10 Practical Reasons You Need Tarps in Your Emergency Preparedness Gear

by | Jan 2, 2019 | Headline News | 25 comments

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    This article was originally published by Jeremiah Johnson at Tess Pennington’s ReadyNutrition.com

    Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint: How To Survive ANY Disaster

    I’m a big believer in using the daylights out of tarps, or tarpaulin, if you prefer. Very versatile, and they can benefit you in a lot of ways as a homesteader, prepper, survivalist, and in your day-to-day existence of just being prepared. There are a slew of different types, so we’re going to cover not so much the types needed, but the job they’ll be employed for. In this manner (and as there are plenty of variances from store to store), you’ll be able to find out what one you need by identifying how you will utilize it. Let us begin!

    You should try to find tarps with a good UV or Ultraviolet rating. You’ll just have to search it out by product. You can find these even in your friendly neighborhood Wal-mart, although they have a problem with theirs. They usually make them “Jupiter-2/Lost-in-Space” grey with the other side being either brown or blue. These colors are worthless in terms of staying concealed…the “earth tone” principle I have reiterated continuously over the years.

    Try to stick with your colors and base them on the season. There are tarps that are white (obviously for winter, or if you’re in secure enough surroundings, summer…for the purpose of reflecting the sunlight), as well as earth-tones, such as dark green, brown, or camouflage patterns. (Editor’s note: You can also get one that is reversible white/brown). You want your tarps to have sturdy grommets…holes through which you can fasten a hook or run a line/rope through. In addition to this (to digress slightly), there is a grommet kit you can pick up at happy Wal-mart for almost nothing. Get it. The reasons: you may have to fix a grommet that has busted out of your tarp, or make a tarp out of some type of plastic. We’ll go more into the second reason later.

    10 Emergency Preparedness Uses for Tarps

    1. Shelter: a smaller one (such as a 6’ x 8’, or 8’ square, or so) can be used as either a protective overlay for a lean-to, or stretched out with bungee cords, 550 cord, or such for a tent/four-cornered rain fly. Larger tarps, of course, can be constructed into larger tents. Here is where the UV factor comes into play so that you will not be a sunburned “baked potato” under a tarp that can get pretty warm in the summertime.

    2. Ground cover: under your tent, to help prevent moisture from coming under the floor. Also, spreading it out (folded or unfolded) under your sleeping bag can help as a moisture barrier, if you don’t have a Gore-Tex cover for the bag or an inflatable pad.

    3. Protect the Supplies: I use them all over my property just to protect and cover up woodpiles. They’ll wear out after about 3-5 years, but so what? They aren’t very expensive, and they work to keep my woodpiles dry during the wintertime. You can use them for other things, such as palleted supplies, augments for existing structures (a “snow-fly” to deflect snow if you have a tent of some sort on your property), and so on.

    4. Quick Fixes: The friendly tree in the front yard just became “unfriendly” and smashed a giant hole in your ceiling. Obviously, a tarp is not a long-term solution, but when it’s -10 degrees Fahrenheit outside and snowing? A “stop-gap” is preferable to having a gaping hole where the “Snow Ghost” could enter through your roof. Another “gem” is where Mr. Tree reaches out his stinking branch and delivers a left jab to one of your windows. Chop his branch off…after you close off the window with the tarp…once again, a “quick” fix that you don’t want to leave in place as an “heirloom” for the next two generations.

    5. For a temporary cistern: I just did a piece on how PVC pipe can be used to transport water to your camp. Well, if you dig a small depression, you can use tarps and/or plastic sheeting to cover the ground and thereby trap the water for your use later on. Be sure to place some stones on the bottom, and around the edges of your newly-made depression/cistern, to keep the tarp from shifting and thereby prevent water loss.

    6. Protect your Gear in the Field: When you’re off on that hike away from your camp, and you’re not carrying your rucksack, you can cover the ruck with a tarp to keep your gear drier.

    7. Camouflage a vehicle: Seasonally-dependent, of course, and also to be “blended” with the terrain. You may have to squirrel away a vehicle from view. The first factor: obviously, a woodland-camouflaged tarp would stick out when the entire ground is covered with several feet of snow. If you have a white tarp for the vehicle, the color may be fine, but you have to blend it in: an 8’ by 4’ white “lump” will not be overlooked in the middle of a flat field. Use common sense and your eyes. If it jumps out at you, it will jump out at another hunter-gatherer hungrily plodding toward your location.

    8. To collect rainwater: What better way to replenish those canteens and drinking jugs? Follow that principle: use the water and top off on your water carrying vessels as soon as you can. Bungee cords work the best to make this happen. Stretch out your grommeted tarp, and leave only a slight angle with the tarp. This will ensure it doesn’t pour off too fast. You can lift up on that lower edge and pour away when it starts to rain…it works pretty fast. The only thing that will limit you here will be the number of containers you have to catch it when it comes.

    9. As a “quick fix” for a temporary cache: Yes, you may need to squirrel some gear or supplies away in a cache. Reason? Perhaps a medical emergency occurs, and you can’t haul out all of the gear and supplies with you…caching them is the only way to preserve them. You can emplace a hasty cache, and cover the supplies up with the tarp, or wrap them up in it, and then take your loved one or yourself to the doctor. Just make sure you know exactly where you cached the stuff.

    10. In a medical emergency: as a temporary shelter, or even a field-expedient litter (if you have enough people) or for a “drag” type of litter…this latter being especially careful not to further injure the person.

    Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, by picking up that grommet kit, you will not only be able to make repairs on busted grommets, but you will be able to construct a “field-expedient” tarp of your own. Check out the material you are considering using. There is a ton of plastic sheeting out there. You want to use something that doesn’t have a tremendous amount of “off-gassing,” that exudation of noxious and/or obnoxious fuming…the smell of the plastic. You also want to be able to utilize what you find…so try to find something durable. Construction/contractor trash bags are very sturdy and thick, indeed. This may do in a pinch. Also, that tent that the bear clawed through and got Uncle Ed last year? Or if it was just Mr. Tree dropping one of his branches to give the tent a skylight…relax. Use a razor/utility knife and cut it into a tarp. The floor is good for this, as it’ll be one piece. Set your grommets accordingly, and put it to use.

    We’ve outlined some ideas here. Tell us what you have used them for: that’s how the community benefits, from good feedback and input. Quality is important, but as I illustrated with the woodpile tarps I use, nothing lasts forever, and it is best to gauge it remembering that all things wear out with the passage of time.

    About the Author

    Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.

    Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.

    Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.

    The Prepper's Blueprint

    Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

    Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

    Visit her website at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.


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      1. I have a lot of tarps. Costco sells high quality 11’x11’ in a 2 pack for less than 25 bucks. I love Costco

        • Walmart tarps (grey/green) work just fine. Paint the grey side desert camo & the brown side forest dark green camo. 🙂

          • Costco’s better

      2. I have several tarps of different sizes and kinds. Some UV,some not. Thanks JJ,for more ways to use them.

      3. We use tarps to cover the firewood supply at the BOL and for other purposes. And we buy the best quality tarps we can find, NOT any el-cheapo wallyworld crap. I’ll always spend the extra $$$ for the right tarp. It’s always worth the extra money. If your tarp lasts at least 3 years you get your money’s worth out of it. Whenever I go to the BOL with a load of supplies I put a tarp over the truck bed if the weather is bad and tie it down with bungy straps. Yeah I know what some people say about bungy straps but they work if you don’t have anything else.

        • DR,
          I put up a 2400 SF, 14′ eaves metal building with a scaffold, bungy cords and a Gin pole.
          Bungy cords are like duct tape you can build a city with them.

          • Rellik, that’s interesting. I didn’t know THAT could be done with them. I keep a bag full of several different sizes of bungees in the truck all the time. Never know when I’ll need them for some purpose or other.

      4. Don’t forget good personal tarps — hooded waterproof ponchos. Nothing helps keep the weather off you in a driving rain like a poncho. REI sells really good quality ponchos. The are small and compact. I have several in the car, and in my backpack.

        • Hooded rain suit at Walmart $25 bucks. Good quality, best price. I know, I checked everyone out. Don’t forget rain (rubber) boots. Farm & Home ($100) but worth every nickel when you are prospecting. 🙂

        • Midway USA carries a good used German military rain poncho that has snaps all the way around. These ponchos are made of rubber and are great. They can also be linked together to make a quick shelter. These ponchos go fast when in stock.

      5. Tarps will come in handy to wrap the bodies of the traitors before you dump them in the hole so you don’t have to see or smell their sorry dead asses.

        • Says tough guy #1

        • I love that. Also, keep a small bag of lime around to cover the body with to help kill the smell.

        • Menzo, seriously? Why would you waste perfectly good catfish bait? I thought you were better than that.

      6. Menzo, use the cheap-ass wallyworld tarps for that. They’ll do for that purpose. I wouldn’t use my BEST tarps for that.

        • Says tough guy #2

          • if you got a tarp that the grommets are broken out of, or that never had any, you can still make tie-down spots on it. put a rock in a corner, draw the tarp around it, and tie the rock into that corner(Or even in the center) with some cordage. viola, you got a place to secure a tie-down. i put one in each corner of a cheap walmart tarp once when i made an unscheduled stop at the grand canyon. i strung the hammock i always carry in the truck between a couple trees, then 550 cord above that, and over the 550 cord i threw the tarp….with a rock in all 4 corners to keep it from blowing off in the wind. kept me bone-dry in the rain that night…..said tuffguy #3….

        • Why use a tarp at all?

          • Got that right. Worms gotta eat too. 🙂

      7. Leaky air mattresses and above ground pools can be converted to sturdy tarps.

        But, woven, Chinese crap turns to Easter grass, in the Santa Ana winds.

        A form of plastic lays directly on the ground, around drip irrigation, to control weeds, keep crops warm, and wet. Melons do not bake, even in 100F temps, in this arrangement.

      8. You can make a pup tent to run a generator in the rain.
        Too much rain can fry the coil or crack the head/exhaust manifold on one thats already hot before it starts raining.

        Go ahead and make the drag litter in advance…use fishing line and hoop needle to sew the edges into pole pockets…you can use it to gather limbs for firewood if nothing else.

        You can use tarps to make fishing shack near waters edge also if you want to fish in rain or stay out of sun.

        Rednecks New Years Resolution= Find out whats under that blue tarp in the back yard.

        Happy Walmart? Isnt that nextdoor to homo depot?

      9. Prepper, Survivalist or Scrounger not really sure which of these that I am, I tend to think maybe all three. As I stated in another comment, I’ve picked up most of my bungee cords off the road, as for tarps if you go to your local lumber yard and ask, they will usually give you their used lumber wrap which works quite well as a tarp for covering your wood pile or as a cover for a lean-to or as a tent, I have used lumber wrap for these purposes more than once. I have also picked up 1lb.and 20lb. propane tanks at the dump which can be traded at a blue rhino exchange for 20 bucks so you can save $30 by not having to buy a 20lb.tank I have also picked up good gasoline containers at the dump, It’s unbelievable the good stuff people throw away. Trekker Out. A Country Boy Can Survive!

      10. I use a tarp when I’m trimming bushes in the yard. It holds a lot more than a wheelbarrow. When I have a big pile on the tarp, my wife helps me pull it to our burn pile and unload it. The ground is a little rough in places, so dragging the tarp is easier than pushing the wheelbarrow. Plus we don’t have to make so many trips.

      11. In my backpacking days in the Rocky mountains I would often carry 1 or 2 4×6 tarps. I would hang my backpack in a tree and then cover it at night or during a rainstorm. The second tarp covered a stack of firewood, kindling and tinder. Made fire easy cheesy after a down pour.

      12. Agree with most everything in the comments, but I have to disagree with using a 6′ x 8′ tarp for a shelter, as the author mentions. That size is too small . . . trust me on this! More like 8′ x 10′. Just saying . . .

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