Tarp Camping in the Rain: How to Set Up and Stay Dry

Tarp Camping in the Rain: An ultralight tarp set up in a field, waiting for an upcoming storm

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Camping in the rain might seem challenging, but with the right techniques, it is easy. In this post, we’ll delve into the world of tarp camping in rain.

We’ll cover crucial topics such as preventing splashing water, enhancing weather protection with tarp beaks, choosing the ideal campsite, dealing with wet ground, and managing damp gear.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • To prevent splash-back, pitch your tarp low to the ground, sleep in the middle, and consider using a wider tarp or bivy sack for more coverage.
  • Add tarp beaks (angled overhangs) to provide extra weather protection, but know this may limit your pitching options.
  • Carefully choose campsites that are elevated, have good drainage, and absorbent soil to avoid water pooling under your tarp.

Tarp Camping in the Rain: How to

Rain can be quite unpredictable, so when you’re sleeping under a tarp in the rain, it’s crucial to get several things right to ensure a positive experience.

Some of these aspects are directly linked to how you use your tarp, so let’s start by exploring them first.

1. Splash-back Prevention

When tarp camping in the rain, your primary challenge is preventing splash-back – raindrops hitting the ground and soaking you and your gear. Luckily, there are effective methods to stay dry:

1. Pitch Your Tarp Low:

  • Lower it: Lower your tarp to the ground to minimize open space and reduce exposure. While you can stake your tarp sides all the way to the ground, many campers leave a small air gap for improved ventilation and increased width.
  • Sleep in the middle: Position yourself in the middle of your tarp, away from the edges, where splash-back is more likely to occur.
  • Get a wider tarp: You might want to opt for a wide, two-person tarp as it offers superior coverage and protection in contrast to a narrower one-person tarp. If you’re heading into a rainy area, this can be a wise investment.

2. Consider about Using a Bivy Sack:

  • Another effective way to prevent splash-back is by using a lightweight bivy sack.
  • A bivy sack typically has enough space to fit you, your sleep insulation, and your gear. Although it may not be completely waterproof, it greatly reduces the risk of water reaching your gear. Furthermore, a bivy sack offers added warmth, wind protection, and keeps insects away, allowing you to choose a lighter sleeping bag to maintain a balanced weight.

2. Enhancing Weather Protection with Tarp Beaks

An ultralight tarp with a tarp beak set up in a wintry forest

Next, let’s explore the concept of tarp beaks and their role in providing additional weather protection for your shelter during those rainy camping adventures:

Understanding Tarp Beaks:

Tarp beaks are angled overhangs that can be added to the front or rear ends of your tarp. These overhangs serve as extensions, helping to shield you and your gear from rain and wind.

Adding Tarp Beaks:

  • If you have a ultralight tarp and want to enhance its weather protection, adding a beak is a relatively straightforward DIY modification.
  • Additionally, some manufacturers offer tarps with built-in beaks, providing the convenience of added protection without the need for DIY adjustments.

However, it’s essential to be aware that adding a beak or a full vestibule to your tarp may limit your pitching options. You’ll typically be limited to an A-frame pitch, which might reduce the flexibility of adapting your tarp’s shape to different campsites.

The Importance of Campsite Selection

Tarp Camping on a Picturesque Hill in the UK

While hiking or backpacking, choosing the ideal campsite is crucial for rain tarp camping. A wrong spot can lead to water pooling and discomfort. Here’s what to consider:

Elevated Mounds and Absorbent Soil:

  • The best campsites for tarp camping in the rain are slightly elevated mounds that stand higher than the surrounding ground.
  • Look for soil rich in organic matter that can absorb rainwater instead of causing it to pool around your campsite.
  • The elevated portion of the ground doesn’t need to match the width or length of your tarp; it should be large enough for you to comfortably lie on, even if the ground slopes away on either side.

Proper Drainage:

  • Ensure the campsite has proper drainage to allow rainwater to flow away.
  • Avoid setting up your tarp on surfaces with poor drainage, such as wooden tent platforms or hardened campground sites.
  • Check for any signs of previous water pooling or erosion, which can indicate inadequate drainage.

Mastering the art of campsite selection can greatly improve your tarp camping experience. To dive deeper into this skill, you can explore our dedicated post here.

Handling Wet Ground

A hiker setting up a groundsheet before setting up a tarp

By incorporating a groundsheet into your tarp camping gear, you’ll be well-prepared to handle wet ground effectively and maintain a dry and comfortable shelter:

The Power of a Groundsheet (Footprint):

  • If you anticipate setting up your tarp on wet ground, consider carrying a piece of plastic wrap, also known as polycryo, as a groundsheet.
  • Despite its thin and lightweight nature, polycryo is tough and durable enough. With proper care, it can last an entire camping season.
  • A groundsheet provides a barrier between your tarp and the damp ground, reducing the risk of moisture seeping through and wetting your gear.

If you’re interested in creating your own tyvek groundsheet (which is a bit heavier than polycryo but notably stronger), you can discover a detailed DIY guide here.

Damp Gear Management

Even with the best precautions, it’s not uncommon for gear to get damp or wet when tarp camping in the rain. Let’s see how to deal with it:

The Day-After Drying Routine:

  • If your gear is only slightly damp, take advantage of breaks during your camping day. Hang your damp gear out in the sun during breakfast or stop for a rest and snack while laying it out in the sunlight. The sun’s warmth and breeze can work wonders in drying your essentials.
  • If your quilt or sleeping bag gets soaked, one of the best solutions is to hike to the nearest town and use a commercial laundromat dryer, or, alternatively, end the day early and book yourself into a campsite that has a drying room.

In the pursuit of covering the most miles per day, it’s easy to overlook essential skills like stopping to dry your gear, which are crucial for self-powered outdoor travel.

Consider incorporating gear drying breaks into your daily schedule, especially if dealing with dampness is a recurring issue.


To sum it up, tarp camping in the rain may seem challenging at first, but with the right techniques and understanding, it becomes quite manageable.

Don’t forget to lower your tarp closer to the ground, use tarp beaks, and think about extra gear or a wider tarp for rainy areas. Opt for the right campsite, use a groundsheet for added protection, and take breaks to dry your gear when you can.

With the insights from this post, you’ll not only embrace the challenge of camping in the rain but also thrive in wet conditions, ensuring a memorable and comfortable outdoor experience. Happy camping.

Interested in an ultralight tarp? Check out our TOP 5 guide for the lightest options available.


Can rain go through a tarp?

Rain can potentially permeate a tarp depending on various factors, including the quality and material of the tarp. High-quality tarps made of waterproof materials like coated polyester or nylon resist water effectively, but correct pitching is crucial to prevent leaks. Proper setup involves keeping the tarp tightly stretched and considering its angle in relation to wind and rain direction. Over time, wear and tear can compromise waterproofing, but regular maintenance, including seam sealing and patching, can help. In summary, tarp quality, setup, and maintenance all affect their effectiveness in keeping you dry during wet weather.

What is the best tarp material for rain?

When it comes to the best tarp material for rain, there are a few options to consider. Coated polyester and nylon tarps are popular due to their waterproof properties and durability, often featuring polyurethane or silicone coatings for enhanced water repellency. Alternatively, Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), also known as Cuben Fiber, is gaining traction, particularly among ultralight backpackers. DCF is prized for its exceptional waterproofing, extreme lightweight nature, and tear resistance. However, it’s worth noting that DCF tarps tend to be pricier compared to traditional coated materials.

Are there any special considerations when camping with electronics in the rain under a tarp?

When bringing electronics like phones or cameras while tarp camping in the rain, it’s essential to use fully waterproof cases or dry bags, control condensation buildup with canopy extensions, insulate devices from temperature drops, pack backup charging, and bring a drying kit (i.e., a small dry sack or quick-dry towel) for any moisture exposure incidents.

Can I cook under a tarp while it’s raining?

Cooking under a tarp in the rain is possible with the right setup. Choose a durable, waterproof tarpaulin, pitch it low in an A-frame, and use a plastic ground sheet to prevent water pooling. Strategically position your stove for overhead coverage, angle the tarp to divert rain, and bring backups like extra fuel and no-cook meals. If considering a small campfire, place it in the tarp’s vestibule for shelter, but exercise extreme caution.

I want a versatile backpacking tarp for both hammock rainfly and standalone use. Where should I look?

If you are looking for a jack-of-all-trades solution check out the ProFly™ Rain Tarp by ENO. We’ve found that the performs as advertised. The only drawback so far is that it’s a bit difficult to pack when wet. However, we recommend it due to its easy availability and our confidence in its abilities. Also, note that it comes with four aluminum ground stakes (or pegs), so there’s no need to buy anything extra.

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