45 Survival Uses for the Humble Tarp

Most people have had occasion to use a tarp at some point to keep firewood dry, temporarily patch a leaky roof, or in some cases for shelter. But when SHTF, there are a variety of survival uses for a humble tarp. We’ve listed 25 of these uses below.

  1. Temporary Shelter from sun and rain.
  2. Create a Windbreak to protect yourself from extreme wind.
  3. Make a Stretcher from your tarp to carry someone who is injured or ill back to your campsite or to get professional medical attention if available.
  4. Protect your Fire from rain or wind when needed.
  5. Create a Hammock out of a tarp for sleeping off the ground in wet conditions or if the ground is particularly rocky or overrun with insects.
  6. Add Extra Protection over your makeshift tent or lean-to
  7. Carry Gear with a pack made from a tarp if your backpack is broken or an injury prevents you from wearing it.
  8. Keep Firewood Dry by covering it with a tarp until you are ready to use it.
  9. Collect Water during a rainstorm or even from a nearby lake or creek by using a tarp to collect and carry the water if no other containers are available.
  10. Signal for Rescuers by spreading a brightly colored tarp out on the ground if you are hurt or lost during a hike or other trip in a wilderness environment.
  11. Use as a Temporary Rain Poncho if you forget to pack yours.
  12. Repair Leaky Roof by covering the damaged area with a heavy tarp until you can get the materials and time to properly repair the roof.
  13. Makeshift Hunting Blind is yet another of the many survival uses for the humble tarp. If feasible, you can glue or otherwise attach leaves, sticks, and other foliage to your tarp to further camouflage it from your prey.
  14. Collect and Carry Firewood or Other Foraged Items using any size tarp. Once you’ve collected your items on the tarp, you can pull by two of the corners or tie up the four corners into a makeshift bag that can be slung over your shoulder or attached to a sturdy branch or walking stick over your shoulder.
  15. Use as Camouflage for Your Campsite or Vehicle using a multi-colored tarp that will blend in with your surroundings and make your campsite or vehicle less visible from passerby or looters on the road.
  16. Protect Your Garden in a long-term survival situation from the heat of the sun or from a cold snap using a tarp stretched over the plants on poles or sticks. To protect from cold, weight the edges down using rocks or other heavy objects to hold the heat inside where the plants are.
  17. Trap Small Game to supplement your food stockpile by using a sturdy tarp, camouflaged with sticks and leaves and placed over a deep hole. Dig your hole on a known game trail or place bait directly on or over the tarp to entice your prey.
  18. Carry Large Game from the kill spot back to your campsite by placing it on a tarp and carrying it on your shoulder or attach a rope to the corner grommets and pull it behind you. Just make sure in a SHTF situation that you are covering any tracks you do make so as not to lead someone directly to your location.
  19. Solar Still. Lightweight tarps can be very effective when used to make a solar still for distilling water prior to drinking.
  20. Backpack Rain Cover. If nothing else is available, cut or fold a water-resistant tarp into a rain cover for your backpack to protect your gear during an unexpected rainstorm.
  21. Trap Body Heat using a breathable, water resistant tarp as a temporary shelter or around your body. Make sure any tarp used to wrap yourself in has arctic flexibility to help prevent hypothermia.
  22. Cover or Repair a Broken Door or Window that sustained damaged during a SHTF situation or natural disaster using a sturdy, tarp that is both water and mildew resistant.
  23. Cordage is another of the plethora of survival uses for the humble tarp. Simply cut into strips to use as cordage to secure gear to a raft or your backpack or even to tie a second tarp to a tree to make a shelter. Braiding several strips together can add strength to the makeshift cordage if needed.
  24. Livestock Shelter will be important during a SHTF or bug out situation. Just as you can use a tarp to create a makeshift shelter for yourself, you can use a second one to create a shelter for your livestock to shade them from sun or shelter them from a rain or snow storm.
  25. Privacy for Bathing/Showering and Other Personal Hygiene Needs is another survival use for the tarp. Use a lightweight, breathable tarp that will let air and light into the area but still provide the privacy needed for showering, bathing, or other personal hygiene tasks.
  26. Protect or Hide Gear or Equipment from the elements but also from the obvious view of looters or passerby during a survival situation. Select a tarp that will naturally blend into your surroundings and if need be, add foliage, sticks, and other materials from nature to deepen the camouflage.
  27. Make a Sail for a Raft so you can use the power of available wind to move more quickly across a lake or pond in a bug out situation.
  28. Help insulate the bottom of your tent to protect from cold and damp conditions.
  29.  Use to insulate the ground if you have to lay down to shoot or hunt
  30. Shelter from Sun is of course, one of the most common uses for the humble tarp. Simply stretch it out and tie it between a couple trees to create a shade awning as you take a break during a bug out or survival situation.
  31. Make a Floatation Device out of a tarp to get yourself or your gear safely across a creek or even a lake during a bug out or survival situation.
  32. Use as a Room Divider to separate sleeping areas in a small space.
  33.  Create a safe play area for kids during a break on a bug out trip
  34.  Cover the ground to eat on during a bug out trip.
  35.  Hang food out of bear reach in a tree using a tarp
  36.  Use to protect and/or camouflage your outdoor kitchen in an extended survival situation.
  37.  DIY a basketball hoop for kids to toss a ball into by putting a frame under your tarp or hanging in a tree and cutting a hole in it. Use a larger hole for younger kids and a smaller one for older kids.
  38.  Use a bed cover to protect items in your pickup truck when hauling.
  39.  Cut into strips and braid to use as cordage if nothing else is available.
  40.  Create a game board for checkers, pebbles toss or hopscotch to entertain kids and boost morale.
  41. Use as a sled to carry young children who are tired.
  42.  Make temporary protective clothing by cutting and gluing or taping the tarp so it has sleeves and pant legs.
  43.  Create a makeshift pillow by folding or rolling the tarp and putting it inside a pillowcase or garbage bag.
  44.  Hide a gun from potential intruders by putting it within the creases of a folded tarp.
  45.  Make a fish trap by taping or tying the tarp into the right shape.

Types of Tarps

If you don’t have much experience using tarps, you may think one tarp is as good as another. But in truth, the type of tarp that you use is very important. Each type of tarp has different inherent qualities based on the type of material it is made from as well as additional qualities based on any added coatings by the manufacturer.

  • Cloth
  • Canvas
  • Vinyl
  • Polyester
  • Mesh
  • Polyethylene

Tarp Qualities

Density is an important quality to evaluate when purchasing a tarp for survival use. In some cases you’ll want a denser tarp, that won’t let anything get through it. In other cases, you’ll want a tarp that is mesh and breathable so that light and some air can pass through it but it will still protect from debris and rain.

Weight of the tarp you buy is an important quality to look at when buying a tarp. Vinyl tarps are generally heavier and are great for heavy duty tasks where you won’t have to lift or carry the tarp frequently. For building a temporary shelter, collecting water, or other tasks you will need to repeat frequently, look for a lightweight tarp to lessen your overall carry burden.

Tear/Puncture Resistance in your tarp can help prevent rips and tears that could compromise the protection of your food, gear, or your family’s ability to stay dry. Keep in mind that continual exposure to the elements can make many tarps more brittle and increase the risk of rips and punctures. Keep a roll of duct tape on hand to patch holes or rips that do occur.

UV Protection is critical if using a tarp in a way that it will be exposed to the elements repeatedly. UV protection prevents your tarp from becoming brittle when exposed to sun and other elements on a daily basis.

Mildew Resistance comes into play for tarps that will be used repeatedly in a damp or wet environment. If you’re using your tarp to shelter you from the rain and you need to fold it up quickly and get moving to your next destination, you want one that will resist mildew.

Fire Retardant tarps are important if you will be using your tarp near any open flame. Poly tarps that are fire retardant are a great choice because they reflect heat. In some survival situations, you may even need to have a small campfire under or near your tarp in order to stay warm or stay hidden from view. All tarps are at risk of burning but fire retardant tarps are safer and if they do get a small hole from a stray spark, they can be patched with duct tape if needed.

Arctic Flexibility refers to the capacity of a tarp to bend and flex in cold and wet conditions. Tarps that aren’t breathable can be dangerous. If you wrap a tarp without artic flexibility around you to try and stay warm, it could actually be a mistake that can result in hypothermia.

Other Materials Handy for Use with Tarps

There are a wide variety of additional materials that will come in handy to implement your survival uses for the humble tarp. The more of these materials you have on hand, the more flexible your tarp will become.

  • Paracord or Other Cordage
  • Duct Tape or Tarp Tape to patch any unforeseen holes or rips in your tarp.
  • Replacement Grommets in case a grommet gives way.
  • Tent Stakes to secure your tarp to the ground if needed.
  • Marbles or small round stones to create anchor points where there isn’t a grommet where you need it to tie up your shelter.
  • Leaves and other dry foliage from around your campsite can be used as insulation between you and the ground or against the tarp “walls”.
  • An emergency mylar blanket or a large wool blanket for insulation against the ground when using a tarp as a shelter.

Share with us in the comments below and let us know which of these survival uses for the humble tarp you have tried. Which ones will you be prepared to put into practice in the future? Let us know if you’ve discovered any survival uses for the tarp that we neglected to include in this list.

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4 thoughts on “45 Survival Uses for the Humble Tarp”

  1. # 23 and 39 are both cordage, so are duplicates of each other… I could not think of anything to replace one of them ..Many uses, and good article…

  2. Whatever use, make sure you have them well tied down. We use them as wind/sun blocks while camping, but if they aren’t secured, they can be more hazard than help.

  3. This is a good list; but, I have to chime in and tell the new folks how good they have it. The typical blue plastic tarps are ubiquitous and cheap and most even have grommets for tie down. The aluminized Mylar Space blankets invented in 1964 cost only about $3.00 and even the larger versions with grommets and hood are only about $10.00. My use of tarps for camping began in about 1960; but, back then all tarps were constructed of various grades and weights of canvas. Ground cloths were made from oil cloth that was only canvass soaked in mineral oil. In short, this stuff was messy and heavy.
    I took my first survival training at age 14 in 1965; but, those new space blankets were then still hard to find and expensive, so we once again used canvas to improve our makeshift lean to and debris hut shelters. Modern materials have made tarps and tents inexpensive, lightweight and easy to deploy.
    Talking about tie down points you mention:

    Marbles or small round stones to create anchor points where there isn’t a grommet where you need it to tie up your shelter.

    One thing that I’ve collected over the years that works extremely well and is less likely to tear through the tart materials are mouse balls. No, not from real mice that would I suspect be too small; but, from computer mice. With the switch from the mechanical mouse with the hard rubber ball and encoder, to optical mice, many of the older mice have been or are being tossed as inferior.
    Usually there’s a ring around the mouse that twists out and allows the ball to be remove for cleaning; but, by collecting a small supply of these along with some cordage, you can have a field expedient tie down that works on any kind of tarp.
    For cordage I always carry several 50-100 foot hanks of paracord tied in a way to make them accessible and tangle proof; but, I also keep spools of dental floss on hand. Dental floss in either the waxed or unwaxed variety easily fits in your pocket, is very strong, and since it is usually supplied in large spools of 500 or more feet, allows you to carry a lot with you in a small package, meaning that multiple strands may be used for extra strength.
    My EDC is a cargo / tactical vest and I always have a couple of the Mylar space blankets and cordage on hand with one of the larger versions with grommets and a built in hood in the winter months.

  4. Another use for tarps is to take two long wood poles and roll tarp material around each pole to make a sleeping cot. The vinyl and canvass tarps work better for this than nylon.


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