Choose a suitable campsite. Ideally, you want a flat, smooth area large enough to comfortably fit your shelter and everyone in your party. You should have two trees about 10–30 feet (3.0–9.1 m) apart, depending on the available length of your ridgeline cord or rope. If you are in an area where suitable trees are scarce, you can build your shelter using poles to form the ridgeline. Poles can be as simple as lengths of fallen branches.
Take into account possible weather conditions and safety concerns before finalizing a decision on your site. Never setup near dead, unstable trees, in a flood plain, or under a large single tree where lightning might strike.
Next, create the ridgeline for your shelter. Ensure one end is higher than the other to allow for water run off.
First, tie one end of the rope around one of the trees using a bowline knot. It should be at about shoulder height or slightly higher. Tie the other end of the rope around the other tree at the same height using a taught-line or truckers hitch to make the line as taut as possible. The tighter you get the ridgeline, the stronger and sturdier your tarp will be.
Attach the tarp to the ridgeline. Most tarps have grommets or loops that you can use to tie them down with nylon rope, paracord, etc.
Use a bowline knot to tie one end of the rope to the grommet or loop on the edge of the tarp right above the ridgeline. Use the other end of the rope to attach the tarp to the ridgeline with a taut line hitch. This will allow you to slide the tarp wherever you want on the ridgeline and will come in handy when putting multiple tarp shelters on the same ridgeline.
Tie both sides of the tarp to the ridgeline and make sure it is secure.
Next, attach loops to the corners and other edges where grommets are located on the tarp for attaching near to the ground with stakes, or other trees, rocks, etc. The key being to create an angle for shade, water run off, etc. It's important to keep the tarp tight so that if it does rain, water won't pool in loose areas.
Use a taut line hitch to tie the other end of the rope around the stake, tree, rock, etc. and then back to itself, making a loop in the cord. You will then be able to slide the hitch up or down the cord to grow or shrink the loop and tighten the tarp.
When your tarp doesn't have grommets, or if a grommet breaks:
- Find a small rock or other smooth object about twice the size of the retired grommet, and place it at the point of failure.
- Gather the tarp around the rock, completely wrapping it. If the fabric seems weak at that point, you can roll it into two layers.
- At the gathering point, tie the material firmly with rope, or whatever you are using to attach the tarp to it’s support. Take up slack in the rope to reposition the canopy or tarp as needed.