Should Tarp be Larger than Tent?

You should always choose your tarp carefully
You should always choose your tarp carefully

Are you expecting heavy rain and even snow in your next camping trip?

Are you thinking about cancelling your trip because you don’t want to damage your tent?

With tent tarps, there’s no need for that.

As long as you choose a tarp that is large enough to cover your tent footprint, you can go and enjoy your trip knowing that your tent will be safe.

Purpose of the Tarp

Your tent tarp serves various purposes
Your tent tarp serves various purposes


The tarp protects your tent from moisture.

When you place the tarp under your tent, you are effectively placing a barrier between the ground and the tent.

This barrier protects your tent floor from any water on the ground: it doesn’t let it seep through.

Also, if it rains while you are on your camping trip, the tarp and your ground cloth will help keep you dry, as you will have extra protection against water.

Protection from Sharp Objects

Another reason to use a tarp under your tent is to protect your tent from sharp objects such as rocks and pointy sticks.

If you ignore those, they can cause damage or puncture, especially if you are in an area with lots of debris on the ground.

A cheap tarp is still better than nothing
A cheap tarp is still better than nothing

Enhanced Comfort

One last reason to use a tarp under your tent is that it can increase your comfort by providing an insulation layer between your body and the cold ground below.

When you’re camping in a cold spot, you need something that can keep you warm, so you take blankets, warm clothes, etc.

In these cases, you will be even better off if you can get heat from underneath by insulation of the tarp alongside the ground cloth.

Factors to Look for When Choosing the Right Size Tarp

If you are looking at tarp sizes for your tent, you should consider the following factors to choose the right one. 

Tent Footprint Measurements

How can you measure a tent footprint?
How can you measure a tent footprint?

Tent footprint measurement is something you need to think about when you’re choosing the proper size tarp for your tent.

Tent what?

Let’s make it simpler.

The tent footprint represents the actual area that comes under the tent or, even simpler, the tent size.

This area will be different from style to style, so don’t expect it to be the same across a wall tent, a dome tent, a cabin tent, etc.

When trying to measure a tent footprint accurately, the first step is to remove any guylines from the perimeter of the tent, making it clean.

Guylines are wires used to (i) secure the tarp or rainfly to the ground; or (ii) connect the walls of your tent.

After removing the guylines, use a measuring tape and measure from one corner of your tent to the opposite corner in both directions.

This will provide an appropriate measurement of your tent’s length and width, which you can also use to get the exact-sized ground cloth.

Extra Space Around the Edges

Don't want your tent with snow like this? Use a tarp
Don’t want your tent with snow like this? Use a tarp

After taking the footprint measurements of your tent, the next step is to keep some extra space around the edges.

This is important because it helps when you need more coverage in case of heavy rain or snow, so don’t try to skip it.

Without it, there’s a chance that rain or snow can accumulate around the edges of your tent during tough weather, damaging your camping gear and the ground cloth.

Also, if you keep the extra space you can easily tie down your tent and secure your tarp around your tent properly.

Different Tent Shapes or Styles

While choosing the right tarp, you must also look at the styles and shapes available.

For example, if you have a dome-style tent, then the tarp must also be of the same style, as the dome-style tent requires larger tarps than other tents due to its unique shape and design. 

The same goes for other types of tents: always align the type of tent with the type of the tarp.

Finally, you can also go for a waterproof tarp options for extra protection.

Are you really buying a tarp this big for your 2-person tent?
Are you really buying a tarp this big for your 2-person tent?

1-Person Tents

If you’re looking for a one-person tent, you’ll need a tarp with a measurement of at least 8′ x 10′.

This size will provide enough coverage to protect your tent from rain and wind while allowing plenty of room for ventilation and airflow.

Pro tip: you can also use it for smaller 2-person tents (but don’t push it!)

2-Person Tents

For a 2-person tent, you should be looking at bigger sizes, of at least 10′ x 12′.

This will be enough for two-person tents without sacrificing any protection for the entire tent and the two campers inside.

If however you’re camping in a zone with strong winds, we highly recommend you go for a tent with a large area.

Ignore this at your own risk.

Family-Sized Tents

Famiy-sized tents need large tarps - we shouldn't have to tell you this
Famiy-sized tents need large tarps – we shouldn’t have to tell you this

What if you’re going camping with your for family?

Then you’ll need a 12′ x 14’+ tent tarp.

We recommend this size for two reasons:

  • This will get you adequate protection for the entire tent

  • Since you are with your family, the last thing you want to feel is crowded

    • This size ensures that that doesn’t happen

Larger or Smaller Tarp?

There are various pros and cons of using a tarp size smaller or larger than the recommended one.

Check them out.

Using a Larger Tarp

Large tarps are not limited to tents
Large tarps are not limited to tents

If you want to opt for a size that is a bit bigger than the recommended tarp size, here’s what you should know.

On the benefits side:

  • More coverage and protection from the weather

  • You can cover multiple items or have some extra space for storage

  • It will likely also secure in place better as it has more material to anchor down

Apart from the pros:

  • A larger tarp size may be a bit heavier and so harder to transport than a smaller one

  • If you don’t have a large area to camp, finding a spot big enough to accommodate your tarp will be more difficult, as it may not fit in certain areas or spaces

Key lesson: always study your spot before you embark on your next camping trip!

Using a Smaller Tarp

What if you decide to go for a smaller tarp?


  • Ease of transport and storage due to its lighter weight and smaller size

  • Easier to fit in any camping spot + find an area suitable where you can set up the tarp


  • May not get enough coverage or protection from the weather wen compared to choosing the recommended size tarp

Different Tarp Materials

It's 2024: you can no longer not know the different tarp materials
It’s 2024: you can no longer not know the different tarp materials

As times evolved, new tarps made of different materials were created.

Here are some of the more basic ones.

Polyethylene Tarps

The first on the list are the polyethylene tarps.

They are the most common type of tarp used for camping: basically because they are lightweight, waterproof, and durable.

There are sold in various sizes, and can be used for ground cover and shelter.

Finally, we they are mostly used in mild weather conditions because they can’t bear extreme temperatures, so don’t go to a hardcore land with them.

Canvas Tarps

Canvas tarps are great for camping in the winter
Canvas tarps are great for camping in the winter

The canvas tarps are a bit heavier than polyethylene tarps since they are made of more durable material.

On the flipside, they can handle extreme weather conditions better.

If you are camping in a place where you expect heavy rain, snow, and strong wind, consider using canvas tarps.

They also have a longer lifespan than polyethylene tarps and can be used multiple times without needing to be replaced.

Vinyl Tarps

Vinyl tarps are also a popular option among campers.

They are waterproof tarps that can easily protect against moisture while camping and are highly resistant to UV rays, so if you have to go to a place where it rains often or is sunny most of the time, this tarp has got you covered.

One thing that might discourage you from buying one is that they are expensive when compared to the other ones, so if you’re low on budget, you should probably skip them.

Mesh Tarps

Another type of tarp you can use is a mesh tarp, which is made of a lightweight mesh material.

Air can easily pass through this mesh, and you are protected from the natural elements, such as wind and rain.

Mesh tarps can be used as ground cover or shelter, but one disadvantage is that you will not get insulation through them.

So if you are camping in a cold place then they are not our recommended option.

Moreover, as they are made of mesh, they can easily wear out if exposed to direct sunlight, so only use them in shaded areas or during short-term camping trips. 

Tips to Set Up and Secure the Tarp

Read on so you don't miss a beat
Read on so you don’t miss a beat

We close this article with some tips to set up and secure your tarp.

  • Choose the Right Spot: look for a flat, debris-free area, and don’t go for any low-lying area or area close to water sources, as this can increase the risk of flooding

    • The space should also be sheltered from wind and rain – good spots are for example beneath a tree or next to large rocks

  • Set Up The Tent First: set up the tarp and ensure that your tent is securely placed over the tent footprint

    • Ensure that all the stakes are firmly planted into the ground and all the guylines tight

  • Position The Tarp Properly: after you secure your tent, it’s time to position the tarp to cover both sides evenly and extend at least 8 feet on each side

    • Don’t forget to leave enough slack so it can be pulled tight when staked down

  • Secure The Corners and Edges: stake down each corner and edge of the tarp using long metal stakes or heavy rocks

    • For an extra security cushion, you can use more than one stake per corner

  • Use More GuyLines: you can always use more guylines to secure the corners and edges of the tarp pitch

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