Tarps are quite versatile. Generally, a tarp is a sheet of flexible, typically, waterproof material. It comes in various sizes and is made of different materials.

A tarp performs a multitude of functions. It primarily functions to protect from rain, sunlight, and other elements. They can also become a fundamental part of your survival supplies, in which case it can be referred to as a survival tarp.

In this article you will learn the common types of tarps and the many emergency and survival situations you can use them for. In addition, we will review the several factors you should consider when selecting a survival tarp.

Top 5 Types of Tarps for Survival

There are many tarps available on the market, so it's easy to get overwhelmed by options.

1. Vinyl Tarps

These tarps are tempered, laminated, or coated using vinyl. Thanks to the high strength of vinyl, these tarps tend to be tear-resistant. This makes them perfect to withstand extreme weather conditions such as snowstorms, heavy rain, or heat. They can also resist mildew, grease, and even some acids.

2. Canvas Tarps

Canvas is a heavy, robust material. As a result, canvas tarps are heavier than most tarps. A wax coating is typically applied to introduce a water-resistant layer. Canvas is a breathable fabric making this type of tarp good for usages that require air to pass through the tarp.

3. Mesh Tarps

Like canvas tarps, mesh tarps are constructed using breathable materials that let in air moisture, and sunlight. Depending on the size of the mesh holes, the level of airflow will vary. They usually come with grommets at the edges, which allows you to fasten them to the ground. For added security the hems of a mesh tarp are often double stitched.  

4. Heavy-Duty Tarps

As the name rightly suggests, these types of tarps are meant for heavy-duty purposes. Heavy-duty tarps are made of high-end fiber materials and find the most use in the agricultural and industrial sectors. They are, by nature, durable and can withstand extremely harsh conditions. As a survival tarp, it can serve as a temporary roof in the event of an emergency.

5. Poly Tarps

Poly tarps are made using the plastic material, polyethylene. They can be made from high-density or from low-density forms, which results in heavy-duty poly tarps and light-duty poly tarps respectively. While light-duty poly tarps can cover items over a short period, the much tougher heavy-duty tarp can serve the same purpose long-term. Poly tarps are waterproof and are typically pretty affordable.

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Considerations When Selecting Your Tarp

When determining what kind of tarp(s) you want as part of your preps there are a few things to consider. Note the use cases you will need these tarps for and ensure the proper factors are taken into account.

Size

When you are shopping for tarps to add to your supplies, depending on the uses, the size will matter. You want to get exactly what you need without wasting extra resources or being short on size. If you are not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution, going bigger rather than smaller. A heavy-duty 8’X10′ tarp from your local supply store will almost always do in a pinch unless you are looking for something in particular, like covering a large portion of your roof, in which case a much larger tarp may be needed.

Water Resistance

Water-resistance is another factor to consider. A mesh or canvas tarp, for example, will be perfect for providing some shade over your tent, but if you are looking to protect supplies from moisture or rain, a heavy-duty poly or vinyl tarp would be your best bet. Most tarps will have some form of water-resistance, outside of mesh tents, which given its name, will have a series of holes that will most definitely not protect from any water or moisture collection.

Strength

How well can your tarp hold under immense pressure and force? You don’t want a tarp that will tear or collapse in on itself during a survival scenario. Start by looking out for the material used in the construction and the weaving technique employed. If you’re anticipating heavy wind, you can’t rely on a light-duty poly tarp or a mesh tarp, best to stick with a canvas or heavy-duty poly tarp.

Corrosion Resistance

Another thing to consider is how your tarp of choice would fair when it’s faced with corrosion. Some elements that can cause corrosion to your tarp include sunlight, acids, oils, mildew, and greases. Get a survival tarp that has a special coating to help bolster its resistance. Overtime sunlight, rain, and other effects can degrade the efficacy of your tarp.

Abrasion Resistance

Similar to corrosion resistance, abrasion resistance is something to consider when getting your tarp. Confirm how much it can resist tearing, splitting, and rubbing as a result of sharp edges, stretching, or scratches. In this respect, vinyl and canvas tarps perform better than poly or mesh tarps.

Features

As with every other supply you buy, consider its features. Some features to consider when selecting your tarp include rope construction, grommets, special coatings (flame retardant, corrosion-resistant, etc), and accessories (replacement grommets, ropes, anti-mildew treatments, etc.), just to mention a few. If you are looking to fasten your tarp, grommets are the way to go. If you are looking to protect firewood or other structures from water damage waterproof and flame resistance may be good options too.

Your Desired Use(s)

Lastly, you must consider what it is you want to use the tarp for. Different tarps serve different purposes. For instance, the high-end fiber materials of heavy-duty tarps make them suitable for damage covers, yard work, makeshift hammocks, etc. Whereas, if you simply want to keep water of your wood or boat, poly or vinyl tarps will do perfectly.

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Top 18 Emergency and Survival Uses

Tarps are one of the most versatile supplies out there and every prepper should include atleast one in their emergency supplies.

Shelter

One of the most important uses of a tarp is making survival shelters to protect you from the elements. With a bit of cordage and a decent tarp, you can make yourself a makeshift lean to or pup tent.

Water Collection

You may have to collect water somehow in a survival situation, in which case a tarp will come in handy. Water collected in a tarp can then be filtered and used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

Rain Cover

Waterproof tarps will keep out the rain, whether you are out camping or you want additional coverage during a storm. Waterproof tarps are perfect to keep rain and moister off your firewood, boats, motorcycles, cars, and more.

Damage Cover

A leak on the roof or damage to your windows should be attended to promptly. But since you might not be able to repair it in time, a tarp can serve as a temporary measure. In the case of severe damage during a natural disaster a heavy duty tarp should be purchased and placed over the damage, then anchored to create a waterproof seal until a repair man can get out to fix it.

Ground Cover

A tarp can serve as the much-needed barrier between you and the ground, whether below your tent to protect the base of the tent, or as your only layer of protection in a survival situation. When placed below you, you are protected against inconveniences like insects and water. Using a tarp as ground cover can also reference protecting the ground and not yourself. If you are doing a lot of gardening you can place the extra dirt, leaves, or plants on the tarp to prevent having to rake your yard once done.

Makeshift Bag / Container

When in a pinch or a SHTF scenario you can wrap your belongings and valuables in a tarp as a way of protecting them from rain or damage. This makeshift bag or container will make for easy transport.

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Survival Blanket

Wrapping a tarp around you or your loved ones will provide an extra layer of warmth and security. Keep everyone dry during a rain storm or blizzard should be your main survival focus. While a space blanket would be the ultimate supply to use in this instance, as it has its particular enhancements over a tarp, a tarp will do in a pinch.

Making Cord / Rope

If you are like most preppers and carry your good 'ol trusty knife with you, you can cut up a tarp to help make cord or rope. By cutting the tarp(s) into strips and braiding them you can make yourself a decent and durable rope or cord. Cord made from a vinyl, canvas, or heavy-duty poly hammock should offer little stretch and resist major deterioration.

Makeshift Hammock

When in a survival scenario or even when camping, making a makeshift hammock with your survival tarp would be a lot comfier than laying on the ground. If you aren't worries about rain or sun sleeping in a hammock may beat sleeping on the ground underneath your tarp roof. With a large tarp and some paracord you can fold a tarp in a way that allows you to hang it from two trees with the cord, making a nice hammock. In some survival situations, sleeping off the ground can be safer.

SOS Signal Flag

Adding a few brightly colored tarps to your supply can be a life saver, literally. Placing a large brightly colored tarp as an SOS flag can make it easier for you to be spotted by search parties. For instance spreading a large blue or green tarp in a neutral environment like a desert, if you get lost on an adventure, would be beneficial to an arial search team. For places like forests and more water-like environments stick with red and yellow tarps to stand out.

Makeshift Stretcher

Similar to making it into a hammock, a tarp can also be forged into a makeshift stretcher. If you are out hiking or hunting with some friends and someone gets hurt, having a tarp to make a makeshift stretcher could save some backs. Fold it in half for additional strength and use it to haul anything from humans to a foraged harvest. To make it a little easier you can even wrap it around 2 sticks to act as handles for 2-4 guys to help carry the wounded.

Privacy Curtains / Temporary Walls

In an emergency a camp, base, refugee camp, or other survival community could benefit from a little privacy. Tarps can be used to cut out these private quarters. They serve as temporary walls for rooms, resting spots, and outdoor latrines.

Gardening

A tarp can easily protect your garden from a cold snap. The young plants in your garden will fare better, thanks to the covering and warmth the tarp offers. In a pinch, a set of sheets can even come in handy here.

Camouflage

A brown, green, or camo tarp can serve as an excellent camouflage tool. Just throw it over what you wish to cover and you are set. You can chip in a few branches or a pile to complete the full camouflage look. The right camouflage shelter can help when hunting in a survival situation too. Making a pup tent with a camo tarp you can laydown with your rifle and target the animals that pass by without being detected.

Trap

You can use a tarp to make a trap. Dig a hole, cover it with a tarp and use stones or dirt to weigh down the edges. Then, disguise it to make it look like the surrounding areas with leaves, dirt, and sticks.

Supply Cover

If you need to cover piles of firewood, hay, or other outdoor supplies from rain, or to hide from theft, a tarp can get the job done. If you use the right tarp for the job you'll keep your supplies in perfect condition.

Fish Net

Armed with a decent fishing skill, you can catch some game with a tarp. A large holed mesh tarp would be the easiest as it already has holes to allow the water to flow through. If you don't have a mesh net, you can tear /cut apart a light-duty poly tarp and fashion it into rope. Once you have some good rope you can then weave it into a pretty decent fishing net.

Emergency Sail

A tarp can also serve as an emergency sail for a small boat. Note that this may require some know-how to pull off. But if you have a waterproof tarp, some rope, and some ingenuity you can make this happen in a pinch.