Using a Tarp Over Your Campfire – How to Safely Shelter Your Fire

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Fire Building

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The elements aren’t always the most cooperative when you’re setting up camp. Wet and windy conditions prove to be especially unforgiving to the most vulnerable staple of any campsite, fire. Which is why you’ll likely need to take some extra steps to keep your flames burning. Today, we’re going to cover the ins and outs of setting up a tarp over your campfire.

Can You Use a Tarp Over Your Campfire?

Tarps can be used over your campfire. In fact, in many instances tarps offer the perfect protection from rain or high winds when you’re outdoors. However, as with most materials, tarps are only suited for smaller campfires, and can quickly become damaged when used over larger flames.

Sitting under a tarp with a burning fire may also come with some risks. Which is why you should really only be setting up a tarp of your fire if the weather conditions call for it. Besides, there’s nothing like sitting next to an open flame with nothing but the stars in the night sky directly above you.

Best Tarp Material to Use Over Fire

Fortunately, many of the most popular tarps today are made with heat and flame resistant material. Meaning, finding the perfect tarp for your next trip won’t be very difficult. 

However, not all materials are made equal when it comes to withstanding heat. Here’s a breakdown of some popular tarps that you should opt for to cover your campfire.

  • Polyethylene Tarps – Poly tarps are great for camping because of how durable they are. They also hold up well to the elements, and are typically both water and fire resistant.
  • Vinyl Tarps – Vinyl tarps are among the most effective when it comes to protection. Vinyl does a great job of protecting you from the elements, and is often oil resistant, as well as water and heat resistant.
  • Canvas Tarps (when treated) – On its own, canvas is actually extremely flammable. Which wouldn’t make it a great candidate for protecting your fire. However, when treated, canvas tarps can be heat resistant, and as a bonus, are very durable compared to their counterparts.

Avoid Fires Under Pop-Up Canopies

Pop-up tarp canopies are notoriously easy to use. And overall, these tarp set ups are great for the average camper, or anyone looking to spend a nice day outdoors. So, while pop-up tarp canopies may be water resistant and a great option for sheltering you from the rain. More often than not, these convenient setups shouldn’t be used over large open fires because they are not made with fire resistant materials.

Be Aware of Potential Hazards

For outdoor enthusiasts, there may be nothing more appealing than cozying up next to a campfire while listening to the rain hit the tarp right above you. You’re sheltered, warm, and most importantly dry. The truth is, sitting under a tarp with your fire going is a great way to enhance your outdoor experience. But there are certain hazards that you should be aware of.

First, you need to understand the difference between fire resistant and fire retardant tarps. Both options do a solid job with ensuring your tarp doesn’t catch fire when exposed to open flames or heat. But fire retardant tarps are treated with chemicals to ensure they won’t catch fire. Where fire resistant tarps can still catch fire when exposed.

If your tarp is neither fire resistant or fire retardant, then the chances it will be damaged or destroyed by an open flame are much higher. In which case, you should avoid any fire under your tarp.

Next, you should be aware of the dangers of smoke inhalation. Under a tarp, there’s a chance that more smoke collects, which will ultimately expose you to dangerous microscopic particles that can cause damage to your respiratory system. 

The way to help combat the present dangers associated with being in close proximity to smoke is to ensure your tarp over campfire setup is well ventilated. Allowing the smoke to escape, or the wind to blow the smoke in the opposite direction.

How High does the Tarp Need to be Over Fire?

The height your tarp needs to be over your open fire will largely depend on the size and temperature of your fire. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to hang your tarp at a height where it won’t be in direct contact with the flames or sparks.

Meaning, the taller your flame, the higher your tarp needs to be.

Although, you will also need to take the temperature into consideration. Assuming you don’t have a thermometer that can tell you the exact temperature of the heat right above your fire, you can resort to using a hand test. 

Continue moving your hand above the flames until you can comfortably hold still. Once you find the height where the heat begins to dissipate, give yourself another foot or two for safe measures. This will be the perfect height to hang the tarp of your fire.

How Do You Put a Tarp Over a Fire?

There are a number of ways you can set up your tarp so that it protects your fire from the elements. Most set up designs should be fine, granted they are high enough above the flames. Today, we’re going to cover how to hang a tarp over your fire with a basic A-frame tarp design.

Step 1: Picking the Right Spot

If you’re looking to build a fire under your tarp, we’re going to assume it’s because the weather isn’t in your favor. If that’s the case, then before you start your set up, you’ll want to find the perfect spot. 

Preferably, your tarp should be situated in an area that isn’t going to be susceptible to high winds. Strong winds blowing through your tarp setup can make it difficult to get your fire started and keep it going. 

You’ll also want to find an area between trees that is large enough to hang your tarp. But not too much space between the trees makes it impossible to tie your rope with the amount you have.

Step 2: Determine Size of Fire

As mentioned a bit earlier, it’s really impossible to know how high up you should hang your tarp without knowing the size of your fire. On the other hand, you can’t really build your fire until the tarp is set up. Which puts you in a bit of a dilemma. 

Which makes determining the size of your fire the easiest next step. 

Step 3: Set Up Hanging A-Frame Tarp

The A-frame shelter is one of the basics, and most common designs used by anyone spending time outdoors. If you don’t know how to set up an A-frame tarp, we’ll teach you the basics below. But first, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Tarp
  • 5 pieces of rope
  • Ground stakes

To hang your A-frame campfire tarp shelter, lay out your tarp and tie a single piece of guy rope to each corner. Next, you’re going to want to plan out your ridgeline. Which you’ll do by tying your fifth piece of rope between two trees.

Once you have your ridgeline set, you’ll hang your tarp so that the ridgeline is situated directly in the middle. At this point, your tarp should have equal slack on both sides. 

The last step is to peg the ropes attached to each corner of the tarp into the ground at a 45 degree angle. The ropes should be tied sturdily so that it holds the A-frame design in place. And that’s it.

Step 4: Build Your Fire

The last step, as you could probably guess, is to build the fire underneath your tarp. Again, you don’t want to go too big. But you will want the fire big enough that it either provides you with heat to stay warm, or enough heat to cook. 
We’re not going to dive into the variety of fire building methods in this article. But if you’re not sure of the best way to build a fire, then we recommend starting with the classic teepee fire lay.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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