Pitching a Tarp

Kate Gregory

The first thing we do when we land at a site is get a tarp up. OK, first we get the stuff out of the canoes and take our lifejackets off. Then we get a tarp up. If the weather changes, the packs can go under there while the tents go up, we can cook under there, you name it. It gives me a real sense of security to see a tarp up, even more so than a tent, though I must confess my paddling partners think I'm a little odd for it.

First things first: Where? You need two trees, ideally just a little further apart than the width of your tarp. Ours is 8 x 12, so trees 10-15 feet apart are perfect, though in a pinch further apart will do. You want to be close to the tents in case people are making a dash from the tent to the tarp through the rain. There's no real need to be close to the fire: if it's nice enough to be sitting around the fire, you will all be ignoring the tarp anyway. There should be a reasonable flat spot for cooking and dishwashing underneath it. Since all this is a lot to ask, a place for the tarp is one of our criteria for choosing a campsite.

There are two styles of tarp-pitching, and it's traditional for us to stand around and argue about them. One we call tent-style: you throw the tarp over the rope with roughly equal amounts on either side, tie ropes through the corner grommets, and tie the ropes to other trees, bushes, or tent-pegs. (We collected other people's left-behind tent pegs for years and have accumulated quite a set of mismatched pegs for tarping.) The other we call lean-to style: you thread the rope through the grommets on one side of the tarp, then pull the rest out to one side of the rope and tie it down in the same way. Tent-style is better for a light rain straight down, because it gives twice as much high space. Lean-to style is better for a high wind, because you can go down right to the ground and keep the wind from going under the tarp. It benefits from a paddle propping up the roof about halfway from the rope to the ground. In really foul weather you can add another tarp vertically to close off one end.


Aimee, 6, and Kevin, 2, prove rainy days can be
fun and demonstrate the latest in tarp furniture.
Marc, almost 2 at the time, demonstrates
another use for a lean-to tarp on a fine day
A closeup of those grins

One thing that we've found to make a huge difference is to furnish your tarp (stop laughing.) We arrange the cookpacks at the back, where we don't want people walking through. If there are log benches or stools, we put them around the edge, so that people can sit facing in or out and still be dry. This makes it feel so much nicer and also restricts traffic a bit, so that wet muddy people don't wander in and out of this dry room from six directions at once. Keeping our food in barrels just gives us another set of furniture to move around. The kitchen is always under the tarp - even when it's not being used for rain protection it's often popular as a sun shade. A well set up tarp can turn a potentially miserable day into a much happier one.


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