An alternative tarp setup

I am always looking for faster, better ways of doing my camp setup.

In the past, I have used an OZtrail UltraRig 20′ x 24′ poly tarpaulin over my camp site. This has been fantastic for providing shade and shelter from rain, but the ridge pole is time consuming and awkward to put up — particularly for one person. But who says that you even need to use a ridge pole?

Most people set up tarps like the roof of a house. They like to have a high ridge in the middle, with sloping sides to allow the water to run off. (How to set up a tarp with a ridge.)

Ridge tarp setup

Typical ridge tarp setup using a 12′ x 16′ tarp

The alternative is to let gravity do its job – set three sides high and allow the middle of the tarp to sag. Then use one low guy rope on the fourth side to pull a valley into the tarp. This naturally gives a shape where water will not pool. In fact, it channels water to run off the tarp in one location — great if you are wanting to collect some rain water; not so good if the rain is being being dumped uphill from your camp site …

I have proven this concept with an Outdoor Connection Durarig 12′ x 16′ tarp and it works well. During some recent heavy rain the valley tarp shed water easily and did not pool water. I am not sure whether I will be able to pull the same shape into my 20′ x 24′ tarp. I suspect the valley setup will work best with long, thin, rectangular-shaped tarps, rather than large, square-shaped tarps because there is less unsupported area in the middle of the tarp.

Valley tarp setup

12′ x 16 ‘ valley tarp setup — note rope on front edge with no pole underneath pulling a valley into the tarp

I also have another theory about ridge versus valley tarp setups.

Anyone who has seen a ridge tarp on a windy day has seen it billow skywards, sometimes lifting the poles off the ground leading to the tarp collapsing. This is to be expected with a ridge in the tarp – it is an aerofoil creating lift! Much like a boat sail, or a plane wing.

But what would happen should you pull a valley into the tarp? – will it suck the tarp downwards on a windy day? In theory it should, much like the wing on a racing car creates down force. The valley tarp setup above seemed to perform okay in a small amount of wind. Has anyone tried this on a really windy day?

Update: I tried this on a recent camping trip when there was a 20 knot breeze blowing. As it turns out, a valley tarp does get sucked down to the ground rather than billowing into the air. Trouble is, it tends to get sucked down too much meaning that you end up with a deep valley in the tarp. But the problem really comes when you put a tent under it. The wind hits the tent and then the tarp still billows into the air. A good idea in theory; not so good in practice …

2 thoughts on “An alternative tarp setup

  1. Ben W

    Hey Rex,

    I’ve read all of your articles and they are very well written. I too have a young family and we love camping. Your articles have been really helpful.

    Im particularly interested in the way you do the tarps. I’m about to purchase a Black Wolf Lite Twin 300 and I want to put a tarp setup over it.

    1. Do you think the 20 x 24 tarp is the right tarp for this tent that will have dimensions of (6.6m x 3m) for our campsite. I want a setup like you have at Borumba Deer Park.
    2. Do the use eyelets in the tarps or D rings? Do they only come with D rings?
    3. What height are the poles that you have for the peak and the other poles around it?
    4. The ridge pole for a 20 x 24 would set up not be easily available i would imagine? Can you tell me the dimensions of your ridge set up please?

    Thanks in advance,

    Ben W

    1. Rex


      The Black Wolf Twin 300 is a huge tent to be putting a tarp over. I suggest that you allow an overhang of at least 2′ on the back and sides, and then space at the front for your cooking gear, tables, etc. — perhaps a 2 metre ‘verandah’?

      The good quality tarps only come with D-rings, not eyelets. D-rings are much stronger.

      I use telescopic 9′ poles for the ridge line and 7′ 6″ poles around the sides. I tend to set the tarp up just above head height though, even though the poles are capable of raising the tarp higher.

      Ridge poles of various lengths are easily available from good camping stores. They come in sections that telescope to the right length — just buy the number of sections that you need to achieve the length. Make sure that you get a pole to support the middle of the ridge if you are planning to support a big tarp — get that pole fitted with a square bracket that the ridge pole will sit in, instead of a spigot. The brackets are readily available for a couple of dollars from camping stores.

      If you are expecting strong wind, seriously consider whether you really want to erect such a large tarp. They make huge and powerful kites if the breeze catches them! Less can be better …


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