The Best Camping Tarp Material 2022

Groundsheets, awnings and tent tarps

This detailed ranking will help you choose the best camping tarp material to stay warm and dry all night.

The Basics

The two key qualities that constitute the best camping tarp material are durability and water resistance. It’s important to choose the right material because, while a cheaper product may have a waterproof coating, this will wear off after a few years (and even quicker if used frequently). Reproofing this coating can be expensive and the end result is less effective. To pick a tarp with a long lifespan, pay attention to the material itself.

Cheaper non-camping tarps are commonly made of PVC and are of lower quality. This means that they snag more easily and rip in high winds or when snow is piled up on them. The toggles and eyelets can also come loose. 

For a stress-free camp, we recommend picking a camping-specific tarp from a reputable seller.

In reverse order, our recommendations are as follows:

6. Canvas Tarps

Canvas is naturally waterproof, and it’s better for the environment than the man-made materials on this list. It’s also a great insulator (although, as your tarp won’t seal you in like a tent, this is less useful). If you’re interested in how to stay warm while camping, check out our article on keeping your camp insulated.

However, canvas is not advisable for tarp camping primarily because of its weight. It’s bulky, harder to transport and tricky to set up properly.

Canvas also snags more easily than other options on this list. For these reasons it’s better to avoid it.

A close up of canvas tarp camping material

5. Polyester Tarps

Polyester is a cheap and reliable option for outdoor equipment. It’s less hydrophilic than nylon, for instance, which means that it’s inherently more waterproof and takes less time to dry. 

Like nylon tarps and outdoor equipment, polyester often comes with a waterproof coating. This enhances its ability to protect you from the elements. The coating will wear off after three to five years, but, because polyester is relatively more water resistant, it will continue to keep out the rain.

However, polyester tarps are less common than tarps made of other cheap materials like nylon because of one key aspect: durability. Polyester is less strong than nylon, so it is more prone to rips and snags. It’s also less stretchable, so missteps when setting up camp can have worse consequences. Polyester is our fifth best camping tarp material for this reason.

4. Nylon Tarps

Nylon is stronger than polyester. You can buy a thinner (and lighter) tarp and expect a similar level of durability to a heavier polyester product. Nylon is also more stretchable than polyester, so it’ll be more forgiving when setting up camp. Nylon is also less prone to rips and tears. 

While nylon itself is less inherently water-resistant than polyester, its durability and light weight mean that it’s the more common choice among tarp and outdoor-equipment manufacturers. 

Nylon is a great choice for groundsheets in particular, as toughness is key here. Nylon is our fourth best camping tarp material for this reason.

On a safety note, remember that both nylon and polyester are flammable. Light your fire or stove a good distance from your tent, whatever the material!

A great choice is the nylon DD superlight tarp, which has ripstop protection and (as the name suggests) is very light. It’s a bit pricier than some of the alternatives, but you can be sure that it won’t start letting in water after a couple of uses.

Tarp camping on heather at night

3. Silpoly Tarps

Silpoly is polyester reinforced with silicone. This makes the material far stronger than polyester on its own. Silpoly is also highly water resistant (even more so with the waterproof coating), so you can essentially shake it dry in a matter of minutes. 

Unlike nylon, silpoly doesn’t absorb water, so it won’t sag over time. While not as light as silnylon, silpoly is highly packable and won’t weigh you down.

Silpoly is our third best camping tarp material for this reason. However, while it is much tougher than polyester, it still has more durability issues than the better-ranked options below.

2. Silnylon Tarps

Along the same lines as silpoly, silnylon is nylon reinforced with silicone. It’s even stronger than nylon on its own, and manufacturers usually pair it with ripstop coatings to add further protection. Silnylon is among the toughest materials for camping tarps out there.

Silnylon is not quite as waterproof as silpoly. However, unless it is several years old and damaged by poor storage conditions (such as being folded away while still wet), this will not be noticeable. It’s also light and easy to pack. Polyester is our second best camping tarp material for these reasons.

Silnylon also has great UV resistance, but remember that, as with most fabrics, this resistance can fade over time. It will need to be replaced after prolonged use over a number of years.

A tent with tarp camping material set up as an awning above it

1. Cuben Fiber Tarps (The Best Camping Tarp Material)

The most expensive option on our list, cuben fiber (also known as Dyneema Composite Fabric) is made of Dyneema fiber. This is the toughest fiber in the world—over 10 times the strength of steel per gram of weight. Cuben fiber tarps consist of this Dyneema fiber encased in flexible polyester.

Cuben fiber is both strong and light, and it’s highly water resistant. Unlike nylon and silnylon, it does not sag when wet, meaning that you won’t need to get up to adjust it in the middle of a particularly wet or snowy night. Cuben fiber is our best camping tarp material for these reasons.

Given how much cuben fiber costs, we recommend investing a little more time in looking after a cuben fiber tarp. It’s more stiff than other fabrics, so it requires careful folding and storage.

Note: cuben fiber tarps (like any tarp) will perform less well after a few years as a result of UV exposure, wet storage and folding and unfolding during packing. By taking extra care you can significantly extend their lifespans.

In Conclusion

While cuben fiber is the best camping tarp material in terms of performance, this does come at a cost. For a reliable tarp at a cheaper price, we recommend going for silpoly or silnylon tarps. 

If you’re looking for a groundsheet, silnylon is a good choice due to its toughness and durability.

If you’re looking for water resistance above all else, then silpoly is a great option. It’ll keep you drier than pretty much anything else out there.

For more practical outdoor information and camping tips, feel free to browse our other articles. Happy tarp camping!

People having a picnic under a tarp awning next to a lake

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