How to Use Canvas Tarps

How to Use Canvas TarpsCanvas tarps are heavy and heavy-duty. The fabric has proven to be a vital, versatile tool for any campsite. These tarps are thick enough to dampen sound and make a nice insulating layer when used over (but not in contact with) tent material.

The weight of canvas is the strongest argument against its use in the backcountry. This drawback can be mitigated by carrying the smallest size tarp possible and allowing it to serve multiple purposes. Canvas tarps can be purchased with a fire retardant, water repellant or mildew resistant coating---or any combination of the three.


Difficulty: Moderate

Food and Water

Things You’ll Need:
  • Canvas tarp
  • 40 feet of rope
  • 2-foot-long stick
  • Two 6-foot-long poles, walking sticks or branches
Step 1
Protect your provisions from animals by filling your tarp with food supplies from camp. Tie the end of a 40-foot rope to a stick about 2 feet long. Hold the slack for the rope and toss the stick over a high tree branch. Shake the rope to encourage it to slide low enough to reach the stick.
Step 2
Weave the rope through the grommets of the tarp or simply gather the flaps and secure the bundle by wrapping and tying one end of the rope around the gathered material.
Step 3
Hoist the bundle into the air and tie the free end to a nearby tree trunk.
Step 4
Use your canvas tarp to catch water. Tie the corners about 2 feet off the ground to create a bowl to trap rainwater. This can also work to harvest a heavy dew.


Step 1
Make a strong emergency shelter, quickly. When time is a factor, throw your tarp over your head and huddle underneath. The density of the canvas makes it less likely to blow away than a lighter material. Hikers can pull the edges under and sit on them for added protection against the elements.
Step 2
Construct a basic tent by running a length of rope between two trees. Drape the tarp over the rope. Secure each corner with a rope tie down or heavy rock.
Step 3
Use the tarps in camp to create a wind break or private area by anchoring the ends to nearby trees. An alternate anchoring system could involve tying off the high corners and staking the lower corners to the ground.
Step 4
Make a durable cover for firewood or gear by throwing a canvas tarp over the top and securing it with logs, dirt or rocks. The tarp should be placed in a fashion that allows water to run off all sides.

Carrying Loads

Step 1
Build a stretcher for emergency first aid. Unfold the tarp on the ground. Place two long poles on the tarp to divide it into thirds.
Step 2
Fold one third over the top of one of the poles. Fold the second flap over the remaining pole, covering the first flap. The weight of the injured person will secure the tarp.
Step 3
Carry bulky loads, firewood or gear using the same stretcher construction.

Because canvas is durable material, you can even drag heavy loads without harming the tarp. Lay out a tarp, add the load, gather two or more corners and pull the load to the desired location.

Tips & Warnings

Before you choose a tarp to collect water that may be used for drinking, find out which coatings have been applied to the canvas and whether or not they'll affect the potability of your water.

Article Written By Alice Moon

Alice Moon is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and has traveled throughout Asia. Moon holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ball State University.

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