Tarp Shelter vs a Tent for Backpacking and Camping


Tarp and bivy or tent? Backpackers need put some thought into their homes on the trail and with several options available how can you know which is best? Well, that all depends on how you like to travel. Lightweight and ready-to-go? Or with some portable shelter to call your own?

Ultralight Backpacking: Shedding Weight for Better Hiking

Ultralight backpacking has Grandma Gatewood to thank for its history. Today we might not be as spartan as she was when we hit the trail. Still, the idea of traveling with less weight has its appeals. Approaching ultralight backpacking begins with analyzing the contents of your pack to cut excess weight. Ditching a heavy tent for a tarp shelter seems to make a lot of sense, but is it really worth it? Tarp tents vs tent for backpacking has been a common camping argument. Find out which might suit your needs with our detailed guide.

Tarp Tents: Best of Both Worlds

Tarp Tent the best of both worlds

Tarp tents are a hybrid of tarps and tents. They provide a ground covering and let you have all the fun of easily setting up a tarp shelter with guy lines and trekking poles. When it comes to choosing a tarp tent vs tent you need to consider what comforts you absolutely need on the trail and what you can do with out. If you’ve been a long-time tarp advocate but are interested in exploring the spaciousness of a tarp investing in a tarp tent is a good way to easily make the transition.


Our tarp shelters are perfect for a tarp + hammock combo but can also be used in a variety of set ups. Made from high quality materials, fully waterproof and lightweight. Comes with a handy stuff sack, guy ropes and stakes which is everything you need to get started. Check out of shop page for more info... 

The Bivy Sack: A Tent that Hugs

The bivouc sack (here affectionately called bivy) is another alternative for spartan backpackers that gives you shelter and that slips over your sleeping bag. However the closeness of a bivy sack can seem a bit stifling if you’re a fan of wide open spaces. If you favor tents a bivy is not necessary. But for those who love tarps a bivy is a way to create some extra shelter within your tarp set-up. These two are often companions for some ultralight backpackers and make setting up a camp a bit easier when you’re on the go.

Tarp Tents vs Tent for Camping

Tarp Tent vs Tent for camping

Choosing your backpacking shelter takes several issues into consideration before you head out on the trail. Weight, difficulty in setting up, proper protection and personal preference are all necessary in choosing the right shelter on the trail. Choosing a tarp tent vs a tent for backpacking can mean the difference between being uncomfortable as you carry your pack over the miles or setting up a nice place to rest overnight ultimately. The tarp tents vs tent debate mostly comes down to personal preference. But before you make a decision without too much thought take some time to look into the most common pros and cons of camping with a tent or a tarp.

Backpacking with a Tent

Backpacking with a tent

Pitching a tent is probably the first thing people think of when you tell them you’re going camping. Or maybe you’ve got your own story of trying to set up your tent in the dark during a snowstorm that you always think of when you begin setting up your outdoor shelter. A sturdy built tent has all you need to set up a nice home on the trail and gives you the protection you desire. When it comes to tarp tents vs tents there are some pros and cons you should keep in mind when selecting your shelter.

Tent Pros

  • Durable shelter that can be set up anywhere.
  • Tents are available in several different designs. You can find one to shield you from just about any weather you may encounter on the trail as well as lightweight designs and tents for quick and easy set-up.
  • Tents are great at keeping heat in on a cold night.
  • A tent will keep bugs and other curious wildlife out of your adventure overnight.
  • Tents provide a little slice of privacy if you’re camping with a group.

Tent Cons

  • Pitching your tent can be a challenge if it’s new to you or you’re battling the elements such as wind, rain or dark.
  • Tents require some upkeep. While that might not matter too much on the trail cleaning and keeping it dry are essential once you’re back home.
  • Tents are great at keeping heat in… which leads to condensation dripping inside your tent if you forget to leave some ventilation before turning in for the night.
  • On that same note keeping heat in isn’t enjoyable if you’re camping on a hot summer night.
  • Weight. Tents can add a considerable amount of weight to your backpack when you add in poles, stakes and the tent itself.

Backpacking with a Tarp

The word ‘tarp’ brings to mind that crinkly bright contraption your dad may have used to cover a woodpile or a car. Camping tarps are anything but that. Tarps designed for trail are made from a lighter material similar to the rainfly from your tent. You may also run into tarp tents which are basically just a rainfly without a tent. Tarp tents vs tent for camping is a good way to transition to just using a tarp. Setting up a tarp requires some rope and something to hang it from, usually hiking poles. Tarp camping can get pretty creative so let your imagination run wild.

Tarp Pros

  • Tarps make for a very open camping experience allowing you to enjoy the wilderness.
  • Tarps are great for use with a bivy if you favor them.
  • Keeping your tarp handy allows you to create a makeshift shelter for hiking breaks during the day.
  • Following on a tarp’s openness is it allows plenty of ventilation to keep you cool on a warm night without the threat of dripping condensation.
  • The most obvious pro of backpacking with a tarp? They’re lightweight allowing you to drop pounds while traversing the trails.

Tarp Cons

  • The openness of a tarp can seem inviting to bugs and curious critters which can ruin a good night’s sleep.
  • Unlike a tent you may not have any ground cover to prevent water from encroaching on your sleeping area.
  • Like a tent you need to have some care about selecting where you will set up your tarp.
  • While a tarp allows plenty of airflow and cross-ventilation for warm climates this can be a problem if the temperature drops considerably at night. Heat doesn’t stay inside a tarp shelter as well as it would in a tent.
  • Tarp camping is NOT recommended for winter expeditions.


Our tarp shelters are perfect for a tarp + hammock combo but can also be used in a variety of set ups. Made from high quality materials, fully waterproof and lightweight. Comes with a handy stuff sack, guy ropes and stakes which is everything you need to get started. Check out of shop page for more info... 

Tarp Tents vs A Tent for Backpacking? Which to Choose?

Both tents and tarps have their ups and downs. In the end choose whichever one makes you most comfortable. Choosing tarp tents vs tent for your next adventure can introduce you to a side of lightweight backpacking that can completely change your backpacking life. No matter which you choose or are faithful to make your to stay safe on the trail and have fun!