You’re a paddling Jedi who can keep it hull-down in any sea conditions, roll a loaded double and cook a mean backcountry soufflé. But can you set up a tarp? Follow these tips to stay out of the elements and setup a tarp shelter on your next kayak or canoe camping trip.
Tarp Shelter Setup for Kayak Camping
Whether you’re stuck in a 10-straight-day reminder of why it’s called the “rainforest” or blessed with blistering sun in Patagonia or Baja, solid tarp skills are the sine qua non of campcraft lore that separate the backcountry pros from the schmoes.
To salvage an otherwise drowning or overcooked experience, try this advanced tarp setup, known as the Big Top. With a little practice, you can create a spacious shelter for any situation.
4 Easy Steps for Tarp Shelter Setup
1 Tie Tarp to Poles
Attach tarp corner lines to either paddles or cut driftwood poles just above head height, using a clove hitch.
2 Secure the Corners
Tautly secure all four corners at a 45-degree angle from the tarp edge and a 45-degree angle to the ground.
3 Prop Up the Big Top
Elevate the center with either a driftwood pole, raft oar or two paddles duct-taped together (experiment with lengths, depending on tarp size). Tie the top of the pole to the tarp center to keep it from falling in wind gusts.
4 Watch Out for Extreme Weather
Extreme conditions may require extra anchor ropes along the tarp sides. Anchors can be driftwood, boulders, boats, trees or simply a deadman anchor—a stick or log buried in the beach perpendicular to the rope, with the rope tied to the center.
3 Top Tarps for Your Next Camping Trip
$229 | seatosummitusa.com
Perfect for minimalist camping trips, this ultralight tarp shelter comes with eight super-strong tie-out points and attached cord adjusters. Weighing less than a pound, this versatile tarp can be setup with trekking poles or attached to nearby trees. Also attaches to Sea to Summit’s Escapist Bug Tent.
Sun Shield 200
$349 | msrgear.com
The modern, lightweight MSR Sun Shield 200 would be equally at home on the set of Battlestar Galactica as the wildest, wettest corners of Earth. Sold with poles, the funky design provides 200 square feet of shelter while weighing only six pounds. Now with updated UPF of 50+ for sun protection. Perfect for expeditions where weight is as important as comfort.
Noah’s Tarp 12
$79 | kelty.com
Carried in a convenient roll-top bag, this simple tarp shelter from Kelty includes attached corner guyline with storage pocket and multiple reinforced tie-out points for secure setup. Weighs less than three pounds and provides 144 square feet of shelter. Poles sold separately.
This article originally appeared in Adventure Kayak, Spring 2010 as well as in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
“We all need a little shelter/Just a little helper to get us by…” —Cinderella | Feature photo: Dave Quinn