Getting into the world of hammock camping can be confusing enough as it is. You’ll soon realize you have to be a master of not only the hammock, but the top quilt, underquilt, and tarp, too!
In this article, we’re going to focus on getting you familiarized and confident in understanding and choosing the best hammock tarp (rainfly).
The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of money on a new hammock and then realize you ordered the wrong rainfly.
I get it, I’ve done that. So, today we’ll cover everything you need to know about hammock tarps.
This isn’t about ground-tarp camping, we cover that separately.
I’m also going to give you a list of some of the best hammock tarps you can buy in today’s world. That way you can spend more time hiking and hanging and less time searching for the right one.
What You'll Learn
- How to Choose the Best Hammock Tarp
- How to Pitch a Hammock Tarp
- HELP! My Hammock Tarp Is Sagging!
- Best Hammock Tarps (Rainfly) Reviewed
- Hammock Rainfly FAQs
How to Choose the Best Hammock Tarp
Hammock Tarp Materials
When making a decision, you’ve got to understand the materials you’re looking at. Each one has pros and cons so let’s do a quick review:
- Silnylon is silicone impregnated nylon. It’s cheap and effective but tends to stretch a little bit.
This is by far the most common material in use for rainflies and tarps both for hammocks and tents.
- Silpoly is silicone impregnated polyester. It’s a bit more expensive but is lightweight and has a little less stretch than silnylon.
- Ripstop is a type of fabric where thick reinforcing fibers are woven in patterns. This increases the strength of the fabric while allowing the majority of the weave to still be made from smaller, lighter fibers.
Ripstop fabric can be polyester or nylon base material, with just about any type of fiber woven in a grid pattern for extra strength.
Thicker nylon or polyester fibers are common but advanced materials like dyneema and other hyper-strong reinforcing fibers can be used too!
Many manufacturers fail to disclose the type or size of ripstop fibers which leaves customers guessing.
- Spinnaker sail cloth is a hybrid fabric that is extremely lightweight but loud. It sounds like a crinkly potato chip bag and is very susceptible to puncture damage.
- Dyneema Composite is also called cuben fiber. It’s made from dyneema fiber sandwiched between plastic Mylar layers.
The materials can be “welded” together to form a waterproof seam. This is the lightest fabric currently available.
- PU Coated fabrics are either polyester or nylon with a polyurethane layer for waterproofness. These fabrics are only as good as the PU layer and if that layer gets damaged or begins to peel you’ll have to replace or patch it. That said, they’re usually affordable and last pretty well.
If you want the bleeding edge of lightweight tech go with a cuben fiber hammock tarp!
Hammock Tarp Shapes
There are several different designs you’ll encounter. Which one you need depends on a couple important factors.
- Asymmetrical hammock tarps are for, you guessed it, asymmetrical hammocks.These are made so that users lay perpendicular (more or less) to the centerline of the hammock.
- Symmetrical hammock tarps are for, again, symmetrical hammocks. I know – mind blown, right? Problem is, if you get the wrong one you’ll be very wet.
How to Pitch a Hammock Tarp
Making Sure You’re Covered!
Now here’s the thing, these shapes matter a lot if you’re cutting ounces (and corners). For the lightest, tightest fitting tarp you need to match it to your hammock exactly.
If you are buying an aftermarket rainfly or looking for a bigger tarp, you can safely switch from asymmetrical to symmetrical. The trick is to size up a bit to make sure you’ve got enough coverage so you’re not hanging out in the rain.
The biggest area of concern is for asymmetrical hammock users trying to go as small as possible with their rainfly. If in doubt – go up a size. It might weigh 2 ounces more, but you’ll have more room to pitch safely over the entire hammock.
In my experience, asymmetrical tarps aren’t worth the hassle. Symmetrical ones will cover all your bases and leave you with more coverage at the end of the day for a mere ounce or two more (at most).
Square vs Diamond
Within the world of symmetrical tarps are square and diamond shaped tarps. Diamond shapes try to reduce materials and keep weights down, while square shape – not so much.
Diamond tarps are oriented so that they taper toward the head and feet of the hammock. This means very narrow coverage and minimal wind and rain protection near the head and feet (unless it’s oversized to begin with).
It’s up to you if you want the peace of mind of more coverage (square shape) or lighter weight (diamond).
Hammock Tarp Ridgelines
When you buy a hammock tarp it may or may not have a ridgeline.
This ridgeline, again, may or may not be continuous. The question is, how much does it matter?
Turns out it matters a good bit.
Continuous ridgelines start at the tree (or other anchor), attach to one end of the tarp, continue under the entire tarp, attach to the other end, and then finish at the second tree or anchor point.
These are different than two piece ridgelines which start at the tree and terminate at one end of the tarp. The other end then has a second string which goes out to the other anchor point. In this case no part of the ridgeline string goes under the tarp itself.
The major downfall of two piece ridgelines is that any load has to pass through the tarp fabric’s ridgeline. Assuming that the fabric is as strong – or stronger – than your ridgeline, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Unfortunately it’s pretty rare that this is the case.
Continuous ridgelines have the distinct advantage of transferring much more of the load to the ridgeline string and not the fabric of the tarp.
Using this method you can create tons of tension on the ridgeline without worrying about wind or loads tearing the tarp itself. This also provides a great skeleton shape for the tarp to hang over so it doesn’t sag onto you.
With creative anchoring methods such as the tautline hitch or prusik you can slide the tarp along the ridgeline to adjust position and tension with ease.
How Long Should My Ridgeline Be?
This is a personal choice. Generally, 12’ ridgelines are common. These usually have plenty of coverage, however, some shapes are smaller than others.
If you want more coverage look for a slightly longer ridgeline but beware going too long. If you have an absurdly big tarp it will be heavy and hard to use. You’ll only be able to hang in trees spaced more than the length of your ridgeline.
Going too short will leave your toes sticking out and you’ll end up getting wet so don’t cut corners.
Seam Sealing Ridgelines
Make sure that ridgeline seam is sealed!
Seam sealing is the process of blocking out the tiny holes caused by sewing. In the case of a hammock tarp you’ll need to make sure that the ridgeline is sealed or it will drip on you all night.
For several reasons, many manufacturers do not seal their seams.
To seal your own seams I recommend following the process outlined in this video:
You’ll just need to buy a little SilNet first.
What Are Guylines?
These are the cords which extend from the corners of the hammock tarp down to the ground. These keep it down and prevent it from moving too much in the wind.
Sometimes you’ll have center pulls which come from the middle of the tarp wall. These help keep the rainfly from sagging on to you or your hammock.
Guylines are important, and mastering them means you’ll be able to pitch your tarp in different hang positions.
Ideally, we want the lightest possible guyline cordage that still has enough strength to hold against wind, rain, or snow.
You can use tent stakes to tie down guylines. Or you can tie out to tree branches, roots, rocks, or any other objects to hold the rainfly at the correct angle.
What to Use for Guylines?
My preferred cordage for both guylines and ridgelines is Dyna Glide throw line. The weight: strength ratio is unsurpassed, and it has a great slippery consistency that makes it easy to use with rough tree bark.
It’s also just 1.8mm in diameter so you can carry generous lengths of ridgeline and guy lines without a lot of bulk or weight.
Alternatively, and less expensive, is the Amsteel cordage which is a bit bulkier and heavier, though not much. This makes a better choice for ridgelines than guylines as it’s a bit overkill for guylines.
Using Specialized Adjusters
For both ridgeline and guyline set up, you can go one of two directions. Either you learn how to tie a few knots or you use some fun little adjusters.
If you’re struggling to adjust your guylines and you fumble with knots, there’s a quick and easy to use piece of hardware that will solve your problem. If you’re fumbling with adjusting your ridgeline and can’t ever seem to get it done, there’s a gadget for that, too.
Dutchware Gear started as a DIY project, which gained traction as one hammock camper solved problems others were having. Now it’s a fully-fledged business and you can buy their innovative, lightweight, and easy to use solutions.
Here’s the rub though – you can do everything necessary to set up a great hammock tarp pitch in any situation with just knots.
The question becomes whether or not you want to put in the time and effort to master these knots and lashings.
If you do decide to do it the “old school” way you will master skills that will come in handy in many situations.
What’s Up With Hammock Stakes?
We’ve all heard of tent stakes but what’s a hammock stake?
Hammock stakes are used to tie down guy lines.
The cool part about it is that you usually don’t need a full set of them, sometimes you don’t even need a single one.
By getting creative with rocks, roots, and tree branches you can tie out your hammock (or ground based) tarp with fewer stakes. In fact, I have a habit of carrying about ½ as many stakes as I have guylines. The rest I will find, make, or improvise in the field.
The idea of improvised stakes might not thrill you, but think about this:
Using tree branches under a little tension can make a self-adjusting guy line!
- Pull a small tree branch back a few inches, tie your guy line on it, and let it pull the material taut as it tries to snap back into position.
- As your tarp loosens or tightens due to rain, wind, or temperature changes, the tree branch(es) take up or give slack keeping it taut.
I still recommend you carry a couple of stakes in case you can’t find alternatives. I always recommend MSR Mini Groundhog stakes.
They’re lightweight and have amazing hold in any type of soil thanks to their “Y” shaped cross-section. Unless you’re camping in pure sand you don’t need the full-length version – they’re overkill usually.
HELP! My Hammock Tarp Is Sagging!
Yep. You messed up. Fortunately, I can fix your hammock sagging problem. It happens to all of us as we get older.
Unlike the human condition, this one is easy to fix….
There’s one major secret to solving this problem and that is a separate hammock tarp. Do not use a tarp connected to the ridgeline of your hammock.
My first hammock was made this way – with the tarp connected to the ridgeline of the hammock itself – and it’s a guaranteed recipe for sag.
Even with the best tarp pitch known to man, the second you sit in your hammock, it’s going to sag because your weight has caused the two ends of the hammock, (and therefore the tarp), to come closer together – creating sag.
The best way to solve this issue is to remove your tarp from the ridgeline of the hammock. Instead, use a separate dedicated line for tying your rainfly to the trees. By doing this, the weight of you is isolated from the tarp.
If you’re determined to keep your tarp attached to your hammock ridgeline, then you need to invest in some shock cord. Elastic shock cord can be used to pre-stretch the guylines and attachment points for your rainfly before you get into the hammock.
Using pre-stretched shock cord means that the elastic can take up the slack caused by your weight in the hammock and keep the tarp taut. It’s a heavier, bulkier, and more complicated solution than using a separate tarp line, but there you have it.
Self-tensioning line systems aren’t necessary if you use a separate rainfly, with it’s own ridgeline.
Catenary Cut Tarps
Turns out that if you cut a piece of cloth in a straight line and pull on it with guy lines in separate directions it gets saggy and wrinkly no matter how good you are at it.
There’s a solution to this problem, and it’s catenary cuts. Cat cut tarps, as they’re called, use math, science, and physics along with a little magic to stay 100% taut when pitched.
They do this by cutting precise catenary cuts along the ridgeline and edges.
Catenary cuts is a math term, but in this case it’s used to evenly spread the load of the tension from the ridgeline and guy lines over the surface of the fabric.
Proponents of “old school” square tarps will tell you that cat cut tarps have the following shortcomings:
- A perfectly-taut pitch can overload seams when material shrinks due to weather and humidity changes.
- Conversely, if the material expands due to humidity and weather changes, it immediately becomes saggy
- Cat cut tarps are very expensive compared to classic square-cuts
- You must pitch cat cut tarps in their originally designed position and orientation to achieve a taut pitch
The most important to note is the last drawback mentioned above. Cat cut tarps have to be pitched at, or very close to, their originally-designed orientation. You can’t get away with lifting a corner or using creative pitching geometry.
If you try to pitch a cat cut in an “odd” setup that it wasn’t designed for, the whole thing will become irreparably saggy.
All that said, square cut tarps can sag no matter what you do so… either way, you’ll end up dealing with sag issues at some point.
Winter Hammock Tarps
All the logistical requirements aside, hammock camping in winter requires a different approach.
Winter hammock tarps are more durable and are uniquely shaped to help you deal with the challenges of surviving a winter hang.
Most winter hammock covers will have center pulls to keep the larger walls from slapping you in the face at night in winter winds. The walls drop lower and wrap around the front and back to minimize blowing snow and wind from all directions.
These tarps are more like hanging weather fortresses than anything else!
Best Hammock Tarps (Rainfly) Reviewed
UGQ takes the cake with their tarps for a handful of reasons. Their customer service is top notch, you can customize everything, and their price to value ratio is way out of this world. Get you one!
- Silpoly Fabrics
- Cat cut shapes
- Fully customizable
UGQ is a cottage industry maker and they take the time to pay attention to every detail and work with each customer’s needs. You won’t find that at REI.
You can order from a dozen or more fabric types and colors, or even custom order your own fabric for them to make your tarp. They offer various guy line colors, stakes, seam sealing and other detailed services that ensure that you’ll be ready to hit the trail when your tarp arrives.
The crew at UGQ test, retest, and constantly improve design and materials. I’ve talked to their research and design guys myself and I know they’re top-notch.
Best for an unyielding commitment to value and cost that favors the end user.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a person ruled by your wallet. We’re probably not so different in that case. So you’re looking for the best value for the least cash, right? Here it is!
- Waterproof polyester
- Diamond shape
- 5 colors to choose from
I like that you can get this tarp in different accent colors. They all look cool and the reinforced guy-out points are a nice add-on at this price point.
That brings me to the biggest positive factor here – its price!
I’m not a huge fan of the cheap-looking seam tape job on the ridgeline. Seam tape, as opposed to silicone seam sealer, has a habit of peeling off after a few seasons of use if not applied perfectly.
Best for those looking to keep things affordable above all else – just know the lifespan may be limited to a few seasons’ use.
Hennessy made the first camping hammock I ever bought. While I can’t say it was perfect, I can say their gear is among the top in the industry for quality. That’s why this tarp makes sense for a lot of people.
- PU-coated polyester
- 27 ounces
- 12’ long centerline
Did I mention you get your choice of olive drab or goldenrod yellow?
These tarps are a bit heavier than a comparable UGQ model, but they’re also a bit cheaper. They make a good “middle ground” if you’re budget-focused but want something a little higher quality than the Bear Butt.
All the guy-out points are reinforced, and I know from firsthand experience that their guyline cordage is top notch! It’s actually one of my all-time favorite guyline materials.
Best for those looking for a proven quality tarp at a middle price point.
Chill Gorilla usually makes some pretty good stuff for the price. That’s the case with the HEX tarp but I want to make sure you know what you’re getting so let’s go over everything.
- PU-coated nylon
- 23 ounces
- 12’ long centerline
Anyways, weight, size, and options are all quite similar between the two tarps. The biggest difference in my book is attention to detail and price.
Chill Gorilla’s Hex comes with guy lines rocking cheap plastic tensioners. They’re trash – throw them away and learn to use a trucker’s hitch or a tautline hitch. It also comes with aluminum tent stakes that seem to be a MSR Groundhog knockoff.
That said, the Chill Gorilla Tarp is functionally identical to the HH. However, I worry a bit about their misleading and gimmicky sales language such as, “Chill Gorilla does not offer cheap polyester tarps because they are inferior quality”.
Overall I think you’ll be happy with this one once you cut through some of the smoke and mirrors and get down to the tarp itself.
Best for budget price with a large rectangular pitch and tons of protected surface area.
You might not be surprised to see another UGQ tarp making the list. This time we’ve relied on them as our top pick for winter hammocking because when those temps plummet, you’ll want only the best protection.
- 11, 12, and 13 foot ridgelines available
- Ripstop or taffeta polyester options
- 15 – 22 ounces
That’s lighter than many of our smaller summer tarps on the list!
So, how do they do it? Well, prices start near the $150 range and head up from there. Your order total might come in closer to $350 if you go crazy with extra options.
What you get in return is full control of every part of your hammock. You can choose the fabric and material type, color, and customize options for each little detail.
Guylines, stakes, seam sealing, tarp sleeves, stuff sack, panel pulls, and edge tape color are all up to you!
Best for 360 degree winter protection in a customizable tailor-made package.
Hammock Rainfly FAQs
Can I use a normal tarp for hammocking?
Pretty much any waterproof tarp is going to work just fine for hammocking. There’s no reason you couldn’t use the same one that you use for ground camping.
Generally speaking, you can’t use a tent rainfly or a rainfly made specifically for a different shelter.
I would avoid those blue plastic landscaping tarpaulins as well – they’re too heavy and bulky for carrying.
Is ripstop nylon the only good material?
Nope. Materials vary depending on:
- Type of fabric (nylon, polyester, etc)
- Fiber thickness (denier)
- Type of thread and stitch used for seams
- Fiber type for ripstop grids
At some point, based on the surface area, expected winds, snow loads, and other forces, stronger fabrics just aren’t necessary.
Ripstop is common and has many advantages, such as added strength, resisting the spread of tears once started. However, it’s not the only viable option.
High-quality polyester, nylon, and cuben fiber fabrics can be had in both ripstop and non-ripstop (except cuben – it just comes in different thicknesses).
By and large you can trust reputable manufacturers to be using quality fabrics so long as you do a little fact-checking. Look for these signs that you’re buying from a good manufacturer:
- They disclose all product details such as exact fabric specs, manufacturing processes, and test results
- Their product descriptions, videos, and other content is written with clear authority on the subject – not just sales language
- They’re not trying to distract you from a poor quality product with “add-on” freebies
- Users confirm and corroborate details and performance specs
How long will my tarp last?
This depends a lot on the quality you buy. Great tarps, made well, will last you many years, and some may even last a lifetime of backpacking and camping if maintained.
Sun exposure is dangerous for all fabrics. UV light damages synthetic fibers, and eventually they will fade, wash out, become brittle, and tear. Don’t leave your tarp set up in direct sunlight any longer than necessary.
Leaving a tarp out, exposed, in the middle of a yard for a summer will ruin it. They’re just not made for that.
When you pack your rainfly, use the stuffing method. Don’t fold and roll it because this can cause weak points or delamination of waterproofing along repeated fold lines. Stuffing ensures a sporadic and non-repetitive use pattern that won’t wear out any one area faster than others.
How can I repair my tarp?
Depends on the material it’s made from.
Polyester and nylon can be repaired by using a piece of the same material about an inch larger than the tear. Simply coat the repair piece and the area around the hole with SilNet, apply the patch, and let it dry overnight on a flat surface or pressed between heavy books.
Use wax paper to make sure the SilNet doesn’t stick to other stuff like your books.
Cuben fiber can easily be repaired with cuben fiber repair patches in the field. No sewing or extra goo necessary.
At the end of the day you might go with the most expensive or the least expensive tarp out there. It all depends on your budget, your preferences, and your needs. Not everyone needs the top of the line – many of us would rather keep that cash in our pockets!
That said, be careful about skimping on quality when you’re going to rely on it to keep you dry and safe. Having a failure on a remote backpacking expedition could force you into a survival situation before you know it.
Remember to think about your needs. Where will you be camping? How long? How risky is it? Then consider the other details like your color preferences, size preferences, and others.
Once you paint that picture you can choose the best hammock tarp for you and get hanging!