How to Make a Tarp Shelter Without Trees

How to Make a Tarp Shelter Without Trees

You spend a lot of time outdoors.

You hike, you camp, you might even do day trips with nothing more than a backpack; whatever it is you like to do in nature, there’s one undeniable issue that can always come down on your parade.

That’s the rain. It can get in the way of a perfectly good hike, whether you know it’s going to happen or not.

You need shelter while it passes so you don’t get sick or end up in sopping wet clothes when you get back to square one, and when there are no trees around to hang your tarp off of, it gets tricky.

We’re going to tell you how to make tarp shelters in a snap, while explaining what the best type of tarp is for the occasion. Let’s run down the list of everything you need to know.


What Kind of Tarp do You Need?

What Kind of Tarp do You Need?

The best tarp for the job is going to be a polyethylene tarp.

You’ll see us saying this all the time on here, but poly is the best material for shelters because of its natural waterproof qualities. Even when a poly tarp is finished with an additional waterproof coating, that’s just for good measure.

Polyethylene tarps are particularly good for these shelters for a few additional reasons:

  • Lightweight: Poly tarps are extremely lightweight and easy to carry, so you won’t increase your load capacity when you consider the other materials needed for the job.
  • Tear Resistant: Things are going to get dicey when you’re building this, especially if it’s your first time. You can use sticks from nature to help propel the tarp, so we want it to be tough.
  • Naturally Mildew Resistant: While mildew can eventually eat through any tarp that’s left in a warm, dark place, it’s a lot harder for it to eat through polyethylene. This makes it fantastic to use again and again for this purpose.
  • Naturally Water Resistant: Even if your waterproof coating fails on the outside of it, you can still use this, because rain will run right off of it anyway.


This is a simple shelter that you should be able to do with items that you’re already carrying when you go into the wilderness. Let’s take a look at what you need.

That’s really all you need. This is going to be super simple for us to make from start to finish, so strap in and make sure that you pay attention to the details. And just so you know, we’re going to show you how to make two separate shelters out of this.

Step-by-Step Guide (Method #1)

YouTube video

Called a diamond frame, this has one point of entry, compared to method two that we’re going to show you in just a little bit. This can be set up easily, but is still often considered the harder method out of the two.

1. Place Your Pole

Whether this is a tent pole or a really good stick you found in the woods, it’s time to place it in the ground. This will serve as the entrance to your diamond frame temporary survival shelter.

2. Ready Your Tarp

Now it’s time to drape your tarp over the pole. You want one edge of this to lean directly on the top of the pole, while the rest of it will flow down on the sides. Use this time to see approximately where your grommets will need to hold the stakes in the ground.

3. First Stake

Use your first tent stake and put it through one of the grommets on the side of your tent. You should have about three or four grommets in total. Stake these in the ground so you have a straight edge to one side of your tent.

4. Second Stake

Now go to the front of your makeshift tent, and lean the entrance edge over the pole/stick again.

Pull down the other side of the tarp so it touches the ground, and eyeball it to make sure the pole is in the direct center. Hold the grommet in place, and put your next stake through it. It’s okay if the tarp falls off the pole at this point.

5. Back Stakes

Go to the back of the tarp and drive your stakes into the back end.

These should be in a straight line and should be easy to put in; the sides of your tent should already be taut from how you placed them in the ground. By the end of this, three sides will be completely staked in the ground.

6. Position the Pole

Go back around and make sure the pole is positioned properly. While it doesn’t have a full frame to stick to, it should hold up well enough.

You might notice the pole slowly sink into the ground from the force of the opening bearing down on it, but that’s perfectly okay. Just reposition it slightly if you have to. This is only temporary, after all.

Step-by-Step Guide (Method #2 )

YouTube video

This is what’s called an A frame, which might provide a little less cover, but it’s also easier to put up without having to get it perfect. Let’s take a look.

1. Secure The Poles

If you have tent poles with you, they’d better be thick and up to the task.

Measure the total length of your tarp, and place the poles about one foot outside of that range in total. Make sure the poles are secure in the ground, even if it means this shelter is lower to the ground than you would like.

2. Run Your Paracord

This is perhaps the longest part of the process, because you either don’t have enough slack and the poles pull together, or you have too much and your tent sags. Take your time here, readjust your poles, and get it right until the line is reasonably taut.

3. Hang Your Tarp

This is like making a house of cards; you want to tread lightly. Hang the tarp so it’s even on both sides, and give it a little tug so that you know it’s not going to come down on you in the middle of the night.

4. Drive Your Stakes

This would just blow away if we didn’t anchor it down. Use stakes near the grommets, about three inches away in total. This is going to depend on the length of your bungee cables, so adjust the distance as needed.

5. Bungee Cables

Time to secure the tarp down with your bungee cables. Run the hooks through the grommets, and the others around the stakes, and see if this is going to hold up against some wind by fanning the sides with a blanket or something else in your arsenal.

If all goes well, you’ll have a moderately sturdy shelter that you can use for the night.

Bonus Tip: If you find that your shelter struggles with too many bungee cables, you can always just use one in each of the four corners and call it a day.

Does This Application Ruin the Tarp?

Does This Application Ruin the Tarp?

As long as you hang it up right, it doesn’t do any more damage to your tarp than any other application would. Just because we don’t have the trees to cling to doesn’t mean you’re doing any harm to the tarp outside of its normal use.

You can still expect your tarp to last for three to five years, and with proper care, it could even last you longer. The biggest issue here, since we’re using this to keep ourselves dry, is to make sure we’re properly air drying this before we put it in storage.

When you get home, you should let it dry in the sun, and then go over it with a cotton cloth, specifically around the grommets, before putting it away.

Mildew is the enemy, and it ruins more tarps than you think, most notably in the camping and outdoors space. Even if you have a polyethylene tarp, which is mildew resistant, it doesn’t mean that it’s impervious.

When a tarp sits in storage for weeks or months with moisture throughout it, mildew will still grow, it will just take longer to eat through your tarp.

Shelter at a Moment’s Notice

Even if you don’t have the power of nature nearby, you can pack your stakes and make the most out of any situation you find yourself in.

It takes a few minutes to set up at the very most, so you can take some control in any adverse predicaments you find yourself in. To find a great selection of hammock and poly tarps, check out our selection so you can be ready the next time you need shelter in a hurry.