How to Put up a Shade/Rain Tarp for Camping

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When camping, shade and shelter can be at a premium. If it starts to rain, you need to be prepared. Otherwise, you could spend all weekend cooped up in the tent. A shade tarp is simple, but to make it rain-worthy is a little more complex. Follow a few simple steps to ensure you'll have a drier camping experience.

Step 1

Find two trees that are 10 feet farther apart than the tarp is wide. In other words, if your tarp is 40 feet by 40 feet, you'll need to find two trees at least 50 feet apart.

Step 2

Tie one end of a length of rope to one of the two trees about 12 to 15 feet above the ground. This is actually easier than it sounds. Simply coil the rope and throw it over a branch about the right height. Now wrap the rope around the tree at least once, and tie it off either to itself or a lower tree branch.

Step 3

Lay the tarp over the rope so that rope runs down the center line of the tarp. Now coil and throw the other end of the rope over a branch of similar height on the opposite tree. Pull the rope as tight as you can, wrap it around the tree at least once, and again tie it off to itself or a lower tree branch.

Step 4

Affix ropes to each of the corners of the tarp. This is as simple as slipping the rope through the eyelet or loop at the tarp's corner and tying it tightly. Next, tie each corner to different trees around the perimeter of your tarp so that the corners are pulled away from each other and away from the center of the tarp. Tie these about seven to eight feet above the ground. If no other trees are available, these corner lines can be affixed to ground stakes. This is less preferable due to the issue of tripping over lines and stakes throughout your camping trip.

Step 5

Tie ropes to each of the center eyelets of the lower edges of the tarp. These ropes will be tied to trees about 6 feet off the ground. They should be high enough that you don't have to duck under them, but low enough that they pull the center of the tarp's edge down, creating a trough for the rain to spill off.

Step 6

Make any necessary adjustments to splay the tarp out as flat as possible while still maintaining the angled slope of the tarp and without compromising your rain gutters on either side.

Step 7

Consider hanging another, smaller tarp between trees to form an angled windbreak near the edge of this tarp. Figure out which way the prevailing wind blows and set up your windbreak to protect people from slanting rain and wind when they take shelter under the tarp.


  • Be sure that your tarp is high enough that a small campfire won't melt it or catch it on fire. You'll want the warmth of a campfire when taking refuge under your tarp shelter, but think about forest safety first.


  • There should be no need to ever put nails in a living tree, especially one growing wild in the forest. Tie the rope to itself instead, or even another tree.
  • Plan on lots of rain. Dig trenches around your shelter so the water pouring off your tarp flows away from your sheltered area rather than through it.


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