3 Reasons to Always Have an All-Purpose Tarp

Whether you prefer plastic or cloth, a tarp has dozens of uses both at home and in the outdoors

Blue tarp covering wood logs
A simple tarp is perfect for keeping camp dry when bad weather rolls in.B-Air

A standard utility tarp should be part of every outdoorsman’s gear bag. Aside from its obvious uses for keeping the wood pile dry or stringing a canopy over your campground table, a standard tarp is less expensive than a fancy nylon backpacking tarp and has utility beyond its life as a waterproof barrier against the elements.

Shelter and Ground Cloth

Gray tarp covering boat
A utility tarp is for general purposes and not meant to be packed into the backcountry as a tent ground cloth.Dry Top

Rigging a tarp as an emergency shelter doesn't have to be a cumbersome affair. Learn a few simple knots like the Taut-Line Hitch, Bowline, and Trucker's Hitch, and you can rig a tarp as a simple A-frame, a lean-to, or any other configuration that makes sense for your circumstances. If you use a tent pole in the center to keep rain from pooling, be sure to soften the contact point with a rag or sock to avoid punctures. Standard tarp sizes such as 5x7 and 8x10 feet will also serve as a ground cloth for most 2- to 4-man family tents. Remember, you are not looking for light weight and efficiency here. A utility tarp is all about economy and versatility.

Boat and Vehicle Cover

Super heavy duty brown tarp
You can use a large tarp to protect things that spend a lot of time outside.Xpose Safety

Not everyone has the luxury of covered parking for their boat. But if you have a tarp and a few bungee cords handy, it's easy to rig up a shelter for just about any boat or vehicle in a matter of minutes without investing in a dedicated canvas boat cover.

Leaf Hauler

Grizzly waterproof tarp
Even if a tarp begins to show signs of wear and tear, you can still use it for other tasks.B-Air

Once a utility tarp has begun to lose its waterproof qualities, don't throw it away. You never know when you might need some rudimentary coverage over the firewood pile, some lumber, or a leaky roof. And a worn-out tarp is just about the best leaf hauler there is. Pack up an entire autumn's worth of leaves at once, and easily slide them across the lawn to a mulch pile, garden, or flower bed.