Tarps keep camp dry
  |  First Published: June 2003

In the middle of the drought, we decided to be adventurous and go camping over Easter.

Usually this time of year is spent fishing the dams in western NSW and our accommodation choice is always cabins because Easter is traditionally the time that the rains come. However, we thought that the forecasters always get it wrong, so we went camping.

I don’t know how many times the weather guys have claimed that the rains will be upon us and the weather has been more like Summer than Autumn, but this time they got it right. The winds blew, the rain pelted down and we all cursed those weather blokes, but we stayed dry and warm, thanks to the right preparation.

It really doesn’t matter what time of year you go camping if you are prepared for any contingencies. Our camping kit would never be complete without several poly tarps. These are so affordable and compact that we take several with us.

The main tent is usually enveloped in a large tarp. When we set up our campsite we try to find out from which direction the local prevailing winds come from and protect that side of the tent with a longer tarp, which goes almost to the ground. That way we are usually fully protected from most of the worst.

Most camping stores carry a wide variety of poly tarps, ranging from a metre square to 11 metres square and anything in between. Layers and denier (thread thickness) signify the thickness and strength of the poly tarps. Blue or green tarps are generally lighter than the silver variety and are usually 10 by 10 denier and single-layer.

The stronger silver tarps that are green on the underside are usually 14 by 14 denier, which means that the weave is much tighter and stronger. These tarps are usually double-stitched and have reinforced corners so that they are quite capable of withstanding most rain and wind.

Ultragrip Uvtex poly tarps are made by Sportiva and are designed for the camper. The upper and lower surfaces are laminated to provide maximum sun protection, insulation and shade, keeping the camp area much cooler in Summer. because they are constructed with UV resistant materials they will last a lot longer. The multi-layer ‘mega patch’ attachment points are made by the computer cross-stitch method and incorporate six layers, which makes them 30% stronger to provide maximum tear resistance. Each attachment point is constructed with special non-slip anchor webbing, through which is sewn a stainless steel welded D-ring. These are at all corners and around 90cm intervals along all sides.

The webbing and D- ring are stronger than the normal eyelet system and the rings are large enough to be held in place by a tent pole for use as an extended tent fly.

Telescopic tent poles are useful. With the poly tarps and a few ropes, any form of shelter can be constructed. If it stays standing and provides the shelter you need, it is a job done well. If it falls down, try again!

Moisture from below

As well as the skies above trying to dampen a tent site, there is also the problem of moisture from the ground. On a trip last year we camped on a very dry hilltop during the drought. When we set up camp we used our old faithful poly tarp groundsheet, as we have done for several years. Over the three weeks that we stayed, we noticed that the air inside the tent was getting moister. When dismantled the tent after our longer-than-normal stay, we discovered the ground sheet was really wet, as was the underside of the tent. The moisture had also seeped through the floor under the airbed and its base and the eggshell protector were also wet. After talking to several other campers, we now use a groundsheet made from shadecloth.

Shadecloth actually breathes and keeps the underside of the tent dry in most weather. We gave this a real test in January, when we camped alongside a dam on thick grass. The campers near us used a normal poly groundsheet, we used the shadecloth and the results spoke for themselves.

When we packed up, our tent was as dry as a bone underneath but our neighbours had to wipe down theirs before they could pack it.

Our shadecloth groundsheet has now been improved by reinforcing the edges with webbing and adding several eyelets so that it could be anchored down. When we reinforced the edges we also added enough length so that it extends to the line of the front awning, so that we have a dry area on which to enter the tent. The shadecloth at the front of the tent also helps reduce sand and dirt from being walked into the tent living areas – grit simply slides through the mesh.



Poly tarps can be used as flies or as shelters in their own right. Several poles, pegs, ropes and tarps later, there is enough room for an entire family gathering or a group camp area for three families.


The weather (usually southern) side of this camp is fully enclosed and in torrential rain campers remained dry. A blue tarp is used to join the tents together to give an additional dry area.


Used with imagination, these tarps form extra storage area next to the tent as well as being used as a fly.

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