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Waterproof Tarp Guide: Tips, Red Flags, and Comparisons of our Top Picks

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Waterproof tarps overview

If you are a hiker, camper, bushcrafter, or outdoor enthusiast,  a waterproof tarp is a must-have. In your outdoor adventures, solid protection from the elements is invaluable. A trusty waterproof tarpaulin will guard you and your gear from rain, snow, or dirt whether you are spending a night under the starry sky at a campground, or stranded in the wild in a hiking quest gone wrong.  There is nothing worse than wet gear and not having a dry place to camp. A good waterproof tarp should always be high on your list of survival gear.

Even if you are not a camper and only hike in the urban jungle from time to time, you can use a waterproof tarpaulin for a multitude of different purposes.  You might need to protect the roof or your truck from rain, or cover your firewood pile in the backyard. Trailer tarps and flatbed tarps are very popular, and particularly waterproof tarps are often used in various construction and industrial projects.

 

What are the differences between a waterproof tarp and water-resistant tarp?

Whatever your project is, you need to know what type of tarp will best suit your needs. Depending on your purposes, you might need a waterproof or a water-resistant tarp.

Waterproof tarps

Waterproof tarps are usually made of nylon, polyester, vinyl, or canvas with one or more waterproof coatings and offer complete protection from moisture. You can take your waterproof tarp under water and it will still remain impermeable. A well-made waterproof tarpaulin will definitely protect you and your belongings even if you camp under a torrential downpour. To be clear, it is very important that tarp is made using the right combination of coatings to achieve a reliable level of waterproofing.

Water-resistant tarps

Water-resistant tarps offer protection from moisture as well, but only to a certain point, after which water will start permeating the surface of the tarp. You might be OK using a water-resistant tarp on short camping trips if there is only very light rain in the forecast. It will protect you from condensation and dew. It won't, however, protect you from stronger rain.  

What makes a good waterproof tarp?

Here is what you need to pay attention to when choosing a good waterproof tarp you can trust.

Fabric: Rip-Stop Nylon is a great option for a durable, strong lightweight waterproof tarp

Coatings: Polyurethane or Silicone-based coatings are the most durable and reliable. A good tarp will have a combination of coatings to ensure 100% protection.

Construction:  It’s important to pay attention to the tarp’s construction and quality of details. How are the seams sealed? Are tie-loops securely attached?

Dimensions: Once you know how much space you will need to cover, make sure that the tarp is going to give you enough room, plus ideally some room to spare.

Quality and positioning of tie-out loops: Strong, properly attached tie-out loops are superior to metal grommets and will allow you to tie your tarp tightly to the ground and prevent gaps and leaks. Positioning of tie-loops will define how the tarp can be set up.

Colors: depending on your purposes, you might want to choose a brighter tarp for more visibility, or a camo or other earthy tone if you want to blend with your environment. If style is important for you, pick something that matches the rest of your gear.  ;)  

Lightweight waterproof tarp versus heavy-duty waterproof tarp

When choosing a waterproof tarp you can go lightweight or heavy-duty, depending on your purposes.

A lightweight waterproof tarp would usually be made of nylon, polyester or dyneema, and weigh from a few ounces to a pound or more depending on size. You might want to use a lightweight waterproof tarp if you are going on an easy backpacking adventure and need to carry a large load while not necessarily needing extra strong protection. If you already have a high quality bivy and/or are planning on spending the night in the back of your truck, you might be just fine with a good-quality lightweight waterproof tarpaulin.

A heavy-duty waterproof tarp would be made of nylon or polyester and weigh anywhere from a few pounds and up, depending on the size. Along with its increased weight, it also provides a more solid protection against the elements should you get stranded outdoors for any considerable amount of time, or if the weather gets really rough. In terms of durability, a heavy-duty tarp will be less likely to tear and will serve you longer than a lightweight version.  

Red flags when purchasing a waterproof tarp

A good waterproof tarp can be a considerable investment. It's important to make your choice wisely to get the product that will meet (and exceed) your expectations. While there are a lot of great choices on the market, here are some red flags that we recommend you to pay attention to when considering which waterproof tarp to purchase.

  1. Metal grommets: these will deteriorate, make your tarp heavier and also cause damage to the camping tarp over time. Choose the tarp that’s made using webbing tie-out loops which will increase the lifespan of your tarp. They are also more convenient to use.  
  2. Small number of tie-out loops: you need to have as many set-up options as possible! Bare minimum tie-outs recommended: 9   - 1 in each corner, 1 in the center of each side (edge) and 1 in the very center of the tarp
  3. A low hydrostatic resistance rating: These usually range from 2000 mm and up, with very few going higher than 10, 000 mm of hydrostatic resistance. Look for one with the highest rating you can find! For example, all AQ tarps have a 20 000 mm hydrostatic resistance rating.
  4. Look for a product that is covered by a good warranty. By their very nature, tarps are often exposed to harsh conditions, and, in rare cases, even the highest quality tarp may sustain damage. A good warranty will protect your investment.  

AQ Waterproof tarp expert panel

Picking a waterproof tarp is no easy task. To make it simpler for you, we asked a panel of our camping, hiking and bush-crafting experts a question: What are the main factors that you consider when choosing a waterproof tarp?  And here are some answers:
The main factors I consider when choosing a tarp are weight, tie out points, and durability. My preference on weight can change depending on what my trip will consist of. If I’m hiking far I like a lighter tarp like the safari tarp by Aqua Quest that is still very strong. If I’m staying out for a longer time I take the Defender model which is a little heavier but worth the durability. With all my tarps I like options for set ups so the more tie out points the better.  - Alex from Alex Outdoors   
 
The main factors that I take into consideration when choosing a tarp, depending on the environment & weather, are: the material(s) which it’s made from, the amount of tie-off points it has, the type of grommets or looping, and the size of the tarp. Generally, I like to use a heavy-duty 70D Nylon or tight-weave Canvas. As the 70D Nylon and Canvas not only provide shelter from the elements, but offer some minuet protection from embers and heat from the fire. I also look for a large amount of tie-off points with a row running down the centre seem, this allows you to lift the back-wall or roof of your shelter for additional head room. 19-20 tie-off points provide enough options for most, if not all, Tarp-Tent configurations. With regards to the tie-off points, I try and refrain from using tarps with aluminum grommets as they tend to pull out of the tarp at a high rate. Instead I prefer a reinforced webbing material or nylon loops. They are extremely durable, especially with a second or additional, reinforced stitch securing the loop to the tarp. The reinforced stitch contributes to the longevity and durability of the tarp, something I seek out in a heavily used shelter system. The size of the tarp I am going to be using is also a main deciding factor. I prefer to use a 10x10 ft Square-Tarp, due to the fact that I can create a fast, effective shelter with enough room for my sleeping area, gear layout and a spot to tuck in deep if the weather or wind really starts to pick up or change directions. This size of tarp isn’t overly excessive or too large, meaning it reduces the weight, and bulkiness of my pack, while still providing enough shelter for my wilderness-living needs. The Square-Tarp is also the perfect shape for most tarp shelter-configurations. - Zachary Gault from Primitive Living
 
When I'm choosing a tarp it really depends on what the weather is doing and time of year it is. Summer I use something light weight and winter more durable and thick. - Zack from Shawnee Woodsman

Best AQ Waterproof tarps 2018 – Analysis and Comparison.

AQ is a World Leader in waterproof tarps. We have been designing and creating a wide variety of high-quality premium tarpaulins since 1994. Our passion is everything outdoors, and our highest value lies in our community of fellow outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, bushcrafters, and backpackers. With them in mind, we follow our most cutting edge ideas and craft our high-quality gear.

Our primary waterproofing method starts with a lightweight and durable RipStop fabric, to which we apply a dual coating of TPU (Thermoplastic PolyUrethane) and DWR (Durable Water Repellent) or Silicone combined with Polyurethane. These combinations produce a lightweight material strong enough to hold a 66 ft vertical column of water before leaking. All of our products undergo rigorous testing to ensure you receive the most dependable and durable waterproof product available. Our gear is highly reviewed by thousands of customers. We hope we can help you find something that will work best for you.

 

GUIDE SERIES

ULTRALIGHT ALL-WEATHER PROTECTION

Rest easy knowing you have the best all-weather protection for any situation… camping, hiking, travel, emergency survival, home and garden, or for countless other uses. You could use a regular tarp, but this tarp will be lighter, stronger, quieter, more compact, more versatile, longer lasting, and more waterproof.  

Guide Sil Tarp XL (20 x 13 ft) 

100% WATERPROOF

The Guide tarp will keep you completely dry, even in extreme weather. With a hydrostatic resistance of 20,000 mm, you can be absolutely certain that not a single drop of water will get through your tarp.
ULTRA-LIGHT & COMPACT
At only 3.7 lbs (1.7 kg), you’ll hardly notice you’re carrying it. The Guide packs up so small that you can fit it in almost any small space. Complete with its own convenient stuff-sack. Packed Size: 16 x 6 x 4 inches (40 x 15 x 10 cm)
VERSATILE
With 25 reinforced webbing loops around the perimeter, and 1 top center loop for overhead hanging, you’ve got all angles covered. Make a teepee, attach the side loops to a tree or fence, or peg into the ground and go directly over the top of your tent… you don’t even need trees!
DURABLE
Despite being so lightweight and compact, this tarp is incredibly durable and resilient to the forces of nature. 40D RipStop fabric + Non-toxic dual Silicone & PU coating + Reinforced stitching + Heat taped seams = The best ultralight tarp on the planet!
SPECS:
20,000 mm hydrostatic resistance Weight: 3.7 lbs (1.7 kg) Packed Size: 16 x 6 x 4 inches (40 x 15 x 10 cm) Total Area: 19 x 12.8 ft (580 x 390 cm)
FEATURES:

40D RipStop fabric Non-toxic dual Silicone & PU coating Reinforced stitching Heat taped seams 25 reinforced webbing loops around the perimeter 1 top center loop Stuff sack included Review Outdoor Gear has a great review of the Large version of this tarp. Thank you Outdoor Gear Review!

 

CUSTOMERS SAY:
Worth It!! Used this tarp everyday for a month during this years Washington state trip. It saved or camp during high winds and downpours. Covered a tent as extra rain protection and provided a dry area for camp kitchen. Because of its light weight and strong guy line loops it was very versatile and easy to use. I made a plastic coated 3mm wire cable with loops for main line ridge and used paracord for guy lines. Worked out standing, in fact I just retired my heavy duty (heavy) old rain tarps. Will never go back, planning on ordering a second tarp of the same size and make. Best buy/find of this trip. - Alfred R. Leon February 18, 2017
 
Nylon Palace, 20'x13' (nominal) A nylon palace. Sturdy ties 5x5 over all edges and the center allow for every kind of pitching option. Top quality and weighs nothing/packs tight for how big it is. Oh, yeah, IT'S HUUUUUUGGGHHH. Not as sturdy as the King Kamo tarp (10 x 13), but this one weighs less than the half-as-big KK. - K. Keefer December 18, 2016
 
Great Quality, took a beating without any problems. Just got back from a 9 day camping trip to Cape Breton Island and used this rain fly for the first time for our "mess hall". (20 x 13 size) We had rain pretty much every night and some days of very strong winds. One afternoon when we returned to camp, our whole "mess hall" (including the fly) where blown down and scattered about. We reset it with stronger rigging and didn't have a problem after that! This thing took a beating with no problems whatsoever. The attached loops provide a number of different pitching options, and held up to strong winds. A normal tarp would have definitely torn out some grommets in those winds! Also, no leaks at all, even along the seams. Kept us nice and dry during meal times. Also, packs up smaller and lighter than a typical 2 person backpacking tent. I was very impressed and will probably buy one of the smaller sizes for personal camping use. - Michael Miller November 24, 2015

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Tarps of the Guide Series are also available in the following sizes: 10 x 13 , 10 x 7 , 10 x 10 . Tarp kits are also available    

 

SAFARI SERIES 

LIGHTWEIGHT HYBRID TARP YOU CAN DEPEND ON

 

Safari Sil Tarp Large (10 X 13 FT) 

100% WATERPROOF

The Aqua Quest Safari tarp will keep you completely dry, even in extreme weather. With a hydrostatic resistance of 20,000 mm, you can be absolutely certain that not a single drop of water will get through your tarp.
LIGHTWEIGHT & COMPACT
At only 2.4 lbs (1.1 kg), you’ll hardly notice you’re carrying it. The Safari packs up so small that you can fit it in almost any space. Complete with its own convenient stuff-sack. Packed Size: 12 x 6 x 3 inch (30 x 15 x 8 cm) Compressed: 6 x 6 x 3.5 inch (15 x 15 x 9 cm)
VERSATILE
With a total of 19 reinforced webbing loops including 3 on the centre ridgeline, you’ve got all angles covered, you can even use the top center loop to make a teepee, attach the side loops to a tree, fence, or peg into the ground and go directly over the top of your tent… you don't even need trees!
DURABLE
Despite being so lightweight and compact, this tarp is incredibly durable and resilient to the forces of nature. 70D RipStop nylon fabric + Non-toxic dual Silicone & PU coating + Reinforced stitching + Heat taped seams = The best lightweight tarp on the planet!
SPECS
  • 20,000 mm hydrostatic resistance
  • Tarp Only Weight: 2.4 lbs (1.1 kg)
  • Packed Size: 12 x 6 x 3 inch (30 x 15 x 8 cm)
  • Compressed size: 6 x 6 x 3.5 inch (15 x 15 x 9 cm)
  • Total Area: 13 x 10 ft ( 4 x 3 m)
FEATURES
  • 70D nylon fabric
  • Non-toxic dual Silicone & PU coating
  • Reinforced stitching
  • Heat taped seams
  • 19 reinforced webbing loops
  • Stuff sack included
  A great review of this tarp by Tim from The Tactical Defender. Thank you Tim!   CUSTOMERS SAY:
Another fine tarp from Aqua-quest. I was able recently to take this tarp on a three night hammock camping trip. Although I was unable to test it against rainy conditions, I was able to set it up and test the integrity of the stitching and quality of it's construction. In these areas I was quite pleased, the materials and construction are up to par with the other Aqua-quest tarps I have, just on a lightweight scale. This 13'X10' "Safari" model provides the same coverage as the, "King Kamo" but it weighs about 3 lbs. lighter. I will update this review when I have used the tarp more. - Afatasi Outdoorsman February 24, 2016
 
Great, bomb-proof tarp Appears to be a heavy-duty tarp, seams are strong, color and size as noted, and comes in it's own matching tote bag. I got this relative to other users reviews and I wasn't disappointed. I only gave it 4-stars because I haven't actually used it yet; it's part of my BOB. I have, however opened it up, ran the seams and checked it out pretty thoroughly. Yes, I would/will buy again. Check it out...!!! - Eric C. January 12, 2016
 
Fantastic tarp Fantastic tarp! Size is great and the tie down loops work great. I went hammock camping shortly after receiving my tarp and of course it came a blowing rain storm that night. No worries though, didn't get a single drop of water on me or the hammock. It packs up small is is very light. Do yourself a favor and get this tarp, you'll be glad you did. - Michael O. November 11, 2015

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Safari series tarps are also available in the following sizes: Medium 10 x 7 , Square 10 x 10, Extra Large 20 x 13. Tarp kits are also available.

 

DEFENDER SERIES

THE WORLD FAMOUS HEAVY-DUTY BUSHCRAFT TARP

Defender King Tarp Large (13 x 10 ft)

Perfect for camping, emergency survival, or as an awning around your RV or home. Keep this multifunctional tarp in your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, ATV, or hovercraft, and be ready for when you need it. Be smart, buy quality, and be prepared. There is no better tarp for defending yourself against the elements.

100% WATERPROOF
The Defender tarp will keep you completely dry, even in extreme weather. With a hydrostatic resistance of 20,000 mm, you can be absolutely certain that not a single drop of water will get through your tarp.
EXTREMELY DURABLE
The Defender has a proven record of being incredibly durable and resilient to the forces of nature, even after extended use. 70D nylon + Heavy TPU coating + Reinforced stitching + Heat taped seams = 5 lbs (2270 g) of superb defense against mother nature.
COMPACT
With its own convenient stuff-sack, and a packed size of 16 x 8 x 5 inch (40 x 20 x 13 cm), the Defender is an incredibly tough tarp that still packs up small. Tuck it away and be prepared for when you need it most.
VERSATILE
With 24 reinforced webbing loops in and around the perimeter, 1 top center loop for overhead hanging and pole inserts in all four corners you’ve got all angles covered. Set it up in virtually any situation - you don't even need trees! Say goodbye to regular tarps, and hello to a tarp that’s stronger, quieter, more compact, more versatile, longer lasting, and more waterproof.
WORLD CLASS SERVICE & WARRANTY
We are located in the Pacific Northwest, and provide toll-free customer service Mon-Fri, 10-5 PST, at 1-844-775-7770. All products come with our Two (2) Year ‘No Worries Warranty’.
SPECS
  • 20,000 mm hydrostatic resistance
  • Weight: 5 lbs / 2.27 kg
  • Total Area:  157 x 114 in (ca. 130 sq. ft) / 400 cm x 290 cm (ca. 12 sq. m)
  • Packed Size:  16 x 8 x 5 in / 40 cm x 20 cm x 13 cm
SPECS
  • 70D nylon
  • Heavy TPU coating
  • Reinforced stitching
  • Heat taped seams
  • 25 reinforced webbing loops
  • Pole inserts in all four corners
  • Stuff sack included
A great review of this tarp by Living Survival. Thank you! CUSTOMERS SAY
Best tarp money can buy. Very impressive quality, fit and finish on this tarp. Heavy duty but can be extremely compact for its size. Only disappointment is it should have a few more tie downs in the correct spots. Plenty of tie downs on the 10 foot sides as well as the ridgeline but the long sides need a few more tie downs. Hopefully I can find some kind of clip tie down option.   A. Walters March 4, 2015 Great Tarp Heavy duty tarp. Will definitely keep you dry and with so much room to spare. Bigger than most people may need but it sure helps for something like a base camp or when you need plenty of dry space in camp. Plenty of tie outs.Highly recommended. - CJ February 11, 2016
 
Huge oversized high quality tarp that can shelter 3-4 people easily. Kept the wet snow at bay in lieu of a tent. - Nuclear Sandbox May 2, 2016

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Defender series tarps are also available in the following sizes: Medium (10 x 7) and Square (10 x 10). Tarp kits are also available.

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