Shaped vs. Square Tarp Shelters

The world is a glorious place, full of adventure and wonder. To explore nature is a rewarding and exciting experience. However, adventuring unprepared can be incredibly dangerous. Having the proper equipment to survive in a given surrounding is crucial. One of the most important pieces is your shelter and is something that you should not skimp on.

Novice adventurers have a tendency to over pack for wilderness adventures. This is not necessarily a bad thing from a survival standpoint, but the excess weight of unnecessary tools and provisions can slow you down and wear you out quickly. Knowing your environment is crucial for selecting what you need, especially when it comes to shelter.

An unskilled adventurer will look towards a tent when spending the night in the wild. The problem with this particular shelter is the weight and space required to carry all the necessary pieces. There is also the risk of losing pieces, which makes this shelter useless. If you have the extra space, a tent is a luxury. Otherwise, a simple tarp will be enough. With knowledge and know how, anyone can construct the necessary shelter to survive the wild.

Tarps for shelter come in various shapes and sizes, each carrying their own advantages and disadvantages. There are two types of tarps available.

Square Tarps


A square tarp shelter is incredibly versatile and can be constructed into many shapes and shelters. This tarp is adaptable and can be used in various weather conditions and terrains, depending on how the square tarp shelter is pitched.


  • Flexible to be pitched in a variety of shapes
  • Adaptable to most weather conditions
  • Less expensive
  • Companion to shelter a tent as well
  • Can be repurposed for non-camping uses, such as covering truck beds and cargo


  • Heavier than shaped tarps
  • Difficult to pitch without prior knowledge or experience

Square Tarp Shelters

There are infinite amounts of shelter designs that can provide coverage to fit your space and environmental needs. When building a square tarp shelter, there are varying degrees of difficulty. Here are some easy set ups that any outdoorsman should know how to build:

The A Frame

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This construction is the traditional form we see when we think of a tent: a tarp placed over a central line and held down at the four corners. It provides necessary coverage from rain and if placed low enough to the ground, it can improve coverage. However, bugs and wind are an issue. There is a variation of the design that closes the wind out by hanging the tarp on a central pole.

The Canopy

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Imagine one of those party tents, but without the poles or the fancy sides and you have the canopy. This construction uses a lot of cord since it does not touch the ground. It maximizes space, while keeping you dry. This style is also handy for diverting rain water for collection. By creasing the tarp and adding additional lean to one corner of the shelter, you can collect water to drink in case of emergency.

The Lean-To

Flat-Roof-Lean-ToThis design focuses on keeping the rain off your head, a fire burning safely, and more room to move about. The tarp is anchored by trees, with the tarp leaning between a thirty and forty-five degree angle. It provides very little wind coverage, but helps a small fire continue to burn. If you choose this, be sure to never leave the fire unattended. This style can also help you collect water.

There are more advanced constructions that can help to better fulfill your needs. Practicing these constructions, or any construction, before you venture into the wilderness will increase your chances of success.

The Cornet

bivibag-cornetThis cone shaped shelter requires trees to anchor the paracord at a diagonal angle. The tarp is then laid on it at the diagonal and secured into the ground, being sure to have a floor panel. The structure must have the closed corner facing the direction of the wind to be effective.

This form is low to the ground and helps keep a person warm and dry. However, there is an issue of space. There is no place to store belongings and a tall person may struggle to fit entirely in the form. In rain, there is also an issue of water running down the paracord and soaking the interior of the shelter. Drip cord will need to be used to stave off the rain. The diamond fly form increases the space of design, but sacrifices floor coverage.

The Tube Tent

This design is very similar to the A Frame design. The tarp is folded into thirds and draped over the paracord to make a complete triangle, with flooring. The edges are then pinned into the ground. It is the perfect fit for one person and supplies, while also providing protection from rain and wind.

The Wind Shed

This style fits its namesake by protecting you from the wind. The tarp is folded into thirds. The tarp is hung over paracord on the edge of one of the folds. The other two portions are pinned to the ground, one at the hinge of the fold and the other at the tarp edge, as this fold acts as a floor for the shelter. Two paracords tie the free flap to the ground. It leaves an opening on one side. This shelter has a risk as the free flap can buckle under heavy rain. There is a variation that sacrifices the floor panel for less secure points, which can make assembly easier.

Shaped Tarps


A shaped tarp is of a more rigid construction. The fabric is cut a certain way, minimizing the potential ways to pitch the tarp. Each shape has a catenary curve cut on the edges, which creates a gentle U shaped edge. The cut tightens the pitch and lightens the overall weight of the tarp. While each shape has their own advantages and disadvantages, there are some general benefits and setbacks.


  • Optimal for specific environmental conditions, such as weather and terrain
  • Easy for beginners to assemble
  • Lighter than square tarps


  • Fewer configurations
  • Reduced useable space due to catenary curves
  • Difficult to assemble in tight quarters
  • More expensive

Types of Shaped Tarps

Hex shaped

Hex shaped tarp shelter, source

This cut is most similar to the square tarp. This six sided cut is easier to pitch than the square tarp and weighs less; however, it weighs more than most other shaped cuts and offers less protection from the elements than a square tarp. It is more ideal for excursions with sunny days and clear nights.



Triangle tarp image source
Triangle tarp image source

The triangle cut is the least useful for providing shelter; if anything, it is best to provide coverage for a tent or fulfill non-camping needs, such as a patio cover. This tarp cover is lightweight and incredibly easy to assemble. It provides great shade from the sun and rain, if angled correctly.



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image source

This shaped cut is one of the best of the shaped tarps available. When pitched, the pyramid provides maximum coverage from the elements and provides the perfect coverage from both rain and snow storms. The tarp is lightweight as easy to assemble. The shape works effectively for hammock campers.

The downside is that some manufactured tarps do not reach the ground completely, allowing bugs to enter the shelter. If this is a major concern, many come with an optional netting that can be attached to the bottom of the shelter.

While it does provide the best protection from storms, constant unending storms can weaken the efficacy of the structure. That said, the pyramid design is the best for the unpredictability that comes with staying in the wilderness.

Double Pyramid

This lightweight cut provides all the benefits of the pyramid cut, but more space. This shape allows for two occupants. It still has the same drawbacks as the pyramid, but two people occupying the same shelter can help keep campers warm during particularly cold nights.



The Diamond cut tarp sometimes called a rain fly tarp works extremely well if you camp with a hammock. The shape provides strong wind, sun and rain resistance and is easy to setup. View our diamond shaped tarp here.

Shaped vs. Square Tarp

With all the available information, you may ask “Which one is the best?”, but the answer is not that simple. There are a variety of factors to include and consider when trying to decide between a square or shaped tarp. The location is a key factor. Some forms require the use of trees for anchoring, while others cannot handle the confined space.

Some forms handle weather better than others, but sacrifice space. To answer the overall question, you must consider all this as well as price and skill. As with any trip, you must thoroughly plan before taking on the elements. Research the area you will be and plan your campsite locations. Make sure you have everything you need and even some spare cord or anchors in case something breaks or is lost. Shelter is one of the most vital components to survival in the wild.