to follow local rules and the principles of Leave No Trace.
Need I say more? My kelpie, Scout, is a great camping partner, except for when she rips holes in the floor of my oh-so-expensive tent. We now snuggle up next to a fire and she watches over the campsite while I snooze, and in the morning I don’t wake up in a tent that smells of dog! I mean, do you really need any more encouragement than that?
Remember that dogs are not allowed in national parks and some reserves. Check the local regulations of where you’re going before you head out with pup!
Tarp Camping 101
With winter just around the corner I hope this guide helps inspire you to give tarp camping a go, it’s an awesome way to experience the bush like you never have before.
For first timers I’d recommend taking a few mates and spending some time playing around building a group shelter. Maybe take a tent anyway if you’re really unsure you’ll nail it (but I believe in you).
If you need any further inspiration the #tarpology tag on Instagram will be sure to provide you with plenty of ideas.
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