How to Put a Tarp Over a Tent: Step-by-Step Guide and Tips

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Tarps offer extra protection and insulation from the elements when you’re tent camping.

They even provide a great way to expand the living space of your campsite.

But, you need to make sure you are using your tarp correctly to avoid a few pitfalls and get the most benefit.

In this guide, we will show you how to put a tarp over a tent step-by-step and provide some helpful tips along the way!

How to Put a Tarp Over a Tent Step-by-Step

There are two main methods for securing a tarp over your tent – one with trees and one without.

Hanging your tarp with trees will help prevent it from being blown away in the windiest of conditions and simplify securing the ends of the tarp over the tent.

While trees make arguably the best anchor point, they aren’t always available. Sometimes, you may have to get crafty and use a light pole or building, or even the rims on your car can make a strong anchor point (just don’t drive off with the tarp still attached!).

If there are no suitable anchor points, then you can use heavy-duty, lightweight aluminum poles or even branches or sticks you find lying on the ground.

Tip: You’re never guaranteed to have a strong anchor point available for your tarp, so play it safe and bring lightweight aluminum poles with you camping.

Let’s take a look now at how to set up a tarp canopy over your tent with and without trees.

Before we begin, it’s important to: 

  • Choose a site that has one or more trees available for stringing up the ridgeline. If no trees are available, we can use heavy-duty poles.
  • Check above to make sure that there are no dead or broken branches that might snap and fall on the tent.
  • Put your tent on a slight slope so that water will flow away from the tent.
  • Set up the tent on a clear, level surface free of debris.
  • Know how to tie a bowline knot. While you can use any knot you want, hands-down, the most effective knot is the bowline knot. This will help you attach your ropes to the stakes and poles (if you use them).
Bowline knot

How to Hang a Tarp Over a Tent With Trees

There are several different ways you can put a tarp over a tent. You can create an A-frame style cover for your tent, suspend the flat tarp over your tent at an angle, and so on.

In my experience, the A-frame offers the best protection from the elements (wind, sun, rain, etc.).

A-Frame tarp setup

Plus, you can adjust the apex of the tarp so that there’s more windbreak on a particular side. This type of setup is also commonly used to shelter hammock campers, as well.

So, let’s get started building our A-frame tent canopy.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Anchor points (trees, light pole, car, etc.)
  • Tarp
  • Rope
  • Pegs

Tip: You can get all of these items in one easy-to-carry bag with the Unigear Tent Camping Tarp kit. It’s available in 15x14ft and 12x10ft.

Setup Instructions

  1. With your tent set up between two trees, fasten one end of your rope to one tree and the other end to the other tree. The rope should be taut and run about a foot above the top of your tent.
  2. Pull the tarp over the rope. In a typical A-frame setup, you would have an equal amount of tarp fabric hanging on each side. However, if you are trying to break the wind on one side of the tent, you can pull the fabric on that side down farther.
  3. Lastly, we need to secure the four corners of the tarp. Slide a rope through the tarp grommets located at each corner of the tarp, pull the rope outward so it’s taut, and stake it down.

When done, the tarp should form a raised center section with side flaps to deflect rain, wind, and sun.

How to Put a Tarp on a Tent Without Trees

As we stated above, you won’t always have the luxury of having natural anchor points like trees and so on.

But, not to worry, we can still build a formidable A-frame tarp shelter over our tent using heavy-duty, aluminum poles.

And we can still use our Unigear Tent Camping Tarp kit so that we have everything we need in a small, lightweight bag (it’s so small I even take it backpacking).

Setup Instructions

  1. With your tent set up, place a heavy-duty pole in front of your tent and one behind it.
  2. Locate the middle grommet on one side of your tarp and place it over the top of the pole in front of your tent.
  3. Attach a rope to the top of the pole and stake the other end of the rope to the ground. If you don’t have anybody around to help hold the poles upright, you will need two more ropes coming from the top and staked in the ground on both sides of the pole.
  4. Now, move to the back of the tent and perform the same steps. Place the middle grommet of the other side of the tarp over the top of the tent pole, attach a rope to the top of the pole, and stake the other end of that rope to the ground. Ensure that the tarp is taut between the two poles. A little sagging is fine.
  5. Lastly, we need to secure the tarp corners. Slide a rope through the grommets located at each corner of the tarp, pull the rope so it’s taut, and stake it down.

When done, your A-frame setup should look like this.

A-Frame tarp setup without trees

This setup only uses two poles. If you want, you can raise the sides of the tarp as well with additional poles.

Why Put a Tarp Over a Tent

Putting a tarp over your tent may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but there are a few advantages that you may not have considered.

  1. With a waterproof tarp, you don’t have to worry about rain seeping through the tent and ruining your sleeping bag or pads. In other words, it will help keep your tent dry in even the heaviest of rains.
  2. A tarp will reduce condensation that builds up in a tent during humid nights since you can leave your tent windows open and still be protected.
  3. Tarps, especially when used with a strong anchor, will help protect your tent from damaging winds.
  4. They also help protect your tent from bad weather and harmful elements like UV rays, hail, snow, etc.
  5. Tarps, when positioned over your tent right, are a good way to create a tent vestibule, which is an area where you can store your dirty, wet gear so you don’t have to bring it in the tent.

Furthermore, tarps are a very versatile piece of equipment that we always recommend you bring on your camping trips. Whether you put one over your tent, over a hammock, create a makeshift shelter, or use one as a sunblock, they really come in handy more than you might realize.

Should You Put a Tarp Under Your Tent?

We know why (and how) to put a tarp over a tent, but should you put a tarp under a tent, as well?

Related: Tent Footprint vs Tarp: Which Is Best for Camping?

A tarp under your tent, similar to a tent footprint or ground cloth, can help in a few different ways:

  • Keep moisture and dew from getting into your tent.
  • Protect the tent’s floor against dirt on the ground or sharp objects that could damage your tent (e.g., fallen tree branches, rocks, etc).

When not used properly, a tarp under your tent can do more harm than good, so check out our guide on how to use a tent footprint for the best results.

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