Tarps are incredibly useful pieces of camping gear. Use them to cover the ground, hang over you as additional shelter, and even as a windbreak.
Tarp Sizes – The average solo camper will need a tarp of a minimum of 6 by 8 square feet. If you want some additional shelter when you step outside your tent, then an 8 by 10 square-foot tarp is a good idea. In general, a tarp a foot larger than your tent would be a good fit.
There are lots of different scenarios where you might want to use a tarp when camping, so we’ve included detailed tables for matching tarp sizes in each situation.
How Big Should a Tarp Be For Camping?
In general, seasoned campers recommend a tarp at least 6 by 8 feet for a solo camper. A longer tarp of 8 by 10 feet works well for hammocking and bivy camping. Your tarp should be slightly larger than your tent, hammock, or other sleep setup.
As you can tell, there are lots of types of camping that you might need a tarp for. The type of camping you’re doing will influence what size tarp you need—what you plan to do with your tarp also impacts what size will fit you best. For example:
- Car camping: You may wish to use your tarp as a ground cover, roof cover, or windbreak
- Backpacking: A tarp is often used over a bivy or sleeping bag instead of a tent
- Hammock: It’s common to put a tarp over your hammock to shield you from the elements
- Truckbed: You can sleep under a tarp in your truck bed, or you can use it as a floor in a truck bed tent
You’ll want to know what you plan to do with your tarp before you purchase one. If you purchase a tarp with sizing suitable for use under your tent, then you won’t have an easy time suspending it over your tent.
Tarp Size For Using A Tarp Over Your Setup
Before we get into this, you should know that there are lots of types of tarps that you can use for camping. You can see examples of some of them while exploring the best tarps for hammock camping.
Tarp size will vary depending on the style of tarp, so let’s keep things consistent with a regular A-line square or rectangular tarp in this article. The KALINCO, shown below, is a good example of the type of tarp I mean.
The triangle shape is a great way to create a shelter in any of the scenarios above, but it can also be used flat on the ground.
For car camping, you’ll typically be camping in a dome or cabin tent, and you’ll be using the tarp as an additional “roof” type of set up.
You not only need to account for the size of your tent, but you also need to account for the bend/crease in the roof of the tarp. The sloped angle of the sides will also make it seem smaller than it is.
This is why you need to select a tarp larger than your tent. One size larger is good enough, but if you’re going camping in rainy or stormy weather, then two sizes larger is a good call.
Tents vary in size depending on the brand, but I’ll select a common beginner brand when giving an example of tent and tarp sizes: Coleman.
Be sure to check the size of your tent and any new tent you’re buying, and match them to the sizes below when choosing your tarp.
|Tent Size||Tent Occupancy||Tarp Size|
|7 x 5 feet||2 people||10 x 8 feet|
|9 x 7 feet||4 people||10 x 10 feet|
|10 x 10 feet||6 people||12 x 14 feet|
|16 x 7 feet||8 people||14 x 20 feet|
Your tarp doesn’t need to be quite as large when backpacking. You only have to cover yourself, not a tent.
A 6 by 9-foot tarp is commonly recommended if you’re looking for a rectangular tarp, and plenty of people do well with a 9 by 9-foot tarp.
However, this is for solo backpackers only. What about groups? You often won’t have a large enough clearing to set up lots of individual tarps, so it’s often best to get one larger tarp and line up under it to sleep. Let’s look at good tarp sizes for different numbers of backpackers.
|1||6 x 9 feet|
|2||6 x 13 feet|
|3||9 x 16 feet|
|4||12 x 16 feet|
You’ll have to play with your sleeping setup to make the best use of your tarp size. For example, with a 12 by 16-foot tarp, you could fit three people side by side, and two people lying end-to-end horizontally below the side-by-side campers’ feet.
In most cases, your tarp should be as long and wide as your hammock. Getting something at least a foot wider than your hammock is a good idea, although focus more on width if you can’t find something long enough.
You won’t take up your entire hammock if you’re only 6 feet tall and your hammock is 10 feet long. So, if you only have a tarp that’s 8-feet long, you’ll be okay.
Hammocks come in lots of sizes, though, so here’s a table that’ll help you know what to look for when getting a tarp for your hammock:
|Hammock Length||Tarp Size|
|9’10” x 6’6”||12 x 10 feet|
|9’ x 4’7”||6 x 10 feet|
|7’7” x 7’3”||8 x 10 feet|
|9’2” x 4’||6 x 10 feet|
The best thing you can do is find a size that works for you. Experiment with different tarp sizes to find the perfect fit. You may find that a tarp size feels too large or small for you, and that’s fine.
You can also experiment with different tarp positions like the camper below describes.
Truckbed camping is the simplest to select a tarp for. Truck beds don’t vary in size a lot, and the most common truck bed size is 6’5” long. Getting a tarp at least 8 feet long will ensure you have full coverage.
You’ll need to measure your truck bed to figure out how wide it is, though. Many of them are around 4 feet wide.
An 8 by 6-foot tarp would work well for this, but your truck bed won’t always be the standard size.
Tarp Size For Using A Tarp Under Your Setup
You may also wish to use a tarp under your sleeping setup. In fact, “do I need a tarp under my tent?” is a common question that new campers and seasoned campers alike ask.
Hammock camping doesn’t apply here, as you won’t be on the ground, but tarps are commonly used under tents, for backpacking, and while truckbed camping.
Let’s examine what sizes are common.
For car camping, a tarp that’s slightly larger than your tent will be the best fit. Here’s a table with some common tent sizes and tarp sizes for those tents:
|Tent Size||Tarp Size in Feet|
|2-Person||7 x 5|
|3-Person||7 x 7|
|4 to 5-Person||6 x 8|
|6-Person||10 x 10|
You don’t have to be as rigid with your tarp size if you’re using it under your tent, as you can always fold up any extra material. That’s not possible when using a tarp over your tent.
However, always remember that a little bigger is better than a little too small—you won’t be able to utilize a tarp that’s too small.
Going too big isn’t good either, though. That leads to pooling, explained in detail in the article linked above. Basically, pooling leaves your tent surrounded by water, and defeats the purpose of using a tarp.
You won’t need a huge tarp to go under you while you’re backpacking. You just need something at least as wide as your shoulders, and a little taller than you.
So, if you’re 6 feet tall, then a tarp 7 feet or longer will work. As for width, the average adult male has a shoulder width of under 2 feet, so something 3 feet wide or larger for any person should fit well.
Your tarp can be much wider than you—you won’t have any problems. But you’re going to want something as compact as possible while you’re backpacking.
Tarps that are 4 by 8 feet aren’t common, but if you can find one, then it’s a great size for a solo backpacker!
I recommend another 3–4 feet of width per additional backpackers who’ll be sleeping on the tarp. You may have to size up length-wise too, though, as tarp sizes often increase by both width and length.
You’ll have to measure your truckbed to find out how large it is, but a tarp that fits its measurements will work well.
It doesn’t matter if you get a tarp that’s too big for your truck bed. It’s easy to fold in the extra material. You can also leave excess material to hang over the size of the bed, if possible.
Try putting tarps of different sizes into your truck bed and see what works best for you. Truck beds often have different protruding parts in them—like storage containers—so these will influence how well your tarp fits. Experimenting is the best option, in most cases!
How Do You Use a Tarp as a Windbreak?
Ensure your windbreak is wide enough to block any breezes that blow in your direction. You’ll need to have string or guylines to suspend your tarp so that at least part of it remains vertical. Peg the ground-laying portion of the tarp so it doesn’t flap in the wind.
This windbreak will help keep harsh winds away from your campsite if there are no trees or bushes to create one naturally. You can utilize a tarp to shield you from the wind.
You’ll need to be familiar with your camping spot in advance, though, as you’ll have to measure it to figure out what size tarp you need.
Make sure you don’t use a tarp that’s too small, as that may create two additional channels for the wind to blow through on either side of the tarp. Using an oversized tarp is better than using one that’s undersized.
A second way to create a windbreak is to suspend a guyline or rope from tree to tree, then place your tarp on top with the corners meeting near the ground. Peg/stake these corners down so the tarp doesn’t flap.
Using part of the tarp as an overhead shelter is another idea you could try—there are plenty of ways to create a windbreak that works for you.
Other Factors That Affect The Tarp Size You’ll Need
Unfortunately, selecting a tarp the right size isn’t as simple as you think. There are a few things you need to be careful about when selecting your tarp.
As I said, all of the suggestions above are for A-frame tarps or tarps that can be made into A-frame tarps. However, they’re not your only option.
You may want a flat square over your tent, and that’s fine. You won’t need a tarp that’s quite as large, as there won’t be a bend or slope to it.
There are also tarps that are shaped like a tent and have little doors flaps. There are tarps with lots of corners that you stake to the ground. The possibilities are endless.
Pay attention to what tarp size you need, as the design is vital when you’re trying to select the right size.
Finished vs Cut Size
Sometimes you’ll buy a tarp that’s smaller than you expected. This is because the finished and cut sizes differ.
Your tarp’s cut size is how large the tarp is before the hems, seams, and eyelets were added. Your tarp’s finished size will be a few inches smaller than this.
If you’re buying a tarp, make sure the size advertised is the cut size, not the finished size. If the manufacturer only states the cut size, then get a tarp a few inches bigger than it.
If you’re positioning your tarp over you or your tent, you’re going to need some ventilation to keep condensation at bay and stop you from being too warm.
In winter. you want to keep as much heat in as possible, so you’ll want your tarp tight to the sides of the tent and as close to the ground as you can get it. You still need a little gap between the tarp and the tent to try and keep condensation at bay.
Summer is warmer, so the gap between the tarp and the ground can be larger, and the tarp doesn’t have to be as tight to you/your tent.
Avoid These Mistakes When Choosing Tarp Size
There are a few other factors you should consider when buying a tarp, so let’s go over them before you head off on your tarp shopping spree.
Choosing Too Small
It’s tempting to choose the smallest tarp possible to cut costs, but getting a larger one is better because of weather and positioning considerations.
A smaller tarp size can work in summer, as it’ll mostly be used as a sun shelter, but a larger tarp is better in winter so any potential rain and snow can hit the tarp, slide down, and land away from you.
Experimenting with different tarp sizes is good when you’re trying to figure out your ventilation setup.
On the one hand, a large tarp has sides long enough to meet the ground in a low-ventilation setup. However, you also need it to be high enough above your setup so it’s not closing in on you too much.
If you want more ventilation, then place your tarp higher above your tent. For this, you’ll need a tarp with sides long enough to cover your tent fully despite being further away/higher up.
This is why experimentation is crucial. Work with your tarps until you find the tarp size and position that gives you what you want.
If you’re backpacking, try to avoid canvas tarps. They’re large and heavy, and they won’t be pleasant to travel with. Hydrophobic tarps, which are synthetic and often made from polyester blends, are best.
Hydrophobic tarps are also waterproof, so they’ll be much easier to dry after rain.
Ease of Storage
Another reason to get a hydrophobic tarp is that it’ll be easier to store. They can roll or fold up decently small.
Car campers don’t need to worry about this too much, but backpackers and hammock campers will want to find something that stores compactly. Keep this in mind when shopping for your tarp.
Bigger is always better when choosing tarp size, but going too big isn’t good, either. Ensure you know exactly what size you need before buying something, and always try to buy something that you can return if it doesn’t fit.
Lots of basic tarps aren’t too pricey, so consider getting a few sizes and experimenting to find which one works best. Return the ones that don’t fit, and you’re sure to find the perfect tarp.