Best Tarp For Survival: More than Just a Shelter


Author:
Last Updated: May 9, 2022

A tarp is one of the most essential pieces of survival gear. It can be used to make a shelter, collect water, or make a stretcher for carrying a wounded person.

Even while hunkering down at home, a tarp has many uses, like repairing roofs damaged by tornado or hurricane wind.

Choosing a survival tarp might seem straightforward, but there are actually a lot of differences between tarps.

The material, shape, denier, tie-down points, and features like UV protection can considerably impact how well it performs.

Below are the best survival tarps, as well as a detailed guide to make sure you get the one for your needs.

Also read: Tarp vs. Tent for Survival Bag

Our Top Pick

DD Hammocks Square Tarp

A great choice for survival bags; waterproof, durable, and easy to tie down.Check On Amazon

Quick Picks

Best Survival Tarps Reviewed

DD Hammocks Square Tarp – Best Overall


DD Hammocks is a UK company known for making high-quality tarps. They regularly get mentioned as the best survival tarp and are proven to last dozens of nights outdoors.

Their 10×10 tarp is an excellent choice for survival bags. It has 19 tie-down loops, including some at the center, making it easy to pitch. The tie-downs are reinforced, and the material withstands tearing very well. It’s fully waterproof and won’t leak, even at the seam.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Size: 8×9.8′ (3x3m)
  • Material: 190T polyester with PU coating
  • Tie-downs: 19
  • Weight: 28oz
  • Waterproof rating: 3000mm
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Olive, brown, orange, black

Check On Amazon


DD SuperLight Tarp – Lightweight Option

This DD Hammocks tarp is a lighter version of their square tarp. It is made from ripstop nylon with a PU coating.

The lighter material cuts the weight by almost half: 16oz versus 28oz with the classic. It also packs down very small. It’s not quite pocket-size like they advertise, but it will get to around 8x5x4 inches.

The lighter weight does somewhat sacrifice durability: the coating on the Superlight Tarp will eventually crack. You’ll eventually need to reapply a waterproof coating. However, it’s still a pretty durable tarp for the weight.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Size: 8×9.5′ (3×2.9m)
  • Material: 190T 380T (20D) ripstop nylon with PU coating
  • Tie-downs: 19
  • Weight: 16oz
  • Waterproof rating: 3000mm
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Olive, brown, orange

Check On Amazon


Aquaquest Defender Tarp – Heavy Duty Option


Aquaquest tarps are not cheap, but they are built to last. The company even gives a lifetime warranty.

The construction is solid, with reinforcements at tie-downs, hems, and corners. It’s rated to 20,000 HH waterproofness, and the coating doesn’t seem to crack even after repeated folding.

The 70D nylon will withstand snow and high winds without tearing. Just be warned that it is not fire-resistant, and you will get spark holes if you use it near a fire.

The thick material does make the tarp too heavy for a lot of people. This is one you’d want to keep in your vehicle and not in a solo BOB.

The tarp has plenty of tie-down points, including some down the middle, so it’s very versatile.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Sizes: 10×10, 10×7, 10×13, 15×15, 20×13
  • Shape: Square and rectangle
  • Material: 70D nylon with TPU coating
  • Tie-downs: 19-47 (depending on size)
  • Weight: 4lbs (10×7’), 3.3lbs (10×10’), 4.4lbs (10×13)
  • Waterproof rating: 20,000
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Camo, green, olive, gray, terrain

Check On Amazon


Aquaquest Guide Tarp – Durable and Lightweight

The Guide Tarp by Aquaquest packs down to half the size and weight as their Defender tarp.

While it is not as heavy-duty as the Defender, the Guide tarp will still hold up amazingly well.

It has reinforced corners, tie-offs, a hem, and a lifetime warranty.

It would have gotten our pick for best survival tarp if it weren’t so expensive. Because of the price, you might want to save this purchase until you know exactly which type of survival tarp you need.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Sizes: 10×10, 10×7, 10×13, 15×15, 20×13
  • Shape: Square and rectangle
  • Material: 40D nylon with PU and silicone coatings
  • Tie-downs: 13-23 (depending on size)
  • Weight: 9-2.3lbs (depending on size)
  • Waterproof rating: 5,000
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Green, olive, gray

Check On Amazon


Gold Armour Tarp – Cheap Option for Beginners


This tarp by Gold Armour is made from polyester with a PU coating. It isn’t the most durable as you’d expect from a cheap tarp. The tie-outs aren’t reinforced well, and they might tear out easily. It’s also not UV resistant, and the coating will eventually wear off.

Despite these drawbacks, this is probably the best survival tarp for beginners.

Not only is it cheap enough that you can take it out to “play” with, but it has 33 tie-down points. This makes it easy to test different pitches and get it taut.

It’s also nice that the tarp comes in a few shapes so you can see which one you like best.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Sizes: 10×10, 10×8, 12×10, 14.7×12
  • Shape: Square, rectangular, hex
  • Material: 70D 210TRipstopPolyester with PU coating
  • Tie-downs: 33
  • Weight: 2lbs 4oz (10×10’)
  • Waterproof rating: 5,000
  • Reinforcements: No
  • Colors: Black, blue, gray, camo, green, and more

Check On Amazon


Sea to Summit Tarp Poncho – Poncho Survival Tarp


Most tarp ponchos are gimmicky and don’t work well. The one by Sea to Summit is an exception. It can be worn by an adult with a backpack on in the rain.

Or spread it out, and you’ve got a 104×52″ tarp. They say it’s big enough for two hammocks, but really only one person will fit comfortably. There are 8 tie-outs to make pitching easier.

If you need a multi-purpose piece of gear to lighten your bug out bag, the tarp poncho is a good option. Read more about survival poncho options.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Size: 54×100″
  • Shape: Rectangle
  • Material: 70Dnylon
  • Tie-downs: 8
  • Weight: 6oz
  • Waterproof rating: N/G
  • Reinforcements: No
  • Colors: Green

Check On Amazon


REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp – Ultralight Survival Tarp for One Person

tarp tent

The REI Quarter Dome SL Tarp is a favorite with backpackers and a great choice for bug out bags. It only comes in one size and, unless you really want to snuggle with your survival partner, is best for one person.

While the REI tarp isn’t cheap, it is durable and holds up well in high winds. I like the grommets in the corners, so you can pitch the tarp with poles or branches.

It would be nice to have a few more loops around the tarp, but there are still enough that a beginner could pitch the tarp successfully. It’s entirely seam-sealed and holds up in heavy rain, though no waterproof rating is listed.

Check Prices on REI

Features:

  • Size: 5×9.5 feet
  • Shape: Square
  • Material: Ripstop nylon with polyurethane coating
  • Tie-downs: 14
  • Weight: 12oz
  • Waterproof rating: N/G
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Gray

Check On REI


LiteOutdoors Silnylon Tarp – Ultralight Option

LiteOutdoors is a small brand started by a backpacker from Canada. While the brand isn’t very well-known, the products get good reviews and hold up well. Their tarp is made from Silnylon, which makes it very lightweight. I love that it comes in multiple sizes.

Bear in mind that this is not a survival tarp for beginners. It is pretty thin and only has one tie-down in the center.

Even though it is good quality and the tie-downs are reinforced, you’ll have to be somewhat skilled to pitch it without tearing. However, this is one of the best survival tarps you can get when weight matters. Also, note that the tarp needs to be seam-sealed. The sealer is included with the purchase.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Sizes: 8×10, 10×10, 10×12
  • Shape: Square, rectangle
  • Material: Silnylon (20D nylon with silicone coating)
  • Tie-downs: 17
  • Weight: 6oz (8×10), 15.8oz (10×10), 16.9oz (10×12)
  • Waterproof rating: 2000
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Colors: Gray, green

Check On Amazon


Wise Owl Lite Tarp – Lightweight on a Budget


Once you make sense of the confusing size options, you’ll see that the Lite tarp by WiseOwl is a good budget tarp for BOBs. It is rectangular, measures 11×9 feet, and weighs 18.6oz. The Standard is also 11×9 but has more coverage because of its cat-cut shape and weighs 26oz.

As for weatherproofing, the 2500 hydrostatic head is good enough for most survival needs. The seams are sealed well, and it doesn’t leak. It’s also more durable than most cheap poly tarps, but the tie-offs aren’t reinforced and will break if you pull too hard.

The biggest downside of the Wise Owl tarp is that it only has four tie-down points. You will have to add your own (with the rock trick) or get better at pitching with fewer tie points.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Size: 11×9′
  • Shape: Rectangle
  • Material: 210T ripstop polyester
  • Tie-downs: 4
  • Weight: 6oz
  • Waterproof rating: 2,500
  • Reinforcements: No
  • Colors: Gray, blue

Check On Amazon


Kelty Noah’s Tarp – Cat-cut Tarp

Kelty tarp

The Kelty’s Noah’s tarp comes in three different sizes. Note that the measurements are along the edges and not for the ridgeline. The 12-foot tarp would give you approximately 10 feet for a ridgeline.

The cantenary cut of the tarp makes it easier to get a taut pitch. There are also plenty of tie-down points. The smallest 9-foot model has 17 tie-offs, including 5 going down the middle. The 12-foot model has 21 tie-offs. *I’m not sure how many tie-offs are on the 16-foot model. There are also metal grommets on the tarp’s corners, which make it possible to pitch the tarp with poles.

The construction of the tarp is sturdy enough to handle heavy winds and snow. The seams are fully taped, and it doesn’t leak.

I wouldn’t want to use this tarp in a solo BOB, but it is okay for two people. It’s also an excellent tarp for family BOBs.

You could keep it in your vehicle and set it up as a shelter outside your car. If you had to abandon the vehicle, the Noah tarp is still light enough to carry with you as a shelter on the go.

Check Prices on Amazon

Features:

  • Size: 9, 12, or 16 feet
  • Shape: Cantenary cut
  • Material: 68D polyester
  • Tie-downs: 17 (9′), 21 (12′)
  • Weight: 2lbs 1oz (9’), 2 lbs 9 oz (12’), 3lbs 15oz (16’)
  • Waterproof rating: N/G
  • Reinforcements: Yes
  • Weight: 28oz
  • Colors: blue with orange, gray

Check On AmazonCheck On REI


Survival Tarp Buying Guide

When buying a survival tarp, the main things to look at are the material, shape, and size. After that, you’ll want to look at features like UV protection and whether the tarp has reinforced grommets.

If you aren’t sure which tarp you need, I suggest buying a cheap tarp (something like this one).

Play around with it. Build a few shelter configurations. See what you like and don’t like about the tarp.

Then you can buy a better-quality option better suited to your needs. You can always use the cheap tarp at home for yard chores or as a backup for emergencies.

Ready to buy a good survival tarp now? Here’s what you need to look at when choosing.

Best Material for Survival Tarp

Poly Tarps (Polyethylene and Polyester)

Polyethylene and polyester are the most common types of tarp materials. They are both made out of a thermal plastic material which is woven and then laminated.

These tarps are usually very cheap and thick. You can expect them to be completely waterproof and are usually durable, though the quality varies between brands.

Pros:

  • Very cheap
  • UV resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Some heavy-duty ones available

Cons:

  • Not flame retardant unless treated
  • Quality varies
  • Heavy
  • Make crinkly sound

Vinyl

Vinyl tarps look very similar to poly tarps but are made with polyethylene terephthalate scrims with a PVC film laminate.

This means that vinyl tarps tend to be stronger but heavier. Unless you are setting up a long-term bushcraft shelter, you are probably better off with a lighter poly tarp.

Pros:

  • Fire resistant
  • Very durable
  • Completely waterproof
  • Suitable for heavy-duty use

Cons:

  • Very heavy
  • Make crinkly sound

Nylon

Nylon is a material that has excellent abrasion resistance. Because of this, it is a common material for tents.

You can also find some nylon tarps, but they are not as popular as poly tarps (for good reason).

Compared to poly, nylon tarps are harder to pitch because they are stretchy. They also absorb water and get moldy if you don’t allow them to dry completely.

I would not recommend a nylon tarp. The exception is nylon poncho tarps. A poncho tarp is a multi-purpose piece of survival gear. The stretch of the nylon makes it comfortable to wear, but you can still turn it into a shelter if needed.

Pros:

  • Stronger than poly
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Good for poncho tarps
  • Not very loud

Cons:

  • Stretchy
  • Absorbs water
  • Not UV resistant – will break down
  • Take a while to dry
  • Can get moldy
  • More expensive than poly

Sil Poly and SilNylon Tarps

These materials are made with a mixture of silicone and poly or nylon. Most have a silicone coating which will eventually wear off. More expensive Sil tarps will impregnate the silicone into the poly or nylon, meaning the silicone won’t wear off from repeated folding.

SilNylon tarps are more common and cheaper than Sil poly. It’s also slightly lighter yet stronger. However, Sil poly is considered the better of the two materials. Sil Poly doesn’t stretch and sag over time. It also won’t absorb water like SilNylon does, which means it dries faster and is less likely to get moldy.

You may need to seam seal some SilNylon or Sil Poly tarps. The needles cause tiny holes which allow water through. Better brands of Sil tarps will come seam-sealed.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight
  • Packs very small
  • Not very loud

Cons:

  • Sometimes expensive
  • Laminated silicone wears off
  • Fragile
  • May need seam sealing
  • Not fire resistant

Dyneema

Formerly called Cuben Fiber, Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) is a tarp shelter material often used by ultralight backpackers. These tarps are usually the lightest ones you will find. They often come in specific shapes meant to cut down weight even further.

Even though it is lightweight, Dyneema is still very strong. It is stronger than SilNylon but less than half the weight. It generally has a very high water resistance as well.

However, Dyneema doesn’t handle abrasion very well and isn’t recommended for shelter floors. Some types of Dyneema come with a PU coating for extra durability.

Pros:

  • Insanely lightweight
  • Low stretch
  • Good durability
  • Quiet
  • Good UV resistance

Cons:

  • Expensive

Canvas

When it comes to durability, you can’t beat canvas tarps. Even if they do tear, you can patch them up again, meaning that they have the potential to last decades. However, canvas tents aren’t really popular anymore because they are so heavy and need to be cared for.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Hard to tear
  • No noise in wind

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Can get moldy or stinky
  • Needs waterproof coating
  • Waterproof coating must be reapplied
  • UV damage over time
  • Not fire resistant unless treated

Tarp Shape

A square tarp is the most versatile and probably the best choice for beginners. However, it’s now possible to find tarps in many different shapes. If you aren’t sure which tarp shape you need, I recommend getting a square one, trying it out, and seeing how it works for your preferred pitch.

Square

  • Most versatile shape
  • Easy to find in many sizes
  • Don’t pitch taut in A-frame

Rectangle

  • Also versatile
  • Better for enclosed shelters with floors or doors
  • Slightly more challenging to pitch than square tarp

Hex

  • Similar shape to square tarp
  • Shape reduces weight slightly
  • Less coverage than with square tent
  • Easier to set up with poles or stakes

Diamond

  • Similar to rectangle tarps but are narrower on foot end
  • Shape reduces weight and size
  • Best for hammocks
  • Not a lot of coverage

Cantenary Cut Tarps

  • Come shaped for specific pitches
  • Easy for beginners to pitch
  • Limited pitching options (A-frame)
  • Usually more expensive
  • Curved edges make it easier to get taut pitch
  • Lighter weight

Beaked Tarps

  • Have extra fabric “beak”
  • Beak creates overhang for extra weather protection
  • Not as many pitch options

Tarp Size

8×8 or 10×10 is the best size for a survival tarp for most people. This provides enough space for one or two people and their wear with enough overhang for weather protection. These sizes are small enough to be easy to pitch.

To figure out which size you need, you first need to calculate how much interior space you need (your height plus an extra 10-12 inches). When pitched, the ridgeline of your shelter needs to be at least this long.

For example, the Diamond Fly pitch is considered one of the best for survival because it is easy to set up and offers good weather protection.

It uses a square tarp pitched on the diagonal. An 8×8′ tarp would give you a diagonal of 11.3 feet, which is enough for one person and some gear. The shelter gets shorter away from the ridgeline, though, so you’d probably want a 10×10 tarp for two people.

Small survival tarps don’t give you much side coverage and are better for hammock camping.

Other Features of Survival Tarps

Denier

Denier measures the thickness of fibers a tarp: the larger the denier, the thicker the strands. In general, a higher denier means a more robust (but heavier) tarp. However, the strength also depends on the material. For example, 20 denier SilNylon will be stronger than 20 denier Sil Poly.

Hydrostatic Head Waterproof Rating

A tarp’s waterproofness is listed as hydrostatic head (HH). It measures how tall a column of water the material can handle before it starts to leak.

In general, you will need a HH of at least 1,500 for a survival tarp. However, HH is not a perfect rating of how waterproof a tarp is. It does not account for whether the material will leak at fold points or from UV degradation.

Color

The color of a tarp matters for two reasons. The first is visibility: choose a camouflage color if you don’t want to be found and a bright color if you want to be seen.

Secondly, color can impact how the tarp behaves in sunlight. Clear or white tarps tend to break down faster from UV light. However, dark-colored tarps can trap heat and become unbearably hot in summer.

Tie-Down Points

The top survival tarps will have multiple tie-down points around the edges and running down the middle of the tarp too. This makes it easier and faster to pitch a tarp in various configurations.

Tie-down loops are generally stronger than grommets. But both loops and grommets will tear easily in cheap tarps. Better survival tarps will reinforce the tie-down points to make them stronger.

Note: If your survival tarp doesn’t have loops or grommets (or they tear), you can use the “rock trick” to hang the tarp. See the picture below. There are also these cool snaps for hanging a tarp. 

tying tarp with rock trick

Reinforcements

Once a tarp starts to tear, the tear can continue along the material. To prevent this, good tarps have reinforcement. Some types of reinforcement are:

  • Ripstop: Ripstop material has stronger threads woven into the material at regular intervals. If a tear starts, it will stop once it gets to the ripstop thread.
  • Hems: The tarp’s edge is folded back and sewn to make it stronger.
  • Perimeter Rope: This reinforcement is stronger than hems. A rope is sewn around the edge to prevent tears from forming at the edges.
  • Corner reinforcement: Because corners are subject to the most stress, good tarps will sew patches of extra material to reinforce the corners.
  • Grommet or tie-down reinforcement: Patches of extra material are sewn around the tie-down points to make them stronger and less likely to tear.
This tarp has an extra layer of fabric on the corners as reinforcement

UV Protection

Some tarps have a layer of black material laminated in the center. This prevents the sun’s UV rays from getting through, making these tarps better for desert or hot-climate shelters.

Leave a Comment