Tarp vs Tent – Best Choice For Bug Out Bag?

Talking tarps. Talking Tents. ¬†And more specifically, what’s the best for your bug out bug? Making the right choice comes down to a personal audit on your situation and preference. Variables like location and weather will determine which one is best. Are there bugs, rattlesnakes and other creepy crawlers? You might not welcome a visit from senor snake in the middle of the night. However, both tarp and tent have respective advantages and disadvantages that I will cover in this post.

The tarp


Ah yes, the humble tarp. The ultralight backpackers prime choice for a lightweight shelter – and for a good reason. Extra weight will slow you down. Even a mere couple ounces can effect your physical performance. Weight is the tarps first advantage over the tent.

It’s also an easy piece of gear to wrap up and stuff in to your pack – and with a bit of paracord you can achieve many different configurations. While the tent is locked into a single setup, the tarp can be rigged in a number of ways. Take a look at all the possibilities. You can get super technical with the setup depending on your situation and all it requires is a bit of paracord. Paracord is something you should have anyways so I don’t count it as part of the total weight of the tarp.

It also outshines the tent when it comes to packing. The tent has metal poles that make it stiff and rigid. You can only stuff the tent in one way. Usually the only place the tent will fit is on the outside of the pack on the sides or strapped to the bottom. You can easily stuff a tarp wherever you want. It folds up nice and clean and is happy to get stuffed down to the bottom of your back or lashed to the externals.

Some people feel claustorphobic in a tent. They appreciate the tarps openness and their ability to see what’s going on around them. I can attest to feeling cramped in a tent – not to mention¬†feeling like I’m sometimes in a death trap. You never know what’s around.


  • Lightweight
  • Cheap
  • Versatile setups
  • Covers large areas around camp
  • Multi-purpose


  • No protection from bugs
  • Not fully enclosed
  • Wind and rain can pass through if not properly configured



The tent is your second shelter option. The tent is the all time classic shelter solution that immediately comes to mind when your buddy says “Let’s go camping.” The tent has been tried and true for many years. It’s a complete full enclosure system. Most tents are somewhat waterproof and come with a rain fly. Guy lines allow you to brace the tent to absorb high winds and heavy weather. This complete enclosure system is an obvious advantage over the tarp. You won’t have to worry about bugs or other nuisances paying you a night time visit – and the shelter from the wind and rain is a double bonus.

This protection comes at a price. The tent is much heavier than the tarp. Weight should be taken into careful consideration for your bug out bag. Only you can know your weight limits. I suggest you put a pack together and take off into the wild for a day or two – just so you can get a feel for how heavy your pack is and whether or not you can endure. If you find that weight is a non-issue, by all means, pack that tent.

But if you feel you need a lighter load, consider the tarp.


  • Full protection from the elements
  • Full protection from bugs
  • Easy to pitch


  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Less versatile

Final Thoughts

To sum it up shortly, if you’re going ultra light – pack the tarp. If you’re going full comfort mode – pack the tent. At this point an out-of-the-box thinker might say, “why not pack both?” To which I say – “I didn’t know pack mules could talk!”

Post up with a comment below and let us know what you think.

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