So, Are Tarps Waterproof?

Tarps are one of those underrated resources that you don’t miss until you need one and you don’t have one. Or until you don’t have a good one!

a lean-to tarp shelter
a lean-to tarp shelter

From protecting your firewood from moisture to sheltering vehicles and other equipment from exposure to the elements, tarps are what you need. They can even serve as a good improvised shelter!

But, depending on what you need from your tarp, it might need to be waterproof. You don’t want to find out it isn’t when it is already too late! So, are tarps waterproof?

Some tarps are waterproof, others are not. Typically PVC tarps and other kinds made from plastic-coated polyester or other fabrics are completely waterproof. Canvas tarps, and other natural fabrics, are only ever water resistant and will let water through in time.

Not all tarps are created equal! You don’t necessarily need a waterproof tarp, it all depends on the application, but if you do need a waterproof one, you’ve got to be sure you pick the right kind.

I’ll tell you a lot more about tarps including which ones are waterproof and which ones aren’t. Keep reading…

What Kinds of Tarps are Waterproof?

Broadly, tarps will only be truly waterproof if they are made of PVC, plastic or if they are a plastic-coated material.

Anything else, including natural fabrics or synthetic fabrics that are coarsely woven, are not truly waterproof.

So if you need a waterproof tarp, PVC or plastic is what you should look for.

What Kinds of Tarp Are Not Waterproof?

If you need a truly waterproof tarp you’ll want to avoid canvas and other natural fabrics, along with any other sort of tarp that has rips, tears or holes in it, obviously.

Canvas is a traditional tarp material, and while it is highly durable and versatile it is only ever water resistant, not waterproof.

Canvas can shed or “bead” water off of itself, especially if it’s been treated with wax or other additives and finishes to make it even more water resistant.

But, with enough exposure to water, the moisture will saturate the fibers and then water will be allowed to pass through the fabric.

If you’re relying on a canvas tarp to keep your vehicle or other equipment dry, cover your stack of firewood or serve as a tent in rainy weather, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed!

Are Water-Resistant Tarps the Same as Waterproof?

No. Water resistant and waterproof are often used interchangeably, in colloquial conversation, but the terms are not synonymous.

Waterproof means that water cannot, in any way, penetrate the tarp. This means that properly employing a waterproof tarp will keep the items it is protecting totally dry.

Likewise, you can completely submerge a waterproof tarp and it won’t absorb any of the water.

Water resistant means exactly what it says.

It will resist water, and water can perhaps bead off of it or won’t be able to penetrate it for a time, but given enough time or exposure, the tarp will certainly start to absorb moisture and then eventually allow moisture to leak through the other side once it is saturated.

Depending on your purposes, you might need one or the other, or you might be able to use either.

Generally speaking, though, for general preparedness and emergency use, you’ll want a waterproof tarp.

Whatever its other material qualities, the ability to totally deflect water (or to hold water, alternately) is a huge advantage in a variety of situations…

Once again, you’ll want to choose a sturdy PVC tarp or else a plastic-coated or “waterproofed” material.

What Can You Use a Waterproof Tarp For?

Waterproof tarps are good for lots of things, not just covering yourself or equipment to keep it dry in the rain. They do work wonderfully for that, of course!

One of the cleverest things you can use a waterproof tarp for is as an improvised rain catcher.

You can hang up a tarp and put a crease in it to direct a huge amount of collected rain into another container, or you can fashion it into a reservoir to catch the rain directly.

A waterproof tarp is also perfect for lining an existing container or depression in the ground for the same purpose, particularly if it would introduce more contamination, otherwise.

This type of is a great option to use as a ground cover early in the morning or late in the evening when dew is present, or anytime after it rains.

This will keep the moisture from soaking into your clothing and chilling you!

It can also be used to wrap up wet, dirty, or filthy gear to pack it away and keep it from making a mess wherever you have it stored, in your pack or not.

Lastly, you can use a waterproof tarp to prevent rain from washing away any mounded dirt, mulch, sand or other materials.

Simply place the tarp over it, and weigh it down to let the rain bead off of it, then you can hopefully direct the water away so it doesn’t cause a washout.

Good Waterproof Tarp Recommendations

There are countless good tarps out there on the market, and I’m not going to try to review them all here but below are some of my favorites.

They all offer good performance and waterproofness at a good price.

Winpull Tarp Brown 10×12, 16 Mil

This is probably my favorite utility tarp on the market for the money.

Solid brass grommets and heavily stitched edges mean this one will hold up, and thick 16 mil material means it is far more resistant to tearing and punctures than lesser tarps.

Get it from Amazon.

TARPAL Green 4×6 (2 Pack), 6 Mil

A smaller-size waterproof tarp, these are lightweight, easy to pack, and highly adaptable. I like these as ground covers or for small improvised shelters.

I also really like having these on hand in my bug-out bag because one side is blue and the other is a low-visibility forest green.

Get it from here.

Kotap TCM-0608 Camouflage All-Purpose 6×8, 7 Mil

Sometimes you really need to go low profile. This woodland camouflage tarp is sturdy enough for most tasks and can help you avoid detection.

The corners are heavily reinforced with good grommets and also tacked-on rubber corner protectors, a nice feature.
Get it from Amazon.

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