How we pick our products
Are you looking for a sun sail for your balcony or a rain or tent tarp? A tarp offers many possible uses. Maybe you already know exactly what you want a tarp for, or you want to find out more about tarps and their functions in general. Tarps can be used in many different ways. As a rain cover, picnic mat or to catch rainwater, you can use a tarp for all these purposes, depending on the type and additional material. In our large tarp test 2022 you will find information on all aspects of tarping. We show you which types there are and what is important when choosing.
- 1 Summary
- 2 The best Tarp: Our Selection
- 3 Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a tarp
- 4 Decision: What types of tarps are there and which is the right one for me?
- 4.1 What are the characteristics of a polyester tarp?
- 4.2 What distinguishes a nylon tarp?
- 4.3 What are the characteristics of a ripstop nylon tarp?
- 4.4 What distinguishes a tarp made of sil-nylon?
- 4.5 What are the characteristics of a Cuben Fibre tarp?
- 4.6 What are the characteristics of a cotton tarp?
- 5 Buying criteria: You can use these criteria to compare and evaluate tarps
- 6 Interesting facts about tarping
- Tarps are suitable for a wide variety of outdoor things: as a tent, as shelter, as sun protection, as wind protection, as a picnic blanket.
- Tarps are available in different shapes, sizes and made of different materials.
- The cost of a tarp depends on the manufacturer, size and material
The best Tarp: Our Selection
Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a tarp
What can I use a tarp for?
The following list gives you a more detailed overview:
- Rain canopy
- Sun protection
- Sun sail
- Beach tent
- Sleeping bag cover
- Protection against ground moisture and coolness from below (underlay)
- Underlay for picnic
- To catch rainwater
- improvised duffel bag
These examples show you how versatile these tarpaulins are. You too can discover the best function for you. Please note, however, that it may be necessary to use various additional materials in order to be able to produce and guarantee the appropriate functionality.
What sizes are available?
- 3 x 3 metres
- 3,5 x 3,5 metres
- 4 x 4 metres
- 240 x 220 cm
- 285 x 300 cm
- 285 x 400 cm
- 295 x 300 cm
- 425 x 445 cm
- 3 x 2 metres
- 3 x 2.9 metres
- 3 x 3.5 metres
- 3 x 4 metres
- 3.6 x 3.6 x 3.6 metres
- 4 x 4 x 4 metres
- 5 x 5 x 5 metres
How much does a tarp cost?
|Polyester||from approx. 30€|
|Nylon||from approx. 35€|
|Cotton||from approx. 50€|
|Ripstop nylon||from approx. 65€|
|Sil nylon||from approx. 100€|
|Cuben Fibre||from approx. 40€/metre|
Which tent accessories do I need?
These cords are necessary to give your tarpaulin a good hold. You can choose to use either cord or paracord. This is purely a matter of taste, although the more common option is paracord.
You can use different things as poles. On the one hand, you can use professional poles (e.g. telescopic poles) or walking sticks. But you can also use simple branches as poles for the set-up.
If your tarp doesn’t have eyelets or you need additional guy points, we can recommend clips. You simply attach these to your tarp. On the other side you attach a carabiner, which you then connect to the guy ropes.
Carabiners can be a useful tent accessory when working with the clips described earlier. In addition, they can also help you use your tarp as a hammock.
If you don’t have pegs with you or don’t want to buy them, they can be replaced by (sharpened) sticks or branches. When buying pegs, you should always pay attention to the type of ground they can be used on. We recommend that you buy pegs that can also be used on harder ground.
A repair kit is always a good idea to have with you. If, contrary to expectations, your tarp should tear, you can always repair it and continue to use it without having to buy a new one.
The edge reinforcement of a tarpaulin (tarp) or a sheet is called piping. It is usually made of plastic and has a round cross-section. So that the piping can be connected to a tarp, it has a wide, flat piping flag. This is either welded or sewn to the tarpaulin. The keder is attached to the caravan via the keder rail.
To connect your tarpaulin to a caravan, whether as a sunshade, windbreak or awning, you also need a piping rail. This is attached to the caravan and serves to hold the piping. You must ensure that the length of the keder rail corresponds to that of the tarp in order to prevent folds and to ensure that the tarp can touch the ground.
If you want to camp in the open air with tarps, but don’t want to be bitten by insects, we recommend that you attach a mosquito net to your tarp. These can be purchased for as little as €10 and protect you from normal-sized mosquitoes. However, if you also want to be protected from the really small insects, you have to reckon with the fact that the additional mosquito net with small meshes can be relatively expensive.
What are the alternatives?
A poncho tarp is a lightweight, minimalist piece of backpacking gear. You can use it as rain gear or as a shelter. It is especially appealing to hikers with ultra-light luggage, as it only weighs about 230g. You can also use the poncho like a sack and carry your gear in it.
A pyramid shelter usually consists of a pyramid-shaped outer shell, which you can extend with a “nest” if necessary. A big advantage of this tent construction is its wind stability. However, you should make sure that you use enough anchor points for the pegs. The more corners your shelter has, the better it will stand up in the wind. On the other hand, this also means more weight because of the pegs you need to tie it down.
A tarp tent combines the advantages of a tent with those of a tarp. It is a simple and single-walled tarp tent. You can often find it for sale with an asymmetrical shape. It is very lightweight and space-saving, but usually requires more skill to erect. Tarptents are usually just as waterproof as real tents. However, because they only have one wall, moisture can get inside more easily due to condensation.
A tent is not as light and space-saving as a tarp. It also serves as a temporary structure. Usually a tent consists of an inner tent, through which the inner framework is threaded, and a flysheet. The advantage of tents is that they are easy to dismantle, move and transport. The tents used for camping/outdoor use can be divided into the following categories:
- Mini tents
- Travel tents
- Folding wall tents
- Car roof tents
- Tent trailers
- Canvas tents
A bivy sack, usually used in conjunction with a conventional sleeping bag (as an outer shell), is windproof and waterproof. It is a bag that is used when spending the night outdoors – bivouacking – to protect against wetness, dirt and chilling. It makes a tent superfluous. You can buy it in versions for one or two people. A bivy sack is usually used for mountaineering, climbing or trekking.
Which well-known manufacturers of tarps are there?
- Aqua Quest
- DD Hammocks
In addition to these suppliers, there are many more. However, listing them all would go beyond the scope of this article.
Decision: What types of tarps are there and which is the right one for me?
Basically, we distinguish between these types of tarps:
- Polyester Tarp
- Nylon Tarp
- Tarp in ripstop nylon
- Tarp in Sil-Nylon
- Tarp in Cuben Fibre
- Tarp in cotton
In the following, we explain the different types and their respective advantages and disadvantages. In this way, we want to help you find the best tarp for you.
What are the characteristics of a polyester tarp?
Polyester is less elastic than nylon. It also shrinks less than cotton. It has better resistance to UV rays than cotton or nylon. However, it is heavier than nylon. You need more force to stretch it and the eyelets are also subject to more force. For this reason, you should make sure that the fabric is sealed at these points on the seams to counteract possible leakage. A polyester tarp is very easy to maintain. If the tarp gets dirty, you can clean it with lukewarm water and a cloth.
The useful life of polyester depends on the conditions in the place where you are camping. Air pollution, sunlight, sand, salty water, cooking stains and sunscreen will significantly reduce the lifespan. The average life of a lightweight polyester fabric is about 10 to 20 weeks. Heavier polyester fabric (e.g. for expedition tents) lasts approx. 20 to 35 weeks. Heavyweight polyester fabric used for awnings can even last 90 to 200 weeks.
What distinguishes a nylon tarp?
The term “nylon” is often replaced by the term “polyamide”. Nylon offers good tensile strength and chemical resistance, but is still susceptible to acids. It has good sliding and wear properties. This material is quite elastic. When it gets wet, nylon expands and shrinks again as soon as it dries. You should bear this in mind when setting up. You may need to re-tension your shelter when it gets wet and loosen it again in time as soon as the material dries. However, this point is only relevant for uncoated or single-sided tarp fabrics.
You should also note that nylon is not breathable. So if you don’t want to get wet due to condensation, we advise you to provide good ventilation. A water-repellent inner tent is a good tent accessory for such cases. Like polyester, a nylon tent cover is very easy to care for. Both materials have the same care recommendations. The useful life of nylon depends on the same factors as polyester. The average service life is approx. 8 to 25 weeks.
What are the characteristics of a ripstop nylon tarp?
Higher-quality tarps are made of ripstop nylon. High tear resistance is ensured by a more flexible fabric. UV resistance is also a big plus with this material. For this reason, a tarpaulin made of this material is best suited for continuous outdoor use. Ripstop without a special coating is not really waterproof and must be (repeatedly) re-impregnated.
The fabric is particularly permeable to air. It is also softer than nylon and relatively noiseless. However, it becomes noisier in cold weather because the fabric becomes stiffer.
What distinguishes a tarp made of sil-nylon?
This material combines the advantages of silicone and nylon in one. It is a fabric made of nylon fibres covered with a thin layer of silicone. The silicone ensures that the tarp is waterproof and at the same time increases the tear resistance of the fabric.
This material offers another advantage when it comes to weight. It is much lighter and more stable than polyester. Due to the high quality of the material, tarp made of sil-nylon are in the higher price range.
What are the characteristics of a Cuben Fibre tarp?
Cuben Fibre is an extremely light sail laminate. Since 2016 it has also been called “Dyneema® Composite Fabric”. It is half the weight of silnylon and offers high tear resistance. For these reasons, this material is about twice as expensive as Silnylon and the purchase cost of a tarp made of this material is therefore the highest.
The price is also justified by the fact that this material remains low-stretch even when wet and is kink-resistant, UV-resistant and chemical-resistant. All these advantages speak in favour of using this material in the outdoor sector to serve the lightweight and ultralight trend.
What are the characteristics of a cotton tarp?
You can buy a cotton tarp in two types:
This material is rarely used anymore because it expands when wet, dries slowly and can rot or mould. However, the advantage of this material is that it is breathable and creates a pleasant climate.
- as coated cotton blend fabric
It combines the advantages of cotton with those of synthetic fabrics. A tarp made of this material is relatively heavy and expensive.
If weight is not a major concern for you, a sturdy cotton blend fabric may make sense for you. It is particularly suitable for use near an open fire or in summer, as the heat does not build up too much here.
Buying criteria: You can use these criteria to compare and evaluate tarps
In the following, we will show you which criteria you can use to compare and evaluate tarps. This will make it easier for you to get an overview and decide on a suitable and effective model. In summary, these are the following criteria:
- The weight
- The shape
- The weather resistance
In the following, you can read about the respective criteria and find out why it makes sense for you to purchase a model based on the criteria or not.
A tarp is the light and space-saving version of a tent. But even here the weight can vary greatly. It always depends on the size of the tarp how heavy it actually is. The rule here is: the bigger, the heavier. In addition, you should also pay attention to the material used. We have already presented the individual materials with their advantages and disadvantages in the section “Deciding: what types of tarps are there and which is the right one for me?
A tarp can be bought in various shapes from triangular to hexagonal. However, the most common shapes are rectangular, square or triangular. Only you can decide which shape to choose. The following paragraphs should help you to decide on a shape.
The rectangular tarp is the most versatile. It offers you many different ways to set it up. You can read about the individual set-up variations in the section “Trivia: Interesting facts about tarping”.
There are also no limits to your imagination when using a rectangular tarp. We recommend that beginners use this shape, as it is the easiest to set up.
A square tarp can in principle be used in the same way as a rectangular tarp. However, it has the disadvantage that it loses surface area when set up in different ways, which means that it can be more difficult to use for taller people (e.g. too short to lie completely in the dry).
This shape is very suitable as a sun awning or shelter in the rain. Turning a triangular tarp into a tent is rather difficult. You should have some experience in building tarps and a little skill.
Of course, there are also various special shapes in which the tent tar ps are available. We have summarised the most important ones in this section.
- asymmetrical cut
An asymmetrical cut of the tarpaulins is ideal for covering a hammock. It covers the diagonal lying position. In light rain, these tarps are perfectly adequate. However, as soon as it rains more heavily and storms, it becomes difficult to keep the equipment and the hammock dry.
This type of tarp typically has slightly curved sides. When tied, this form of tarp provides good tension. Folding of the fabric is therefore virtually impossible. On the ridge rope, these types of tarps form ‘peaks’ on the sides, which provide an additional area for cover or protection.
- Full protection tarps (winter tarps)
This type of tarp is also called a “4-season tarp”. They offer great protection all year round as they have extra fabric on the sides which can be folded in and tied down. This keeps the sides closed. More privacy and splash protection are an advantage of these tarps. Some manufacturers also offer the extra fabric for retrofitting.
For use, it is also good to know what weather conditions a tarp is designed to withstand. The most important weather conditions are rain, snow, wind and sun. The following points show you what you should look out for when buying and using your tarp.
Most tarps are designed to provide protection from rain. How waterproof the individual tarps are depends on the coating and the material used. We have already introduced you to the individual materials in the section “Decision: what types of tarps are there and which is the right one for me? Note that some materials can expand when wet. You should also pay attention to how quickly the individual tarps dry again.
Generally, a tarp can be used in snow or snowfall as long as it is waterproof. However, when stretching the tarp, you should be aware that it can quickly sag under the weight of the snow. We recommend that you either regularly remove the snow from the tarp or re-tension it.
In most cases, a tarp is not very stable in wind. For this reason, we recommend that you pitch it relatively flat in strong winds. It is best to let the side facing the wind reach down to the ground, so that the wind cannot reach under the tent so easily and there is no draught.
A tarp can also be used as a sunshade or sun sail. You should pay attention to whether the material offers UV protection or not. We have already introduced you to the individual materials in the section “Deciding: what types of tarp are there and which is the right one for me? Here you can read again which materials offer sufficient UV protection.
Interesting facts about tarping
How do I set up a tarp correctly?
However, if the tarp is to provide useful weather protection, you need to know how to set it up and take it down. Having to set up the tarp for the first time in an emergency is not recommended and can lead to frustration. There are different ways to set up your tarp. If you want it to offer you good protection, it is advisable to know how to set it up and take it down. We recommend that you practice setting it up a few times before you really start. The most common methods of erecting the rectangular tarp are as follows:
- as pitched roof
- as a long tent or pointed roof
- as beach shell
- as shelter
- as an A-frame
You can find a good article with detailed assembly instructions and pictures in the section “Further reading: sources and interesting links”. Here is also a good video on the “pitched roof”, “A-frame”, “tent” erection variants :
Background: What was the origin of the use of tarps?
Originally, tarps – like many outdoor things – were used by the military. They offer good protection from wind and weather. The military still uses this type of tent today because they are space-saving and easy to carry. Mostly they are used in military use in the colours olive green or camouflage.
Image source: 123rf.com / 105970848