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Randy's Choice: BEST Camping and Hammock Tarp

Updated: Mar 26

Choosing the BEST camping and hammock tarp to make all your adventures more comfortable!

Hammock camping is increasing in popularity. This is drawing a large number of novice hammock owners - and novice campers - into The Great Out There. Unfortunately, this also means thousands of dissatisfied, cold, cramped campers.

In a previous article, we discussed the best practices for protecting yourself from the elements while hammock camping. Using only a tarp for shelter is a new concept for most campers with experience only in tents. In this article we will more thoroughly discuss the features of the BEST camping and hammock tarp.

For the most protection in cold and damp weather, I choose the 12' x 10' tarp shelter shown above. (Actually, since Be Prepared is my motto, I use this tarp 99% of the time - even in the heat of Summer!) In my opinion, this tarp has the best protection and offers the most configuration possibilities.

Why do I consider this the BEST Camping and Hammock Tarp?:

Tarp camping is all about comfort in varied condition. The tarp shown has EIGHT stake loops along the sides. This provides multiple pitching options.

  • In severe weather, only the two center loops will be staked to the ground and the ends folded in to form doors at both ends of the hammock.

  • In warmer conditions, the "doors" can be folded back (inside or outside) for better air flow. If you have neighbors, the doors can be closed temporarily for dressing.

  • I often closed the "doors" on the windward end of the tarp, and leave the opposite end open for better air flow.

  • The lower left hand image below shows only two guy lines used per side when the tarp is more of a sun shade. Or the tarp can be staked out in a rectangle with four stakes per side.

The right hand images in the photo above shows the "doors" folded back on the outside of the tarp. My preference is to fold the doors back on the inside, as shown in the lower left image. Then - if wind or rain interrupts my sleep - I can close the doors from under the tarp.

This VERSATILE tarp provides maximum versatility over your hammock. But it is also a roomy ground shelter for the solo camper or couple.

Like all tarps, you also have dozens of options if you choose to pitch this as a ground shelter. With 8 stake loops around the perimeter, 3 loops across the center ridgeline, and 4 more loops positioned in the body of the tarp you have DOZENS of options for pitching and lofting the tarp.

One reality of hammock camping is that sooner or later, you WILL need to sleep on the ground when trees aren't available! The 12' x 10' tarp above can be erected as a lean-to, or A-frame using just a ridgeline rope or poles.

Having a tarp with "doors" is important in the wind as well as the rain. When hammock camping, you are at the mercy of the available trees. Ideally, you would want to erect your tarp with the prevailing wind quartering into one corner of the tarp. In reality, perfect positioning is seldom possible. As a result, the wind may be blowing directly down the length of your tarp, creating a chilling tunnel under your suspended bed. In this case, simply close the windward end of the tarp. The angled doors will deflect the wind under your hammock. You may still be able to leave the downwind doors open for a view.

On the other hand, if the wind is hitting your tarp broadside, the tarp has 2 reinforced tie outs per side to pull the fabric out and away from your hammock.

Many hammock campers start with a tarp that is TOO SMALL!

Compare the large 12' x 10' tarp above with the typical 8' x 8' "hammock tarp" below. When hung from opposite corners, or in a diamond shape, the ridgeline of this small tarp measures about 10-feet and barely extends past the ends of the hammock. In theory, when lying diagonally in your hammock, this is plenty of coverage. The diamond angles conveniently match the open areas above the hammock. In truth, this small tarp is mostly decoration and will not protect you from more than a light mist of rain.

At best, these small tarps are only sun shades and wind breaks for light breezes. If rain isn't in the forecast, hanging a small tarp high above your hammock really serves no purpose. To be effective, you would need to pitch this small tarp at the level of the hammock ridgeline, then wrap the sides tight against the hammock.

Why SUFFER with a confining hammock tarp? A larger tarp is airy, yet warm and protective!

The ONLY advantage of a tiny tarp is shaving a few ounces of weight. Your pack, shoes, and other gear will be largely exposed underneath. The hammock itself is not waterproof material so any exposed surfaces will get wet in anything but a light drizzle. Seems like a poor bargain!

Nessmuk said, "We go to the woods to smooth it - NOT rough it!"

In fair weather, the 12' x 10' tarp can be hung higher above the hammock with one side extended like an awning – or simply unstaked and flopped back over the ridgeline. Like the smallest tarp, you still have the option of erecting the tarp in a diamond layout for the mildest conditions.

Make tarp camping MORE secure: Combine your tarp with a continuous ridgeline.

Most tarps are usually supplied with thin guy ropes that are shown attached to the tabs or grommets. These short, thin lines are fine for the corner guy lines. But my preference is a continuous rope ridgeline. My FAVORITE camping tarp is supplied with 4 guy lines for the sides, plus 4 stakes. There are 4 more shock cord lines with carabiners to stake out the corners, which also serve to close the doors.

For ALL hammock camping, I ADD a continuous ridgeline to stretch tightly between the trees.

You can build your own ridgeline with paracord, then tie on Prusik loops to connect to the tarp.

Although I am a rope and knot fan, I choose the ready-made option built with thin and high-strength ultra-high molecular poly cord (UHMWPE) that includes a reel to keep everything tangle-free!

By first erecting the continuous ridgeline, you create a much stronger support for the tarp. This is important as your tarp gets larger. You can tie the ridgeline with much greater tension than thin guy lines running to the tarp fabric. The ridgeline bears the strain if storm winds get the trees swaying - not the tarp fabric. But the main benefit is being able to slide the tarp back and forth along the ridgeline until positioned exactly where desired. This saves time when pitching your tarp, especially when faced with a storm rolling in!

Check out the video below for a visual demonstration:

Finally, for the most versatility, you will need to carry a few extra stakes. I would carry at least 6 or 8 stakes. You can always scrounge a rock or sharpen a stick to add more as needed - or when one "goes missing"!

Like me, you may wind up with multiple tarps for varying conditions and group sizes. It has always been my practice to erect the tarp first upon getting to the campsite. If it starts to rain, all the gear can be sheltered. If necessary, several people can spend hours under the protective tarp before needing to assemble your hammocks. In a group, you may have a variety of tarps, but it is handy to carry one larger tarp where everyone can huddle for meals. Even on sunny days, it is often helpful to have the windbreak of a tarp when cooking and to provide shade.

Some campers will obsess over the weight of the 12' x 10' tarp that I favor. Actually, the weight difference between the smallest and largest tarps depicted here is miniscule. I can GUARANTEE that in the middle of a thunderstorm on a windswept island, you will give ANYTHING for the larger, more secure tarp. I will also guarantee that I can find plenty of unnecessary and duplicate items in your pack that exceed the added tow ounces of a larger tarp!

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BEST camping and hammock tarp


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