The Great Cover-up: Your Guide to Hammock Camping Tarps
Once upon a time, shopping for a tarpaulin told the world that you were in the market for some serious lengths of latex, PVC, or other types of plastic sheeting to cover a car body, boat, or long-haul trailer filled with goods that had to be protected from the elements on long or short journeys.
These hefty coverings got their name from Royal Navy or merchant ship crews requiring strength and tenacity when carting goods around the world by ship. The name is said to come from a British sailor named Jack Tar, but nobody seems to know what he did to earn this distinction.
Fast forward to today and discover that hammock camping gear manufacturers are producing these products for every conceivable use, frequently using state of the art woven polyethylene in a myriad of colors to customize these all-purpose covers. This evolution has led to the fabrication of hammock tarps—and that’s a good thing—especially if you have had to sleep in a water-soaked hammock one time too many!
Tarps: Amazingly simple
Although traditional tarps manufactured over the years were heavy enough to sink a canoe, product designers have aimed to make them simple, flexible, and in some cases, lighter weight to satisfy the demands of campers, hikers, and hammock dwellers. All in an effort to produce ultralight backpacking gear that won’t drive trekkers to chiropractors.
Today’s hammock tarps do more than protect a backpacker or camper from getting wet: they create enclaves reminiscent of tents that can protect the hammock, the occupant, and some extra space around the periphery of the hammock for good measure. A tarp that’s appropriately sized doesn’t just make life bearable, it can be a lifesaver if weather gets dicey.
Small, medium or large?
When you shop for a hammock tarp, this is no time to downsize! Manufacturers make multiple sizes and shapes for a reason: you need cover engineered for protection and that’s why hex-shaped tarps and shapes featuring catenary curved edges have become the must-have choices of folks who mean business when they invest in high quality ultralight backpacking gear. Check out our choices to decide which makes the most sense for you.
Back to basics: The small rectangle
We’re talking a 5- x 8.5-foot tarp, hung diagonally, that offers a modicum of overhead protection if you’re the owner of a standard gathered-end hammock. You may not get much wind protection, which is why your search for the perfect setup site is critical, and you’ll need to perfectly center your tarp for maximum protection.
Need more coverage? The medium rectangle can help
Customize your hammock cover by selecting from three popular medium tarps: 8- x 10-feet; 10- x 11-feet or 10- x 12-feet. Tarps in these sizes do a great job of protecting hammock dwellers because they’re fitted with lots of tie-out points that anchor the tarp should the weather get nasty.
It’s easy being square
Let’s say you’re the type who prefers to get out and commune with Mother Nature solo and all you need is a simple 8-foot x 8-foot square or diamond tarp because you know the tricks of the trade using these creative sizes. Experts recommend a diagonal pitch over a hammock with sides flaring out at a 45-degree angle secured by a tie out. You can also create a mini-rectangular “wall” facing the direction from which the rain or wind are coming from.
Put a hex on you
They’re trendy and they’re versatile, so if you are interested in the latest hammock tarp shape that’s been winning hearts and minds, hex-shaped tarps may be the middle ground you seek. You’ll need two tautly-pulled tie-outs to secure this style of tarp but you may not care when you see how efficiently this one works for you.
Big, bad boys
In response to market demand, tarp manufacturers are rolling out larger-size tarps that are known as hammock tents, because the amount of privacy you get in return for your investment is huge. These tarps aren't heavy, so you won’t have to morph into a Sherpa to add this oversized, ultralight backpacking gear to your stash, either.
Hammock camping tarps 101
Think all there is to know about rigging hammock tarps consists of securing them to the tree and getting on with the business of sleeping? Not so fast hammock camping gear genius! There won’t be a test after you finish reading this, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons of owning this gear before you invest in it.
-Tarps add life to your hammock camping gear, protecting your nest from inclement weather.
-If you don’t get claustrophobic during the night, lower yours to keep from getting wet.
-Hammock tarps are surprisingly affordable, so you won't have to sell the camper to buy one or more.
-New textiles used to manufacture hammock tarps are so light, you only add about a pound of weight to your gear.
-You can coordinate the color of your tarp with the rest of your camping equipment so it's easy to identify your stuff.
-Buy an ultra-cheap or too-small tarp and you risk getting soggy.
-Pitch the tarp incorrectly and flapping and vibrating could drive you crazy.
Colorado Outdoor Gear Supply: 4 Best-selling tarps
- Mesa Verde National Tarp
The affordable Mesa Verde National Tarp is a standard weight hex tarp featuring a fully seam-sealed 11- or 12-foot ridgeline. Choose a color, choose a thread. You custom-designed Mesa Verde National Tarp also features reinforcement panels at tie-out points. Crafted of 1.1-ounce SilPoly for strength and long wear, you also get a matching stuff sack to stow on the go. At 14.7 ounces, this tarp couldn’t weigh you down out on the trail if it tried.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Tarp
Upgrade to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Tarp for the cost of lunch. This standard weight tarp offers a fully seam-sealed 11- or 12-foot ridgeline with attached doors and comes with a stuff sack. Enjoy a wide range of color and thread combinations. Just like on the Mesa Verde National Tarp, all tie-outs are fully reinforced. Crafted of 1.1 oz. SilPoly and weighing just 18.5 ounces, this light-as-air tarp will be your go-to covering for years to come.
- Great Sand Dune National Tarp
Add dessert to the previously mentioned lunch menu and you can afford an upgrade to this hex tarp that comes in either an 11- or 12-foot fully seam-sealed ridgeline and features reinforced panels that secure every tie-out point. Crafted of Membrane SilPoly, the Great Sand Dune National Tarp comes in the usual complement of fabric/thread combinations, so you won’t have trouble identifying your tarp, even if you camp with a crowd.
- Rocky Mountain National Tarp
There’s a reason the top-of-the-line Rocky Mountain National Tarp costs a few bucks more, it’s made for winter, yet it’s so lightweight, you may be skeptical about its ability to keep out environmental assaults. At 13.6 ounces, this Membrane SilPoly tarp with reinforcement panels on tie-out points takes up little room, yet you get all the bells and whistles: an 11- or 12- foot fully seam-sealed ridgeline with attached doors, and as always, your fabric/thread choices are extensive.