Survival Strategies: quick and easy tarp shelters

Posted: 27/09/2009 in disasters, primitive skills, Shelters, survival
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I have mentioned the public shelters that many are herded into when a calamity strikes in a widespread fashion, but what do you do when there is no community shelter? Logically, one would anticipate staying in the home to ride the storm out, and that is the normal case. But what if you lose your home for some reason, like a fire. If you are not in a position to quickly find a solid structure you and your family can stay in, you’ll definitely be between a rock and no place. that isn’t good for anyone, especially in bad weather. The quickest solution is that old standby, a tarpaulin, or as more commonly called, a tarp. The common flavor is blue. You know what I mean, don’t you.

Of course, tarps are indeed available in other colors, but blue, followed by green are the two most prevalent colors. Silver takes a close third place followed by the camouflaged flavor. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the many colors but the everyday, super cheap blue tarps are OK for nearly every case. In many situations I prefer the camouflaged variety, but there are a couple of drawbacks to their use. For one thing, being dark in color they reflect less sunlight than the other colors, so they can become warmer underneath in the hot summer months.

Another drawback is that the dye used for coloring can stick to surfaces in the heat. I once received a nasty stain on the roof of my truck when the temps reached the mid 90s. I draped the camo tarp over the roof and tied it off, and the dye stuck to the paint of my trucks roof, and it made for a miserable time cleaning it off, so be careful if you desire to use your vehicle in rigging a tarp. The blue and green tarps don’t have the same drawback, and neither does the silver.

Speaking of silver, if your main goal is to produce a shaded area, the silver tarps have the best reflective properties. Blue seems to be a denser color than the green and provides better shade, but the green blends in better in a wooded area. That said, decide what your main goal in the tarp(s) you buy will be. Silver equals the most shade, but higher visibility, especially from the air. It is also usually more expensive. Camouflage gives better protection from searching eyes, but retains more of the sun’s heat. Green gives a good shade, and blends in better in a woodland or field situation. Blue, like silver, is also highly visible, but gives a good shade cover, highly reflective and usually costs less, as well as being more readily available. Mull the point over and decide what you want to do, then buy the tarp that best meets your needs.

Now, as far as shelter use goes, there are an unlimited number of ways to utilize that piece of flexible plastic in building a temporary shelter. But first let me clue you in to one little tip here. There is a way of tying off one of those tarps into a shape called a flying diamond. It looks pretty cool, but you lose a lot of real estate underneath it. It works as a great dining fly when you can’t do anything else, but that’s about it. If you have a family, you’d need one heck of a large tarp to fit everyone in under it in the flying diamond shape.

Also, let me also point out here that very often, the cheaper tarps will have a minimal number of grommets around the perimeter. This keeps the cost of manufacture down, which is one of the reasons they are cheaper. The other reason is that the thickness is less than in the more expensive varieties. But the grommet problem can be easily solved. Simply go down to a hardware store and pick up a grommet repair tool and some grommets. They can be easily installed, and only require a hammer of the back of a light axe to use. We’ll get into the details of grommets and repairs in a later post, so I won’t take up space with it here.

Let’s talk for a minute about rope here. One thing I have seen is that some people seem to feel as though a thick rope is always better because it is stronger. This is not necessarily true, you know. Sometimes a smaller rope can be stronger. It depends upon the material, and how it is made. For tying tarps, your best bet is to actually use parachute cord. This is a small diameter, about ¼” thick, or less, but has a very high tensile strength. Plus, you can pack along a few hundred feet in less space, with less weight than bigger rope. I wouldn’t use it for tying a load of lumber onto a trailer, or any other job requiring a high safety need, but it’s great for tying tarps and such.

As an alternative, a ⅜” inch rope can be used. Cording of a much greater diameter makes it tough to fit through some tarps grommets available on the market. That makes it harder to tie the knot. Some people want to use bungee cords, but that isn’t a good idea. It may be easy, but bungees stretch, and if it rains your tarp will become a swimming pool liner, at least until it dumps the rain onto your little party. The cords you use should be tight, but not so tight as to cause anything to snap in a heavy wind gust.

Probably the quickest shelter style is the simple A frame. Cut some stakes from some branches about ten inches or so in length. Make sure to cut them so you have a bit of a forked look to them. It will look like a Y with a short base, and one leg of the Y much longer than the other. Use at least one for each corner for a small tarp, more along each side for the bigger tarps. Tie a rope between two trees at a sufficient height to make your A frame, and peg down the corners and sides. The short leg of the Y shape pins the grommets to the ground while the long leg is the one that gets pounded into the ground. Simple and quick. I can put one up in just a few minutes in most situations, with no help.

The shelter will look like a pup tent, but it will be open on both ends. It’s good for a rain cover but not much else, as you cannot build a fire for warmth in front of it. Not only that, with two open ends, it’s hard to keep the wind out and retains no warmth. But it works in a pinch. There are variations to the design that will allow you to close one end off, which helps, but those options are not as quick and easy. I’ll cover them at a later time.

We’ll continue with quick and easy tarp shelters in part 2 next time.

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