Hiking and sleeping: How to set up an A-frame tarp with hiking poles (with pictures, step-by-step instructions and video)

Setting up a tarp using hiking poles can seem a bit complicated in the beginning but it actually quite easy when you get the hang of it. Here are step-by-step instructions with pictures and some videos to help you manage guidelines and stakes.

We’ll be looking at the basic A-frame tarp set-up, I have separate posts about different ways you can set up a tarp and even using your tarp as a shade on the beach. Also, I have a post about the pro-s and con-s of tents and tarps, so you can choose which is the right solution for you.

What you need?

To set up your tarp you need eight stakes, trekking poles and a footprint. The footprint is optional (see below). You might also need a mosquito net if the season is warmer and there are mosquitos around.

Step 1: Choose where you will set up your tarp and test it

First thing you need to do, is pick a spot and test it. It’s actually smart to lie down and make sure the ground is not sloping and/or uncomfortable.

Step 2: When you’re satisfied with the location you can stake down the footprint (in case you are using one)

I personally use a footprint with my tarp. Some people just put their sleeping mat directly on the ground. I feel that the footprint protects my sleeping bag from getting dirty. I usually have a mosquito net as well and together with the footprint they help keep ants, ticks and the like away from me. Again, this is optional and up to you. You can also stake down the footprint after you have set up your tarp.

Step 3: Lay the tarp down on the ground

Step 4: Extend your hiking poles to desired height

I usually extend mine all the way out when the weather is good. If it’s very windy or raining, then I pitch the tarp a bit lower.

Step 5: Stake down corners on one end of the A-frame first

Don’t worry about the stakes being in perfect position or the guidelines the perfect length. You can adjust them later.

Step 6: use the hiking pole to create one end of the A-frame and stake the guideline to the ground

When you stake the guideline to the ground, the A-frame will not stay upright or straight, because there is nothing holding it up from the other side. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be okay, once you move to the other side.

Step 7: use the second hiking pole to create the other end of the A-frame and stake down the guideline

On the other side, we started from the corners. Now we begin from the tip of the A-frame and then stake down the corners.

Step 8: stake down both corners and the sides and adjust and tighten the guidelines

You can have the tarp higher and off the ground or lower to protect you from the wind and the rain. Up to you. And you can always adjust if the weather changes. That’s the beauty of tarps – they are super versatile.

A few more tips..

Tent Tarp Peg

Here’s a quick video that teaches you to stake down your guidelines and tightening them. It’s useful to learn a simple know called glove hitch (in the picture above). I’ll show you how to make one in the video.

Another useful thing to learn is coiling your rope. The ropes on your tarp or tent can get all tangled up. To prevent that from happening here’s an easy method to coil rope and keep it from coming undone – at the same time, it’s really easy to uncoil when you need it. I shot it from two different angles so it’s easier to follow. Enjoy!

Yet another useful skill is knowing what to do when the ground isn’t very good and your stakes keep coming loose. It’s not very good to wake up in the middle of the night with rain pouring and your tarp flying away.

You need to find something heavy like a rock to hold down your stakes or attach the guideline to. This picture was made in Lapland and I basically slept on a mountain in very strong wind and rain. The rocks prevented my tarp from flying off to Siberia 🙂

Tent Tarp Peg

This is what a mosqito net looks like when it’s rigged to the tarp. I keep a rope with my tarp and attach the mosquito net to the rope.

A-frame tarp with hiking poles and mosquito net

Bingo, you’re done!

The tarp should be really taut and strong to protect you from the wind and the rain.

I like tarps a lot because it’s almost like sleeping outside. The view is good and it never gets stuffy or clammy as tents sometimes do. You can read more about the pro-s and con-s of tarps and tents here.

If you find this blog post helpful, feel free to share it on social media. Your enthusiasm inspires us to create more useful content that will help you stay safe and comfortable in the outdoors 😉

PS These pictures were made in the wonderful island of Hiiumaa, off the Western coast of Estonia. The islands and their economy was hit especially hard due to the covid-19 coronavirus. The crisis is over and we encourage you to visit all the wonderful islands in Western Estonia. For more information, please go to the Visit Estonia website.

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