Best Survival Tarp for Prepping and Emergencies

by Vern Evans

Tarp, tarpaulin, or polytarp. You’re more than likely familiar with tarps. Everyone has used them for at least one of their many functions: to cover a trailer, haul a pile of leaves, etc. What separates a regular tarp from a survival tarp is toughness, reliability, and portability- in some cases. In other cases, a regular tarp will work just fine in a survival situation. Still, it never hurts to be prepared with the best equipment for the job. There are several options to consider when it comes to tarps: brands, weights, size, etc.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best tarps, tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a versatile shelter that will have you covered in a survival situation, one of our picks will keep you protected.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

The Best Survival Tarp

Whiteduck Heavy Duty Tarp

UV Resistant, Tear Proof, and Proven

A relentlessly tough tarp that gets the job done in a wide variety of situations.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Plainly put, this multipurpose tarp is a beast that can keep up in any situation or disaster. It costs a bit more than the budget blue tarp, but it is over twice the weight, and the quality goes way beyond that. Here are the specs that set it apart:

  • 8′ x 10′ pictured above but available in several sizes to fit your situation
  • 18″ spaced rustproof grommets with heavily reinforced corners (folded edges)
  • 16×16 weave at 8 oz per square yard (16 mil)
  • 100% Polyethylene
  • Made in Vietnam (not the USA, like Amazon shows)

There are several colors, sizes, and weight options to pick from, but this version of the Whiteduck Heavy Duty Tarp is the best choice out of all of the competition unless you need to go a size up for your family.

Budget Tarp

Grizzly Tarps

Dirt Cheap, Waterproof, and Lightweight

The quintessential ‘blue tarp’ is a perfectly reasonable cheap option for budget preparedness.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Blue tarps are dirt cheap, and you can find them at any hardware store or big box store. They may not be the best, but you may not need the best when the cheapest option can get the job done. Here is where the Grizzly Tarp sits:

  • 6′ x 8′ pictured above but available in several sizes to fit your situation.
  • 36″ spaced aluminum grommets with laminated edges and corners
  • 8×8 weave at 3.5 oz per square yard (5 mil)
  • 100% Polyethylene
  • Made in China

Pick up a Grizzly Tarp to keep yourself covered, and under budget.

Upgrade Tarp

AquaQuest Defender Tarp

Ultralight, High Quality, and Efficient

The best for bushcraft translates into the best for bugging out with extreme quality and attention to detail.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Known since 1994 to provide the best performance backpacking tarps, AquaQuest has several model/weights but the Defender is the big daddy of them all. It weighs a bit more, with the 7′ x 10′ above at 2.4 pounds, but it more than compensates for that with extreme durability and water resistance. Word of mouth in the bushcraft community (plus the stellar online reviews) all show that the tarp is proven, and it did just that in our tests as well. Here are the stats:

  • 7′ x 10′ pictured above but available in a few sizes to fit your situation
  • 21 tie-outs spaced for optimal tent pitching
  • 100% 70D Nylon with TPU coating
  • Made in Taiwan

If you are looking for the best of the best, pick up an AquaQuest Defender Tarp for your bug out bag or survival kit.

Everything We Recommend

The Tarps We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several tarps that we tested: AquaQuest, Whiteduck, Grizzly, Tarpco, Guard Shield, Eno, Tarps Now, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on tarps and excluded blankets and pocket sheets. Those have their own review roundups, and are great for serving similar purposes:

We’re always looking for new and better equipment, so if you have a tarp that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best survival tarps have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Material
  3. Fastener Type
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a reliable tarp that shelters you in a wide range of conditions. Below, we break down what each of these features means for tarps that set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a tarp shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. Don’t go overspending or overdo it. Budget according to your risk and your needs rather than just spending lavishly.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. If the tarp is paper thin and falls apart with light use, it’s not going to last more than a few days- much less a season- in a survival situation.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a tarp. It’s better to diversify your preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios. There is a sweet spot where you get high value with not too high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.


Most tarps (and most of the ones we suggest) are made out of polyethylene (and are called a polytarp). What separates them apart is the weave types and weight of the weave, usually measured in mil. Typically, you will find that the cheaper it is, the lighter it is. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing- but we’ll touch on that later.

You can also find canvas tarps, nylon tarps, and other plastic tarps available for specialized use. Waterproof canvas tarps, unlike painters’ tarps, are great options for survival but can quickly break your budget with their high costs.

Nylon tarps are lightweight and can be treated to have great weather resistance, making them a backpacking and bushcraft favorite.

Still, it’s hard to beat the economic effectiveness of a polytarp when it comes to basic preparedness.

Fastener Type

Steel, aluminum, and even brass grommets are common on tarps. They can easily tear out if they are not reinforced well, and steel grommets can rust quickly when exposed to the elements. The grommets themselves are tough, but their effectiveness is really limited to the material it is attached to.

Tie straps are a great alternative found on many tarps- especially nylon backpacking tarps. Some high-end tarps may include both grommets and tie straps making them even more versatile.

Occasionally, a tarp will come with integrated cords or other fasteners, but grommets and tie straps are usually the best options.

Size & Weight

The optimal size of your survival tarp depends on who or what you plan to cover. To create an emergency shelter for just yourself, a 7′ x 10′ is more than enough. But as you add people to your family, larger-size tarps will help ensure that everyone has shelter.


Some tarps come with even more versatility, including stuff sacks, fasteners, and cordage, or they are more versatile due to their material properties.

Nylon tarps are more flexible than the more rigid polytarps, letting you more easily wrap people or gear with them like a survival blanket.

How to Use a Tarp for Survival

Tarps have all sorts of uses for survival, including:

  • tent shelter
  • rain cover
  • groundsheet
  • patch roof damage
  • cover broken windows
  • water collection
  • carrying sack
  • equipment/gear covering
  • personal blanket
  • cordage (cut into strips)
  • hammock
  • signal (depending on color)
  • privacy screen
  • camouflage blind
  • trapping pit cover

A lean-to or a tarp tent are both pretty easy to set up, but there are many types of shelters you can throw up with a tarp. Here are 15 of the best shelters to make with a tarp:

Who Needs a Tarp?

A tarp is one of the necessary pieces of equipment in several kits. A good survival tarp can come in handy in almost any survival situation. It is more versatile than a tent and can provide much-needed shelter just the same.

We consider tarps essential for your:

There are a ton of uses, so it is very unlikely that you will regret adding one to your kit.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We have vast prepping and survival experience and bring in outside experts when needed. Hours on end are spent testing gear in stressful conditions and using specialized testing gear to verify claims. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. Learn more about how we test.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best tarp is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Guerrero, J., et al. (2010). Effect of storage system and tarpaulin color on nutritional quality and digestibility of stored lucerne hay in the irrigated Sonoran Desert. Animal Feed Science and Technology. Volume 162. Issues 1–2. Pages 28-36. (Source)

Heding, N., et al. (1988). Improved tarpaulin materials for rain protection of small chip piles. Skovteknisk Inst., Copenhagen. (Source)

Velterop, E., et al. (2022). Safe Shelter: A Case for Prioritizing Housing Quality in Climate Adaptation Policy by Remotely Sensing Roof Tarps in the San Francisco Bay Area. AGU: Earth’s Future. Volume 10. Issue 8. (Source)

The Final Word

Shelter is imperative for survival, and a good tarp is one versatile way to make sure you can keep yourself covered. With a wide range of prices, there is a survival tarp for every budget and no excuse to not be prepared with one in your kit. Pick one up today to make sure you’re covered tomorrow.

Here are a few related articles our readers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Whiteduck Heavy Duty Tarp to be the best option given its value, material, fastener type, size/weight, and versatility.

If you pick up one of our suggested tarps- make sure you know how to use it before you need it. They have unlimited uses, but it’s good to know how to quickly patch your roof, pitch up a shelter, or wrap a pack.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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