Tarp shelters may be the lightest shelter to pack, but they’re not exactly the easiest to pitch. Switching from your tent to a tarp requires some level of expertise— and yes, we’re talking about your knot-tying skills here.

Before you put your entire trust on tarp shelters, let’s brush up on your knowledge of survival knots first. Here’s all you need to know about tarps and knots:

What Should You Look for in a Tarp Shelter?

Before we talk about loops and bights, let’s talk a little bit about tarps.

We all know tarp shelters are usually made of silnylon material. What’s silnylon? It’s a synthetic fabric (a combination of silicon and nylon) used mainly in lightweight outdoor gear. This material easily makes tarps a popular choice for preppers and outdoorsmen when camping, backpacking, or bugging out.

Unlike tents, tarp shelters in their simplest form are floorless with open ends. This design allows air to circulate and reduce condensation. But how do you secure them to the ground? It’s simple if you’ve had a lot of practice. You just rig them with poles, tent pegs, and guy-lines.

Tarps are incredibly versatile, meaning there are many different ways to pitch one. But before you practice tarp configurations, you must find the perfect tarp first. Here are a few requirements to consider when looking for tarps:

What’s the ideal tarp size?

The recommended dimensions for tarps for a single person are 9 x 9 feet. You don’t want a tarp too small or too big for your size. What’s essential is you leave ample space to cover yourself if the weather starts to act up.

How many tie-outs should a tarp have?

Tarps with lesser tie-out points or no tabs at all are useless. Make sure to check that your tarp includes a minimum of four tie-out points on the edges for guy-lines and poles. You know your tarp is a good one when it has tie-points on the corners, borders, and even in the middle. In short, the more tie-outs, the more options for pitching.

How much should a tarp weigh?

Tarp shelters are supposed to be lightweight because of their material. So, if you see a tarp that weighs more than 2 pounds, look away. You want to consider the ones that are under 1 pound only.

Other than silnylon, what material is the next best thing?

Silnylon is a strong piece of material for its weight. It’s hands down the right choice for ultralight backpacking. But what could be an alternative? Dyneema or cuben fiber. It’s also a superlight synthetic fiber that’s stronger than steel and more versatile than nylon. The downside is it’s double the price of a silnylon tarp.

What shape should a tarp be?

We’re putting it out there: there’s no perfect tarp shape. It depends on your individual needs or what you’re providing a cover for. However, there are three standard shapes you can choose from to make the selection process easier. These are:

  • Rectangle – Rectangular tarps are considered traditional tarp designs. They’re more flexible and provide relative coverage. They’re also known for their versatility since you can pitch them in a variety of different configurations. Just remember to select a site carefully to minimize problems with the wind.
  • Diamond – Diamond tarps are great for a soloist ground camper. They even work well over a hammock since they’re designed to be hung diagonally on a ridgeline with one tie-out per side. They provide maximum ventilation and coverage under hot conditions, so they’re best used during the summer.
  • Hexagon – Hexagonal tarps are a compromise between rectangular and diamond tarps. While hex tarps offer less weight and protection than the rectangular ones, they do provide more weight and safety than diamond tarps.

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What You Need to Set Up a Tarp Shelter

Your tarp won’t build itself. You’re gonna need a bunch of other stuff, too, to set up your tarp shelter. Now that you know what to look for in a tarp, it’s time we dig into the supplies necessary in putting up a tarp shelter. Here are the essentials:

Paracords

Strong and long ropes are what you need for the ridgeline(s). Paracords are your best bet in constructing tarp shelters because they’re sturdy and elastic. They’re also the most versatile piece of gear every prepper should own since they can come in handy in any survival situation.

Anchors

You’re obviously gonna need something to secure the guy-lines to the ground. Tent pegs or stakes and a pair of trekking poles will do great as anchors for tarp shelters.

Finding a Good Location

Besides materials, a good place is also essential before building your shelter. You need an open area, preferably a flat site, and two good trees or stable structures to anchor your high line.

Knowing Your Knots

The best way to secure your tarp tent is through knots. You might need to brush up on your knot-tying skills before you hit the trail. If you’re new or need a little refresher, we’re sharing common and useful knots in the next section, so stick around to find out what these are.

Knots to Learn for Setting Up a Tarp Shelter

Here’s the rule of thumb when tying knots: they must be easy to tie and untie, yet are strong enough not to slip under tension. There are dozens of knots to suit your outdoor needs, but in this article, we’ll be showing you how to tie knots that are essential to tarp shelters.

Let’s start with the basic ones:

Overhand Hitch

If you’re new to the art of knot-tying, the overhand hitch is the first to learn out of the dozens. It’s considered one of the most basic knots out there because it forms the basis of many others. The overhand hitch is mainly used as a stopper. According to Howcast, it keeps a rope from slipping out of a hole through which it has been threaded. In short, it’s very secure and prevents a string from disentangling.

Half Hitch

A half hitch is a simple overhand knot. It’s a binding knot as it’s tied with two ends around an object; in this case, a tree trunk, branch, or limb. It’s a useful knot for tying things off to give you that extra bit of security. It’s not particularly strong on its own, but if you do two half hitches, it will generally bite very well and be useful for securing things down, as mentioned by Mike of MCQ Bushcraft.

Clove Hitch

A clove hitch is also one of the first few knots that you should learn. It’s a super easy knot to tie and untie. It’s an excellent binding knot that’s often used to start off lashing knots.

The clove hitch is also known as a self-tightening knot. No matter how much pressure you put into the knot, it won’t come undone. Just make sure you have these things in mind:

  • The tension is maintained on the line.
  • Your wraps are nice and tight together.
  • You need to position the cross points of your knot away from the direction of your working line.

There are two methods to tie a clove hitch, and it’s demonstrated in the video above.

Reef Knot

The reef knot, also called the square knot, is a popular and straightforward binding knot. It’s as easy as tying your shoes. Its common mnemonic: right over left; left over right is often recited for quick retention.

This knot is best used when you need to join two ends of a single line to secure and bind an object together. What’s unique about the reef knot is that it can be tied and tightened with both ends.

Prusik Knot

Used to secure a loop to a tight line, the Prusik knot, known as the friction hitch, is usually applied in climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, rappelling, and the like because its principal usage allows a rope to be climbed, whether a person is ascending or descending.

Since this knot creates a loop that can move up and down the line, it’s also commonly used in building tarp shelters. The Prusik knot is useful when you want to attach a loop of cord around a rope or object but still want the loop to slide vertically along the string when tension is released.

Figure-eight Knot

The figure-eight is a general-purpose stopper knot. It replaces the overhand knot in many uses since it’s stronger and doesn’t easily slide. This knot can be difficult to untie after pressure is applied, but it does come in handy when you need to make a quick and secure loop in the middle of a rope to prevent a line from sliding out of sight.

Trucker’s Hitch

One knot that you can trust to tighten any rope is the trucker’s hitch. This knot is considered very strong since it can strap and secure heavy loads to a vehicle like they’re nothing.

The trucker’s hitch is not only useful in this situation, but it’s also great for securing guy-lines on your tarp tent with tension. Although this type of hitch is super-tight and is a slip-free knot, it comes apart easily once the pressure is released.

Taut-line Hitch

Another essential and practical camping knot to master is the taut-line hitch. It’s an adjustable loop knot that can slide up or down and be tightened or loosened. When correctly tied, it’s the perfect hitch for attaching and adjusting a guy-line of a tarp to a post to maintain tension.

Marlinspike Hitch

The marlinspike hitch or also known as the lever hitch, is a knot that attaches a rod to a rope to make a handle or create a toggle. This rod or object can be anything from a branch, pole, or even a small pocket knife. You can use this object to grab onto a better grip to prevent injury to your bare hands due to friction.

The video above will show you three tying techniques of the marlinspike hitch.

Alpine Butterfly Knot

One of the most versatile knots for camping with tarps is the alpine butterfly knot or butterfly loop. It’s a mid-line rigging knot that’s used to form a fixed loop in the center of a rope. It serves many applications, from tying in a harness in rock climbing to isolating damaged sections of a string without having to cut it.

This knot can also bear the load on any strand, and it handles multi-directional loading pretty well. In camping, it’s utilized to tie down guy-lines on the corners of a tarp. The loop allows the line to move freely in changing conditions while retaining a tight surface on your tarp, meaning you don’t have to worry about your tarp whisking off.

Bowline Knot

The bowline knot or sometimes referred to as the king of knots because of its importance, is the most useful knot you’ll ever learn. This variation of knot forms a fixed and secured loop at the end of a line that’s guaranteed not to jam. Plus, it’s easy to tie and untie even after being subjected to severe strain.

This knot is strong and stable, and it’s widely used for mooring boats, hoisting, hauling, and fastening one rope to another. Although a bowline is considered a reliable knot, it can be easily loosened with just a push of a finger when not under load. However, this weak point is addressed with several more secure variations.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve laid out the essential knots for tarp camping, it’s time for you to grab a paracord and work on that muscle memory.

Once you’ve enough practice, you can tie these knots in your sleep, and you’ll eventually be ready for the great outdoors.

What type of knots have you mastered? Let us know in the comments section below.