How to Build a Tarp Shelter to Stay Cool

It’s usually pretty easy to find ways to warm yourself up when things turn cold outside. Build a fire. Build an insulating shelter. Put on another layer of clothes. The list goes on and on. One of the real tricks in the outdoors is cooling down when the weather turns hot and there’s no shade to be found.

If you have two tarps, a few yards of rope, four poles and some anchoring material, you can build a shade shelter that can cool you down in hot, dry climates and in conditions with no shade and little chance of rain.

This “double roofed” shelter dates back centuries among desert cultures, particularly in northern Africa and the Middle East, but it finally found widespread fame through the last century’s military survival training.

To get started with this shelter, find or dig your own low spot in the ground. Lay one of your tarps out over the low spot and drive each of your stakes at one corner of the tarp. Tie your tarp tightly to the stakes, then tie the other tarp into place leaving a foot of air space between the two tarps. You can also fold over a larger tarp to create the two layers, as pictured in the photo here.

Tie the tops of the four stakes to your four anchors, which can be other stakes, rocks, logs or any strong anchoring member.

Now you can crawl underneath your finished shelter, and enjoy much cooler temperatures than the surrounding air. On the afternoon that I took the picture for this post, the air temperature was 100 degrees, and the temperature on the ground under the shelter was 94 degrees. That 6 degrees can feel like a big difference in hot weather. And the hotter it is, the bigger the felt difference. Differentials greater than 20 degrees have been documented using these shelters.

To make this shelter work to its fullest potential, remember the following tips:

  • Dig down to get to cooler soil, and do your digging before you put the tarps over top.
  • Use a lighter colored tarp on top, if possible, to reflect more sunlight away from the shelter.
  • Don’t use rock piles to build the four corner posts as you may have seen in many survival books. They won’t hold up in windy conditions, and you’re begging to get hit with a rock.