I am thinking about getting some tarp as a 1-person shelter for hiking this summer. There is a large choice of tarps on the market. The difference between them are often the size and the material it is made of, which influences the weight. And for similar prices, there are sometimes particularly light but smaller tarps.

I am therefore wondering what size I should pick my tarp. I took a piece of paper to draw triangles and calculate hypothetical dimensions with Pythagorean theorem. However that does not help me so much, because I have few ideas of how high I should expect my shelter to be, or how wide.

I suppose that sitting under the shelter requires a height of about 1 meter (~3 feet), and the width to sleep should be between 50cm and 1m (~2 to 3 feet) (which is a very wide difference). I also suppose that the length (on the ground) should be about 2,2m (7 feet, I am 1,90m - 6'3" - tall). I expect to have three sides touching the ground and one being hung up by a pole.

I ended up with some surface of 2.2m x 2.4m with these hypotheses, but I am not sure at all that is reasonable, as that does not include any margin and that matches more 2-person tarps on the market.

Does anyone have an experienced, better built idea of how to set up a shelter and therefore estimate the need for a tarp?

  • consider longer to begin with (2.8m, maybe), that way you'll have more slack if your pitch is not perfect the first time. Also consider that the tarp will not be completly straight, so pythagoras does not apply directly. Also consider raising the end with another pole so your feet don't touch the fabric
    – njzk2
    Dec 16, 2015 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


One of the fun things about tarping is that every tarp setup is different. For that reason it's hard to make generalizations. Also, it may make a difference what environment you're in. In some places, you're virtually guaranteed a rainstorm every evening. In others (the Sierra in summer), you basically don't expect rain, and the tarp is a piece of emergency backup equipment that may never come out of your pack. For summer in the Sierra, the tarp I use is 1.5 m x 2.4 m (5 feet x 8 feet), and it's been fine for me. In a really major, long storm, it's a little cramped because I want to fit my pack under it as well -- but that's such a rare occurrence that I'm not motivated to use a larger tarp, which would be heavier.

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