Our program staff share tips for creating effective shelter outside

While cabins and tents offer certain comforts, sleeping under a tarp offers a unique opportunity to be protected from the elements without being removed from them.

Tarps offer flexible and low-impact options to set up camp, and with a few considerations kept in mind the set ups can be tailored to almost any environment. Power To Be uses tarps to create shelter for activities such as cooking, program facilitation and shelter from the elements during the day, as well as to create shelter for sleeping.

Our Wilderness School youth learn these skills to create the shelters they will use throughout their time with Power To Be, including during 24-hour solo experiences. Being comfortable under a tarp for any length of time comes down to good set up, and the ability to adjust as the needs of the weather or group shift.

Anatomy of a tarp

Centre line

This is like the roof of you house and can be used to create an A-frame shape that is good for water drainage away from you and your gear.

Guy lines

These are the ropes that come off the various grommets and loops on your tarp to create tension and tailor the angles of your space.

Tie-out points

These are the anchors that keep your tarp where you need it to be, and can be attached to trees, rocks, stakes and other materials.

Setting up your shelter is the first thing you should do after arriving at your destination, and the location you choose should be based on the camping triangle that takes into account the location of your sleeping, food and bathroom areas. Aim to have at least 100 metres between each area and keep your food and bathroom areas downwind from where you will rest your head.

Tarp tips

Know your environment

Weather is a key factor in successful tarp set ups. Keeping an eye on the forecast for rain, wind or other conditions will help you pick the best location for your set up. Be sure to assess where you can have the least impact on the natural environment while still being able to create a safe shelter.

When in doubt about picking your location, ask yourself if your preferred spot is about safety or scenery. The best view of the lake can also be the windiest!

Know your activity

When cooking under cover, be sure to create enough space for your stove or fire to function safety beneath it. You want to ensure there is another space for heat to dissipate and enough ventilation to allow fumes to disperse.

When sleeping under a tarp, knowing what is around you is important. Are there any tree branches that could fall in the wind? Does the ground beneath you have good drainage or are you in a dip that may collect rain water run off? Considering the whole environment can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a wet one.

Know your knots

We teach our participants how to tie bowline, directional slip and truckers hitch knots among others. Options for which knot to use comes down to personal preference and the environment you are in. Whichever knot you choose, practice before your adventure to ensure you can tie and untie the lines with ease. Leave No Trace principles require all rope and materials to be packed out with you when you go. Remember to mindful of what you tie onto, so you don’t damage plant life.

Know before you go

Be sure to check current weather and trail conditions, and any specific information for the location you are exploring. Prepare to adventure safely with these tips from AdventureSmart and practice Leave No Trace principles.