10 Ways You Can Use a Tarp & Why Everyone Needs One

Tarps, short for tarpaulins, are large sheets of strong, flexible, water-resistant or waterproof material, often cloth such as canvas or polyester coated with polyurethane, or made of plastics such as polyethylene. Inexpensive modern tarps are made from woven polyethylene; this material is so associated with tarpaulins that it has become colloquially known in some quarters as polytarp.

Fun fact: The word tarpaulin originated as a compound of the words tar and palling, referring to a tarred canvas pall used to cover objects on ships.

Tarps come in many different shapes and sizes and are classified based many different factors, such as material type (polyethylene, canvas, vinyl, etc.), thickness, which is generally measured in mils or generalized into categories (such as “regular duty”, “heavy duty”, “super heavy duty”, etc.), and grommet strength (simple vs. reinforced).

Since the mid-19th century, tarps have been put to MANY different uses, MUCH more then the 10 we’re going to touch base on today in this blog. However, here are 10 ways you can use a tarp, and why everyone should have one. After reading this list, you’ll be sure to have one stashed away, just in case!

1. Transportation

Of course, one of the most common and typical uses for a tarp is within the transportation industry. Here at Hercules SLR, we serve this essential industry in many ways including the sale of tarps (contact us if you’d like to learn more!). One of the most common uses of tarps within the transportation industry is flatbed trailer tarps. Flatbed trailer tarps protect cargo from weather damage and general wear-and-tear that highway travel can cause.

Types of Flatbed Tarps
  1. Lumber Tarps – Lumber tarps are used on loads that are tall and box-shaped. They have flaps at each end to cover the ends of lumber. Usually, two lumber tarps are used to cover a flatbed load.
  2. Steel Tarps – Steel tarps on the most commonly used flatbed trailer tarp. They are used to protect shorter and lower-profile loads, and also used in combination with lumber tarps.
  3. Smoke Tarps – Smoke tarps only cover the upper front portion of a flatbed load. This protects loads from getting covered in exhaust fumes and dirt.
  4. Machinery Tarps – Machinery tarps are designed to protect manufacturing or machine equipment from weather and road vibration.
  5. Coil Tarps – Coil tarps are commonly used to protect steel or aluminum coils and cable spools during transport. Their rounded top-half allows for a fitted cover over cylinder-shaped loads. The side flaps are more rectangular shaped and split in each corner to allow the transport chain to pass through.

2. Shelters/Tents

Many people consider tarps to be one of the handiest things to carry in their camping or survival bag. A basic tarp shelter can keep your head dry, it will help you conserve heat and it provides a sense of comfort and safety. Making a tarp shelter is easy and there are dozens of different ways and patterns to construct a suitable shelter with only a single tarp.

You can find many different ways to construct a tarp shelter but the A-Frame shelter is probably the most common. It’s made by stringing a paracord between two trees and draping the tarp over it. This shelter provides good rain and snow runoff and a good wind deflection. The downside of the A-frame shelter is that there is no floor, but you can solve that issue by, you guessed it, another tarp!

3. Water Catcher 

Another way a tarp can be a valuable part of your emergency preparedness kit is that it can be used to collect rainwater. People living off the grid sometimes use tarps to set up very elaborate rainwater collection systems – but even the novice wilderness adventure lover can experience truly living off the resources of the land while camping by collecting rainwater using a tarp. You can do this by securing a tarp to trees, allowing the tarp to dip down in the middle. Rainwater will collect here and can be consumed directly without needing to boil or purify the water. Most rain is perfectly safe to drink and maybe even be cleaner than the public water supply! However,  rainwater is only as clean as its container. So if your tarp is not clean or unable to stay clean during the collection process, you will need to boil and filter to ensure it’s safe to drink.

4. No More Weeds in the Garden

You can also put tarps to use in your yard! If pulling weeds makes you want to pull your hair out, there’s a simple solution – a tarp! Canadian farmer Jean-Martin Fortier recommends in his 2014 book, “The Market Gardener”, preventing weeds by laying black tarps on the piece of ground you’d like to make into your garden bend, before planting. It’s important to use a dark tarp as its dark color absorbs heat and warms the soil. The tarp will smother weeds before planting and also deter future one growing in the bed. Not only will this let you start your garden off with zero weeds, and limit the amount in the future but it will also improve the quality of the soil as well as attract earthworms tunneling up to the surface, and in effect, till it for you!

5. Dragging Heavy Items

As we mentioned above, tarps are used in many different facets of landscaping and gardening, including being used as a way to transport things around your yard! This one may be new to you, but tarps make it super easy to drag otherwise heavy and hard-to-move loads from one part of your yard to the other. Need to move a pile of dirt or leaves? Load it on top of a tarp and simply drag it to your next location. Find out how in the video below!

Pro tip: We would suggest having a specific tarp for these types of jobs or even retiring an old tarp for this use as you do run the risk of snagging the material on rocks or other debris on your yard, making it lose the ability to be used in other ways!

6. Covering Damaged Areas

Another way you may have seen tarps being used before is to temporarily cover areas of damage. One of the most common fixes people turn to a tarp to solve is a broken window. During the course of homeownership, you are bound to face a broken window at some point. Permanently repairing a broken window is not always an immediate option, but a quick fix will help keep weather and insects out until you can manage a more permanent repair or replacement.

7. Keeping things Clean

Tarps don’t just keep water out, they can keep just about anything out – including dirt, pet hair, small debris, and so much more! This makes tarps incredibly useful at keeping things clean. One of the most common ways this is put to use is within the car! Drape a tarp over your back seat and suddenly you have a totally spill-proof, dirt-proof, area to transport some messy things! Load the dog into the back after a day at the beach, or a pile of firewood on the way to the cottage and then simply remove the tarp and you have no mess to clean!

8. Blocking Wind & Creating Privacy 

While a tarp may not always make the most attractive wall, it can make a pretty effective one in the short term or in a pinch. Tie a tarp up to one side of a deck, to some trees around a campsite, or anywhere else where you’d like to block out the wind and create a temporary privacy barrier.

Check out the article which walks you through how to put of a temporary tarp wall anywhere, using a DIY support frame: How to Use a Tarp for a Privacy Screen

9. WATERSLIDE

Tarps aren’t just useful, they can be fun! Check out this video where the “I Like to Make Stuff” YouTube channel made a video where he made a 100ft Slip N Slide using a tarps. While you don’t need to take on a project this large, a little water on a tarp in the backyard can lead to hours of fun.

Pro Tip: Have fun, but be safe! Never run on or around a wet tarp and always survey the area for rocks or other debris before sliding around.

10. Keeping it all DRY

And, of course, you can use a tarp to keep just about anything dry. Lots of people find out the hard way how much damage water can do, and having a tarp around can stop that damage in a moment’s notice. You never know when you’ll need to protect something from water and/or rain – so keep a backup tarp around just in case! Use it as a car or ATV cover, cover a load on the back of your pickup, cover a temporary leak on the roof of the shed, protect your plants from a storm and SO MUCH MORE!


NEED A QUOTE? HAVE A QUESTION? CALL US—WE KNOW THE (WIRE) ROPES & EVERYTHING RIGGING-RELATED.