This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.
Why do you need a tarp?
Tarps can be used for 2 separate things when backpacking. Some people just use them to cover a common area for cooking and building your tent. Using it like this is nice but optional when hiking. They are light but still add weight to your pack. A tarp is very nice when it’s raining a lot.
Others use their tarp for their whole shelter. They don’t bring a tent, and just pitch a tarp over their sleeping mat or hammock. I usually use a tent since there are a ton of bugs around where I’m usually backpacking. If your area doesn’t have many bugs when you backpack, then a tarp might be all you need.
Heavier tarps mean more weight in your pack. The lighter the better for tarps. If your tarp is your whole shelter, then you can put together a very lightweight pack.
Siltarps tend to be the lightest. 6’ x 8’ will cover a couple people. 10’ x 12’ will cover 4 people cooking.
Bring trekking poles
Trekking poles work great at holding up a corner of the tarp to keep the water running off or in the middle to create a taller space inside. Sticks and branches work as well but trekking poles have a soft rounded surface on the handle, preventing holes in the tarp.
Tie up with Paracord
Paracord is very thin, very strong rope. Paracord can hold hundreds of pounds but even the smaller, thinner cord is good for tying up your food in trees and tying tarps. 2 or 3 millimetre cord is usually plenty strong for holding tarps up.