7 Most Important Tarp Knots to Know

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Video how to tie a tarp without grommets

If you don’t know the right knots for tying out a tarp, your tarp walls and roof will end up sagging. Or the tarp might even collapse on you. Luckily, there aren’t too many tarp knots you need to know. With just these 7 knots, you will be able to pitch any tarp setup and in any conditions.

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*In the images below, you can see the running bowline, taut line hitch and prusik knots. These are the three tarp knots that I use most often.

Tarp knots labeled on A frame pitch

tarp knots labeled on Adirondack pitch

Also read:

  • 27 Tarp Shelter Setups for Camping (with Pictures and Instructions)
  • How to Tie Out a Tarp

How Much Rope Do You Need?

For a tarp ridgeline, you will probably need at least 30 feet (10m) for a 10×10 tarp or 40 feet (12m) for a 10×15 tarp. Depending on which setup you use, you may also need several shorter pieces of rope.

Important: I recommend getting REFLECTIVE paracord so you don’t walk into your ridgeline or tie-out points at night! Yes, I’m speaking from experience here 😀

1. Tautline Hitch

Use for: Adjusting tension on guylines and ridgelines, making new tie-out points on a tarp (without grommets or with broken grommets)

The tautline hitch is arguably the most essential knot to know for tying a tarp. Once tied, you can slide it around. This allows you to adjust the tension of the rope – something important for getting ridgelines and guylines taut.

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Alternatively, you can use other sliding tension knots such as the buntline hitch, truckers hitch, McCarthey hitch, or Magnus hitch.

taut line hitch on tarp guylines

I also often use the tautline hitch to make tie-out points on tarps which don’t have grommets (or if the grommet broke or doesn’t have a grommet where I need it).

tautline hitch over rock to make tie out point on tarp

Taut Line Hitch Instructions:

tautline hitch instructions

2. Bowline

Use for: Tying guylines to tarp grommets

The bowline is called the “king of knots” because it creates such a secure knot. I admittedly don’t use it that much for hanging a tarp. However, you can use it to attach guylines to tarp grommets. Since the bowline isn’t adjustable, the other end of the guyline will need to be a tautline hitch.

Instructions:

bowline instructions

3. Running Bowline

Use for: Hanging ridgelines

You can use a “running bowline” to hang one side of a ridgeline. The knot gives you a very secure ridgeline. Because the tension is on the knot (as opposed to around the tree), it doesn’t cut into trees as much as with other knots (Leave No Trace!!!).

To making a running bowline, first put a bowline on end A of the rope. Rope end A goes around the tree. Then thread rope end B through the bowline. Alternatively, you can tie the bowline directly over rope end B, which saves you the annoyance of having to thread the tail end all the way through the loop you made.

Because the bowline isn’t adjustable, the other side of your ridgeline needs to have a tautline hitch or you won’t be able to adjust the tension.

4. Prusik Knot

Use for: Tensioning tarp on ridgeline.

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A common problem with tarp setups is that the tarp gets loose on the area where it hangs over the ridgeline. The prusik knot — also called the prussik knot — solves this problem.

Put two prusik knots on your ridgeline: one on each side of the tarp. Then you attach the tarp (where the edges fold over the ridgeline) to the prusik knots. Slide the prusik knots outwards to get your tarp taut.

Don’t have a grommet or a loop?

First I make a tie-out point by wraping a rock in the tarp with a tautline hitch. Then tie a bowline in the hanging end.

Now you can use the toggle-stick method shown below.

prusik knot instructions for hanging a tarp

5. Clove Hitch

Use for: Tying guylines to stakes, when using toggles to hang a hammock

The clove hitch is a very simple but surprisingly secure knot to make. When it is under tension, it won’t budge. But, once not under tension anymore, it can be easily removed. You can use it for quickly tying guylines to stakes (though they won’t be adjustable). It’s also often used for tying toggles when hammock camping. You also need to know the clove hitch for some bear bag hangs.

Instructions:

There are two ways to do the clove hitch. One (top image) involves tying the rope end around the stake. The other way (bottom image) involves making two loops and slipping them over the stake.

clove hitch instructions method 1

clove hitch instructions method 2

6. Fisherman’s Bend

Use for: Tying two ropes together to make one longer rope

A “bend” is a type of knot used to tie two rope ends together. You will often need to do this when hanging a tarp, such as if you need to tie two ropes together to make them longer. I personally like the fisherman’s bend best because it’s easy, even with gloves on. But there are plenty of other bend knots you could use.

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7. Lashings

Use for: Lengthening poles, tying poles together

Lashings are used to tie poles together securely. I personally love playing with them to make camp furniture out of branches. There are three main lashings you’ll need to know for pitching tarps:

  • Round lashing: Some tarp pitches (like the dining fly) require very long poles. If you can’t find poles or sticks long enough, you can use the round lashing to connect multiple poles into one longer one.
  • Tripod lashing: This is used to connect three poles into a tripod, which can then be used to support a tarp.
  • Square lashing and diagonal lashing: Use this lashing to tie poles together perpendicularly, such as if you want to tie a ridgepole between two trees.

lashing knots for tying tarp shelters

Image credits: “Tarp Camp at Lindemann City, Chilkoot Tr” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Umnak TautlineHitch ABOK 1800, by David J. Fred, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Boeglynknoop by FFouche, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Running_bowline, by Whidou, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Mastwurf_Binden and Mastwurf_Legen by Michael Kantelberg, GNU Free Documentation License Noeud de pécheur déserré by Malta,Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Lapp_bend_steps by Buz11, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. “Square Lashing at Colonial Williamsburg” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by bill barber
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>