What Is The Best Camping Tarp In 2021?

camping with a tarp

Rushed for time? Our top pick for the best camping tarp is the Sanctuary Siltarp.

When it comes to camping gear, there’s nothing more versatile than a tarp.

Having the right tarp with you when you need it can be a lifesaver (well, maybe a trip-saver!) – but having the wrong one can be a nightmare.

After having a disaster recently with a ripped tarp almost ruining our trip, I took a deep dive to find the best tarp on the market (and make sure I don’t get caught out again!).

After a few days of hunting and researching, here’s what I found.

Best Camping Tarp: Our Top 5 Choices

Sanctuary SilTarp

Sanctuary SilTarp
The Sanctuary Siltarp kit includes guy ropes and stakes so everything you need to set up camp is in one pack, and the full kit weighs only 14 ounces which makes it perfect for shelter on treks.

This is definitely on the pricier end of the range, but its lifetime manufacturer’s warranty and ripstop construction make it a very attractive choice.

It’s square design makes it a little trickier to pitch than a shaped tarp, but I wouldn’t expect beginners to be dropping this kind of money on a tarp like this so I can’t see this giving an experienced camper any problems.

The square shape also gives versatility in the tarps set up, so you can use it in most weather conditions without having to worry about wind or rain.

Pros:

  • Ultra lightweight construction makes it perfect for carrying on the trail
  • Lifetime warranty means this should be the last tarp you ever invest in!
  • Kit includes everything you’ll need to set up the shelter

Cons:

  • Expensive purchase price should put off newbies
  • Square design means this tarp isn’t as essay to pitch as a shaped option

Best for: experienced campers who don’t mind making an investment in their trail gear.

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Kelty Noah’s Tarp Sun Shelter

Kelty Noah's Tarp Sun Shelter
Available in sizes from 9’ x 9’ up to 20’ x 20’, the Kelty Noah’s sun shelter ranges from less than 2lbs for the smallest in the range to 5.7lbs for the largest, making it perfect as a lightweight option to stuff in your bag for trekking.

As with all shaped tarps, this isn’t a great choice for heavy weather conditions where the wind will make it tough to anchor the shelter well. It’s coated polyester construction means this tarp is better suited for use as a shelter than a general-purpose covering.

Unlike some other tarps mentioned here, the Kelty Noah’s Sun Shelter doesn’t include tent poles which means you’ll have to pay a little more if you want this shelter to stand alone.

As the name suggests, it’s suitable for both UV protection as well as rain and the range of sizes makes it a versatile option for group trips.

Pros:

  • Range of sizes means there’s an option to cover most requirements
  • Lightweight construction makes it easy to carry in a pack
  • Suitable for use as a sun shelter
  • Water resistant material will keep you dry in light to moderate rain

Cons:

  • Tent poles not included, so you’ll need to grab these separately (if you need them)
  • Polyester material isn’t durable enough for use as a ground sheet or general purpose tarp

Best for: beginners hiking on easy terrains, looking for an easy option for shelter.

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AmazonBasics Waterproof Camping Tarp

AmazonBasics Waterproof Camping Tarp
This polyethylene tarp from Amazon’s Basics range is rip stop and completely blocks moisture. While this means it can be prone to condensation in colder weather, it also makes this tarp a solid choice for use as a groundsheet or gear cover, and can even be used around the home.

It’s all-rounder qualities do however mean that it falls down against Silnylon tarps on weight, and the size it’ll fold up to.

Amazon has such confidence in its durability they even offer a 12 month guarantee against it, so your money is safe for the first year at least!

Pros:

  • Extremely affordable – great for people on a budget
  • Fully waterproof construction
  • Large area coverage makes it well suited for use as a groundsheet or shelter
  • Durable material means this tarp should survive many trips

Cons:

  • No poles or ropes included with the tarp
  • Bulky material means this will take up a lot of space in your pack when hiking

Best for: the “utility” tarp you take camping with the family, “just in case” you need one.

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KALINCO 10X10FT/10X15FT Tent Tarp

KALINCO 10X10FT/10X15FT Tent Tarp
At first glance the Kalinco tent tarp looks every bit as solid as the premium offering by Sanctuary, and at less than half the price it’s good value.

At 2.5 lbs it isn’t the lightest tarp in this review and I have always found taped seams to be unreliable over time, but it’s impossible to overlook this shelter at the price.

I think this tarp sits in a sweet spot between the top quality offerings like the Sanctuary Siltarp, and budget competitors like the Amazon Basics waterproof tarp.

I don’t think this tarp would last with heavy, regular use (and the 60 day, defect-only warranty also confirms this) but for the occasional camper who wants a waterproof shelter without a huge investment, the Kalino tent tarp could be a shrewd choice.

Pros:

  • Budget price will make this very appealing
  • Kit includes pegs and guy ropes for complete shelter set up
  • Compact size when folded suits use trekking and hiking
  • 60 day defect warranty will let you test it on the trail

Cons:

  • Taped seams can let water in over time with heavy use
  • Not the lightest tarp, and its square design could make setup awkward for inexperienced campers.

Best for: those looking for a square shelter on a budget.

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MSR Thru-Hiker Wing Canopy Camping Shelter

MSR Thru-Hiker Wing Canopy Camping Shelter
This tarp from MSR is another lightweight offering, designed to be tucked into a pack for convenience on the trail.

Unfortunately, the Thru-Hiker doesn’t include any of the extras you’ll need to pitch your shelter – poles or ropes (depending on your preference and terrain) and pegs are all extras.

The Xtreme Shield waterproof coating is a flagship product from MSR who have been manufacturing high quality trail gear for over 50 years, and you can be certain that this tarp will keep you dry in the wild.

Available in 70 or 100 square foot options, the MSR Thru-Hiker is a solid choice, but I think more people will be drawn in by the brand than the product itself, especially when compared to some of the other options here.

Pros:

  • Ultralight, 9” x 4” packed design means you’ll barely notice this tarp in your bag
  • Versatile design can be used with ropes or tent poles
  • Xtreme Shield from MSR has been tested and shown to last longer than other waterproof coatings
  • 3 year manufacturer’s warranty will allow plenty of testing in the wild to prove durability

Cons:

  • To get the full benefit of this tarp, you’ll need extras from the manufacturer (all sold separately)
  • No ropes, poles, pegs included

Best for: experienced trekkers who already have plenty of gear, but are looking to replace their shelter tarp only.

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Camping Tarps: A Buyer’s Guide

The best camping tarp for you depends a lot on how you plan to use it.

If you’re looking for a utility tarp to keep your gear dry while setting up you’ll prioritize size and durability.

If you’re looking for a tarp shelter or a tarp to hang above your tent on overnight treks then a lightweight, waterproof tarp will serve you better.

So let’s take a look at different tarp features and why they matter to you.

Shape

In a nutshell, is your tarp flat or shaped?

It doesn’t sound like much, but buying the wrong shaped tarp could cost you a bunch of money unnecessarily or give you a real headache when you come to using it in the wild.

A flat tarp is the ultimate utility tarp. These can be used as ground sheets, shelters, weather covers – they’ll work for pretty much any use.

Flat tarps tend to be a bit cheaper than shaped tarps and make a great “just-in-case” option to throw in when taking a trip.

They can also be set up in a variety of shapes depending on the terrain and the weather (they’re great for use in high winds, where they can be pitched lower to the ground).

While they’re a great all-rounder, they do come with a few downsides. They can be a bit trickier to set up for beginners (don’t worry, it comes with practice!) and they are usually heavier than a shaped tarp, on account of using more material.

Shaped tarps are easier to set up, and tend to be lighter because the tailored shape trims out material that’s not needed.

As you’d expect from a product that requires more precise manufacturing, shaped tarps tend to be more expensive. Because of this it doesn’t make sense to pick a shaped tarp for all-round use, unless their lightweight features are your top priority.

Material & Durability

These two properties are two sides of the same coin, and there’s always a balance to strike. Unfortunately, the perfect (lightweight, bulletproof and completely waterproof) tarp doesn’t exist!

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common tarp materials:

Polyester

Super lightweight and very compact, polyester tarps are treated with a waterproof coating to make sure they stay dry underneath.

Being a synthetic material, they’re not naturally breathable which means they can be prone to condensation forming on the underside of the tarp.

Silnylon

Similar to polyester, Silnylon is silicone-coated nylon.

Very lightweight, these tarps are ideal for backpacking and they are compact when folded, maximising the space in your pack.

Thanks to the way these tarps are made, they are prone to leaking at the seams which means they’re not well suited to heavy weather conditions, but they fare perfectly fine in light rain, or acting as a sun shade.

Although durability varies across manufacturers, these tend not to be suitable for heavy duty use, as they rip more easily than other materials.

Polyethylene

Polyethylene is incredibly durable, and this factor alone makes it a great choice for a utility tarp.

Although very strong and resistant to both water and abrasion, these tarps are heavier and take up more space than polyester or silnylon alternatives.

You probably wouldn’t want one of these taking up precious space and weight on your back hiking, but they’re a great option to throw in the truck for family camping trips, when you’ve got the luxury of being able to pack “just-in-case” items.

You never know when you might need an emergency cover/shelter/groundsheet!

Size

It’s tempting to take the “big is better” approach and go for maximum tarp for your buck. The trouble is, your tarp needs to fit your needs.

If you’re trying to pitch a 20 ft tarp in the woods, chances are you’re going to end up with a lot of spare material and spend the night wishing you’d bought something a little more compact.

On the flip-side, if you go for the cheapest option without checking the details, you could end up with the whole family trying to keep dry under a large handkerchief.

The way you’ll use the tarp will influence the size you need – if you’re choosing a weather cover or groundsheet tarp, you can be flexible and fold up any excess without too many problems.

If you’re buying a tarp for shelter, it pays to give some thought to where you’ll be pitching and how much room you’ll need inside because once you’re on the trail it’s too late to change!

For one person to sleep under, 9ft x 9ft is ideal with anything smaller bordering on uncomfortable.

If you’re looking for a group shelter, you’ll need to consider the number of people and how the tarp will be pitched before choosing your perfect size.

Weatherproofing

Weatherproofing of tarps relates closely to the material you choose.

Polyethylene tarps are usually close to fully waterproof and can be reliably laid down on wet ground, or pitched to keep the area inside dry. This is a popular material choice for groundsheets in particular, combining waterproof qualities with strong durability and rip-resistance.

Silnylon and coated polyester tarps tend to be water-resistant – suitable for use in the wet, but not reliable in heavier weather. The manufacturing process also makes them prone to leaking along the seam stitching.

That being said, these still make a popular choice for backpackers and hikers because they’re light, fold up small and protect against the worst of the elements.

Our Verdict

There’s plenty to be excited about in these tarps, and without realizing it at the time I’ve probably picked out an option that’ll work for anyone.

In terms of the best pick, I can’t move past the Sanctuary Siltarp.

Ultralight, versatile and it comes with a lifetime warranty. This isn’t going to suit a novice but if you know what you’re doing, this should be the last tarp you’ll ever need to buy.

It’s not a small investment to make but if you’re looking for a quality tarp that includes everything you’ll need to set up camp in the pack, that shouldn’t put you off.