When people start to geek out about the best camping gear, they’ll usually first start talking tents: “Just five pounds of trail weight, yet it’s rated for four seasons!” Or maybe they’ll want to show you their fancy new collapsible camp chair, which packs away into a bag the size of a Nalgene bottle. Let’s be honest: Most people just don’t get that excited about tarps. But being equipped with one of the best camping tarps can mean the difference between a comfortable, enjoyable campsite and one that will leave you wondering if you should have just stayed home.
After all, take it from me: I’ve sat huddled in tents during rainstorms and hiding out from the midday sun enough times to have learned that a camping tarp is an essential piece of kit.
There is a surprising amount of diversity when it comes to camp tarps, so I have included options that will serve a variety of uses and that are available at a broad range of price points. Once you have your favorite new camp tarp picked out, be sure to browse our other roundups of great camping gear, like the best backpacking cookware, best coolers and best sleeping bags.
- Best Camping Tarp Overall: Snow Peak Takibi Hexa
- Best Value Camping Tarp: Unigear Tent Tarp
- Best Under-Tent Tarp: Amazon Basics Waterproof Tarp
- Best Car Camping Tarp: Kelty Waypoint Car Tarp
- Best Sun Shelter Tarp: MSR Rendezvous Sun Shield 2oo Wing Shelter
- Best A-Frame Camping Tarp: ENO HouseFly Rain Tarp
- Best Emergency Tarp: SOL Emergency Blanket
- Best Backpacking Tarp: Kammok Kuhli Ultralight Weather Shelter
How We Chose The Best Camping Tarps
The tarps that made the cut here were primarily selected based on the same thing sound engineers do to mics before rock concerts. You know… “testing, testing.” As noted, I have a Snow Peak tarp, an SOL blanket, a ground cover tarp (yep, from Amazon) and in the past I have used many other tarps, too. I also know a lot of other gear from brands featured here, like Kelty, Kammok and MSR; I’ve trusted them to keep me (and my friends and family) safe out there.
I know that in some cases, such as on milder days of fall or spring, a camp tarp may not be essential gear—you need a tent, sleeping bag and camp mat more than a tarp, no doubt about it. But believe me when I say once you start using a campsite tarp, you really will never want to go back. It’s a roof right over your head that still affords you fresh air and fine views.
Ah, but how to choose the right camping tarp for your needs? Let’s break it down.
Why Do I Need A Camping Tarp?
With a tarp set up at your campsite, you can enjoy benefits including (but not limited to) protection from rain, snow or falling debris; a shady, cooler space to spend sunny hours; reduced wind; and added privacy. In a pinch, many tarps can be used to create a bivouac-style shelter, too, so should your tent become compromised, you can ride out the night with some level of protection from the elements. (Assuming you can’t or don’t want to just get into a vehicle you used to get to your campsite.)
What To Consider When Shopping For A Camping Tarp
Before you think about the kind of camp tarp you need, think about the kind of camping you do. As long as you’re willing to spend a few bucks to get the exact right kind of tarp for your primary use case, it’s then very easy to select one.
If you tend to pitch camp right by your car, a vehicle-mounted tarp is a great choice. If you camp with a large group, size matters. If you thru-hike or push for summits, weight matters. You can thought experiment on through it for yourself, but here are a few general considerations when choosing a camping tarp.
A tarp that’s too small to cover the folks in your camping party is just no good. Likewise, a tarp that’s much bigger than you need isn’t ideal either, as tarps occupy a lot of space even beyond their covered area because of guy lines and anchors. Try to pace out your ideal covered area—say, where you will prep and eat meals at camp—then measure the square feet.
Weight And Packed Size
If you’re car camping, the weight of your tarp does not much matter, though note that the Snow Peak tarp weighs nearly 20 pounds and takes up about as much space as a cooler even when packed down, so that may be a factor as y0u load up your trunk. If you’ll be on the move, then by all means look only to the lightest of tarps.
Is your tarp more about keeping you comfortable as you car camp, or is it about keeping you dry for safety as you backpack or mountaineer? In the latter case, you need a tarp that can be set up in A-frame tent style to offer maximum weather protection. Will you be camping where it may be wet, muddy or snowy? Then a ground cover tarp is a wise move. (And hey, maybe a tarp that you can pop up over your campfire, too!) And no matter where you’re going and what you’re doing out there, go ahead and spend the $8 on a survival blanket—you’re worth it!