Multipurpose items are a must when staying outdoors, especially when you want to reduce the weight of your pack. These items have to be reliable in many kinds of situations and sturdy enough to last even when they’re subjected to constant use.

When it comes to shelter, nothing says multipurpose more than a tarp.

Tarps are simple but tough. For one, they serve as great cover and protection in almost all types of weather. They can also be used to line the bottom of your tent against the elements and that dreaded downpour. When used as your main shelter, tarps are much lighter and could even offer better ventilation in some cases. They’re relatively easy to use and pack. What sets them apart from tents is that they can be tweaked and customized depending on your needs.

In this article, we’ve listed 8 tarp setup tutorials that can come in handy the next time you go backpacking. These configurations range from the very basic to some of the more intermediate ones. All of them are very useful when you want to go “stealth” camping or even when you’re bugging out for survival.

Things To Consider In Setting Up A Tarp Shelter

Before we dive into the tutorials, let’s look into the things you have to consider when setting up a tarp shelter:

Weather and geography

Wind direction and the type of terrain will play a big part in choosing your tarp set-up. For example, if it’s heavily raining, you’d need a tarp that’s more or less sealed from all sides. If you’re in an arid environment, you’d need something to maximize airflow and ventilation. The area itself will play a part, too. It will more or less determine if you’re going to use guy line or just pitch the tarp without any cordage.


A tarp shelter requires sharp knot-tying skills. Need a refresher on how to do your knots? We’ve got just the thing here.

Tarp dimensions and types

Tarps come in flat and shaped varieties. Flat tarps can be square or rectangular and are popular choices when you want something versatile. 9×9-foot square tarps are usually sufficient if you’re going solo. Shaped tarps, on the other hand, are lighter and easier to set-up, but have limited configurations.

Tarp Shelter Configurations

Now that we’ve got those out of the way, let’s dig into those tarp configuration tutorials:

5 Basic Tarp Setups

Let’s start off with the basics. This is a must-watch tutorial, especially if you’re still trying your hand at setting up tarp shelters. It features the following configurations:

  • The stealth tarp for when you want to lie-low and be inconspicuous
  • the tipi tarp for larger headroom
  • the A-frame and the plow point configurations for when you need to have a quick but reliable shelter and…
  • the tarp tent when you want something stable but can’t set up a ridgeline

This tutorial is pretty comprehensive and covers the pros and cons of each configuration.

A Closer Look At The A-Frame Tarp Shelter

The A-frame tarp shelter is one of the easiest configurations you can make. It’s quick to set up and can easily be taken down when you need to break camp. For this shelter to work you’ll only need your tarp, some sturdy cordage like the 550 paracord and some trees to tie a ridgeline to. Add a couple of bowline and fisherman’s knots and you’ll have an A-frame shelter.

The A-frame is similar to the basic lean-to but it’s better because, while the A-frame doesn’t have a groundsheet, it would at least get you two walls and a roof. If you want to modify your A-Frame to make it sturdier, you can do so by using two tarps of different sizes. Here’s the tutorial for that.

Tarp and Bivy Setup

Using your tarp with a bivy is a common and easy way to set up camp, especially if you’re trying to shed weight from your bag. In this tutorial, the tarp is basically used as a rain fly to protect the bivy. If you want to learn how to make an actual bivy configuration from your tarp, check out this tutorial.

C-Fly, Envelope Tarp Setups, And Their Modified Versions

Floored tarp configurations like the C-fly and envelope are a favorite among lightweight and minimalist backpackers since they’re comfortable but uncomplicated. These setups are also very modifiable; you can tweak them to make sturdier pitches by simply adjusting a peg or two. This tutorial shows you how to make the basic frames and their corresponding mods.

Making A Tarp Tent and Hammock

Both hammocks and tarps are popular among lightweight backpackers, but one is usually preferred over the other. Is it possible to have a hammock and a tarp tent at the same time? This tutorial shows you just how to do it. The hammock actually goes inside the tarp and although it’s not fully suspended in the air, it still functions as a really neat sleeping bag complete with a nifty mosquito net to keep the bugs out when you’re sleeping.

How To Set Up A Tarp Without The Cordage

Out of cordage? Don’t worry, you can still set up a tarp with the help of some tree limbs. It would take some hacking, sawing and a few adjustments to make sure that the branches you’re using won’t puncture your tarp. It’s not the most versatile shelter out there, but it does its job just fine.

Quick Tarp Set Up Trick

Here’s a quick hack to help you secure your lines without using knots. When you don’t feel like doing knots to secure your grommets, you can always use a stick to do the job. It’s not an end-all, be-all trick, but it does come in handy, especially when you need to make shelter quick.

Enclosed Tarp Setups For Bad Weather

Last but definitely not the least, we’ve got a tutorial that features a handful of enclosed tarp configurations that you can use in bad weather. These setups are a bit more complicated than others, but they’re very stable and can hold up against strong winds and rain.

Final Thoughts

Tarps are a must-have for every camper. Whether you’re camping for fun or are bugging out for survival, having a tarp gives you more flexibility and allows you to carry a more lightweight pack. They’re also cheap and can be made from sturdy material that can protect you from the environment, rain or shine. What sets them apart from tents is that they can be customized and configured to fit your needs.

On the flip side, tarp shelters might take a bit of getting used to. Compared to tents, tarp configurations take a bit of skill and practice, but once you get the hang of making these shelters, you’ll have gained a very useful skill that can see you through many camping trips and even survival situations.

Try “forgetting” your tent the next time you go camping and see if you can survive a couple of nights with just your trusty tarp. Let us know how it goes in the comments below!