Tarpology: how to pitch a tarp

Lightweight, packable and easy to pitch (once you know how), bikepacker Laurence McJannet is your guide to the humble tarp

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While a tarp lacks the insulating and wind blocking properties of a tent, it’s the type of shelter bikepacker Laurence McJannet always takes on his journeys. “A one-man tarp can pack down to the size of your fist and weighs almost nothing so it’s perfect for hiking and bikepacking, particularly when teamed with a bivvy bag,” he says. Read on for Laurence’s tips for pitching a tarp…

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Travelling solo with a bike

All you need is a 2x3m tarp, your bike, pegs and short lines. First, remove your bike’s front wheel and rotate the pedals parallel to the ground. Push the fork dropouts into the earth, using the bars to support one end of your tarp. Peg out the other end over your spare wheel, angling it away from the tarp for support. Finally, peg out the four corners with lines long enough to roll in on one side (the bottom of the tarp should be about 50cm off the ground).

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Sheltering in a group

A 5m rectangular tarp is a perfect shelter with plenty of headroom, especially if you’re kayaking, as the oars make perfect supports (tree branches are fine too). Lay the tarp on flat ground, peg out one of the longer sides and raise the opposite side by points roughly a third of the way in. Lash to branches at head height or to oars, with the paddles angled inwards for support. Tuck in the two corners nearest these supports and peg down. Extra guy ropes are recommended in high winds.

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Simple gable roof

Most dedicated tarps have a series of central loops or eyelets. For a simple gable roof, run a line through the loops along the tarp’s length and attach the ends to sturdy supports at chest height.This forms a central line (about 75cm off the ground) to peg out your corners. This is great for creating a shelter above a hammock using the same supports (but remember to run the tarp line at head height).

Laurence McJannet is the author of Bikepacking: Mountain Bike Camping Adventures on the Wild Trails of Britain (2016), published by Wild Things Publishing.

Illustrations by Aidan Meighan