How to Build a Tarp Shelter

Whether you are planning a camping trip or spending some time in the back woods, a tarp shelter provides reliable protection from the elements. A tarp shelter also makes a special place for kids to play in the backyard. This shelter design is quick to set up and take down and does not require any special skills to erect.


In an emergency survival situation, a tarp shelter may come in handy.
  1. Select a location to build the tarp shelter. The area you choose should be as flat as possible with good drainage and no standing water. The site should also be close to a large supply of fallen branches. This will make it easier to collect materials to build the frame for the shelter.

  2. Find five 6-foot long branches to use for the frame of the shelter. Select sturdy and straight branches. Break off any twigs or leaves branching off of the main branches. This will make it easier to work with the branches.

  3. Place one of the 6-foot long branches flat of the ground. Place a second 6-foot branch beside it on an angle to form an V shape. Push the second branch down so that it intersects with the first branch. Both branches should stick up about 1 foot above the intersection. Loop some rope or twine around the area where the branches meet and tie them together. This is a leg assembly for the shelter's frame. Repeat to create a second leg assembly.

  4. Place the two leg assembles on the ground, parallel to each other and about 5 1/2 feet apart. Spread the two legs of each assembly out so they are about 4 feet apart. Set the bottom of the leg assemblies in the ground a few inches. The structures will stand up on their own. Place the fifth branch across the top of each assembly, allowing the ends to rest in the intersection of the leg branches.


  1. Drape the tarp over the frame of the shelter. Adjust the tarp so that the overhang is the same amount on all sides of the frame.

  2. Tie the middle edges of the tarp onto the top branch across the leg assemblies. Pull the tarp tight as you tie to prevent pockets and wrinkles.

  3. Pull down one corner of the tarp to reach the bottom of one of the legs of the frame. Tightly tie the tarp to the leg. Repeat this process on the leg directly across and on an angle from the already tied leg. Pull the corner very tight before tying.

  4. Tie on the remaining two corners of the tarp as tightly as possible, being sure to smooth out pockets and wrinkles. Fold down any excess tarp over the ends of the shelter to use for doors.