Updated: Jul 26
Gain more adjustment AND a better pitch on your tarp by using a continuous ridgeline.
In a recent hammock camping article, I suggested that there are many advantages to switching to a continuous ridgeline for hammock camping. A continuous ridgeline is a rope that you tie between your hammock support trees. You tie this ridgeline rope FIRST, then attach the tarp to the tight ridgeline.
Here are the ADVANTAGES of a continuous tarp ridgeline:
1. It is STRONGER than guy lines tied to tarp loops or grommets.
2. It is MORE adjustable and allows PRECISE placement over the hammock.
3. It is FASTER to erect than lines tied directly to the tarp.
4. It is BETTER for your tarp!
Let’s look at the benefits of a continuous ridgeline for camping and contrast them to the common method of running lines from the tarp.
99-percent of the time, hammock tarps (and tarp shelters, in general) are shown suspended from guy ropes. These tarps are usually sold with six light ropes, with two tied to the ridge and four to the corners. As you can see from the photo below, the shape of the tarp is totally dependent on the tension of the fabric.
Tarps have become specialized and expensive pieces of camping gear. Particularly for hammock campers, your comfort is dependent on the pitch and durability of your tarp. The tarp is all the shields you from the wind and rain, preserving body heat in cold weather.
The method shown above is commonly used because it is SIMPLE. But I can show you that it is not the BEST way to erect your tarp.
Reason 1: The continuous ridgeline is stronger than guy lines.
If you are tied to the tarp, the fabric, grommets, or sewn tabs are the weakest links. Generic 550 paracord derives its name from 550-pounds of tensile strength. Slightly heavier 1/4-inch braided nylon rope exceeds 1,200 pounds. You can put tremendous tension on this rope. The rope ridgeline will also withstand the stress of trees swaying in wind and storms.
Reason 2: The continuous ridgeline provides infinite adjustments.
Next, by draping your tarp over the ridgeline, you can easily make adjustments from side to side. Did the wind change direction? Slide the tarp without touching a knot. Want to hang in the sun? Simply loosen a toggle and roll the tarp back until later.
Reason 3: Attach your tarp without tying a knot, fast, easy, and securely.
First, I always erect the tarp BEFORE my hammock. This has been my habit for 50 years and ensures that I will have a dry place to pile my gear, get out of the wind, and cook my supper before I am ready for bed. Second, by using a continuous ridgeline, your tarp isn’t laying on the ground where it can be punctured or dragged in the mud.
I usually tie the ridgeline to the trees at about head level. This gives me adequate headroom while still bringing the sides of the tarp low enough to shield my hammock from cooling breezes. Then drape the tarp over the ridgeline. You can use a "Pro Tip" from hammock campers and attach one toggle to the tarp while it is still in the stuff sack, then feed it out as you work your way to the other end of the ridgeline.
I use Prusik loops to connect the ridgeline to the hammock tarp. These non-slip loops are created from short loops of light cord. Prusik loops are easy to tie by simply wrapping the loop around the ridgeline three times. You don't untie the loops when you pack up camp..
The Prusik loop cinches down on the ridgeline because it is pulled 90-degrees to the wraps. For the best tension, the Prusik loop should be tied from one size smaller rope than the ridgeline. Either use a 550 paracord ridgeline and lighter cord for the Prusik loops, or 550 paracord Prusik loops on one size larger rope. Note: Position the knot in the Prusik loop off-center before making your wraps around the ridgeline. This will be helpful if you are passing the loop through small grommets on the tarp.
I connect the Prusik loops to the tarp with thumb-sized sticks that I pick up onsite. Some campers prefer to use small carabiners. Here is a photo of Endurance Room using prusik loops with hand carved toggles. Watch his quick-deploy ridgeline video HERE. See how his trap never touches the ground.
Reason 4: The continuous ridgeline provides a better shelter with less strain on the tarp fabric.
Good tarps are not cheap! A continuous ridgeline will add to the lifespan of your tarp. In a strong wind, the ridgeline bears the stress of the trees moving, not the tarp fabric. Reducing the twisting and stretching of the fabric and seams will also help the the waterproof coatings to last longer.
The following video clips show how to tie the Prusik loop and connect the tarp to the continuous ridgeline.
The first is a clip of Xander Budnick tying Prusik loops. Watch Xander’s full video with more camping knot instruction here: https://youtu.be/hzAgyJWp4Og
The second clip is by Simon, a Bloke in the Woods tying his version of the Prusik. Watch the full video with more knot tying instruction here: https://youtu.be/S1XvjM8Xp4s
Xander and Simon show their tarps hanging from loops BELOW the ridgeline. I like the added strength provided by pitching my tarp OVER the ridgeline. It’s your choice. By running the ridgeline under your “A-frame” tarp you gain the option to add one or more Prusik loops to hang a lantern or other accessory. If your hammock has a high bug net that requires guy lines, you might also be able to connect these to Prusik loops off the tarp ridgeline.
Once you have the tarp tensioned to the ridgeline, then you can stake out the four corners of the tarp. You can add more stakes in the center or add tie outs to loft the tarp out from the hammock.
First, I run the continuous ridgeline. Second, I attach the tarp. Third, maybe hours later, I erect my hammock.
This is the same process whether I am pitching a tarp for hammock camping, or a rain fly for cooking.
I attach the hammock suspension ABOVE the tarp ridgeline, about as high as I can reach. The tarp is attached to a horizontal ridgeline, while the hammock suspension slopes downward. By attaching the hammock to the tree above the tarp ridgeline, I still have plenty of space above the hammock and the mosquito netting. Most people suspend their tarps too high and then complain about wind and rain blowing in on them.
At this point, once the hammock is positioned between the supports, it is simple to move the Prusik loops and readjust the tarp to completely cover the ends. You don’t need to tie and retie the tarp ridgeline to reposition the tarp over your hammock.
99-percent of the time, the hammock is shown being strung before the tarp. Obviously, this isn’t an issue on a sunny day. But I recommend getting in the habit of quickly and efficiently setting up your tarp first. It is a comfort to know that you can string the ridgeline, then attach the tarp in two minutes! When you are eventually faced with setting up in a driving rain, you will appreciate being able to string your DRY hammock under the tarp! I have also camped in mosquitos so thick that I lit my Thermacell under the tarp just to allow me to erect the hammock and unpack my sleeping bag in peace.
Would you like a Done-for-You continuous ridgeline? This model features 40' of HMWPE guy line cord on a reel for fast deployment and knot-free storage. It includes three Prusik loops on the ridgeline. The ridgeline is looped around the tree at one end, then cinched to a no-knot connector for a fast connection to the opposite support tree. A quick and easy solution for less than $25.00! – CLICK HERE.
You simply disconnect the continuous ridgeline a reel it up when breaking camp! Ingenious!
Here's a demonstration of the "Done-for-You" continuous ridgeline with the storage reel! Follow this link to order direct and SAVE: CLICK HERE!
I hope this was helpful in making your tarp set-up faster and more secure. Please leave your comments and any wrinkles you have picked up that add to the security and efficiency of your camp!