A tarp of the right size is really useful. Not only can it reduce how often you need to set up your tarptent, but it also protects against wind-blown rain or snow more effectively than a tent fly that’s too small.
Most tarps on the market these days are about 9 feet by 5 feet (2.75 meters by 1.5 meters). To use them fully pitched for one person, you will want tarps 3 ft (~1 m) longer on both sides for draping over support lines. This tarp would be 10ft x 6ft (3m x 1.8m), which I think of as standard size for solo tarps. For 2 persons, tarps 7 ft long on each side work better.
For tarps less than 7 ft long, you will need to set up your tarptent with very low profile trekking poles, and it won’t drape as far over the ends of the tarptents small vestibules. You can do this by stringing a line between two trees at about shoulder height and tightening the tarp down along that line. It takes a bit more time and effort compared with suspending the tarp from two high support lines (see tarptent.com), but it’s not difficult and makes for a very small tarptent/tarp package overall…
The majority of tarps on the market are rectangle or diamond shaped, with an aspect ratio (length divided by width) of 9:5 or 7:5. The rectangular tarps are typically intended for A-frame pitching, where one end is pushed into the ground and the other end is secured to a tree or bush, but the diamond tarps can either be pitched A-frame with both ends anchored (recommended), or staked out diagonally like a pyramid tent.
The tarps with aspect ratios of 5:3 or 6:4 are common in mountaineering circles. A tarp pitched this way offers protection more akin to that of a dome tent; it will shed windblown rain effectively without flapping unless there’s significant wind, and it has of space inside due to its steep walls. Even an experienced tarptent camper should consider bringing one of these tarps on a windy trip, or for conditions that are expected to be wet.
I use tarps with aspect ratios of 8:3 and 9:2, which are intended for A-frame pitching with lower support lines to reduce weight, but they can also be pitched in the diamond configuration. An 8:3 tarp creates a fly that is roomier than an A-frame tarptent while still offering good protection from rain and snow.
What is the difference between a flat tarptent and a cat cut tarptent?
A flat tarptent is one without a catenary cut (or shaped like an arc). They are typically wider than they are tall, and offer the most floor space. These tarps can be pitched as tarps (with low support lines) or as tarptents (with high support lines). A cat-cut tarptent has a catenary cut along its ridgeline. This makes it possible to pitch the tarp with very high support lines, which results in steeper walls and more headroom inside. The steep walls shed windblown rain and snow but also make them less stable in moderate winds; you need to pay close attention to guy lines and guying them out if the wind picks up.
What is tarptent?
A tarptent is a hybrid between a tarp and a tent, with some characteristics of both. It has features you expect from a [basic] tent: wind-shedding ability, space to stand up in, bug netting, etc., but it also shares some of the best qualities of tarps: light weight, low cost, easy setup compared with pitching a tent, good ventilation/drying in wet weather when using an open mesh inner tent.
What is a cat cut tarptent?
A tarptent with a catenary cut in the ridgeline for increased headroom when pitching it with high support lines. These tarps have steep sides when pitched this way, which shed windblown rain and snow but also make them less stable in moderate winds.
Tarps are one of the most versatile, common backpacking shelter types. They’re also the cheapest and lightest type of shelter for any given application. In addition to tarptents, tarps can be pitched as simple A-frames, flat tarps, or cuben fiber tarps. To get the best tarp visit the best tarp manufacturer of the area.