Camping in the pouring rain without proper shelter can quickly turn an fun weekend getaway into a miserable slog. There’s nothing worse than huddling in a soggy tent or scrambling to set up makeshift coverage as the skies open up unexpectedly.
A good waterproof tarp is an absolutely essential piece of gear to keep you and your equipment dry no matter the conditions. Unlike a tent, tarps are versatile, adaptable, and super quick to set up as overhead shelter or extra weather protection. They can make the difference between an epic trip and one cut short by the elements.
In this article, we’ll dive into the key factors to consider when choosing a camping tarp. I’ll review the top 5 waterproof tarps on the market today so you can find the perfect option for your needs. We’ll also cover tips for seamlessly setting up your tarp in camp and answer some frequently asked questions.
Read on to learn all the essential information for choosing the ideal waterproof sanctuary so you can adventure comfortably in the backcountry rain or shine!
What to Look for in a Quality Waterproof Camping Tarp
Not all tarps are created equal when it comes to keeping weather at bay. Here are the most important features to evaluate when shopping for a camping tarp:
Weight and Packability
For hikers and backpackers, lightweight and compactable tarps are crucial. You’ll want to look for a low denier fabric in the range of 20D-30D. The lower the denier, the lighter and more packable the tarp. Ripstop nylon is an excellent material choice – it’s lightweight yet extremely durable, with interwoven reinforcement fibers for added abrasion resistance. It also packs down very small.
The tarp should have a waterproof polyurethane (PU) coating and fully sealed seams to prevent leakage. 1500mm is the minimum waterproof rating you want for occasional showers. For extended downpours or stormy conditions, look for tarps rated 3000-5000mm or higher. The higher the rating, the more waterproof the fabric.
Tarps range hugely in size – from ultralight models designed for individual use to giant 12×12′ group shelters. Pick your dimensions based on your needs:
- Solo: 8×10′ is a good standard tarp size for 1-2 people.
- Couples: 10×10′ provides ample coverage for two and their gear.
- Groups: For car camping with 4+ people, choose a 12×12′ tarp for expansive overhead shelter.
Look for tarps with reinforced stitching at high-stress seam points and rust-resistant aluminum or stainless steel grommets at the corners and tie outs. More grommets allow you to pitch your tarp in a variety of versatile configurations.
Rectangular tarps are the most adaptable, as they can be rigged into different shaped shelters as needed. Hexagon and diamond shaped tarps also shed rain well while adding more headspace. Avoid a tarp with a drastic catenary curve, as this limits pitch options.
Brightly colored tarps are easily spotted and can be used for signaling and visibility. However, muted earth tone colors like green, brown, and grey blend in more naturally with the environment. There are pros and cons to both – pick what’s right for your needs.
Look for tarps with extra loops, pockets, or tightening systems to enhance functionality:
- Loops allow you to hang gear inside.
- Pockets provide storage space.
- Tightening systems on tie outs make it easy to secure and adjust the tarp from inside or out.
- Guylines and line tighteners are indispensable for properly staking out your tarp.
Top 5 Waterproof Camping Tarps Reviews
Now that you know what to look for, here’s my picks for the best waterproof camping tarps available today:
Top Pick #1: The North Face Cloudbreak Tarp
Quick Take: My top overall pick for its storm-worthy weather protection, rugged materials, and versatile pitch configurations.
The North Face Cloudbreak is built to handle seriously nasty conditions while remaining surprisingly lightweight. With a 5000mm PU coating and heat-taped seams, this puppy is waterproof enough for monsoons yet packs down small.
Made from 40D ripstop nylon with reinforced tie outs, it’s also burly enough for years of use. Ample 10 tie out points let you pitch it in a variety of ways. For storm defense, pitch it low in A-frame style.
- Bomber waterproof rating of 5000mm
- Rugged 40D ripstop nylon stands up to abuse
- 10 tie outs for versatile pitch options
- Lightweight (1lb 11oz) and packs down small
- Tie outs could have tension adjusters
Ideal For: All-around 3 season protection even in nasty weather. Great balance of durability, weather protection, weight, and adaptability.
Runner Up: Kelty Noah’s Tarp
Quick Take: An affordable price and easy setup make the Kelty Noah’s Tarp a fantastic budget-friendly option for car campers.
The Noah’s Tarp lives up to its biblical name – this budget-friendly workhorse will keep you dry through 40 days and 40 nights of deluge if needed.
Made from 68D polyester with heat-sealed seams, its 1200mm PU coating provides reliable waterproofing for weekend trips. Fully taped seams prevent drips.
Integrated packable folding poles make setup a cinch. Just lock the poles in place – no fussing with trees required. Metal grommets at all corners and tie outs make it easy to get taught.
- Great price for the size
- Packable folding poles included
- Simple hassle-free setup
- Spacious interior for 4+ people
- Comparatively heavy at 5lbs 5oz
- Not as stormworthy as premium options
Ideal For: Car camping and casual weekend trips where packability isn’t critical. Super easy pitching.
Premium Pick: Hyperlite Ultamid 2 Tarp
Quick Take: The hallmark of quality, this ultralight cube tarp sheds storms and wind with Dyneema composite fabric. Ideal for thru-hikers.
The cream-of-the-crop Hyperlite Ultamid 2 utilizes Dyneema composite fabric – revered by long distance hikers for its insane strength-to-weight ratio.
The proprietary Dyneema Composite Fabric is waterproof down to the core, eliminating the need for a PU coating. With factory taped seams, it’s virtually impenetrable by rain.
At around 17 oz, it’s astonishingly light for a tarp this stormworthy. The unique catenary shaped cube design optimizes interior space too. Worth the investment for hardcore ounce-counters.
- Ultra-high strength Dyneema composite fabric
- Extremely lightweight at 17 oz
- Waterproof and seam taped off the shelf
- Unique cube design sheds wind
- Stratospheric price
- Not as versatile in pitch configurations
Ideal For: Thru-hikers and gram-counters obsessed with cutting weight. Supreme weather protection.
Lightweight Pick: Outdoor Research Prototype Bivy Tarp
Quick Take: The lightest tarp on our list at a scant 9.6 oz. For minimalist trips when every gram counts.
The OR Prototype Bivy Tarp epitomizes minimalist shelter. Weighing just 9.6 oz, it’s the lightest floorless tarp around.
The 20D ripstop nylon delivers surprising waterproofness with a 3000mm PU coating and seam sealing. Four mid panel grommets provide pitching options. Stuff sack included.
No excess fabric here – just simple, reliable overhead coverage to keep you and your bivy dry. For those looking to go light, this tarp pulls its weight.
- Incredibly light at 9.6 oz
- Decent 3000mm waterproof rating
- Sturdy 20D ripstop nylon
- Mid-panel grommets for pitching versatility
- Not as adaptable shape-wise as a rectangular tarp
- Fewer tie outs than other tarps
Ideal For: Ultralight hikers and solo campers who need barely-there coverage.
Group Pick: Rainier Outdoor Mountain Tarps
Quick Take: A heavy duty 12×12′ tarp with 14 tie outs to stake out a sheltered basecamp for large groups.
The massive Rainier Mountain Tarp provides 100 sq/ft of covered area – enough space for multiple tents or a whole crew.
The 140D oxford nylon is thick and burly. The polyurethane coating provides a 3000mm waterproof rating and seam sealing prevents leakage.
14 tie out points situated all around the perimeter and mid-panel allow for truly stout pitching to withstand high winds. Perfect for large families or group trips.
- Roomy 12×12′ coverage
- 14 tie outs for bombproof staking
- Durable 140D thick oxford nylon
- High visibility color great for groups
- Heavy at 4lbs 3oz
- Bulky when packed
Ideal For: Car camping groups who want spacious communal shelter. Party tarp!
Tips for Setting Up Your Waterproof Camping Tarp
Got your tarp dialed? Here are some tips for seamlessly setting it up in camp:
- Pick a level patch of ground free of sticks and rocks. Clear debris – you want full contact with the ground.
- Always stake down the corners first before moving to other tie out points. Use steel stakes at least 6 inch long.
- For optimal rain runoff, create an angled pitch instead of pitching flat. 30-45 degrees is ideal.
- Make use of natural anchors like trees or boulders to elevate tie outs if no trees are available in the spot.
- Prioritize staking out vulnerable points first – the middle of the ridgeline, sides, and vestibule openings.
- Place a plastic sheet or tarp underneath as a moisture barrier and to protect the floor.
- Watch for sagging areas on the tarp ceiling and walls and tighten down appropriately so rain pools don’t accumulate.
- Weigh down loose edges with rocks or logs to fully seal potential gaps where water could blow in.
- Store gear away from edges that could get wet. Store under vestibule overhangs or use a separate waterproof floor for gear.
FAQs About Waterproof Camping Tarps
How can I re-waterproof my tarp if the PU coating wears off?
You can restore water repellency by applying a PU spray coating. First wash and fully dry your tarp. Then, apply the spray in 2-3 thin, even coats allowing it to dry in between coats.
What are the best knots to use for staking down a tarp?
The trucker’s hitch works perfectly for tying taut ridgelines. It allows easy tensioning and releasability. Use a tautline hitch for tying down tie outs so you can adjust tension from inside or out.
What’s the best way to clean my tarp after a dusty trip?
Hand wash gently with a non-detergent soap and soft brush, paying special attention to dirty areas. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap then air dry completely. Don’t stuff away wet – store loose to prevent mildew.
Should I re-treat my tarp with waterproofing spray before each trip?
Yes! Washing causes the durable water repellent (DWR) finish to wear off over time. Apply a silicon or PU spray every few trips to maintain full water beading ability.
How can I pitch my tarp if there are no trees or rocks to tie off to?
You can lower your tarp all the way to the ground and pitch it using hiking poles or 2×4 boards on each side to add structure. Stake out all points and tighten the tarp until taut.
Is it okay if my tarp touches my tent?
It’s fine as long as you don’t rely on the tent poles to provide pitch tension. Just watch for drips, as condensation on the tarp can drip down onto your tent.
What size tarp should I get for a family of 4?
A 12×12 ft tarp is ideal for coverage and headroom for 4 people plus gear underneath. Either square or rectangular shape works. Look for a heavy duty model with ample tie outs.
A waterproof camping tarp is guaranteed to make your next backcountry trip more comfortable. Whether a surprise shower pops up or you’re facing torrential rains, a quality tarp has you covered.
Focus on choosing a durable, waterproof model with ample tie outs for the conditions you expect. For soloists and backpackers, aim for a lightweight ripstop nylon tarp in a rectangular shape for adaptability. Car campers can size up and look for easy pitching features.
Armed with the information in this guide, check out sizing charts and pick the ideal tarp for your needs. Then get ready to adventure in any weather while staying cool, calm, and dry under your trusty tarp!