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I've had a lot of requests for info on my tarps, so here it goes!

This is a shot of my most commonly used tarp.


I've taken it to three Hoodlum meets so far and I always get questions. This post is all about building tarps MY way. I'm not going to try to sell you anything or talk you out of some other version. I build tarps this way because they work for me. They do exactly what I want and have been used (not "tested," USED!) in forests, mountains and deserts, on three continents. There are lots of arguments for and against the tarp, and it is true that there are lots of better shelters for specific areas and conditions. For example, in winter mountaineering, I prefer a dome tent like the North Face VE 24 or it's old clone the REI Geo-dome. But, if you want a versatile light weight, bomb proof shelter, go with the tarp!


The basic material for most sewn tarps is nylon of some kind. It has a great strength to weight ratio and can be waterproofed easily. There are some exotic materials that might be better in a high sun situation but for the most part regular old 6,6 Nylon is the material of choice. Fabrics of this kind are measured in either Denier (thread count) or Weight per square yard of material (before coating is applied) The most common weights for tarps are 1.9 , 2.2 oz. Rip stop fabrics. Ripstop has that “graphpaper look” with little boxes sewn in. It is a good idea and works well in the field. The coatings can vary but are usually urethane or ethylene with ethylene becoming more common. You'll see a lot of silicone impregnated nylon (often called Nysil) in ultralight gear. It is an interesting fabric that is very waterproof and very light. The down side is that it isn't as durable as ripstop, it is scary flammable and it is an adventure to sew. I do have a couple of nysil tarps but they just don't get used as much as the ripstop versions.

I have also been asked about buying tarps and I currently only recommend one, from Campmor: [url="http://www.campmor.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?productId=12168&memberId=12500226&storeId=226&catalogId=40000000226&langId=-1"]item #22220, the 10' X 10' "versitle tarp"[/url] What I like about it is that it's rig points are sewn not grommeted. Those big brass (or plastic) eyelets actually make the corners and sides weaker. They tend to displace and tear out under wind load. I don't think square is ideal, but it makes a great two person shelter (more in a pinch!) If you can't sew (yet) or just want to buy a reasonably priced tarp that is larger than a GI poncho, try it.

Another question I get a lot is "What about [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catenary"]Catenary[/url] shapes?" Well, they are lovely! They have some application in sail design (BT,DT!) but they really don't add anything to a tarp! They seem to functionally reduce the usable covered area. If you like your Catenary tarp, that's cool! Use it in good health! Tapcode has a nice one that I like, if I was going that route.

What makes my tarp so cool in my opinion is the beaks. 18" deep beaks that are cut from the main sheets with no seams. Ray Jardine, author of [url="http://www.ray-way.com/tarp-book/index.htm"]Ray-Way Tarp Book[/url] and Beyond Backpacking, is an avid fan of the beaked tarp. He is also an engineer and loves the separate stitched on beak. His reasons are solid and especially important when working in Nysil. My tarp design is a modification of the [url="http://www.nols.edu/"]N.O.L.S.[/url] standard tarp built for many years by Thelma Young and her able staff at "The Lumber Yard." You can actually buy the N.O.L.S. tarp from their store, where they refer to them as the [url="http://www.nols.edu/store/product.php?productid=16372&cat=253&page=1"]"Thelma Fly"[/url] They aren't cheap but they do work as advertised. I should point out that some drift from the original design has occurred and sometimes small eyelets have been used. I don't like that, and I let the Lumber Yard know ( I'm not the only one either!)

Anyway, the whole point is making your own! It isn't hard and it doesn't take very long! Even Swede can do it and he runs into burning buildings <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Tongue' />

For my standard three person (9'W X 13'L) tarp you need the following stuff:

  1. 9 continuous yards of coated ripstop nylon. You could use 2 @ 4.5 yards too.

  2. nylon or dacron sewing thread #69 is industry standard

  3. pack strap webbing, around a yard

  4. about a quarter yard of cordura for the attachment reenforcements (I use scrap) or ripstop nylon adhesive repair tape

  5. Seam sealer

  6. Parachute cord or something better (see below)

You will also need some tools...

  1. sewing machine

  2. pins

  3. tape

  4. scissors

  5. a sharpie or chalk pencil

  6. straight edge

  7. frameing square

Here is the basic layout for one half of the fly:


The numbers for my three person version are:

  • A= 120"

  • B=56"

  • C=56"

  • D=18"

  • E=40" (1/3A)

  • F=28" (1/2B)

I find it to be a great help to tape the fabric to the floor in order to square it and draw the required layout. Don't pull too hard, just enough to make one edge straight. Use that edge as your base. Be aware that most ripstop comes with sides that you wont want to use due to the mill marks and lack of coating. You should be fine going in two inches. From this line, define a perpendicular line across the fabric. Now you have everything square. Go ahead and do the layout I showed above. You will need two pieces. You can see in the desert pattern picture that there are two green arrows pointing to the main ridge line rig points


Here is my finished tarp laid out so it looks like a flat, cut piece. You can see that the main ridge line rig points are also marked with green arrows and the side lift line rig points are marked with little green squares. In order to actually be able to handle this much fabric easily, you will want to roll the fabric to make it easier to run through the machine.


Now the sewing starts! First use some scrap to calibrate the machine's tension for ripstop and the thread for this project. You will want somewhere between 8 and 10 stitches to the inch. Next, lay the two pieces together with the coated sides touching each other inside. slide the top piece straight down along the B dimension line so that the two pieces are offset 1/2" and pin them together. Keep the pins close to the edge and heads toward the edge. You are now set up for the first pass in the "felled seam" that will make the main ridge.


the location of stitch "A" is 1/2" from the edge of the lower (top) edge. You can see it in the expanded photo. For the "B" step, open the whole tarp up and roll both sides for easy handling. Then you fold the tall side over the short side (as in "C") and Fell it over. Pin in place. Finally, stitch the folded side down about 1/8" from the edge so that it looks like "D." That takes care of the main ridge seam.

Next, you do the long side seams, and finally the four beak seams. These are all the same, fold the fabric over on the coated side about 1/2" and then fold it again so you have used an inch of the edge. Stitch 1/8" from the inner folded edge.


Once all that is done, you start adding the rigging points. The hardest are the main points because you are putting two loops on each point, one inside and one outside. You could skip the inside points If you don't think you'll want to hang a bug net under your tarp. The original Thelma Flys didn't use the inner loops.

Now, a note on the re-enforcements, You don't actually need to do them! Your tarp will be very strong without them! I added them to my design because I can sew well and make tweeks like that easily. I wanted to try it. I cheated and used seam sealer to glue my cordura into place before I stitched it down. You can also just cut out the shape you want from Ripstop repair tape and stick it in place.

The actual main rig loop is made from about 9" of webbing folded over and about 3" sewn to the felled seam. See how the main point is first tacked in place with a "straight across, back up, straight across" (SBS) pass at the beginning of the beak and at the end of the webbing. Then, a longitudinal zig-zag looking pattern is used to really secure it.


The beak point is first tacked in place with a "straight across, back up, straight across" (SBS) pass at the edge of the beak and at the end of the webbing. Next just like the main, zig-zag!


the corners and edges are easy! A pair of SBS passes work fine! Actually, make it an "SBSBS" to be sure! 3" of webbing is enough.


These are just like the corners except for location. You got it down now!


We get to the side lift rig points last. If you went the Cordura re-enforcement route, sew exactly as shown. If you went with something lighter, fold a 4" piece of webbing in half and stitch it directly to the marked point with a 1" square of stitching like on the beak points.


Last thing you need to do is seam seal the felled seam, main points, beak points and lift points. You can do the corners and side points too if you want, though you don't need to. The fastest way is to put about 10 feet of P-cord on the Main rig points and streatch the tarp between a couple trees or whatever with the coated side out. This lets you do the main seam under tension. Do it first from the coated side. Next, do the side lifts and anything else you want!

Add another set of 10' lines to the beaks and lifters and 5'ers all around the edge and you are done!

OK, I know I missed stuff, so ask away!


This design is under copyright protection. You are free to use it, but not to make money on it.


Here's a question:

How much would you charge to make me one or two?

I'll pay cash up front.

I stopped reading this post after the 2nd picture. Muddy, I'm intervening here: Life is too short to drink cheap beer! <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbsup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thumbsup:' />

Snarlslayer, teach a man to fish or give him one? Have fun learning how to make it. This seems like a good project I can undertake with the wife and kids.

Great post! When you go tarp, its hard to go back to a tent!
Cheap beer???!?!?! lol I love keystone its my fav beer to take into the woods <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbsup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thumbsup:' />

But my friends call me wierd I drink everything literaly lol

Great post MB, thanks for another project on the list!
Great post,great tarp tutorial!Are the drawings scans?Once you have used a tarp or a hootch you sometimes wonder why there are so many other things around.Simple,versital, light wieght, and comfortable even in down pours,if your on good ground.I like the size.
Gang, I am about 60% done with mine. I am the owner of a Walrus Trekker Tarp (early green version) and am going to copy their mesh insert to fit the tarp I am making. I modified the dimensions to be about a 2 1/2 man tarp. If you follow the directions put down here by Muddy, and take your time this turns out real well. It is when you get tired or get into a rush that you make mistakes. Also the old carpenters adage "measure twice, cut once" is really applicable in this case.

I am sewing mine on a cheap beginners sewing machine and using a dark brown diamond pattern ripstop for the material. If you need to cut expenses, you can use grosgrain ribbon from the notions department of any fabric store. It is about 3.99 a 24 yard roll and comes in a number of sizes and colors so that you can have everything match. You can also use upholstery thread for the sewing if you are trying to save a buck or two.

If you check some of the fabric suppliers such as Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics, Quest Outfitters, Seattle Fabrics, or Thru Hiker, you can sometimes find a good deal on seconds of your fabric. This can save as much as 60% on the fabric costs , especially with silnylon and ripstops. You may not have a wide range of colors at this price, but it is a big savings point if the priceline is your objective.

Before you start on the main project, use some of the scrap pieces to make ditty bags. It lets you get a feel for the necessary machine settings and gives you the confidence to start the long seams.

When you are all done, make sure you use a liberal coat of seam sealer on all seams especially on the ones that will be overhead. You can buy the seam sealer all made for 5.00-6.00 or you can make your own using clear silicone caulk (goop) and mineral spirits mixed up to the consistency of Elmers glue and just paint it on the seams. The seam sealer also works great to provide a non-slip surface on sleeping pads to stop you from sliding off. When I am done with this project, I will post some pics as well as pics from a couple of projects that are on the drawing board. And if i can do it, Anyone can.
Thanks for putting this on Boots. Now I can finally start working on mine. Do you have dimensions for smaller or larger ones?

BTW, how's that shirt?
Thanks Muddy! That is a well thought out post my friend.

Holy crap!!! Very cool thread, i might actually be able to make one of these <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/biggrin.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Big Grin' />

Thanks for the hard work. <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbsup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thumbsup:' />
Great post Muddy. I am so thoroughly overwhelmed by your abilities that I know I will never attempt to copy anyhing you construct. Life is too short to deal with such self-imposed frustration. Or...maybe I am just too damn old. Again, great post. This is what this forum is all about. Chris

As ususal, Good Job! <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbsup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thumbsup:' />

Coyote Spirit
<img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbsup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thumbsup:' /> Thanks Muddy

I want to give a special thanks to Aitrus for infinite patience! He is the one who got me started on the whole tutorial concept by asking at Bulltrout! I took over 300 photos trying to get the right info in the frames. You can tell by the fact that I went with a lot of drawings that photographing black thread on a woodland tarp went well ( <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/cursing.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':cursing:' /> ) I've made about 8 rounds at trying to get this done and posted.

Here is some scaling info:

The first and most usable mod is to just drop the "A" length by 2' and leave everything else alone. This is good for a cozy 3 or a roomy 2. It is still wide enough to sleep crosswise. The next version would shorten the "B" length to 48". If you do this you have to lay lengthwise but you can still get a foul weather pitch with enough room for two. The last recommended size is the single person version which has an "A" length of 72" and a "B" of 42". You don't want to go much narrower on the "B" if you want to ride through any bad weather with ease. I've made them as narrow as 36" but really can't recommend it for anything other than fair weather. Obviously if you are taller than 72", you will want the "A" length to be at least as long as you are tall! If you are in a bad weather area, like western New York or the PNW, I would recommend a single person shelter be "A"=96", "B"= 48" I think that that is an Ideal small tarp size. Notice that the beak size DOESN'T change until you get to the monster. For a couple of people asked, IF you can get 72" wide ripstop, the MONSTER tarp has an "A" length of 144", "B"= 70", "C" = 70", "D"= 28", "E"= 36"(add a center loop!), "F"= 36". Does that make sense? The monster is really hard to handle and weighs in at just under 8 pounds. it is actually easier to carry and set up 2 smaller tarps.

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