Choosing A Tarp for a Hammock

NOTE: I’ve updated this article from the original that I published on HammockForums.net in 2010.

Along with “Hike Your Own Hike,” it’s equally important to “Pick Your Own Pitch” and “Choose Your Own Tarp.” Just as there are as many hammock options to choose from, there are equally as many tarp configurations and rigging options to match. This is good news, really, because it means you can customize your shelter system to match conditions. I have several tarps to pick from depending on my trip type: lightweight, winter camping, super coverage, etc.

HAMMOCK CAMPING TARPS

When it comes to tarps, some prefer full coverage while others get skimpy. There’s no right or wrong answer here, and your choice depends on many factors: weight, coverage, versatility, durability, etc. And while there are tarps designed specifically for hammocks, nearly any tarp will work so long as it provides the coverage you are looking for.

It is generally agreed that full-coverage tarps, or “winter” tarps are best for four-season camping when you need maximum protection from the elements. Winter tarps usually add extra flaps or “doors” to the ends of the tarp that can be folded inward to enclose all four sides. Some manufacturers sell “doors” as an optional add-on to common hex or cat-cut tarps (a common add-on door is called the Grizz Beak).

Large tarps also provide good privacy for modesty when changing clothes, etc. There are some trade-offs with large tarps. Big tarps with extra tie-outs provide a lot of versatility and pitching options. And while you get extra coverage and protection from the elements, it can take some practice to master the pitching teqniques to get the most out of these shelters. Large tarps typically weigh more and can require extra hardware (e.g., stakes, guylines).

In moderate conditions, almost any tarp can be modified for good coverage, ventilation, and privacy. Some users have successfully used ponchos as dual-purpose a-sym tarps. Diamond tarps offer more coverage than a-sym design and are equally simple to pitch. Keep in mind, however, that smaller tarps require greater skill to keep dry in adverse conditions. It is often necessary to sleep in a specific direction under an a-sym tarp to maximize coverage.

Square or rectangular tarps with multiple tie-outs can allow for greater pitching options than other tarps. (Check out my Hammock Manufacturers page for a list of hammock-compatible tarps on the market.)

Hammock Tarp Size Example

 

What Size? Regardless of what style tarp you choose, you want to ensure the tarp extends between 6 to 12 in. (15 to 30 cm) over each end of your hammock. An 8×10 ft (2.4×3 m) tarp turned ~39° to be an asym tarp provides a ridge line of nearly 13 ft (4 m). This would provide ample coverage for nearly any hammock. Remember that a hammock sags when properly hung so a 10 ft (3 m) long hammock will have a peak-to-peak length of just over 8 ft (2.4 m).

Hammock Hang Calculator

 

common hammock camping tarps

RIDGE LINES

One great advantage of hammock camping with tarps is that in adverse conditions—rain, snow, wind—you can set up the tarp first and then keep your gear dry as you set up the hammock and sleep system.

Rigging A Tarp—With Hardware

Rigging A Tarp—Without Hardware

Most ridge lines fall under one of two categories: end-only or full-length. End-only lines essentially eliminate the rope between the tarp tie-outs, which can reduce some weight. Full-length ridgelines run the entire length of the tarp and can be used under the tarp or over the tarp.

With a full-length ridgeline, you can set the line first and then adjust the tarp along the line to center it. It is often easier to center a tarp between the supports with a full-length ridgeline than with end-only lines.

Hanging the tarp over a full-length ridgeline provides additional structure and can be preferred during extreme conditions when the ridgeline can help support extra weight, such as during a snow storm. With the ridgeline running under the hammock, it also provides handy points for clipping gear to air dry, or to attach a bug net.

Whether you use a full or end-only ridge lines, one method for attaching the line to the support is to create a “V” around the post (see illustration). Essentially, you begin to loop the line around the support starting at the end point of the tarp. You then take the line around the support and then attach the line back at the beak of tarp. This creates a space so the hammock suspension can swing with less collisions against the tarp suspension line.

GUY LINES

Once the ridge of the tarp is set, you can set the guy lines. Diamond or asymmetric tarps have as little as two guy points, so set-up can be quicker. Guy lines of approximately 6 ft (1.8 m) allow enough length so you can guy the tarp around other nearby supports or to a stake in the ground.

Pitch the tarp low during adverse conditions. Pull the tarp out and open, even using trekking poles or sticks to open the tarp for more ventilation or views. You can also guy down one side of a tarp to protect from wind and rain and open the other side in “porch mode,” depending on conditions.

Many tarps (e.g., those made with nylon) stretch during the night, so even the tightest pitch before going to bed may slacken by morning. You can retrofit guylines with elastic shock cord or purchase them ready-made from several manufacturers. With shock cord on the guy line, the tarp will remain taut as the tarp stretches.

pitching a tarp for hammock camping

  8 comments for “Choosing A Tarp for a Hammock

  1. Alan Vales
    April 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    So I am seriously considering going all hammock! I only did my first backpacking trip this weekend. My buddy (also his first trip) had a hammock. I am also working to develop my rig as a light weight (not ready for ultralight) setup. So probably trying to get too much out of my equipment, but I was hoping to get a hammock I could use my exped pad in and hold off on an under quilt for now. My tarp needs replaced anyways but the Grand trunk funky forest tarp seems too heavy (essentially my hammock setup replaces a light weight tent or tarp setup) but cuben fiber hex tarp is too expensive. Is there a Hex/ Cat-Cut that is light and not so expensive that would work for light weight and hammock to ground transition if needed? I purchased you book this week but have so many questions didn’t want to wait the few days extra to start researching the setup.

    Alan

    • Derek
      April 16, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      Welcome to the light side, Alan! Have you read my à la carte post? There’s a lot of great info there and lists on available tarps and hammocks that may serve you. The best hammocks that work with pads are those with two layers or sleeves. The bridge hammocks are the best for pads because they conform well to the pad. Gathered-end hammocks tend to twist the pad like the rifling effect of a gun barrel. Hennessy Hammock sells some inexpensive hammock tarps that you may fit your budget. I’d go with a hex tarp for all-around utility.

      • Alan Vales
        April 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm

        Thanks Derek! Your book came today..already read once through! I had heard about the double layer hammocks to use with pads and realize it isn’t the most ideal, just trying to get the most (maybe too much) out of my gear. I’ll check in to it. The light side tends to get expensive fast yes? :) Trying to choose gear wisely and not buy things I’ll want to replace later but that may be unavoidable on some level. Love the site and the book. I’ll check out the a la carte post now that I have a bit more understanding of the options. Thanks!

        • Dave B
          September 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

          Try hanging an older (or cheaper) hammock under your sleeping hammock. Any manner of “quilting” can be added or secured between the two. I use an older ENO under my ENO DoubleNest and find I can easily regulate the amount of insulation to ward off CBS and get a great night’s sleep. Weight wise this system works well because the “insulation” works double duty during the day (i.e. a parka, poncho woobie, etc.)

  2. October 23, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Awesome Guide. Thanks Derek. Made it easy for me to go for a Hex tarp.

  3. Jim Johnsrud
    January 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    As of now I’m using a Diamond tarp from Claytor for most of my hangs and borrowing my girlfriends Big Rain Fly also from Claytor for winterhanging or when I need more cover. I also use a full length Ridgeline underneath for strength in hard winds and to dry clothes. For guylines I use the fail safe rubber bant tarp line tensioners, only made of elastic cord. Also I’ve sewn in bits of reflectic material to the edges of the tarp to be able to find it if it’s pitch black in the night. The Diamond is great for weight but sometimes provides little cover at the gatherings of the hammock and the big winter tarp is great for coverage, but is a bit heavy to drag along on long steap trips, so I would like to go with a hex, preferably something like the Black Cat tarp. In my experience dark colors will let you sleep longer in the mornin sun.
    Also i use guy line tensioners like these: http://www.rvops.co.uk/imagecache/d7a420ca-f912-4b4b-9d87-a0c20107125c_603x510.jpg (I had to reverse them to get them to do what i want them to do) to adjust the length of my guylines in a hurry.

  4. ChiefH
    June 5, 2014 at 6:06 am

    No mention to the water resistance for these tarps. What is adequate (1000mm)? or a higher rating? All the discussion is on the shape and rigging style and nothing on the water resistance which is the most important part of choosing a tarp, to keep dry.

    • Derek
      June 5, 2014 at 7:29 am

      Good question. I’ll look into that.

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