Survival Skills: 3 Tricks for Rigging Tarp Shelters

One of the most quick and easy to erect survival shelters is a tarp shelter. It offers little warmth, but it can be a great refuge from biting winds, cold rain, and hot sun. Most tarps have grommets, which are great for tying off lines. But what if your tarp (or similar material) doesn’t have grommets where you need them? Or the grommets have been torn out? Or you need a tarp shelter that can break down quickly? In those situations, use these three tarp tricks to build your shelter quickly, securely, and easily.

Sheet Bend
Use this knot to secure rope or cord to the corners of a tarp, whether there are grommets in place or not. I use the sheet bend on all of my tarp corners when the wind finally rips out the factory installed grommets. Simply bunch up the corner of the tarp and bend it into a “J” shape. Bring the line through the bend of the “J,” wrap it around the entire tarp bend, and tuck the line under itself on top. Pull it tightly by hand before putting a load on the line, to make sure it’s going to hold. Tying an overhand knot in the end of the line is a good insurance policy, in case the sheet bend slips as it tightens for the first time. Once tightened, this knot is surprisingly tough and durable.

Another makeshift way of attaching a line to a tarp is to use what’s called a wart. Find a hard nut or small round pebble and place it under the tarp in the spot you need to attach your line. Bunch up the fabric around the object, creating a bump (the wart) and tie a constricting knot around it. Two half hitches or a tautline hitch are great knot choices for a wart. Make sure the rope constricts the tarp tightly and put tension on the wart to test it. These attachments can be done anywhere on the tarp, even in the center to attach to an overhead support (think: a circus tent).

If your tarp has functional grommets where you need them, use toggles to create a quick-take-down tarp shelter. For the corners, pass just part of a bowline loop through the grommet and insert a wooden peg into the loop. Pull the line tight, secure it, and you’re done with that spot. For edge grommets on a fixed line, leave enough slack on the line to push a loop through the grommet and peg it in place. Though these attachments aren’t as sturdy as tying knots, they let you construct a shelter that can be taken down in seconds.