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Leon's Blog

Video: Five tips to make a really quick emergency tarp shelter

Video: Five tips to make a really quick emergency tarp shelter

Speed and convenience may be the deciding factors between getting wet and cold, or sitting out a storm front, dry and comfortable under a tarp. Here are the materials and skills you need to make a hasty shelter.

by Leon Pantenburg

You’re hiking in the forest with friends and suddenly, you notice the sky is getting dark quickly and rain is going to start in a matter of minutes. Or suppose the rain just caught you. Unless you can get under cover, really soon, you will all get cold and wet.

2010 Aframe emergency shelter 036

Run a loop of paracord through the grommet, then insert a small stick. This allows you to tighten the mainline evenly. (Pantenburg photos)

In either of these common situations, rigging a tarp shelter has to be done quickly. All you need is a small tarp (I prefer a 8×10) and  about 25 feet of paracord. I always carry four aluminum tent stakes in case the corners of the tarp need to be staked down.

Here is what you do.

  1. Look around: Make sure nothing is going to fall on you, and that the ground will drain. (Note: Never make a shelter in a dry wash in the desert! A flash flood could send a wall of water rushing through the wash and drown you.) The ground should be slightly elevated so the water will drain.
  2. Locate two trees: These should be about 10 to 15 feet apart. Take your paracord and tie a Timber Hitch about six feet up, then string the cord to the other tree and tie a loose Trucker’s Hitch about the same height. Don’t pull it tight yet.
  3. Attach the tarp: Use  through the grommet and stick method (Thanks for the tip, Peter Kummerfeldt!). Tighten the
    The timber hitch is a friction knot, easy to tie and very easy to release. (Pantenburg photo)

    The timber hitch is a friction knot, easy to tie and very easy to release.

    paracord line by pulling on the loose end of the Trucker’s Hitch. Tie off the paracord.

  4. Stake down the end, or weigh it with rocks.
  5. Get out of the weather.

Obviously, there are many different ways to rig a hasty shelter. But I’m an advocate of learning one way to do something, then practicing. Have a go-to method lined up. In a pinch, you don’t want to waste time thinking about, or debating what might be the best way to pitch a tarp when you’re standing in the rain.

In this scenario, one of your hiking partners could be attaching the tarp to the paracord while you are tying the knots. Another could be finding rocks for the end. At any rate, the idea is to work together to quickly and efficiently get that shelter up.

This trucker hitch allows the center line to be tightened by pulling on the tag end.

This trucker hitch allows the center line to be tightened by pulling on the tag end.

Then, sit underneath the tarp, crank up the stove and make some tea, cook dinner, play cards or read a book. Rain is part of the outdoors experience, and you might as well enjoy it!

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    03/09/2015 at 18:41

    I’ll check it out – anybody know about that?

  2. Peter Bindon

    03/05/2015 at 19:32

    Is the copy of the Boy Scouts of America Handbook on the widget the official publication Leon? I’ve been looking for one but this one does not look like what I saw at a recent meeting.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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