The Tarp

Guest post written by Thomas T. Tinker

An ode to the humble ‘Tarp’. “Tarpaulin” (tar-po’-lin) Noun. 1. Waterproof material such as canvas, used to cover and protect from moisture. 2. A sheet of tarpaulin. 3. Awning or rooflike structure that serves as a shelter. The humble tarp is generally found in ragged, threadbare, paint splattered condition and in various states of mold or other neglect. An Item ignored and misused when available and prayed for when … unavailable!

The following is not an entry in any contest. It is offered only in order to foster thought and conversation regarding just another of the ‘Prepping Cultures’ storage staples, its apparent uses and endless others submitted by you, the reader. Your ideas and comments are welcome as I know… I have not even thought of a fraction of the uses of this item.

Ok lets get this out of the way! I can cover my stuff with one. My car or truck. My roof if it leaks. The floor when I paint and anything of value when the grandkids come over.

They come in 5’X5’ ($5.49) to 60’X100’ ($169.99) at Home Depot. Much larger are available at a huge cost. Don’t I have this flare for the obvious … that’s not a question. In the heavy industrial construction trades Heavy… heavy canvas is used sewn to size and ‘brassed’ on all edges. Who can’t close their eyes and conjure up the aroma of a new canvas trap. This is a question! Who does not have at least a short stack of these in their preps, regardless of the material?

My most important use for the largest of mine is for rain catchment off my garage and deck. We keep a 9’X12’ canvas in the truck and the same size in plastic in both cars. Each with 100’ of 1/4” cordage, assorted ‘bungy’ cords and a set of plastic tent stakes. I am lucky enough to live in site of Lake Erie and have gotten some outstanding ‘surplus’/used deals from the Marina sail and awning shops. Then there is Military Surplus… not that most offered there are nothing but knock offs. Our local Farm and Fleet has the best selection of truly good quality tarpaulins. Fabric or plastic, any number of these can bring up an unlimited number of uses. This post is more of a long rhetorical question. I hope it stirs the ‘post’ a little

Love and kisses… Thomas T. Tinker

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Hunker-Down says:

    We run leaves and small branches through a small shredder then store them overwinter in plastic bags. After several months the sun decomposes the plastic and the bags rip as they get moved around. The following spring the chopped up material is spread on the garden as mulch.
    We use old tarps to cover and protect the plastic bags from sun damage. (The real purpose is to hide our propane stash from the neighbors, but if asked, I’m sticking to the leaf bag story.) After the tarps become useless, they become a backdrop for targets at the range.

  2. Ask at your friendly neighborhood lumberyard NOT the big box stores for old lumber covers. If you shop that store, the folks should be glad to oblige. It’s plastic woven tarp-ish material that often gets tossed. It will last a season or two of sun & wind.

    • Thomas T. Tinker says:

      I’ve done that! We have eh… a tub load of squared off sections. Visqueen or something like that.

      • Add to that an inexpensive grommet set and tool and you’re in the cheap tarp business.

        • SurvivorDan says:

          OP’s sage grommet tool advice:
          I love my grommet tool ($4.99) I converted an ultra light weight poncho from SportsMans Warehouse to a potential lean-to (which I have used once in the White Mountains when I miscalculated and was stuck overnight in 30 degree temps) by punching grommets around its perimeter when I first purchased it – just in case. The ‘case’ occurred the next week.
          I have added tie-on points to my back pack with it.
          Ever have a grommet tear loose on a tent or tarp? A grommet tool fixes that handily and quickly.

          Nice salute to the absolutely essential but oft over-looked ‘lowly’ tarp TTT.

          • SurvivorDan says:

            The tarp: Clothing, shelter, foraging container, water gatherer, rope (if cut into strips), ad infinitum!

            • SurvivorDan says:

              Sleeping bag, bandage wrap, splint support, water heating vessel (be very careful), and on and on………

  3. I use the inexpensive cloth painters’ tarps to cover my couch from paw prints and hair! The 9×12 size is almost perfect. They wash beautifully, are very comfortable to sit on, and look good!

  4. Another useful item is “Tarp Anchor Points”. I get then in a package of 4, and they help secure the tarp where there isn’t a convenient grommet.

    I also stock up on grommet kits. For repair and adding new ones.

    • Thomas T. Tinker says:

      yegads…. ‘grommet kits’ another hole in my preps. Thanks JP!

    • Another cheap anchor point is a small ball or even a small 1/2 to 3/4 inch round pebble. I have a collection of old mouse balls (wipe off that smile, I’m talking computer mice here) that work well. Place the ball or pebble on the tarp, pushing the material around it to make a lump on the other side. Tie a piece of string (I generally use paracord) around it (I generally use a slip knot) and you have a good solid anchor point anywhere you need it. On larger tarps I’ve used this to lift the center of the tarp up for some additional headroom, or to generally tighten up the sag.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        I was merely going to suggest you use squirrel balls,…heftier, don’t ya know. 😉 Great idea OP.

  5. Patriot Dave says:

    Tarps are the duct tape of … (insert activity here). They are that versitle. They can be the main shelter while camping, or a quick fix of your broken tent. a ground cover under the tent. a wind break. reflect heat from a fire. hide light of a fire. green or camo hide a camp or temporary cache. catch rain water and dew. help drag a deer. picnic blanket. folded into a pillow. hung up to keep dust contained in construction. Laid down to cover floors in painting. cover roofs after a big storm. cover firewood, cover ditches. outer layer over your blanket. made into a poncho. sunshade for garage sales. a temporary sail? cover a load in an open pickup or trailer. hold dirt while digging a hole. Drag firewood, drag dirt, drag ice cut from a lake, a privacy screen for showers or temporary latrine. Necessity if the mother of invention. This was fun to come up with off beat ideas.

  6. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Pj above took my suggestion about checking with lumber companies – building contractors are another source. The trucker’s ‘silver’ tarps and mariners PVC ‘blue’ tarps are great, but not only heavy but are hard to fold compactly.

    We’ve found the cheap Harbor Freight ‘blue tarps’ will take about 4 months of full time outdoor exposure before they begin to really fray out. Sleeping under one of those in windy conditions is like trying to sleep in a potato chip factory – if you are a light sleeper, they will keep you up. Pitching them taut works but you risk ripping them.

    I just grit my teeth and get the canvas in a personal size (10′ x 10′ max – too heavy otherwise) – not only do they weigh more, but they are much more expensive. Worth it though. A pack of bungees needs to also be included with it, that or permanently attach them to the grommets at corners and mid points. Standard cordage will do fine at the intermediates between these points.

    Good post.

    • “like trying to sleep in a potato chip factory”

      Hahahaha! Very well put! Reminds me of a very windy cold night DH and I spent on the hard ground near a lake. It was under one of those blue noisy tarps. Around 3am, I decided a tent or a canvas tarp would have been a much better choice. Adding to our misery was wrangling our 3 dogs that just wouldn’t settle down because the coyotes were yipping on the hill above us. Needless to say, we probably should have just kept driving that night.

  7. Used billboard ads make great diy tarps, once cut to size and grommeted.

  8. tarps make it easier to hide the bodies in your freezer till you get around to planting them. i have dozens of tarps! but seriously, i really do have lots of tarps and i couldnt imagine being a prepper and not having them . the uses are endless. i have enough to make a nice shelter should my house burn down or blow away.

  9. Tactical G-Ma says:

    I bit the bullet and bought the brown hvy duty tarp to cover a portable storage tent. Well worth it as it has held up better than any thing else we have tried. For major jobs we have Tyvek house wrap we can cut to size. Fold an edge and use the grommet kit and it is a custom tarp. I don’t know how it holds up to the sun, yet.

  10. Just put a blue tarp around the north end of the dog’s pen for a windbreak. Got a silver one over an old aluminum frame for winter storage of my mowers, tillers and such. I learned the hard way to pad the rails on that frame with hollow pool noodles so the tarp doesn’t wear through.

  11. Jim Murphy says:

    Our local hardware run sales frequently where you can get
    2- 6′ x 8′ tarps for $3.00 or 2- 8′ x 10′ tarps for $5.00.
    My garden is 8′ wide by 70′ long.
    I till the garden in the fall after the growing season is finished and cover the garden with tarps. I use bricks and stones to hold them in place.
    Early spring is generally wet here in Ohio. St. Patrick’s Day (mid- March) is the start of my gardening season. If I don’t cover the ground, it’s too muddy to plant in March. By covering the ground, it’s just dry enough to work the dirt and plant pea seeds, cabbage starts, broccoli starts and iceburg lettuce starts from the cold frame. I use a couple of the same tarps to cover
    the plants on nights that frost is forecast until the warm nights return.
    Tarps also help extend the growing season in the fall by covering crops
    on frosty nights. I figure the tarps buy me 2-3 weeks of gardening time in the spring and extend the fall season by about the same.

    We lost a picture window in an unfortunate football mishap and covered the window with a tarp held in place with duct tape until the glass could be

  12. If you are going to use a canvas tarp as a roof Lang term a nice coat of latex paint real adds to the life and waterproofing of the tarp. This was the first roof of the pioneers when they got to thier destaniions.

  13. If you want an endless supply of light weight and FREE yes FREE find your local bill board sign dealer,most of the highway signs today are a good plastic type tarp with a pocket sewn into the width top and bottom that a 1and half diameter pipe slides thru then use winch straps to tighten the tarp to sigh, back to FREE when they change the sigh they have to dispose of the tarp being the sign is printed on it, they will give these away if you talk to the right person at the shop i am given about 20 to 25 every 2 months and yes they are water proof.

  14. If you learn to fold a firemen’s “catch all” then you will increase the number of uses for your tarp drastically. From water storage to a make shift bath tub the possibilities are endless.

    • Thomas T. Tinker says:

      Tank… I used to TD stage and opera productions and we would alway put the scrim down in a series of ‘half’ folds to the center so that there were no tight folds. Keeps these in great condition for decades. Is a ‘firemen’s fold’ something like this?

      • Firefighters use several folds for their tarps. There is one that sounds like the one you’re talking about but the “catch all” basically makes your tarp into a square wading pool. You can fold it to where the walls are the height that you want (provided that your tarp is big enough). I have found it useful not only for holding water but for holding anything you don’t want rolling or sliding off your tarp. Personally I’ve found its great when you’re picking up walnuts.

  15. I use free tarps…my 50 lb empty dogfood bags are woven plastic like pvc tarps. I cut them to open up, and sewed them together to use for my firewood pile covers. 4 years now and no breakdown of fibers!

  16. The Grey Wolf says:

    A very economical alternative material for a tarp is Tyvek, which is used as to waterproof house siding. It’s available at home depot and leftovers are free at some construction sites that build with it!

    • The Grey Wolf says:

      Almost forgot….lash button rocks along corners and perimeter of your piece to use as tiedown points. Grommet kits fail horribly and compromise structural integrity. Ensure you use smooth pebble rocks too.

  17. riverrider says:

    when mortars hit a house the roof usually collapses in , leaving the walls standing. in bosnia there were whole towns dotted with those blue tarps as rooftops even years after we got there. kind of like a tent with permanent walls. i guess it was better than just a tent. if you look around at old houses, the roof falls in first under its own weight. i keep a few in stock with that in mind. great post!

  18. Founder Follower says:

    Mister Tinker,

    We meet again.

    Great write up on a preparedness essential. I too have a couple stacks of tarps. Most recent save was while setting up deer camp 2 weeks ago. I always take my steel frame, tarp covered carport. Our group usually consists of 2 campers and 8-10 people. The carport is set up as our communal gathering spot for meals and cards. Well someone forgot the joints for the frame this year… oops. Luckily we had enough extra tarps and spring clamps to improvise a building using the camper canopy. It worked great.

    The father in law came across an old pool tarp in the trash. It has some small holes in it but it is huge. Like 25′ x 40′. And it was free. Keep your eyes open.

    And I also bought some of the plastic contraptions that will grab the tarp and have holes for attachment. They are going in the BOB. The 4 – pack was $4 at Harbor Freight.

    And for those wondering, I did not get a deer. Yet…

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