Not every day on trip can be blue skies and sunshine. Setting up camp in the rain can be a bummer but when everything is all said and done, being able to get out of the rain and unwind under a tarp is worth the effort. Efficiency is key! Separating the duties amongst the trippers can ensure a speedy set up leaving ample time to get warm and dry.
Even a poor quality tarp (you know those blue ones from Canadian Tire) can be useful if set up properly. For this particular brand of tarp, past experiences have led me to use the sheet bend knot to tie the rope to the tarp itself instead of using the grommets, which can easily be ripped off. Other tarps I feel safe using the old reliable bowline to tie the rope to the tarp.
Tying the rope to the tree is a whole new story! Some people prefer to use a trucker’s hitch that allows you to tighten the ropes right away, sometimes making it difficult for your partner at the other end trying to tie the same knot. Others prefer the taught line hitch that allows you to tighten and loosen the tarp whenever you want without having to untie anything (unlike the trucker’s hitch).
No matter the knots you use if the tarp has any saggy areas you’re going to end up with pools forming and sometimes leaking through giving you a little shower. On the plus side you can sometimes use this leaky water to fill up your water bottle with fresh water. Having two lower corners to the tarp and two higher corners will help the water drain off properly.
Ridgepoles can be a blessing or a curse, finding a long enough branch or fallen tree can be cumbersome to look for in the rain. If you’re kayaking your paddle can be around the right height for a ridgepole, if you’re canoeing lashing two paddles together is another option (make sure you lash them tight enough so they don’t slip).
By practicing and experimenting with various knots, tarps, and methods of set up you can find the best way of setting up a tarp for you. With enough practice you will be able to recognize which methods work best in which environments and situations. A well set-up tarp will make hanging out and cooking a pleasant experience, even in the rain, and keep everyone happy and dry.