Are you planning on going ultralight for your next camping trip? Well, it might be time to ditch that big tent of yours and go for a DIY tarp tent instead.
My husband and I tried out the tarp tent years ago before we had our sons when we decided to go on an ultralight, multi-day hike. It’s a great way to ditch all the unnecessary things that come with a regular tent and strip it down to the basics.
Today, I’m going to help you make your own tarp tent that you can adjust to a number of different configurations. Preparation of the tarp is quite simple, but building the structure can be a challenge, especially if it is your first time.
So, let’s get through it together, shall we?
There are tons of ways that you can configure, or “shape” your tarp tent.
Some of them even have pretty cool names like the Adirondack (named after the mountain range in New York), Bivy bag Cornet (because of it kind of looks like the pastry), and the Forrester (because, well, I’m not really sure why).
However, some of the most common ways to set up your tarp tent is using the A-frame, the basic lean-to, a ridgeline lean-to, or the plow point.
I’ll be going through three of the most popular configurations in the next sections, as well as how to actually prepare the tarp tent, so you can pick which one is most suitable for your situation.
What You’ll Need
Here are the things you’ll need to make your own DIY tarp tent.
Get a tarpaulin that is at least 10.5 feet x 10.5 feet (126” x 126”). You can use larger tarps, depending on how big you want your shelter to be, or what configuration you are planning to make.
Tarps can range anywhere from $4 to about $11 per yard, plus or minus a few dollars depending on where you get it from.
ALTERNATIVE: Silicon-impregnated Nylon (Silnylon)/Siliconized Ripstop Nylon
Silnylon or ripstop nylon is another popular alternative to a tarp. It is lighter than a tarp and water-resistant.
You’ll need nylon rope or paracord (lots of it). If you can get 100 feet of rope, that would be great. Because the nylon rope isn’t just to reinforce your tarp, it’s what you will use to actually form the structure and tie it into place – your guy line.
Nylon rope or paracord is cheap – around $5 – $10 for a whole roll of 100 yards. Some of the really high-quality rope can go up to around $20, but you don’t really need that kind.
Army Universe makes military-grade Nylon Paracord, and they have loads of different colors and styles.
ALTERNATIVE: Guy Line Kit
If you don’t want to use paracord or nylon rope as your guy line, you can always get a guy line kit instead. Tent Tools make reflective tent rope that comes with aluminum adjusters.
Grommets And Grommet Tools
The number of grommets you buy depends on how many tie-off points you want. 8 is a good number to have if your tarp is relatively small. But if your tarp is larger, 12 tie-off points is better.
Your grommets can be 1/4” or 1/2”. Lord and Hodge have a nice Grommet Kit, complete with instructions to make usage simpler.
Flat Nylon Webbing
Nylon webbing will help give you a nice tie-off point in the corners (or even sides) of your tarp.
The grommets are there as holes that you can thread your rope through, but having a loop made of nylon webbing adds extra tie-off points and strength to your overall structure.
Flat nylon webbing costs about $10 – $15 for a roll of about 10 yards. Mars way makes pretty strong webbing that will work great for your DIY tarp tent.
ALTERNATIVE: Duct Tape
If you’re on a really tight budget, Duct Tape will work just fine. Some people prefer using duct tape since it’s really cheap, easy to find, and you can replace it easily anytime you want.
However, duct tape is really just for reinforcing your tie-off points, rather than creating tie loops like with the nylon webbing.
Silfix Glue/Nylon Glue
You’ll need the sifix glue or any nylon glue to bond the edges of the tent as reinforcement to make it stronger. If you’re comfortable with a sewing machine and know how to sew tarp/silnylon, you can sew it instead.
There are lots of brands to choose from, with Loctite being the most popular choice. You can try Aleene, which also works well.
Nylon Thread And Needles
The nylon thread and needles are to sew your flat nylon webbing onto your tarp. As much as possible, sew it into place, and not just glue it. This way, you know your tent will be extra strong and won’t suddenly collapse on you.
Pegs And Hiking Poles
Lastly, you’ll need pegs to secure your tent down and hiking poles to build up the structure. But don’t go out buying hiking poles just for this. If you’re an avid hiker, chances are you’ll have one stored away somewhere.
If you’re creative enough, you can even just use sticks or secure your tent to tree trunks instead. It all depends on the configuration you choose, as well as what materials you have with you.
Now that you have all your materials ready, let’s talk about how to prepare your tent and the different configurations you can use!
How To Prepare Your Tarp Tent
Before building your structure, you first need to prepare your tarp or silnylon, so it is well reinforced and ready.
Step 1. Reinforce The Edges
Layout your tarp or silnylon flat on the ground, with the matte side facing up. Then cut your nylon rope the same length as one edge of your tarp. Apply a spot of glue every 6 inches or so along the edge of the tarp.
Then, fold the edge of the tarp over the rope about a quarter of an inch or half an inch (depending on the thickness of your rope), so the tarp covers the rope and sticks to the glue.
Repeat this for the remaining three sides. If you have a sewing machine, give it a run through your machine. This will help make it stronger. If you can’t sew, just make sure that your adhesive is strong, and all the sides are completely sealed.
Step 2. Add The Webbing and Grommets
Next, cut your flat nylon webbing about 3 to 4 inches. Use a lighter to cauterize any rough edges. Where you place your webbing will be where your grommets will go.
Start with the corners – fold the webbing in half and place them over the corners. A flap should be above and below, with the tarp sandwiched in between. Leave a little bit of space from the corner to create a little loop.
Just make sure your grommet will fit properly on top of the webbing. Then, sew the webbing on the corners. Repeat the steps by making patches on the side.
You can either just put one patch in the middle of each side, or evenly distribute two patches – it’s up to you. Some people like three per side, others like 4 per side. The more tie-outs you have, the more ways you can configure your tent.
Once you’ve sewn all the patches, grab your grommet tool and punch grommet rings through each of those patches.
Make sure your grommets are nicely centered on the webbing and secured tightly. Remember, your tent will be held up through these grommets and webbing, so make sure they’re secure!
How To Configure Your Tarp Tent
Now for the fun part – building the tent! There are a lot of ways you can configure your tarp tent, but I will go through three of the most common ways to do it.
This is probably the most common, and the simplest way you can set up your tarp tent.
How To Do It:
- String your paracord or nylon rope between two trees
- Drape your tarp over the cord (make sure it is centered)
- Peg down the four corners using your pegs and guy line (or paracord) to create an “A” frame or a triangle
This type of shelter provides good rain and snow runoff, as well as protection from the wind. The only problem is there is no floor, so you may need a sleeping pad or a tent pad.
Make sure you stretch the paracord tightly downwards, or else your tent will sag in the middle.
#2. Basic Lean-To
This is very similar to the A-frame tent, but instead of creating two equal-sided “walls,” you create one long one and one short one.
How To Do It:
- String your paracord between two trees
- Fold the tarp over the line – with ¾ of the length on one side, and ¼ on the other side
- Secure the shorter end with a long guy line on each corner to the ground
- Pull the longer side tightly at around 30 degrees then secure each corner with the pegs
This is quick and simple to do and will provide good wind and sun protection on one side.
Make sure there is no slack in your mainline between the trees.
#3. Bivy bag Cornet
This type of shelter gives you great overall protection without being too difficult to build. It even has the floor for extra protection.
How To Do It:
- Tie your rope around a tree around 4 to 5 feet high
- Tie the other end of the rope to a stake on the ground, to create a diagonal line from the tree to the ground
- Drape the tarp over the line diagonally
- Fold one of the edges underneath to form a floor, and let that edge meet up with the other side of the tarp
- You should end up with a triangular-type structure that resembles a cornet (the pastry)
- Peg down both the side and the floor of the tarp
This is great for wind deflection and shielding from rain. Although it can be small and tight, especially if you’re tall.
Add some drip lines above the entrance of the shelter, so rain doesn’t run down the paracord into the shelter. Also, the corner of the shelter (the part where you peg it on the ground) should face the direction of the wind.
There are a lot, and I mean A LOT of other configurations for a tarp tent. If I go through all of them here, you may end up reading this article all day!
I think the entire appeal of using a DIY tarp tent besides its ultralight values, is the proximity you get to nature. You get to experience the outdoors in a way you wouldn’t, hidden away in your fully closed tent.
It’s a pretty great experience to wake up underneath a tarp to a beautiful sunrise and surrounded by wildlife while eating your morning breakfast. Why hide inside your tent when the whole point of going camping is to be with nature?
It’s really simple to make your own tarp tent, so if you are curious, or need to go ultralight, try it out yourself. Just practice setting it up beforehand!
If you enjoyed this tutorial, please do share it with your friends. If you have any more questions, you can always ask them in the comments down below. I’ll happily answer them for you!