A tarp tent is one of the most versatile tents as it can be setup in a variety of ways to achieve a desired tent type or setup in response to unforseen circumstances and weather conditions.
A tarp tent and ground cloth are both lightweight and pack down to a small size. Tarp tents typically do not come with tent poles and are supported with trekking poles, tree limbs and paracord. They may also be attached to nearby trees and suspended in the air. Ingenuity and knot-tying knowledge are key. Making our own tarp tent allows us to customize it for greater versatility.
Step 1: Design Considerations
A tarp tent can made from a variety of materials and cut into specific shapes. I will show how I made a tarp tent using a 9 x 12 foot (2.7 x 3.7 m) piece of Tyvek housewrap. This size allows for a variety of configurations and will accommodate two adults comfortably.
Tyvek is a waterproof material that is also breathable, reducing condensation inside the tent by allowing water vapor to pass through to the outside. It does not matter which side of the Tyvek is used for the inside or the outside as the breathability is the same for either side.
Tyvek is also lightweight. In this project the tarp tent weighs about 23 ounces (652 grams ) and the ground cloth is 11 ounces (312 grams). Both were weighed without the paracord loops.
Tyvek can be purchased online or in stores selling building materials.
Step 2: Getting Started: Tools and Materials
Marker or pencil
Bucket or tin can
Step 3: Cutting the Tyvek Sheet and Marking the Location for the Tent Loops
Find a large indoor or outdoor workspace and cut the Tyvek housewrap into a rectangle 9 feet wide by 12 feet long (2.7 x 3.7 meters), or whatever size you like. If outdoors, place a spring clamp on each corner to weigh down the sheet to keep it from blowing around while you work.
The next step is to mark the location of tent loops along all four sides and corners. To illustrate this I made a paper model, to scale, of the tarp tent, as seen in Photo 1, to show the next few steps.
To evenly mark the location of the loops, take the long edge of the Tyvek sheet and fold it in half (Photo 2) and make a small mark on the fold next to the edge. This is the halfway mark as seen in Photo 3. Now take the left corner and bring it to the halfway mark and fold at the edge as seen in Photo 4. Place a small mark on the fold (Photo 5). Release the left corner and take the right corner and bring it to the halfway mark (Photo 6) and make a small fold and mark along the edge as seen in Photo 7. Repeat this procedure for the remaining 3 sides.
Finally, make a mark on each of the four corners. Your tarp should now look like the paper model in Photo 8.
At each of the marks we will place a loop made from Tyvek tape. Some people have sewn a loop into the Tyvek sheet while others have placed a grommet. In either case, even with added layers of Tyvek reinforcement, these methods weaken the sheet. For this reason I used Tyvek tape to create the loops. Tyvek tape is strong and will strengthen the sheet rather than weaken it.
Step 4: Making the Tent Loops
To start, cut a piece of tape 3 inches long (77 mm) and temporarily stick it to the rim of a bucket or tin can (Photo 1) for easy retrieval later. It will be used to provide a double thickness reinforcement to the tape loop.
Pull out a piece of tape about 5 inches long (~13 cm) but, for ease of handling, do not cut it from the roll of tape. Carefully place the tape, sticky side upward, underneath the tarp at one of the marked corner locations (Photo 2) and gently press the tape onto the underside of the tarp.
Pull about 3 more inches (~8 cm) off the role and retrieve the short piece of tape from the bucket rim and stick it to the tape at the base of the tarp edge as seen in Photo 3. Ensure that the sticky side of the short tape segment is adhered to the sticky side of the longer tape. This step is necessary to keep the loop from sticking to itself and sealing closed. It also provides a segment of the tape loop with double thickness and greater strength.
Pull another 5 inches (~13 cm) off the roll of tape and cut the tape as seen in Photo 4. Now fold the tape over so that the sticky side is facing downward and adhere it to the Tyvek sheet, being careful to leave enough of the tape below the Tyvek sheet to form a loop as seen in Photo 5. Follow this procedure for all of the marked loop locations.
Finally, cut a 10 inch (26 cm) piece of paracord and insert it through the tape loop and knot the two ends together to form a paracord loop, as seen in Photo 6. Follow this procedure to add paracord loops to the rest of the tape loops.
The addition of paracord loops provides greater flexibility in staking the tarp tent to the ground or in suspending the tarp tent from a tree to form a canopy.
Step 5: Alternative Method to Make Tent Loops
Instead of using Tyvek Tape to make loops, there is an alternative method to make tent loops. This alternative method simply uses paracord and small round objects such as smooth rocks.
Start by securing several small round rocks as seen in Photo 1.
Determine where you want to place a loop on the tarp tent and place the rock on the inside of the tent at the desired location.
Cut a piece of paracord roughly 15 inches (381 mm) long. Grab it by the center and wrap the paracord around the rock and tie a square knot as seen in Photos 2-4.
Tie additional square knots to keep the stone tied in place (Photo 5).
Insert a tent peg through the knots to anchor the tent loop to the ground as seen in Photo 6.
To tighten up a sagging tent wall or roof, tie a small rock with paracord to the side of the tent and then tie the other end of the paracord to a nearby tree. Adjust the tension on the paracord so that the sagging part of the tent is pulled out.
Now that I have made loops for tarp tents using both the Tyvek Tape method and the rocks and paracord method, I actually prefer the latter as the tape eventually needs to be replaced and because the rocks and paracord method is so simple and less work. All that one needs to bring is paracord because rocks can be found almost everywhere.
Step 6: Finishing the Tarp Tent
You will have noticed by now that the Tyvek sheet is incredibly noisy when moved! The final step is to crinkle the sheet to create a crinkled texture to the Tyvek which greatly reduces the noise.
If the spring clamps are still attached to the corners, remove them and grab the Tyvek sheet in your arms and wad it all up into a large ball. Release the ball and start from a different part of the sheet and wad it again into a ball. Do this a couple more times.
Now that the sheet is fairly crinkled, take smaller sections in your hands and wad it together to increase the crinkles. The more crinkles, the less noise.
Some people put the Tyvek sheet into a washing machine and wash it without detergent to crinkle the surface. I don't recommend this method because it is a waste of water and energy and is unnecessary because the job can be adequately accomplished with just your hands.
Once the Tyvek sheet is sufficiently crinkled the Tyvek Tarp Tent is done!
Step 7: Making a Tyvek Ground Cloth.
It is possible to configure the Tyvek Tarp Tent so that part of the side walls become a floor for the tent. The disadvantage is that the tent is smaller with less room for another person or for gear.
It is easy to create a Tyvek ground cloth to add to the versatility of the tarp tent or for those times when one prefers to sleep outdoors, on a ground cloth, under the stars without a tent overhead.
To make a Tyvek ground cloth cut a sheet of Tyvek housewrap into a rectangle 6 feet wide by 9 feet (1.8 x 2.7 m) long, or whatever size you choose.
Follow the previous directions, as outlined for the tarp tent, to add loops. Since the ground cloth is smaller than the tarp tent, I added fewer loops. As seen in Photo 1, I placed a loop in each corner and 1 loop at the halfway point for each edge of the sheet.
Adding loops to the ground cloth increases the versatility of the ground cloth so that it too may function as an emergency small tarp tent.
The loops also allow the sides of the ground cloth to be brought upward to create a "tub" configuration to keep you and your gear dry when soils are wet.
Crinkle the ground sheet following the instructions for the tarp tent and you are done!
Step 8: Maintenance
The tarp tent and ground cloth will provide versatile pieces of gear that will serve you well. Both are strong and tear resistant but not bulletproof.
Over time they will be punctured or even ripped as you spend time in the great outdoors. For punctures use a small bit of waterproof glue (or tree resin) to cover the puncture. Let the glue dry before you fold it up and put it away. For tears, repair with the Tyvek tape and you are as good as new.