Tarps are not only used to protect your things; waterproof tarps can also protect you from rain, and virtually any tarp can provide shade for protection from the sun. A rain tarp can make a world of difference when it starts raining while you're camping, allowing you to remain outside your tent to cook or just relax. A rain or shade tarp can also be used as temporary shade or rain protection while gardening or doing other outdoor work in your backyard.
Specialty rain tarps can be purchased readily from any tarp supplier, but it's easy — and more affordable — to make your own out of any common rectangular waterproof tarp. Pictured is an easy but effective rain tarp, which can be set up easily and quickly as a temporary shelter from light to moderate rain.
The key is to stretch the main support rope tightly between two trees or poles. This rope will support the center of the tarp from one corner of the tarp to the diagonally opposite corner.
The corners of the tarp should be tied to the support rope using the tarp's built-in grommets and small tie lines, so that the tarp can't be blown off or slide off. The main center support rope should be at least 8 to 10 feet above the ground, to provide sufficient head room under the tarp.
The two loose corners of the tarp are then pulled taut and tied off to trees, poles, or stakes. There should be only moderate tension on the two side ropes, and they should be tied lower than the main center support rope.
This design can be used with nearly any size tarp. With a larger tarp, your main center support rope will need to be stronger and tighter. The larger tarp will provide a greater area of protection, of course, than a smaller tarp.
Rain Tarp Advantages
Can be put up using a standard inexpensive rectangular tarp
Easy to set up: You only need 3 ropes and a waterproof tarp
Doesn't collect pools of rainwater
Can be tied off to existing trees, if available, to keep the area free of poles
Even if your tarp is labeled "flame retardant," never use a campfire or grill where it could catch the tarp on fire.
If you lack four trees to tie to the tarp to, you can use poles inserted into the ground and supported with guy ropes.
Nylon or poly ropes work best, but any rope strong enough to support the tarp can be used. A rope that stretches may need to be re-tied periodically to keep it taut.
To avoid mildew problems, never store the tarp while it is still wet.
Ready-To-Use Rain Tarps and Camping Tarps
Tarps can also be purchased in a ready-to-use configuration for camping use, and in special designs for use with a car or SUV. These tarp configurations are generally somewhat costlier than making your own, but they provide a fast and easy way to set up a rain tarp, shade tarp, or hammock.