The Best Tarp Size for Camping – A Complete Guide

A white camping tarp.

What’s that? The best tarp size for camping? You’ll wanna know that some say there’s nothing such as the best tarp size for camping. Still, most camping enthusiasts would unanimously chant: the bigger the tarp, the better.

Tarps hold a very important place among your average camper’s outdoor gear. That’s why choosing the one that suits you nicely ain’t an easy task. However, you’ll be totally fine once you’re equipped with the right kind of info. That’s exactly where we, the Outdoor Is Home folks, come into the picture. We’ll walk you through this neat little guide on choosing the best tarp size for camping!

The best way to calculate how big of a tarp you’ll need is to make sure each person that’ll be using it gets at least 15 sq. ft. of space (or more, if possible). If you’re buying a tarp that needs to accommodate 3-4 people, go for the one that has 60 sq. ft. or preferably – a bit more. 

Now, of course, that’s just a so-called sneak peek into what we’ve prepared for your downstairs! Don’t hesitate to check the whole thing out!

Table of Contents

What’s a tarp?

Before we continue talking about the best tarp size, it’s best to define the term we’ll be using quite a lot today. A tarp represents a large sheet of waterproof material that’s used specifically for protecting exposed items or areas. It’s usually made from durable plastic or waterproof canvas. A rainy day out on the campgrounds? You’re gonna need a tarp!

Can a tarp substitute a tent?

As a matter of fact, sometimes they can! Backpackers find tarps way more useful than regular camping tents for their nights out in the wilderness. They’re easy & lightweight to carry and don’t take as much space! Not to mention they’re fairly easy to set up too.

Additionally, they say tarp camping is a fantastic launchpad for folks that want to try making their own gear. Experimenting with tarps is the ideal starting point because of their simplicity.

Okay, let’s not get too deep into tarp camping territory. We guess you’re interested in learning how to choose the right tarp size for your regular camping adventures. We’ll be right there with you!

A tent tarp placed in the wild.

The best tarp size for camping – A complete guide

First things first, let’s check out the factors that will affect your tarp size selection!

Factors that affect your tarp size pick

Needless to say, choosing an ideal tarp tent size is nowhere near easy, but doable if you know what to take into consideration. Here are the factors that will help navigate you through the selection process:

  • Design. Decide whether you’ll opt for an A-frame, flat-square, or rectangular-pitched configuration. All of them serve a different purpose. For instance, an A-frame is always thought of as the best option for sleeping, since it offers the best coverage from the top and two sides.
  • Finished/cut size. You might’ve heard folks complaining about this issue: they bought a tarp that turned out the be smaller than they’ve expected it to be. This happens because some of ’em don’t differentiate between finished and cut size. The cut size represents the size of the tarp before any sewing or attaching of hems begins. The finished size, on the other hand, represents the final product that’s always a few inches smaller than the so-called cut size (on all sides of the tarp).
  • Weather. During the summer, you’ll need a tarp that offers maximum air passway. That being said, any tarp size that can provide a large shade above your tent will do trick, since you don’t want to be covered from all sides. If you’re camping in snowy weather conditions, you’re gonna need a tarp that will close off your tent completely & protect you from winds and heavy rain/snow.
  • No. of people. Here’s an obvious formula: the more people find shelter under the tarp, the bigger the camping tent, the bigger the tarp, the bigger the… Well, you get the point. Also, you’ll want to know that a regular rule of thumb is that a single person occupies or should have at least 15 sq. ft. of tarp above ’em.

Choosing the right tarp size (in relation to the number of people)

Once you’ve considered these factors (what’s the kind of tarp you’re looking for and how many people will share it), it’s time you do the right tarp size calculation. You’ll want to buy the one that meets your requirements ideally.

Don’t forget you’ll need some additional space for all your accessories, utensils, and other parts of your camping inventory. In other words: keep in mind that you don’t need a tarp that only covers your tent space. You’ll need the one that can accommodate each person and item that you’ve brought along.

As we’ve already mentioned above, the best way to calculate how big of a tarp you’ll need is to make sure each person has at least 15 sq. ft. of space under it. Let’s say you’re buying a tarp that can accommodate 3-4 people. In that case, you’ll need a tarp that can cover 60 sq. ft. and preferably – a bit more.

Once you’re done with the above calculation, you’ll want to make sure available options on the camper’s equipment market fit your needs. Check ’em, and always choose a tarp that’s one size bigger than you require. The whole the bigger, the better chant works like a charm.

Choosing the right tarp size (in relation to the size of the tent)

Aside from the tarps that are used for sitting and relaxing in the outdoors, folks use tarps to protect their camping tents from extreme weather conditions. Whether it’s snow, rain, or harsh summer sun – it doesn’t matter! What matters, unfortunately, is that some of these “outside circumstances” can ruin our stay in nature. That’s, of course, where a well-sized tarp comes into the picture!

The thing is: you don’t have to go extra big with your tarp as you already have your tent. You only need an additional layer of protection. Still, you’ll want to buy a tarp that’s slightly bigger than your trusty tent. Here’s how the calculation works:

Let’s say you’re sporting a 10×10 ft. tent footprint. You’ll want to know that the ideal tarp size for your tent is 16×16 ft or 16×20. Both of these sizes will work perfectly. If you’re sporting a smaller one, let’s say 6×4 ft., you’ll want an 8×10 ft. tarp. Always go for at least one size bigger than what you need.

Oh, and what about enduring a thunderstorm inside your camping tent? Do you need a special tarp or something? Yeah, you might want to opt for a slightly larger A-frame shelter type of tarp. That way, you’ll help the water slide down the sides of the tarp and, simultaneously, keep you safe and sound.

A bonus round of tips: Mistakes campers make when choosing a tarp

A quick disclaimer: buying a tarp isn’t an easy job, and rare are those who ace it the first time.

You’ll want to know that there are some typical mistakes that your everyday campers make while buying their first tarp. That’s because tarps are mostly considered a backpacking thing; a necessary item for those on the move. A tent’s a bit too heavy to carry around all day and a tarp’s very easy to set up. Now, let’s go back to the subject of common mistakes campers make when buying their first tarp!

Looking at the price, rather than the size

Needless to say, smaller tarps cost less. There’s less material involved, and most tarps are priced per sq. ft. Considering buying a small tarp just because you’ll save some funds is completely wrong. A larger tarp is worth the investment. That also stands for when you’re using a tarp as your second shelter.

Not taking the type and weight of the material into consideration

The type and weight of material measured in GSM (grams per sq. meter) are aspects you should pay attention to when choosing a tarp. Tarp size has plenty to do with the type of material and GSM you select. Avoid making the common mistake of buying a heavy-duty canvas tarp if you’re only looking for coverage. You’ll waste money unnecessarily and add too much weight to your backpack.

Keep in mind that canvas tarps are usually heavier than hydrophobic tarps. Looking for a tarp for tent coverage? Choose a bigger poly-tarp and you won’t have any issues carrying it around. Additionally, you can modify a bigger tarp into a tent vestibule.

All in all: try not to make those mistakes like the folks before you. In other words: learn from others’ past mistakes. Luckily, you’re equipped now with the right piece of info!

Parting thoughts

That’s about it, dear lovers of the great outdoors! Hopefully, you’ve had a good time reading this piece on choosing the right tarp size for camping. If you’re on the lookout for more camping tips, make sure you visit this page.

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