If you want to take your backpacking and outdoor experience to a whole new level, tarp camping is a fantastic option to consider. Not only are tarps far more lightweight than a traditional tent, but you’ll experience nature in all its glory to the fullest.
Plus, for warm weather hikes, tarps offer more breathability — which is a great thing in balmy environments or if you haven’t been able to find a shower in a few days.
Here’s what you need to know about picking the best backpacking tarps available currently, plus the top 5 tarps that are strong contenders for any backpacker’s gear.
Here are the key points you absolutely need to look for when selecting the best backpacking tarps.
The weight of the best backpacking tarps is a key element you’ll need to take into consideration when selecting the best one to meet your needs. The great thing about tarps is that they are naturally far lighter than a traditional tent, so you won’t have as heavy a load in your gear is you otherwise would.
They are also typically far less bulky, which is an added plus.
There are super lightweight tarps and regular weight tarps on the market, so ultimately you can decide which you prefer best. If you decide to go the tarp route with your backpacking trip, you’ll probably also be bringing a hammock or bivvy bag along.
Factor the weight of any other gear you’re bringing along to the campsite when deciding whether you need an ultra-lightweight tarp or not.
The size of the tarp you pick is definitely a factor to consider when making your purchase. You need to make sure the size of the tarp is sufficient to offer protection from rain if inclement weather hits.
If 2 people are going to be sleeping under the tarp, you’ll want a tarp that is at least 60 square feet or more to provide enough coverage. Plus, a little extra tarp coverage will ensure you have space to store your gear and even cook if the weather outside is too blustery.
Look for tarps that feature sufficient attachment points. Four attachment points are the absolute minimum, but tarps featuring more like 6 or 8 will really give you versatility with rigging options and be sturdier if high winds hit.
While not necessary when purchasing a tarp, you should also keep an eye out for prop points that will enlarge the square footage of your resting spot. In addition, prop points translate to greater tarp stability which is a must if you’re dealing with wind, rain, or other blustery weather elements.
With prop points, all you need is a sturdy, long branch or a trekking pole to hold your tarp taut and give you more headspace to work with.
There are some cool add-ons that will serve you well out on the trail too. Add-ons such as groundsheets and insect resistant inner liners are great ones to look for. These features will make your tarp feel much more like a tent.
Just be aware that these add-ons will add some extra weight to your pack. Not all tarps are compatible with attachable liners and such, so make sure your tarp works with these types of add-ons before buying any.
The 2 primary types of tarps are flat tarps and shaped tarps. Flat tarps typically feature a rectangular or square design and are the most versatile option of the two. Flat tarps are larger than shaped ones, so depending on the way you set them up, you’ll have much more protection against the elements.
Flat tarps are typically much heavier to carry so this will add to the overall weight of your gear. However, flat tarps are very affordable and have a simple design to boot, so if you are new to tarps and want something durable without making too heavy an investment these are a fantastic option.
Shaped tarps are sold in curved, diagonal, and hexagonal designs. They are definitely lighter than flat tarps because they have less material all around. Shaped tarps are a good choice for backpackers who like to transport as little and as light gear as possible. These kinds of tarps are very easy to set up, but they aren’t as versatile as flat ones so that is something to consider.
The best backpacking tarps are usually designed from either silnylon, silpoly, or cuben fiber material. Silpoly is one of the most lightweight options (it isn’t quite as durable though) and is also very affordable. Silnylon is more durable but also comes with a higher price tag. You can purchase silnylon in both lightweight and heavy fabrics.
Cuben fiber is the priciest and lightest type of backpacking tarp material. It is also completely waterproof, which is an important feature if you plan on hiking in variable climates. For durability and water-resistant features, you can easily go with silpoly and silnylon, which are going to be much more forgiving for your bank account.
Check out the top 5 best backpacking tarps! Decide which one’s your favorite and keep scrolling to read which one we declared the ultimate winner of the group.
The first of the best backpacking tarps on our list is the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp. We love how lightweight this tarp is, plus it is easy to pack and carry on the road. The tarp is designed from durable 15-denier fabric sporting a polyurethane coating and integrated silicone nylon fibers. The Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp is a great selection to offer excellent protection against damaging elements like the wind and rain, despite the thinness of the material itself.
We liked the fact that the material sports reinforced 210-denier, nylon corners for extra sturdiness. The lightweight backpacking tarp features an impressive 8 attachment points plus cord adjusters, including 2 middle attachment points that you can secure to a trekking pole if you so desire.
The multiple attachment points will give you plenty of options to pitch your tarp, so for versatility and stability on the road, it’s hard to find a better option than the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp.
You can select this tarp in 2 different dimensions; 260 x 260 and 305 x 305. For more space for your gear, the latter size is your best bet.
You can also purchase separate modular elements that are compatible with the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp, including a groundsheet, bug net, and inner bug tent. These components are most compatible with the larger 305 x 305 dimensions. Both dimensions accommodate 2 people.
The MSR Thru-Hiker 70 Wing Canopy Shelter made it to our list of the best backpacking tarps for its highly sturdy and long-lasting material designed from 20-denier fabric. The material also features polyurethane coating and ripstop nylon with silicone integrated into the design. Compared with our previous pick, this selection is a bit heavier, but it is also more durable.
We liked that the MSR Thru-Hiker 70 Wing Canopy Shelter Tarp sports 6 attachment points which you can use alongside trekking poles to keep your tarp taut and sturdy. We love that this tarp is very easy to set up and is a great choice for less experienced backpackers or anyone newer to tarp camping too.
The tarp features 290 x 260 dimensions and provides coverage for 2 to 3 people at once. The tarp space might be a bit tight for 3 people, but if you’re going to be backpacking in warmer, clear weather where you don’t have to worry about the elements as much, you’ll be just fine.
The Rab Element Solo Shelter is a simple and lightweight option that frequent backpackers will love. For a no-fuss option that will serve you well in a variety of conditions, it’s hard to find a better pick than the Rab Element Solo Shelter.
We love that it weighs a mere 10 ounces, so you’ll barely notice a difference when transporting this tarp in your gear. The only significant downside to this choice from the best backpacking tarps is that it holds just 1 person.
Of course, if you’re going to be backpacking alone or just don’t need to share your tarp with anyone else, this won’t be an issue. The tarp is designed to fortify you from the wind, rain and other elements, with fabric featuring silicone coating.
The tarp only has 2 attachment points, but it does feature 4 stake loops and is compatible with trekking poles too. We liked that the fabric itself is pretty breathable, manufactured from durable yet light 40-denier nylon.
Our next pick from the best backpacking tarps is super affordable but doesn’t skimp on quality. We were pleased with the nylon’s integrated silicone and 40-denier specifications. We would note that the Kelty Upslope Tarp is definitely heavier than some of the other picks on our list, so it could weigh down your pack a bit more. The tarp weighs around 1 pound and 5 ounces.
You can install the tarp with 4 stakes through the flexible stake loops, plus you can suspend it with 3 guylines and 2 trekking poles if you so choose. We liked that the tarp sports guyline storage pockets that make it easier to transport and set up the product.
The tarp holds up well against more adverse weather like rain and snow as well, so if you’re going to be backpacking in tough elements this is a quality choice.
The final selection on our list from the best backpacking tarps is the Eagles Nest Outfitters ProFly Sil-Nylon Rain Tarp. For backpacking on a budget, this is a great choice to go with. We like that it is large and durable enough to replace a tent.
One thing to note is that you won’t be able to set up the rain tarp unless you’re camping in an area with trees, as this tarp can’t be set up with trekking poles like our previous options mentioned.
The design of this tarp is exceptional, manufactured from ripstop nylon with 15-denier thickness. It provides quality protection from the elements and features 6 attachment points to make securing your tarp in place a veritable breeze.
We just loved the durable 15-denier fabric with polyurethane, integrated silicone coat that is still super lightweight and versatile.
The tarp provides excellent protection against harsh weather elements, with reinforced 210-denier nylon corners for additional stability, which is a huge plus for us. We were also really pleased with the 8 total attachment points for easy pitching and 2 tarp sizes that users can pick from.
Besides this, the tarp is very compatible with a nice selection of add-ons if you want to include those in your setup. For versatility, ease of use, weather resistance, quality material, and plenty of space to rest under, you can’t go wrong with the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp.