3 Tarps And A Tip: How To Camp And Stay Dry
There’ll come a time when you’re camping and it starts to rain. So how do you camp and stay dry?
Even when global warming has let fly nary a drop in the last 6 months, chances are it’ll splash water all over your thought-of-everything adventure. Maybe it’ll just sprinkle. Whatever the size of the drips, your style is royally cramped, ‘cos you’d rather be reading, cooking, knitting, computering, pondering, planning your next adventure, doing a quick wash, anything but getting dripped on.
What to do to camp and stay dry?
Ever the provider, Muddy Boots has 3 options for tarps and such that will fortify you and your picnic table against rain. Sun too.
We’re going to press some young people into service on this one….
Tarp #1. Traditional blue.
It’s easy to get this one wrong, and a tad complicated to get it right, but when you do, you have dryness and shade, albeit a blue cast over your best friends and prized possessions.
Consider three versions of the blue-tarp solution.
Version 1 (left): The made-for-disaster, multi-tiered, over-thinked approach. This method seems to require some exceptionally tall camping dads and fortification of the liquid variety. The problem here? Rain will pool in the hollows of the tarps.The water will either collapse the massive structure or, if nudged from below, will create mud puddles 3 feet deep in the middle of the right of way.
Version 2 (right): Ahhh, a gable. Capital idea. Water easily runs off a tarp contraption in this shape. However, note that the only real dry spot is under the picnic table: the tarp is too small to be effective.
Version 3. This trio went novel with the green blue-tarp solution. They’ve figured out a way to keep water from pooling but, alas, the high ceiling, steep angle, and smallish tarp acreage minimize the coverage. The all-revealing sub-text for this photo reads:
“Didn’t help much – we packed up shortly after this.”
Version 4. Success! These young’uns know how to camp and stay dry: they’ve mastered pretty much every trick in the blue-tarp trade. Note the clean lines, the simplicity, the most-water-will-run-off design. See how relaxed they are?
Downsides of the blue tarp solution:
- It generally takes a task force to design and build this one.
- This method is more expensive than it looks, average maybe $80. The blue tarp is the only very low cost item. You need miles of rope and at least 2 poles, since trees often don’t show up where you want them.
If the wind gets whippy or a hurricane moves in, the only item that’ll get destroyed is the blue tarp. Aannnd the whole getup can be compacted into a duffle.
Tarp #2. The EZ-UP popup.
This photo says it all. Triage the supplies: paper plates and breakfast fixings can get wet, as can the cook. Fussing moms and pushy teenagers belong at the center of things. The pyjama-ed Dad? Not so much. Elbow your way under to bag the only dry square inch.
Pile on the negatives: EZ-UPs are susceptible to being destroyed by a single wind gust, even if they’re guyed. In a flash, $100 gets “Wizard-of-Ozzed” from Kansas into the wild blue yonder.
The worst feature of the EZ-UP popup? It takes a forklift or crane to move this thing around. It weighs more than Muddy Boots and hogs three passenger seats in the proverbial Dusty Car. Deal breaker right there.
Tarp #3. The voodoo lounge.
Sweeeeeet! Get a whiff of that pineapple!
Several companies (e.g. Kelty, REI, Eureka, Coleman) make shelters that share features with tents, in particular: shock-corded poles, taut fabric panels, and a free-standing design, often domed. The shape prevents water from pooling on the roof. They generally pack up compactly and can easily be schlepped around.
Waterproof? Check the seams…
Some models—like the Kelty Shade Maker in the photo—are labeled as sun shades and not marketed for rain. But they might in fact be perfect for rain. Muddy Bootsers will want to examine an inside seam to confirm that a “sun shade” may in fact be waterproof. Get a good look. Is there tape over the stitching? Seams are only taped (to prevent water from seeping through needle holes) if the item is waterproof.
These shelters can get spendy. However, Muddy Boots is convinced that—with study, patience, and coupons—you could get a good quality model for just a bit more than a blue tarp+poles.
Cautions for the freestanding voodoo lounge varietal:
- Is it easy to set up? Sometimes reviewers complain that these shelters are difficult to assemble. They may be correct occasionally, but they are often wrong, IMBHO. However, during the buying process, you do want to determine whether you can erect the model you like.
- Is it too heavy or bulky? Is your shelter choice reasonable for your build and strength? When you are loading your vehicle?
- Will it stand up to average weather? If several reviewers complain that the fabric rips easily, the seams come undone, or the poles broke first time out, this shelter goes on your NO list.
- Staking. Because these shelters have partial walls, they can easily be buffeted by wind. They must be staked down and guyed (tied out) unless you want a very expensive kite or broken poles.
What’s a guy?
Oh oh, oh, question coming in from the rain: What’s a guy? Take a look at the brightly colored tie-downs on the clever tarp rig in the photo below. They are “guys”.
The fabric quality and polygonal shape of this tarp are a considerable upgrade from the good ol’ blue tarp, but pitching technique is similar.
Paracord (parachute cord) is the go-to rope used for guys. However, do NOT buy black paracord for this purpose or any other camping use (e.g. wash lines). Day or night, you’ll walk into a black rope. Same goes with camo-patterned rope: it’s designed to blend into the woods. White is not much better. Instead, get gaudy colors (as in the photo above) or, better yet, get gaudy paracord that is luminescent at night. Your camp site will look like a UFO has landed, and there’ll be minimal chance that you’ll trip on the guys.
Muddy Boots ties the guy ropes in hanks at the end of a trip and throws them in the wash.
Photo credits for “camp and stay dry” with tarps. Featured image and top, Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park: CC BY 2.0 by NPS Yellowstone National Park via Flickr. Blue tarp panel...Family camping: CC BY 2.0 by Jug Jones via Flickr. Rainy campsite with blue tarp: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Martin Cathrae via Flickr. Rain protection, It didn’t help much: CC BY 2.0 by Andrew Malone via Flickr. Camp tarp: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Joel Friesen via Flickr. EZ-UP: CC BY 2.0 by Bigbirdz via Flickr. Voodoo lounge: CC BY-ND 2.0 by Jennifer Pauley via Flickr. Upscale tarp and guys, In the dry: CC BY 2.0 by Sizbut via Flickr. Box of paracord: CC BY 2.0 by AngryJulieMonday via Flickr.