How To Make A Tarp For Bike Touring

Our homemade tarp, all set up and ready to go!We’ve mentioned many times how tarps are incredibly useful on a bike tour, so imagine our disappointment when we recently discovered our tarp had been misplaced.

We only found this out 2 days before we left to go bike touring in Denmark. What to do?

Buying a new tarp wasn’t an option, but we equally didn’t want to go without. Denmark is renowned for its fickle weather and we needed to be prepared. So, we made our own tarp! It cost us about $5 U.S. and took less than 30 minutes, once we’d bought the required items.

What You Need To Make A Tarp For Camping Or Bike TouringTo make your own tarp, you need:

  • A large sheet of plastic (in this case, the covering from a mattress we’d just bought)
  • Eyelets from a sewing store
  • Duct tape
  • 50m roll of parachute cord
  • A pair of scissors

Making the tarp was very simple. We laid the sheet of plastic out on the floor.

Then we used duct tape to reinforce each corner, where the eyelet would be pounded in. We used 2-3 small strips of duct tape on each side of the tarp, and then used the hole punch that comes with the eyelets to put the eyelet through the middle of the tape.

Reinforcing the corners of our tarp with duct tape

Add some string through the hole, and it looked like this.

The corners of our homemade tarp

Here’s the finished product, in a campsite.

Our homemade tarp, all set up and ready to go!

Shortly after we put our tarp up for the first time, it rained heavily and the wind was strong throughout the night. Despite these challenging conditions, the tarp didn’t break or stretch. It coped perfectly.

Of course, there are downsides to this kind of tarp:

  • It’s heavier than most commercially made tarps of the same size.
  • It’s see-through, so while it’s great for rain (it lets lots of light in), it’s no good for creating shade on a hot day. In other words, it’s not as versatile as a tarp made of fabric.
  • The strings become slack after the tarp is up for a few hours, but are hard to tighten again. We could buy some line tensioners to help with this, or we could learn to tie an “alpine butterfly” knot, as in the video below.

All in all, we’re pleased with our make-shift tarp. It may not be as light, compact or robust as our Hilleberg XP 10 tarp, but it also cost a fraction of the price. It would be an ideal solution if you only plan to bike tour a little bit, or want to try out a tarp before committing to a bigger investment.

Another guide to making your own tarp can be found on the Backpacking Light website.


  1. Bob Hollis.
    13th September 2010 at 1:17 am #

    This is a clever and useful improvisation. Two old ideas that are applicable to tarps. Cut old car tubes into rubber bands. You can use these in line in the guy ropes and they take the power out of strong wind gusts and shrinkage. Instead of perforating the fragile tarp try wrapping the tarp around a marble or small smooth pebble as a take off point. It is much stronger, it almost eliminates tearing, and you can wrap a take off point anywhere in the tarp.
    I live in Queensland, Australia. A State where long distances and hot roads provide plenty of free roadside discarded tubes.
    I’m too mean to ever drive past a tube and always have some on hand in various strengths from trucks to motorcycles.
    Their usefulness is almost endless.

    • friedel
      15th September 2010 at 10:21 pm #

      Bob, you have some great tips here! I am going to add some old tubes to our tarp. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Hans
    13th September 2010 at 9:17 am #

    In stead of making a hole with tape, you can just ty one (or two) knot in the corner of your tarp and ty the rope behind the knot.

    Then, I prefer the Truckers hitch to put tension on my lines.

    CU, Hans

    • Adam Kilpatrick
      14th September 2010 at 5:31 am #

      I agree, you can tie a sheet bend very easily in the
      corners of the plastic sheeting instead of punching holes
      and using eyelets-we used to do it in Scouts all the time
      when eyelets on cheap tarps pulled through. I still do it
      when tyeing down trailers with a tarp over the top of the

      • friedel
        15th September 2010 at 10:22 pm #

        I should have talked to you two before making the tarp!

  3. Johann Rissik
    15th September 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    That’s an interesting looking shelter behind the tarp? Is that in a camp site and is it big enough to sleep in?

    • friedel
      15th September 2010 at 10:20 pm #

      Johann –

      This is one of the many shelters found in primitive campsites in Denmark. Yes, we slept in it. This one was quite small (2 people was just right, 3 would have been crowded), but there were 4 other shelters in this campsite to choose from. In other campsites, we found much more spacious shelters, which could happily accommodate between 4-8 people.

    • Hans
      16th September 2010 at 6:17 am #

      Find them here:
      Unfortunately not in English.
      In the left side menu activate: ‘Overnatning’, then ‘Primitive overnatning’ and ‘Frie telstningsområder’.
      Double click the map to zoom in in the area that you are interested in.
      Sometimes you need to click on ‘OPDATER LISTE I FORHOLD TIL KORT’ on the right side of the page.
      There are about 750 places to choose from.
      Welcome to DK, Hans

      • friedel
        16th September 2010 at 6:26 am #

        Yes, that site is great. Also, there’s a book you can buy at any tourist bureau. It was kind of expensive (18 euros) but compared to the cost of a formal campsite, it paid off quickly! It lists not only the primitive sites, but also places where farmers and friendly locals will let you camp on their property.

        I’m going to write all this up soon in some resource pages for Denmark.

  4. tdp
    17th September 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Great stuff here!

    For free you can get the waterproof wrapping that hardware and lumber stores often throw away which is used to cover and protect shipments of lumber such as 2×4s. I picked up some and sewed it into a “taco” to throw over my bikes so they don’t get rained on when I’m too lazy to put them away into the basement. For ties, as Bob Hollis said, you can use old cut strips of tubing. As for anchoring, instead of the duct tape and hole method, gather some rocks and wrap them into the part of the tarp where you want to tie off from and then wrap the ties around the now tarp covered rock and presto, free tarp!

  5. campbell
    23rd September 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Although i am impressed with your ingenuity i dont quite understand why you wouldnt just buy a tarp that it made for the purpose it is designed for and will arguably be much more resilant and long lasting?


  6. friedel
    23rd September 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi Campbell,

    We didn’t buy a tarp because we already have one but it’s in a box in Canada (along with some things we left behind when we moved to Holland from Canada). We will go back to Canada for a visit in a few months, so we didn’t want to buy a good tarp for such a limited amount of touring. By next spring, we’ll have our good tarp (made by Hilleberg) back in our bags 🙂

    I think this tarp is a good emergency solution. It could be an option for someone who doesn’t want to spend much money, who doesn’t do enough bike touring to justify the $100+ cost of a decent lightweight tarp, or who wants to try out a tarp before deciding whether or not to make an investment in a real tarp.

Leave a comment