Hammock camping tarps guide for beginners

Hammock Camping Tarps: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Hammock camping tarps are something every hammock camper should know a bit about. When we are hammock camping instead of tent camping, the tarp is our shelter against the elements.

But can we go without it? What even is it? What is it made of? Can we buy a cheap one or do we need a premium one?


In this article, we’ll dive into all you need to know about hammock camping tarps.

Key Takeaways

  • A tarp, short for tarpaulin, is a piece of gear for outdoor enthusiasts, especially crucial in hammock camping.
  • The hammock tarp has several purposes, the main one being shelter from the elements.
  • Different hammock camping tarps are best for different use cases [explained]
hammock camping tarps

Hammock Camping Tarps: What Is a Tarp?

A tarp, short for tarpaulin, is a piece of gear for outdoor enthusiasts, especially crucial in hammock camping.

Other names for a hammock camping tarp, are rain tarp or rain fly.

You can get an explanation of what a tarp is in this complete list of camping terms. Here’s the short version:

A tarp is a large, strong, flexible, water-resistant, or waterproof sheet, meant to keep the elements away from people, gear or machines.

The hammock tarp is your roof

In the context of hammock camping, a tarp serves as a protective layer, sheltering you from rain, wind, and even providing shade from the sun.

Related: 5 Worst Hammock Camping Tarp Mistakes [+ What to Do Instead]

Think of your tarp as your trusty shield against the elements – it’s not just a piece of fabric, but your first line of defense against rain, wind, and even the morning dew.

When you’re hammocking, a tarp is your primary cover.

It’s draped above your hammock and secured with ropes, guylines, or straps to nearby trees or stakes.

What Does a Hammock Tarp Offer?

The hammock tarp also provides privacy and insulation on colder nights

The setup isn’t just for keeping you dry during a downpour; it also offers privacy and helps retain heat on cooler nights.

Related: Do I Need a Tarp for My Hammock?

It was quite a hassle my first-time hammock camping when I realized I didn’t have the shelter and privacy that tent camping offers. With a trustee tarp, however, you can reclaim some of that privacy, while also getting a bit more insulation on those chilly evenings.

Tarps come in different designs and sizes

Tarps come in various shapes and sizes, from minimalist designs aimed at ultralight backpackers to larger, more durable models for extended trips.

Choosing the right tarp for your hammock camping trip depends on multiple factors like weather conditions, environment, and personal preference. For a deeper dive into hammock camping essentials, check out the Hammock Camping 101 guide. This resource is an excellent starting point for beginners and a useful reference for seasoned campers.

What Are Tarps Made Of?

So, what are tarps made of, and what does each of the materials offer? Some improvise their own tarps, while other tarps or rain flys are made for hammock camping.

Here’s a bullet list of common materials from which tarps are typically made:

  • Polyethylene (PE):
    • Lightweight and waterproof, often used in budget-friendly tarps.
    • UV resistant and typically treated for better durability.

  • Silnylon (Silicone Impregnated Nylon):
    • Lightweight and strong, popular for ultralight backpacking tarps.
    • Waterproof and offers a good balance between weight and durability.

  • Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber):
    • Extremely lightweight and strong, albeit more expensive.
    • Waterproof and highly durable, a top choice for ultralight enthusiasts.

  • Canvas:
    • Heavier and more traditional, known for its durability.
    • Often treated for water resistance and ideal for prolonged use.

  • Polyester:
    • Common in general-purpose tarps, more affordable.
    • Water-resistant and less stretchy compared to nylon.

  • Ripstop Nylon:
    • Lightweight and reinforced to resist tearing.
    • Water-resistant and commonly used in a variety of outdoor gear.

  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride):
    • Heavy-duty, waterproof, and ideal for extreme conditions.
    • Typically heavier and used in tarps where durability is a priority.

  • Oilcloth:
    • Traditional material treated with oil or wax for water resistance.
    • More commonly used in historical or traditional camping settings.

Each material offers unique benefits and trade-offs in terms of weight, durability, water resistance, and cost, making the choice dependent on your specific camping needs and conditions.

Related: Which materials are best for a hammock camping tarp?

What Is a Hammock Tarp Used For?

According to Merriam-Webster a tarp is used especially for protecting exposed objects or areas.

Furthermore, when sleeping in a hammock, the hammock tarp is used for many purposes. Here is a complete list of the uses.

The primary uses of hammock camping tarps:

  • Protection from Rain and Snow:
    • Keeps you dry during wet weather conditions.

  • Wind Barrier:
    • Reduces wind chill and provides some insulation.

  • Shade Provider:
    • Offers relief from the sun on hot days.

  • Dew Prevention:
    • Prevents morning dew from making the hammock wet.

  • Enhanced Privacy:
    • Creates a more secluded and private space in the open outdoors.

  • Heat Retention:
    • Helps to retain heat on cooler nights.

  • Versatile Shelter:
    • Can be set up in various configurations for different environmental conditions.

  • Gear Protection:
    • Shields your backpack and other camping gear from the elements when placed underneath or near the hammock.

  • Emergency Shelter:
    • Can be used as a makeshift shelter in unexpected situations.

  • Lightweight and Compact:
    • Easy to carry, making it ideal for backpacking and hiking.

Each of these uses highlights how a hammock tarp is an essential, multifunctional tool for anyone engaging in hammock camping.

Different Types of Hammock Tarps

You have different types of hammock camping tarps in multiple sizes, shapes, angles, and purposes. From asymmetrical tarps to hexagonal tarps and even four-season tarps.

Here is a list of the different types of hammock tarps:

  • Rectangle hammock tarp
  • Hexagonal tarp
  • Asymmetrical tarp
  • Square/diamond tarp
  • Four-season tarp
  • Wide tarp

Which type of tarp is best for which use case?

Asymmetrical tarp

The asymmetrical tarp is designed to mirror the asymmetrical lay you get when you are diagonally in a hammock. One benefit of the asymmetrical tarp is less weight.

Best for fair weather with little to no rain, and not too much wind. The asymmetrical tarp is good for ultralight backpacking or camping. With only two tie-out points they are fairly fast to set up, lightweight, and easier to stuff in your backpack.

Square/diamond tarp

The square tarp, when put up diagonally, makes a diamond-shaped tarp.

Decent protection, depending on size on setup skills. In heavy side winds with rain, you would be better off in a tarp with more cover.

Like the asym tarps, it only has two tie-out points which are a bit faster to set up.

Hexagonal tarp

Common choice for ultralight backpackers, hikers, and campers.

These are also commonly catenary cut tarps, meaning that the edges are not straight, but rather curved to cut weight and make the tarp more aerodynamic.

Lightweight yet durable, the hexagonal tarp is a great balance of protection, weight, and versatility, making it ideal for backpackers and hammock campers who need reliable shelter in various weather conditions.

Rectangle hammock tarp

The rectangle hammock tarp is kinda plain but offers a lot of options. Can be pitched low for storm protection and privacy. While the rectangle tarp has more fabric which offer different setup options, it is also bulkier and harder to pack than some of the other tarp options.

The straight edges however, are more likely to catch winds and are harder to keep taut.

Four-season tarp

The four-season tarp, aka. winter tarp, is basically a floating tent around your hammock.

If you put doors on your hex tarp, you end up with the four-season tarp.

Among the tarps on this list, the four-season tarp gives the maximum amount of shelter and privacy. That comes at the cost of longer set-up time, cost, weight, and packability.

When you need a winter tarp for the colder season, this is the tarp to go for.

Wide tarp

The wide tarp is a tarp that has been made with even wider coverage.

Different Tarp Modes and Tarp Set-ups

When you have a tarp for hammock camping or tarp camping for that matter, you can set it up in different modes.

Some modes give you more privacy, some give you more shelter in poor weather, and some hammock camping tarp modes just give you that extra nice view when camping with a tarp.

List of different tarp modes and tarp setups:

  • A-frame mode: Basic, common set-up for hammock camping. The tarp is set up in an A-shape, with walls down on both sides. Good for storms, bad weather, and more privacy.

  • Porch mode: One side is a little bit higher, held up by trekking poles or sticks. The other side is angled down to block wind or view from others. You can sit in your hammock and camp out with a nice view, and more airflow.

  • Diamond mode: If you have a square tarp, you can set it up in diamond mode. It usually provides a bit less coverage, more airflow and requires a good set-up to make sure you stay dry under it. Quicker to set up with only 2 tie-out points.

Tarp mode variations/alterations

You can do several variations of the tarp modes.

  • If the weather is warmer, put your tarp up higher from your hammock to get more airflow
  • If the weather is colder, put your tarp closer to your hammock to get better insulation
  • If the weather is rainy, windy, or stormy, put your tarp closer with the edges wrapping close to your hammock for maximum shelter
  • In rain, you can adjust one end of the tarp a little lower to make the water run down that end.

Tarp Ridgeline And Gear to Tie Down Your Tarp

When it comes to hammock camping tarps, you will hear the word ridgeline used here and there.

It can mean several things, which can be a bit confusing, but hang with me.

The top line of your tarp can be called a ridgeline. But also the suspension of your tarp can be called a ridgeline.

The suspension of your tarp can be a split ridgeline or a continuous ridgeline. The split ridgeline is set up on either side of your tarp, pulling it taut. The continuous ridgeline can be hung up below or over the tarp, attaching the tarp.

To add to that, your hammock itself can also have a ridgeline, which adjusts the amount of sag your hammock has. Watch this video for a great explanation from Dutch, the founder of Dutchware.

There are differences in camping hammock models though, as my Haven Tent Hammock has one continuous ridgeline across the hammock for both the hammock itself and the tarp.

Guy lines and stakes

The cordage used to tie down your tarp is called guy lines. These can be attached to stakes or hooks on the ground.

You can also tie them to rocks, branches, etc.

How to put your stakes in the ground

Don’t put your stakes or hooks straight down. Pull the line tight, angle your stake at about 45 degrees, and stick it into the ground.

Just like a strongman leaning back while pulling a rope to put all his power into it, that’s what you want from your stakes. Make those stakes your little strongmen, holding your tarp safely in place.

Packing And Deploying Your Hammock Tarp

If you want to deploy or pack up your tarp quickly and easily, a double-end stuff sack is very practical. You can keep it on your suspension so you don’t lose it since it is double-ended.

Then there’s the snakeskin, which packs your tarp up above your hammock so you can take in the view. Resembling a snake in the process. If it starts to pour down, you can quickly deploy your tarp.

You can always use a couple of bands in a pinch or on a budget. Roll up your tarp and secure it with a couple of elastic bands.

Hammock Camping Tarps: Conclusion

In this comprehensive resource on hammock camping tarps, we have dived into everything from what a tarp is, what hammock tarps are made of, the purpose of a tarp, multiple ways to set your tarp up, and what to look for in a hammock tarp depending on your use case.

I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. Give me a shout if you think I should add anything or if you have questions.

Which hammock tarp are you considering? Leave a comment below and hang around!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *