tarp camping

Do I Need a Tarp for Hammock Camping?

When starting to hammock camp, there can be a lot to get your head around. A tarp is a big question on that list. Do I need a tarp for hammock camping?

Good question! And here is the answer:

A tarp is your shelter when hammock camping. If you are camping at home, or have other safety measures like your car nearby to fall back on, you can go ahead and camp without a hammock tarp. However, a tarp protects against wind, rain, snow, and sun. If your camping trip risks being exposed to any of these elements – a tarp is pretty much essential for hammock camping.

Check out the Beginner’s Guide to Hammock Camping Tarps to really get the hang of your tarp!

Table of contents

Why Do I Need a Tarp for Hammock Camping?

There are mainly two reasons why you need a tarp for hammock camping. To stay dry and to keep warm. You use a tarp over your hammock to cover you from rain, or snow. You also use it to shield you from the wind. In some cases, it’s nice to have more privacy, like when you want to change clothes or sleep in when there are a lot of other people around.

A tarp can potentially trap some more heat inside, depending on how you set it up, but mainly keeps you warmer in the sense that it blocks the wind and rain from reaching you.

In general, I’d say there are 5 typical hammock tarp mistakes you should try to avoid, but once you have those covered hanging your tarp will be a breeze.

Type of Camping

Will you be camping outside your car or RV? Are you backpacking?

What sort of camping you are planning for will have a big impact on whether you need a tarp or not. If you are too far away from any other shelter that you can escape to, you should bring a tarp – in case it starts to snow, rain, or get real windy.

It really sucks if the weather turns, and you are hanging there like a soggy sausage, cursing the day you chose to start hammocking. Not to mention it can become dangerous if you get too cold, or exposed.

Weather Conditions

The area and climate you plan to go hammock camping in should give you a good indication if you need to get a tarp. If the area is prone to weather changes, or a lot of downpours, definitely bring a tarp.

What Does a Tarp Do?

In the same way a rainfly keeps a tent protected from the elements, the tarp does the same for the hammock. 

It’s basically a roof for your hammock.

How Does a Hammock Tarp Work?

You basically hang your tarp over a ridgeline, with guylines that attach it to the ground. This gives you a bit more flexibility in how you can choose to set up your tarp, unlike a rainfly on a tent. 

How big, and which type of tarp you have, will determine what options you got going on here. It’s really nice to have some options, and you should get creative with it. When it rains you have more of a “campable” hangout space underneath your tarp, which is nice for cooking or having other campers over for a nice hangout.

Which Size Tarp Do I Need for Hammock Camping?

Yet again the answer will depend on how you intend to go camping. Generally, a bigger tarp will allow you more luxury. I’ve heard about people opting for a large winter tarp all year round. It will also allow you to keep more of your gear under the tarp while hammock camping. However, a bigger tarp like that will weigh you down more and take up more space.

If you are car camping, or weight isn’t an issue for you, then a larger tarp might be the way to go for you.

People opting for a more lightweight approach to camping will be better off with a smaller tarp of lighter materials. Just make sure your tarp is a little bit longer than your hammock, so it covers your water break, and you don’t get too exposed at the ends.

Tarps also come in different materials and shapes. I think that is a bit overkill for this article, and honestly, if you are just starting or testing out – a 10-dollar polyethylene blue tarp will do the job just fine. When you have tried a couple of hammock camping hangs, and have found out if it’s something for you, you can start thinking about upgrading. 

A blue tarp is not perfect, after all. It makes a lot of noise, for one.

What Makes a Good or a Bad Tarp?

There isn’t really a good or bad tarp. But there is a good or bad tarp for you and how you intend to use it.

You have to strike a balance between your preferences, what you can, or are willing to spend, and your primary use for the tarp. For that reason, you should check out which material is best for your hammock tarp and your specific use case.

Lightweight tarps are usually more costly than heavier ones. But if you are not carrying your tarp in your backpack, being lightweight isn’t really an issue you have to consider.

If you can sleep through a dentist’s appointment, then you won’t have a problem with all the noise a blue tarp makes. And you will definitely sleep ok in a hammock.

Consequences of Not Having a Tarp

If you risk going tarpless, and venture into the great outdoors – you basically have no shelter if push comes to shove.

Although I have seen someone putting their pad on top of them, as a makeshift tarp, I don’t recommend that as you preferred go-to method of joyful hammock camping.

Related: How To Start Hammock Camping

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