Introduction: Rain Tarp Design

Picture of Rain Tarp Design

Stay dry camping.

This is the best rain tarp design I have found in my years of camping.

Step 1: Tarp Design

Picture of Tarp Design

The main concept of this tarp design is to have a tight support rope under the tarp between opposite corners. The tarp needs to be attached to the center support rope but it should not be pulling on the tarp when the center support rope is pulled tight. This is done by tying a 1 foot loops in the rope where the tarp corners will be. The loops are tied through the corner grommets and adjusted for tension. The center support rope should be tied tight at 10 - 12 feet above the ground to give you plenty of head room. The other two hanging corners can then be tied with ropes and pulled out. The corner ropes should be lower than the center rope and tied with little tension.

Step 2: Advantages

Picture of Advantages

- Minimum setup requires only 3 ropes and a tarp
- Drains water at only 2 points
- Does not collect pools of water
- Keeps the tarp high
- Area can be free of poles and trip hazards if trees are available
- Uses commonly available rectangular plastic tarps
- Works with large tarps

Step 3: Poles

Picture of Poles

I have no trees. I have only one tree. Poles!!!!!!!

The same design works with poles.

Good poles can be made from 3/4" EMT Conduit. Five foot long poles fit in my van but require some joining hardware. The joining hardware consists of two 5/8" bolts welded together at the head. An additional 5/8" bolt and 3/8" bolt welded together at the head is used for the top of the pole. The 3/8" bolt is small enough to fit though the tarp grommets. A little duct tape can be used to make the 5/8" bolt a snug fit inside the 3/4" EMT pole.

Step 4: Tips

Picture of Tips

Bigger is not always better. Constraints from trees and other objects may require a smaller tarp. Bring a couple tarps to give you some choices in these situations.

When supporting a big tarp use a larger center rope to support the tarp.

I sometimes leave the ropes attached to the tarp. This saves me from having to adjust the center rope tension under the tarp next setup. If it's a pole setup it will be the same every time. If its a tree setup it might work.

When using poles, tie all of the ropes first and leave some slack, then put the poles up and adjust the ropes.

A rectangular tarp will orient itself differently depending on which two corners you choose to use on the center rope. Lay the tarp on the ground in the two positions so you can see what the optimum position will be before setting it up (Plan).

Step 5: Hanging the Center Rope

To get the center rope 10 - 12 feet in the tree I usually throw a stick with a rope attached over a branch then tie the rope around the trunk at 4 feet above the ground. When I don't have branches I lasso the rope around the tree and use the handle of my paddle to inch it up. It's helpful to have a second person to keep a little tension on the rope so it doesn't slide back down while moving it up the tree. A paddle with a T handle can be used as a hook to pull the lasso when the rope needs to come down.

Stay Dry!


dimarca made it! (author)2017-01-05

Really works perfect. Thanks for sharing

jaaaaayyyyy (author)dimarca2017-01-12

Thanks for posting your pic. Looks like you have mastered the technique. Tarp Master you have become.

TuckerLatham (author)2014-09-28

Thanks for the information! I'm intrigued, but I have a few questions.

First, I'm sure it's because I don't know anything (!) about knots, but how do the loops help to pull the tarp taut?

Also, what kind of rope do you suggest? I've always used clothesline; though flexible, it's kind on the trees, cheap, and strong.

Finally, how well does this setup handle wind?

Thanks again!!

elyseDIY (author)TuckerLatham2015-09-15

To ease the positionning of the tarp, you might use a prusik loop.

That's what I use to position my tarp on the center line.
I found a video that explain in detail how to make it.
Hope this will help !

elyseDIY (author)elyseDIY2015-09-15

I just forgot to mention that I use a little carabiners to attach the prusik loop to the grommets.

jaaaaayyyyy (author)TuckerLatham2014-10-27

The diagonal design requires only 3 ropes. Only the rope under the tarp needs to be strong. I have used cheap string to hold up the sides on occasion since there is little tension. I like to use yellow polypropylene rope for the center rope because it does not stretch very much.

I use simple loop knot that that does not require the end of the rope. Wikipedia calls it a Overhand Loop. Getting the loop in the right place is critical to the design.

All bets are off in high wind. This thing is like a sail. Bungy cords may help a bit but most of my tarps have missing grommets at the corners.

RobH15 (author)2015-09-02

Wow... Guess I'm 8 years past due on commenting here, but I'll give it a try. I just can't quite get the complete picture from this instructable. I guess my first question is when do you tie the tarp to the loops? Is this done on the ground and then raised? And this raises the other question I had of how specifically to determine where to put the loops in the rope. I think I envision pulling the rope tight on the ground and laying the tarp over it to determine the location of the loops, then... bah... I'm just missing something. Hope somebody's out there listening after this long.

elyseDIY (author)RobH152015-09-15

To ease the positionning of the tarp, you might use a prusik loop.
That's what I use to position my tarp on the center line.
I found a video that explain in detail how to make it.
Hope this will help !

jaaaaayyyyy (author)RobH152015-09-06

I start by tying one end of the center support rope high on a tree. Then tie the first loop where I want the tarp to start and attach the loop to one corner of the tarp. The rope can then be pulled tight to figure out where the second loop should be tied. I make the second loop about a foot long so I can loosen it if the tarp is getting pulled too much. At this point pull the rope tight to make sure the rope is tight but the tarp is loose. The other end of the center support rope can now be tied high in the second tree. Thanks for the question. The order of operations is always important.

RobH15 (author)jaaaaayyyyy2015-09-08

Awesome. Thanks for the reply!

scud77 (author)2015-06-10

If using poles... would you put the corner grommets of the tarp through the top of the poles, or do the loops and have the poles out wider than the tarp? thanks!

jaaaaayyyyy made it! (author)scud772015-09-01

I have started to use S hooks at the top of the poles. I sometimes tie additional small loops in the center support rope then hook the loops with the S hooks at the top of the poles. The S hooks are also useful at the top of the pole if you are using the pole to get the rope tied high in a tree. The S hook does need to be taped to the pole to keep it from falling out if using it in this manner.

samoht70 (author)scud772015-08-24

This design puts the main tension load onto the rope instead of the tarp, which lets you pull the rope very tight without damaging the tarp; don't put the tarp grommets onto the poles.

Mick_Feisty (author)2014-08-27

Is there a large net advantage to laying the tarp diagonal as opposed to one edge running the length of the main rope? (I assume you would make several loops to be able to attach the tarp in multiple places)

The_Epic_Juan (author)2014-07-03

Is that Algonquin park

Yes Opalescent Lake in Algonquin. We did the Barron Canyon loop.

brainbuster19 (author)2014-03-20

I'll use this design next weekend when I go camping with my friends. We're only bringing food, water, knife, rope , and a tarp. This will help a lot, thanks.

thefabricator (author)2012-08-05

I like the connector idea. I've used emt conduits, and couldn't come up with a connector i trusted, so I left them long, (10, 8, and 6 ft lengths). I used the "S" hooks from the rubber bungy cords, hooked into the tarp grommet, then into the top of the emt. The ropes then held the whole assembly down.
I also used a oak "stick" 1/2" x 3/4" x 6" with a hole at each end, (diameter of the rope used), to act as a tensioner.

Bigfoot4909 (author)2012-07-19

Very nice pole rig, will make this weekend!!!

kd4uwk (author)2012-06-18

Thanks This is a big Help Like it alot

owenlavery (author)2011-08-19

I gave this instructable over this weekend a chance and it worked out great. I have one question though. When attaching the tarp to the two "loops" what knots are you utilizing and are they tensioning?

jaaaaayyyyy (author)owenlavery2011-08-23

I take the loops, put them though the grommets at the corners and then tie them to the center support line with a couple half hitches. The tarp should just be sitting on the center support rope without being pulled. The loops are not used to put tension on the tarp just hold it in place. The loops can be adjusted to take pressure off the tarp if the loop knots are not positioned perfectly on the center support rope. I like to use polypropylene rope for the center support rope because it stretches very little.

swizzle (author)2010-03-09

If water running down the main line is a problem then just tie to short pieces of jute twine, para cord or whatever around the main line just under the tarp. Leave a little bit hanging. The water will run down the main line and hit the knot and drip off there. Swiz

redsuit09 (author)2009-08-13

this really is a great design... i have been trying to figure out a way to hang a tarp above me when i go backpacking with hammocks

abadfart (author)2009-06-25

this would be great for cooking

Yerboogieman (author)2009-05-16

Northwest Profile #60 Blue tarp camper.

espdp2 (author)2009-05-03

You'd be surprised how dry you can stay, even in a downpour. My light fighter buddies still use this method in the Army. Not perfect, but you can't carry perfect on your back anyways. We weathered many storms, and only got soaked because water was running on the ground. This is the also hot ticket for a hammock cover. Good sleeping.

shmacky26 (author)2007-09-14

There's no way you could stay dry under there, especially in a hard rain. Water would run down the rope from both sides and then drip at the lowest point, which in this case is dead in the middle of the inside of the test. This would be an ideal set up it the ropes sloped away from the tent and there was some sort of peak in the middle.

den8246 (author)shmacky262008-12-18

shmacky26: Your right about rain running down the center rope. The loop knot just outside the tarp on the center line act as a water stop(not 100% but a lot). Gravity lets most of the rain drip off the rope outside the tarp. Shock cord at all corners helps a lot. But camping in a thunderstorm is for extremist...

jaaaaayyyyy (author)den82462008-12-19

I have never had a problem with water dripping from the support rope. It should be very tight and not have much of a low point. I like to use polypropylene rope for the support rope because it doesn't stretch much.

lwooly (author)2008-09-05

Thanks a million...single mom of two had no problems putting this up. I just scratched the design on paper before we left for camping. I did have to climb 2 trees though!!!!

reiver (author)2008-07-23

We tried your design this past weekend, and it worked great! It was very fast and simple to set up, which worked out well because we were only 30 minutes ahead of the rain.

stone3408 (author)reiver2008-09-02

Yup the best way to put up a tarp shelter by far. I have one set up on my property for when it rains. It has been dry for almost a year now.

FunkLiberationFront (author)2007-08-23

Awesome, I want to try this with the instant hammock. It would be cool if we could get a "Camping" tag for Instructables.

I have been sifting through camping instructables and adding them to my group, the Happy Campers Club. Check it out if you like, but i agree there should be a Camping tag...

The instant hammock, by the way, is an awesome idea. I have one in my bedroom. If you like it check out my Hammocking instructable, How To Backpack Better With A Hammock. Aslo, feel free to join the group, the more the merrier!

jaaaaayyyyy (author)2007-12-15

I added some pictures from Grundy Lake Provincial Park. The tarp over the tent saved us in the middle of the night.

shmacky26 (author)2007-09-14

Inside of the "tent", not test.

Dog_Man (author)2007-06-08

I got lost in step 1. I don't understand about the loops. Does the rope that runs between the two trees in the drawing run all the way under the tarp or is it two ropes tied to the gormets? Also, if it is really windy would bungy cords between the gormets and ropes help prevent rips and blowing down?

jaaaaayyyyy (author)Dog_Man2007-06-08

I posted a new pic that shows the center rope with loops. The center rope is one rope that runs all the way under the tarp. The loops tie onto the corner grommets. I haven't had much luck with high wind and tarps. Shock cords may help.

Dog_Man (author)jaaaaayyyyy2007-06-09

Thanks Jaaaaayyyyy. I was thinking of the shock cords on the other 2 ropes. As a former scoutmaster, we found they helped on tents.

sleeping_gecko (author)2007-06-08

This is great!

dchall8 (author)2007-06-06

Now if you hang your Instant Hammock from the same trees at the same location, you have a nice rainproof place to sleep. You might want to lower the height of both the hammock and rain fly if you don't trust yourself in a hammock.

I see you use my favorite pink polyester rope. I have easily used 1,000 feet of that in the past 20 years. It is great because it never stretches like ALL nylon rope does.

I'm having trouble understanding step 5. Can you add pictures or diagrams?

Can you use a larger PVC pipe (1.25 inch) and a regular connector instead of the heavy metal and welding up a connector?

jaaaaayyyyy (author)dchall82007-06-06

I will have more pictures to add after some trips this summer. Poles need to be straight and stiff so PVC, Fiberglass, wood, steel will all work. I don't bother with poles unless I drive to the site.

howboutitbru (author)dchall82007-06-06

in step 5 he is attaching the rope to a stick then throwing the stick over branch, a branch whihc is about the height we wants the rope then ties off the rope

dont correct me on spelling it pisses me off

Robotrix (author)2007-06-06

this is what my dad came up with too. We do it with a huge tarp and it's our kitchen shelter. Best way to make a roof and easy to add walls too!

thematthatter (author)2007-06-06

we hang rocks off of ours if it starts to puddle.

StepsoftheSun (author)2007-06-05

Awesome... a well-written (and well-modeled) useful idea.

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