What Size Tarp for Camping Works Best?

A tarp is one of the most versatile and useful items you can take camping with you. But, what size tarp for camping works best?

The size of the tarp you need for camping largely depends on the specific circumstances and needs of your camping trip. However, as a general rule of thumb, your tarp should be large enough to cover your tent, plus some additional space for cooking, sitting, or storing gear, if needed.

what size tarp for camping

Here are some factors to consider when deciding the best tarp size:

  1. Size of Your Tent: A good starting point is to consider the size of your tent. You’ll want a tarp that’s slightly larger than the base of your tent if you plan to use it as a footprint (placed under the tent). This helps protect the tent floor from abrasion and moisture. If you plan to use the tarp as a rainfly (above the tent), consider a tarp that’s considerably larger than your tent to ensure proper runoff.
  2. Number of Campers: If you’re camping alone, a smaller tarp (around 8×10 feet) may suffice. However, if you’re with a group, a larger tarp (such as a 12×16 feet or larger) might be necessary to create a shared living space sheltered from the elements.
  3. Usage: If you plan to use your tarp for various purposes – like creating a sheltered cooking area, protecting your gear, or even creating an open sleeping area – then you’ll want a larger tarp. The size you’ll need will largely depend on the scope of these uses.
  4. Weather Conditions: If you expect heavy rainfall or strong winds, a larger tarp will provide better protection. A good rule is to go one size larger if you expect severe weather conditions.
  5. Weight and Portability: Larger tarps will naturally be heavier and less compact. If you’re backpacking or have to carry your gear long distances, you might opt for a smaller, lighter tarp.

As you can see, the “best” size can vary widely based on your specific needs and circumstances. Generally, it’s a good idea to choose a versatile size that can suit a variety of conditions and uses, such as a 10×12 feet or 12×16 feet tarp. However, your individual camping style and needs will determine what size is best for you.

Understanding the Purpose of a Camping Tarp

So, you’re planning a camping trip and wondering why you might need a camping tarp, right? Well, a camping tarp, also known as a camping fly, is one of those pieces of gear that can make a world of difference to your outdoor adventure.

Think of a tarp like your Swiss Army knife of camping equipment. It’s incredibly versatile! You can use it as a protective layer under your tent, known as a tent footprint, to prevent damage from rocks and sticks and keep the ground moisture from seeping up. No one likes a soggy sleeping bag!

But the tarp’s usefulness doesn’t stop there. If the skies open up and the rain starts pouring, a tarp can also serve as an additional shield over your tent, keeping you dry and cozy inside. And on those hot, sunny days, it can provide much-needed shade and a cool spot to hang out.

Also, ever had your camping trip ruined because you couldn’t light a fire or cook in the rain? A tarp, rigged up properly, can act as a rainfly for your cooking area, letting you continue your culinary mastery even in a downpour.

In short, a camping tarp is like your best friend in the wilderness. It protects you, provides comfort, and can truly enhance your overall camping experience!

Comparing Tarp Size: Pros and Cons

Starting off small, we have compact tarps around the 6×8 feet or 8×10 feet range. The pros here? They’re light and super portable, making them ideal for solo or ultralight campers. They work great as a footprint under a small tent or a basic shelter in a pinch. But the downside? They may not offer as much coverage as you’d like if the weather takes a turn for the worse, and they’re not as versatile for uses like creating a larger living space or covering a cooking area.

On the other hand, larger tarps – think 12×16 feet or even bigger – are like bringing a portable pavilion with you. You’ve got ample coverage to shield a big tent, create a large, dry communal area, or set up a cooking station. Sounds great, right? But remember, these tarps are heavier and bulkier, making them less convenient to carry. They also take a bit more effort and skill to set up properly.

In between, we have medium-sized tarps, roughly 10×12 feet. They strike a balance between coverage and portability and can be a great compromise if you can’t decide which way to lean.

Tarp SizeProsCons
Small (6×8 feet or 8×10 feet)– Lightweight and highly portable – Ideal for solo or ultralight camping – Works well as a footprint under small tents– Limited coverage – Not as versatile for creating larger living spaces or covering a cooking area
Medium (10×12 feet)– Balance between coverage and portability – Suitable for smaller groups or couples – Offers flexibility for varied uses– May still be too small for large tents or big communal areas – Can be slightly heavier for ultralight backpacking
Large (12×16 feet or larger)– Ample coverage for large tents or big communal areas – Great for creating a sheltered cooking area– Heavier and bulkier, not ideal for long hikes – Requires more effort and skill to set up properly

So, when comparing tarp sizes, it really comes down to what your needs are. Are you hiking 20 miles to your campsite and counting every ounce? Go small. Setting up a base camp for a group? Go big. Looking for a balance? Choose something in the middle. Remember, the best tarp for you is one that fits your camping style and the conditions you’ll be facing.

Guidelines for Pairing Tarp Size with Tent Size

Imagine this: you’ve set up your tent under a tarp only to find out in the middle of a downpour that the tarp is too small. It’s not covering the whole tent, and water is creeping in. Not fun, right? That’s why getting the right tarp-tent pairing is crucial.

If you’re using the tarp as a footprint (that’s a fancy term for putting it under your tent), you’ll want a tarp that matches the dimensions of your tent floor, or is slightly smaller. Why smaller? Well, a tarp sticking out beyond the tent edges can actually collect rain and direct it under your tent, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid!

On the flip side, if you’re hanging the tarp over your tent as a rainfly, bigger is generally better. A tarp that’s larger than your tent footprint ensures that rain will drip off the tarp and onto the ground, rather than onto your tent. A good rule of thumb is to go for a tarp that’s at least 3-4 feet larger than your tent on each dimension for overhead use.

Remember, pairing your tarp and tent correctly can mean the difference between a comfortable, dry night and a soggy, uncomfortable camping experience. So, make sure you know the size of your tent and consider your needs before choosing your tarp.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting a Tarp Size

Let’s chat about some common mistakes people make when choosing a tarp size for camping and how to avoid them.

Not Considering the Size of Your Tent

First up, one of the most common mistakes is not considering the actual size of your tent. You’d be surprised how many campers forget to factor in their tent’s dimensions when picking a tarp. If you’re using the tarp as a footprint, it should be slightly smaller than your tent’s base, not the same size or larger. And if you’re using it as a rainfly, you’ll need it to be larger than your tent. So, remember to measure your tent first!

Not Considering the Purpose of Your Tarp

Another common mistake is not thinking about the purpose of your tarp. Are you using it just for ground cover or do you want it to double as a canopy for cooking or lounging? Your usage will influence the size of tarp you need. Don’t make the mistake of getting a small tarp when you need a large one for multiple purposes.

Underestimating Weather Conditions

Finally, many campers underestimate the impact of weather conditions. If the forecast predicts heavy rain or wind, you’ll want a larger tarp for better protection. Don’t let a sunny day at the store trick you into buying a tarp that’s too small to hold up in a storm.

Making Your Final Decision

So, how do you decide what size tarp for camping is best for you? In the end, choosing a tarp is all about assessing your needs accurately. Don’t rush the process, and remember to think about your tent size, the purpose of your tarp, and the potential weather conditions you’ll be camping in. Doing so will help you avoid these common mistakes and ensure you pick the right tarp for your camping trip.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

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