Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What Is The Best Tarp Setup - Steps To Take When Setting Up A Tarp

In this post we are going to look at different methods of tarp set up and steps to follow when setting up a tarp or basha.

If you have ever watched any of Ray Mears TV programs or DVD's, you will have no doubt seen him putting up a tarp, closely followed by setting up a hammock.

Ray always goes through a set procedure, everytime he is tarp camping and there is good reason for this, which we will discuss later on in the post.

But to start, lets go through what you need for a successful basha tarp setup plus the different options you may want to consider.

You can spend quite a considerable amount of money on a good camping tarp set up, but when you first start out, you can easily put together a functional and affordable kit.

So what components do we need ?

Tarp or Basha
Ridge Line
Prusik Loops

These are the typical components required to set up a tarp shelter, to protect you from the elements, brew up and watch the wildlife. You can of course erect a perfectly adeqate shelter using just a few of these items, so we will go through each component in turn and discuss some of the options or considerations regarding each.

Tarp or Basha

A Tarp is basically a piece of sheet material, with various securing points to allow you to create a temporary shelter when outdoors. Tarps are also referred to as a Basha (Its more of a military term for a tarp).

Tarp sizes vary, depending on how much you want to spend or for what purpose you require the tarp.

If you are setting up a semi-permenant shelter when camping with a hammock, you would want a larger canopy size (e.g 3 x 3m or bigger), to ensure your hammock is fully protected and maybe have room for other kit or an area to cook under.

However, if you are just out for the day or a couple of hours and need the tarp, just in case it rains and you need to be setting up a tarp shelter quickly. You would be better carrying a smaller one, that fits easily into a small rucksack etc. An ex-army poncho is suited to this and can be bought quite cheaply.

The majority of tarps you can get hold of, will come with some form of securing points.
Whether it be as simple as brass eyeletts in each corner. Or like with the more expensive bashas, you can expect brass eyeletts and webbing loops in each corner, loops along the ridge and also press studs to connect two tarps together to form an even bigger canopy.
Obviously the more securing points you have the more versatile your shelter will be, giving you plenty more options when deciding on your tarp configuration.

As you can see from the photo on the right, there are several securing points, which has allowed be to peg out the tarp, not just from the corners, but all the way along the bottom edge, giving it more rigidity.

There are also a good amount of webbing loops to secure a good ridge line, again giving me a more rigid shelter, that wont flap around in the wind as much.

When I first started out in bushcraft, I was on a limited budget and as more and more younger people (Who may not be working yet) are getting involved with bushcrafting, you may need to consider the "Cheap Tarps" option.

This is quite acceptable and can be quite rewarding when you put together your own tarp kit for little or no money. One of my first ever videos I filmed for my Youtube Channel (JesterBushcraft) was for just that "A Cheap Tarp Setup"

Ridge Line

Once you have your tarp, you are going to need to secure to one or two trees, depending on what type of configuration you are going for.

The most common way of doing this is by securing some paracord (Which can come in differing sizes) from one tree and attaching the other end to a second tree, wide enough apart to hang your tarp over.

Most people can tie a rope securely to a tree, but the key is to be able to get the knots undone again, when striking camp.

You dont want to be wasting time and energy struggling to undo knots in the rain or the cold.

And for this reason, there are a number of knots or hitches that you can quickly learn, that will allow you to secure a good sturdy ridge line. But more importantly, take it all down again with as little fuss as possible.

Here are a couple of methods I have learnt which I now use all the time when setting up a basha or tarp. You will over time, learn different methods and favour certain ones, as I have mentioned in one of my videos.

There are 2 ways in which you can suspend the tarp from the ridge line. First, you can simply drape the tarp over the ridge line. Or second, you can run the ridge line through the loops on the tarp. Either method is fine. It's all down to personal preference really.

Guylines, Pegs & Karabiners

Once your tarp is suspended from your ridge line, you will then need to secure it using guylines. For this you can use some form of chordage, twine or a narrower guage paracord.
Your guylines need to be long enough to be able to reach down to the ground and also to other securing points, like a tree etc.
I use small karabiners to attach my guylines to the tarp, but you can simply tie them directly onto the webbing loops, if you want to keep them on the tarp permenantly.

I prefer to use karabiners, as it gives me more flexibility when setting up my tarp. I can add and remove guylines where and when I like, without having to mess about undoing any knots.

When pegging out your tarp, you can either carry some normal metal pegs (like from a small tent) or carve some yourself, which is more time consuming. Carving your own pegs, should only be done if you are not pushed for time, but is more rewarding and saves weight in your pack. The hardest thing about carving your own pegs is having to leave them behind (especially when its the first few pegs you have ever made).

Prusik Loops

In the list of components above, we mentioned Prusik Loops. These are a very simple device, but very effective and simple to use. I use Prusik Loops everytime when setting up a tarp as I find it the quickest and most reliable method to secure the tarp to the ridge line. The Prusik Loop is attached onto the ridge line, at either end of the tarp, then secured using a karabiner to one of the end ridge loops, stopping it from sliding up and down the ridge line.

The next video demonstrates each component we have just discussed, including the use of Prusik Loops. And as you will notice in the video, you are learning all the time. the more you get out and test your kit, the more familiar you will get with it.

To conclude, we will go back to the beginning of the post when me mentioned about a set routine. This basically means, get used to setting up your tarp in the same order everytime time you are out. And also when packing your kit away. Even the way you fold your tarp, how you hank your ridge line etc.

Always pack your kit into the same part of your rucksack, so you know exactly where it is, when you have to set up your tarp in a hurry.

Working to this set routine will eventually make the process second nature to you and save you time and effort.

I hope this post was of some use to you (Mainly for newcomers to bushcraft really) and I would like to finish by providing you with a short list of related videos that may also be of added benefit :

Related Videos

1. Desert Basha - A Brief Demo
2. Hanking Guylines (ropes)
3. Tarp & Pole Setup Using A Walking Pole
4. New Tarp Configuration Testing


  1. This is really useful and interesting. Thanks mate. Favourited!!

    1. Im glad you found it of use, thank you for your support.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. Your feedback is much appreciated.

  3. Gives me more ideas for an afternoon out! Because I love the outdoors and getting to be one with nature and not destroying it.

  4. Thank you for your feedback. And I quite agree with your comment...

  5. Thank you for an informative and succinct Blog, the demo video on various aspects are v.good. I like to practice new knots, who or where does Farrimond originate from ?

    1. Thank you for your comment. The knot was first demonstrated by Barry Farrimond, a British actor in 2008 at the Yellow Wood Bush Camp, Wales...

  6. Great article, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    I'm sticking with the devil I know (siberian hitch/adjustable grip hitch) for now, but I see the merit in the prusik-type alternative, so I'll play with it and consider again.

  7. If you are looking for information regarding quality canvas tarps, then check out this blog waterproof canvas tarps.