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Tarps have mostly a reputation for being used around housing situations. After all, many a home improvement project starts by laying a tarp on the floor to prevent spilled paint from destroying a carpet, or by draping furniture against falling dust. While tarps do know how to work, they can also be beneficial when you go into the wilderness to play. Because of their flexibility and basic use, tarps have such a wide range of applications that can assist the backpacker in almost any endeavor. Designed with the backpacker in mind, backpacking tarps are developed to be lightweight and can pack down to an ultra-compact size. But just like their bright blue counterparts, backpacking tarps offer simple and versatile solutions while you’re out adventuring.

To convince you of its worthiness, we want to share with you 10 ways where backpacking tarps can help you on the trail.

Use Your Backpacking Tarps as a Ground Cloth

It’s a good practice to lay a tarp down underneath your tent. This can prevent damage to the floor of the tent, and keep the floor dry from possible wet ground. If there’s something sharp on the ground beneath your tent, hopefully a tarp will keep it from puncturing the floor of your tent, which can be expensive to replace.

And you don’t necessarily need to have a tent to use this feature. Those using sleeping bags or bivy sacks can lay down some dry ground underneath before setting up camp by use of backpacking tarps. Though it might not make the ground more comfortable, it can stop punctures of your air mattress should you decide to bring one along. Stansport makes a great tarp for just this purpose.

Air Out Wet Equipment

Keeping with the idea of using backpacking tarps for protection from the ground, a tarp is also good if you’re looking to dry out wet articles of clothing, but don’t want to bring them into your tent where the moisture could transfer to the tent’s fabric. After a fun afternoon of kayaking, swimming, or fording small streams, just set out a tarp in an open area (preferably with sunlight) and lay out the drenched clothing and equipment on your tarp where they won’t be exposed to the dirt of the ground. With any luck, they’ll soon be dried out and ready for additional action.

Backpacking Tarps Make Solid Tents

Many hardcore campers bring along straps or poles and use their backpacking tarps for their tent shelter. Obviously this works best if you’re not expecting rain or particularly cold weather, but it does work for a basic overhead covering for a smaller campsite.

Plus you don’t have to just use it to cover yourself. Use it to drape it over your equipment, mountain bikes, or anything else you want to keep out of the elements. Just remember to tie it down to avoid having to play the ‘look for the tarp’ game after the wind carried it off the night before.


You don’t have to wait for evening before using the weather protection of your backpacking tarps. Spread out your tarp and set it against the glare of the sun while you’re at a picnic table, or use it to hang over your chairs as you watch the sun set for the day. Anytime of the day or night is a great time to use backpacking tarps to defend against the elements.

Signal Device

A more safety centric use for backpacking tarps is to use its bright color or reflective covering as a way to signal rescue services in the chance that you become lost or another backpacker has become injured and needs assistance. It’s a good idea to carry along at least a base survival tarp that has all these safety qualities, even if you don’t use tarps for any other backpacking purposes.

Thermal Blanket

In colder weather, your equipment should be rated to take on harsh winds, snow, and frigid climates. If the need arises, in a pinch you can use backpacking tarps as blankets to help preserve body heat, and its laminated exterior can be a type of wind breaker from colder airstreams moving through the area. In general, this is for extreme cases only, and you should always check the weather before any backpacking trip to avoid any dangerous surprises.

Backpacking Tarp Hammock

Backpacking Tarp Hammock, Anyone?

With some additional rope and attachment points, a backpacking tarp can become a small makeshift hammock. Though crafty, you’ll really want to be careful if you’re trying out a tarp hammock for the first time. Reinforce the tarp on trees or other attachment points you find are strong enough to support the weight, to avoid the experience of a wakeup call if one of them gives way.

Shield Yourself Against the Wind

There’s really nothing that causes chaos with a pitched tent like high winds. If the weather decides to send a strong gale in your direction, you can block some of the more powerful gusts by attaching backpacking tarps between a section of trees between you and the direction of the wind. The tarp should take the brunt of the blowing, leaving your tent able to stand.

Need an Impromptu Shower Curtain?

For some people, roughing it can be too rough if they can’t take a shower. And thanks to devices like solar showers, you can literally take your shower anywhere you camp out in. Even if you’re taking a solo trip, for some reason fellow hikers always manage to pay a visit to your campsite while you practice your morning rituals. Using your backpacking tarp as a shower curtain can save you some possible embarrassment.

Car Liner

When your adventure nears its end, you’re probably looking at muddy shoes, dusty backpacks, and grime on every conceivable surface. Before you subject your car’s interior to this, you might feel better if you put down some backpacking tarps just to keep things cleaner. You want to bring back memories of your adventure, but cleaning muck from your vehicle isn’t the way to do it. Anticipating this, some campers will set up a tarp liner ahead of time. Better safe than sorry!