Tangentially related to Pitching a tent in the rain? I want to know what the fastest way is for one person to setup a tarp as a big umbrella over a section of camp or as a leantoo for folks to gather under. The setting is in a northern temperate forest with plenty of deciduous and coniferous trees and relatively soft ground.

This question isn't about setting up a shelter for sleeping in the rain, whether that be tarp or tent. It's for making general purpose camp-umbrellas out of apx 4m*4m tarps and other materials as needed. For example, I'm sure rope is needed and since trees are available, I'm not sure stakes are needed but maybe they are. If other equipment is helpful for this, that could be part of the answer.

From my attempts so far, I expect the answer to focus on rope. There's a relevant answer in this question (How do you pitch a tarp so that you will not get wet in a heavy rain?) which I'll study more but since it is focused on tarp-tents, I wonder if it applies as well to higher, broader tarp-umbrella setups. What rope configurations are the fastest and most effective to get a tarp up for protection of people or gear at camp in the rain? Where are key tie-off points, what knots are best to practice, that sort of thing.

  • 1
    Have ropes attached and stakes organized. Are there poles? Sorry VTC as too broad.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:21
  • @Paparazzi I added a little clarification about that. Was only planning on using tarp, rope, and trees, but if other equipment is important (eg. stakes) that could be part of the answer. It is a little broad but I think still answerable in a general way about setting up tarp umbrellas.
    – cr0
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:41
  • 1
    I agree this is too broad. The fastest way would be for four volunteers to hold the corners. That gets it covering the group instantly. Everything else depends on local terrain and the physical ability of the people. For example maybe you can tie the corners to tree branches, maybe the branches are too high, maybe the trunk is rough enough for the rope to wrap around, etc.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 21:52
  • The issue of local terrain is important @Erik so I'm specifying that in my question
    – cr0
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:39
  • I also narrowed it down to one person which makes a big difference
    – cr0
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:41

1 Answer 1


Lean-tos are hard-sided structures, and are not really meant to be set up quickly. As a hiker and scouter, I and my group carry tarps all the time, and expect rain to greet us wherever we decide to set up camp. As such, tarps need to be one of the most accessible things you have.

If I were caught in a downpour, my immediate reaction to get/stay dry as quickly as possible would be to generally follow these steps, which does require a leader to step up assertively, and to have knowledgeable people in the group. When either cannot be accommodated, your chances of a quick setup will look bleak. And wet.

First thing occurs before you even set off: You must pack appropriately, and everyone must be aware of where everything is. This isn't just for good measure to stay dry, this applies in cases of emergency. So, staying dry, staying warm, and having fast access to first aid kits, maps, and means for calling for help need to be very accessible, and everyone has an interest in knowing where these resources are. Whether you are car camping, hiking, or whatever, everyone ought to know where the emergency equipment is. Everyone should have personal rain gear.

Next is when it begins to downpour. The leader must take charge: Assign someone the various tasks, such as retrieval of rope, tarp, stakes, etc. Not related specifically to your situation, but anyone who doesn't have a job needs to don rain gear. Staying dry is a safety issue, so, everyone needs to be as dry as possible.

First tie a rope across two trees, as high as possible.

Next, toss a tarp over it, and guy the tarp with lines, secured to trees, rocks, or pegs.

While tying out the tarp, everyone not doing anything needs to remain under the tarp.

While at a Klondike event this past March with the boy scouts, the camp winners did this in a breathtaking 38 seconds. Their method cannot apply to everyone, and I suspect that they got wind of the specifics of the event and then practiced it. But here's what they did:

Their patrol leader assigned 4 scouts to take on the rope across two trees; one scout climbs the back of another to gain height; each pair ties clove hitches to the tree using 1/2" rope.

As the scouts get into piggy back, and another lays the rope on the ground between the pairs, another scout is assigned to retrieve the tarp. Rather than throw the tarp over a tied and taught rope, they performed the novel task of throwing the tarp over the rope as it lay on the ground as the pairs of boys assumed their piggy-back position.

Once the tarp was laid over the rope, and the pairs of boys were piggy-backed, the other scouts handed the pairs the rope, which was first secured on one side, then the other; meanwhile, others were tying the tarp corners with rope. By the time the tarp was raised and the clove hitches were being secure, the guy lines were being secure.

38 seconds was the record for the day. Group of 8 worked as one well-oiled machine, very impressive. I definitely took notes!

This was no easy feat. Tying the clove hitches on the right side of both trees, getting that one scout to fetch the tarp and unfold it across the outstretched rope, getting the other scouts to tie 2-half hitches on all the corner grommets, getting a piggy-back, raising the center rope, tying off the guys... that took practice.

I wouldn't expect every camper in every group to rehearse something like this, but each group needs to have the know-how and the equipment to efficiently set this up. The key is the leadership to properly communicate what is needed, and the others to know how to perform their task.

  • 1
    This is an excellent answer and I learned quite a bit from it, but due to critique I narrowed the scope of the question to methods that are available to a single person.
    – cr0
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:41
  • 2
    Revisiting this, I'm marking this accepted as it is good enough guidance for a solo backpacker as well. Thanks @AndrewJennings
    – cr0
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 17:23

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