We all know that shelter is one of the top priorities in any survival situation — in many cases, it is the top priority. Although it's possible to build a shelter entirely from natural materials, this requires substantial time and effort (and usually a whole lot of chopping wood). Carrying a tarp greatly simplifies the shelter construction process since it provides durable protection from wind, rain, and harsh sun. With a tarp, some paracord, and a little practice, you can build and dismantle an effective shelter in minutes.

In the following video, Lonnie of Far North Bushcraft and Survival shows how to construct a simple shelter using a large square tarp. This design is big enough to stand under, and provides three-sided protection from the elements. Better yet, it can be rigged on a ridgeline between two trees or in a free-standing design on poles.

If you're taking stock of your gear, here's all you'll need:

  • Large waterproof tarp with grommets (Lonnie uses a 12'x12′ tarp)
  • For ridgeline setup: 25+ feet of paracord or rope, two paracord loops with small carabiners, 4 stakes
  • For free-standing setup: two 6-foot poles, two 15-foot guy lines, 8 stakes
  • Additional stake and guy line for porch overhang (optional)

Square tarp shelter paracord knot guy line grommet cordage 3


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Above: A prusik knot and carabiner can be used to quickly rig the tarp to the ridgeline.

Lonnie states that if your tarp doesn't have grommets, you'll need to add them yourself, but it's also possible to improvise a tie-out point. The classic backpacker's trick is to place a small stone on the inside of your tarp and bunch the tarp around it to form a pouch. Then, from the outside of the tarp, tie a secure knot around that pouch to attach your guy line to the tarp (as pictured below).

An improvised tie-out point for a tarp. Source: REI.com

An improvised tie-out point for a tarp. Source: REI.com


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