Backpacking gear these days can certainly be very innovative and modern when compared to much of the gear from years past.
Despite years of innovation and improvements with backpacking gear, the backpacking tarp remains as not only one of the most beloved and essential gear items, but also the most primitive in a sense. While a backpacking tarp is indeed simple, it comes with endless possibilities and uses.
Seasoned pros and beginners alike can appreciate the many used a tarp has, regardless of the season. Are you out of the loop with backpacking tarps, or wonder why you might even need one in the first place? We’ve got answers.
At its core, a backpacking tarp is a more streamlined and durable version of your standard camping tarp. These tarps are available in a variety of materials, with polyester and nylon being among the most popular.
Backpacking tarps usually have a square or rectangular shape, with grommets throughout for poles, stakes, rope, or whatever else you can use to hold them down and set them up. They can be used for shelter, extra padding, as a rainfly, and lots of other things (more on that later.)
So, to sum it up, a backpacking tarp is basically a giant, flat piece of tent-like material that you can fashion into whatever you’d like. This is a great thing to have on a backpacking trip.
There are plenty that feel that they have to make a choice between bringing either a tent or tarp along on a backpacking trip. While that may be true if you are going the ultralight backpacking route, it’s not necessarily true on a standard trip.
We aren’t going to debate all the ins and outs of why a tent or tarp may be better, but we will touch on some distinct advantages that a tarp can offer over a tent.
Since tarps are very simple in their design, they are almost always cheaper than a quality backpacking tent. If you’re on a budget, but still want to have quality gear on your trips, a tarp is the way to go. You can usually get a very well-made tarp for the price of a mediocre tent.
If your backpack is capacity-challenged, or if you are wanting to lighten the load, a backpacking tarp will help you on all accounts. They rarely weigh over 3 lbs, and they don’t require poles, so you’re saving space and weight all around.
Tents don’t offer much in the way of versatility. You pitch them on (hopefully) flat ground, and that’s about it. Backpacking tarps can be used as a tent, with a tent, or any number of other applications. In fact, it’s because of this that we recommend bringing a tarp along on your trip even if you have a tent.
Yes, you add a few pounds to your load, but the potential uses far outweigh (literally) the very small inconvenience.
Ultralight backpacking tarps are a lighter and sometimes smaller version of a standard backpacking tent. They are made from much thinner and less dense material, but are often just as durable. If you’re a pro at using tarps, and the climate of your next trip is mild, an ultralight tarp can substantially trim your load down.
Like we already said, backpacking tarps are one of the most versatile pieces of gear you can ever bring on your trip. Here’s some of the more common uses you can utilize, but there are plenty more.
There is certainly no shortage of choices when it comes to backpacking tarps, and many have their own preferences and needs.
If you’re looking for a great general use tarp that is perfect for backpacking, we recommend Noah’s Tarp Shelter made by Kelty. This tarp weighs under 3 lbs, is made from sturdy polyester, and has taped edges to prevent water runoff, which is a big help on the trail.
The tarps adjustable guylines and reinforced guy out points make it easy to use, and versatile enough to bring along for anything from a backpacking trip to an outdoor concert. It’s also very fairly priced.