How to Make and Pitch Tarp Shelters and Camping Tents

Material, equipment and construction of a multi-use tarp shelter and two tents.

| March/April 1984

Readers of outdoor literature who've been around for a while have undoubtedly encountered one or more of Bradford Angier's many books. Drawing upon a lifetime of experience gained living in the wilderness (especially at his backwoods home on British Columbia's Peace River, near Hudson Hope), Angier writes with knowledge and a Thoreauvian simplicity.  

When I'm camping with a pack train, I carry a light 7 1/2' X 12' tarpaulin rolled behind my saddle. Such a versatile tarp goes with me while I'm canoeing, too. 

The tarp I've long used I made myself by overlapping and sewing together three 12' strips of water-repellent green fabric 32" wide, then adding a 1" hem all around. The corners I reinforced by stitching on four 4"-square pieces of the same material. Half-inch-diameter grommets at each corner (rather than the tie tapes shown in the Image Gallery), two on each of the shorter sides, and three on the two longer sides, completed the job. And since I used grommets instead of ties, I added a 6'-long, 1/4"-diameter section of rope to each of the metal eyes.

Ordinarily, I pitch this tarp shelter at a single 45° slant, with the two sides bushed in and a cheerful fire burning companionably in front. It can also be erected several other ways, depending on the circumstances, as suggested in the Image Gallery.

Material and Equipment for Camping Tents

Your choice of tarpaulin material will be a matter of compromise, for the heavier the fabric, the greater both the abrasion resistance and the tear strength. Yet you'll likely want the finished product to be as lightweight as is reasonable.

Nylon is a possibility, but its slipperiness makes it an often-sleazy fabric, prone to fray badly unless finished seams are used or the edges melted to fuse the yarns together. Too, the very elasticity of nylon thread, which makes it excellent for adjustment to stress, causes it to be difficult to use in home sewing machines. Even though you can get around this with practice and with proper tension adjustment, the old dependable cotton still has vital advantages, not the least of which is its ability to accept and retain water-repellent treatments.

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