How can I use a tarp to block wind...

How can I use a tarp to block wind, by a fire, without smoking myself out?

Those in the mid-Atlantic region may have noticed it was a cold and blustery weekend. When out camping on such a weekend, it is nice to have both a shelter from the wind and a fire by which to warm. But in my experience, those two things don’t mix too well.

Fire inside a tent? Enough said.

I have from time to time used a para-wing tarp to erect a wind shelter. With three points of the wing near the ground, it can provide a little pocket of wind protection.

Prior to becoming a wing man, I used to carry a blue poly tarp, and used it to build a wall to keep wind off. That helped, but formed a wind eddy. We wouldn’t gain much in comfort because so much wind swept in from the sides and over the top. If you light a fire behind the tarp, the smoke and sparks sweeping into the wind eddy cause as much discomfort as the heat from the fire provides.

Does anybody have a recommendation for configuring tarp and fire so as to better enjoy time outdoors when it is windy?


Sounds like dat’ll work…

– Last Updated: Jan-22-08 2:52 PM EST –

De old chimney effect trick! An' if weight ain't too important ah'd use a canvas tarp instead of a nylon fer de sparks.

Hope yer had a great time in de Joisey Pine Barrens, Chip. Wish ah' cood have joined ye. Maybe next time.

Fat Elmo

Tarp King Speaks!
My wife accuses me of being “The Tarp King,” because I’m always fooling with the tarp at camp.

Here’s my secret: Put the thing up however you want, but use bungee cords at 3 corners. This gives it flex & play in the wind without stressing it too much. Bungee cords can hook around the roots that poke thru the ground, thereby keeping your tarp secured.

I generally use two tarps…one to block the wind, the other to keep the rain off. In this snug two-sided shelter I sit in my lawn chair and dryly enjoy every bit of rain on the trip.

Tarp Master…
Or you could be a tarpologist…

Cliff Jacobson’s method

– Last Updated: Jan-22-08 4:47 PM EST –

Cliff Jacobson uses two tarps. The first is the main windbreak, which "ramps up" from the ground. The second tarp provides additional rain protection, but mainly, it eliminates the "wind eddy" you spoke of. This tarp ramps up in the opposite direction, toward the peak of the first tarp, but with its high edge being a little lower than that of the first tarp. The upper edges of the tarps can even overlap a bit, but it isn't necessary. You'll need either poles or lots of overhanging tree limbs to get this set up right, but it produces a very good self-venting shelter.

It would be hard to set up something like this with "wing" tarps, but if you get really good-quality tarps that have web tie-downs every 2 feet or so, along with a reinforced pole pocket and tie-down at the center, they can be strung very tight. Once tight, a center pole in each tarp eliminates all flutter.

Yep, 2 tarps…
Ramp into the wind–or if you have the poles it can be curved. If you have a top, its edge needs to be below the edge of the wind block tarp. Another tarp on the other side ramping down. It doesn’t have to reach the ground, but is needed to direct the wind away from the tarp area. Be careful to get the wind tarp to the ground. If the wind can get under it you have created a wing and the wind will rush under the tarps.

The two tarp trick
depends on having a smoke vent formed between the two tarps. Pretty obvious in the “Forgotten Skills” DVD.


Forget the fire.
Is it really necessary? Cook and warm up away from where you sleep.

Turn the canoe/kayak over ao that the bottom

slants toward windward. Stretch a tarp over

the top, with three quarters of the tarp’s

length on the leeward side (where you’ll sleep.) Stake the tarp

down on the ends, but not the sides. Stow yourself, sleeping roll, duffels beneath it.

If you’ve situated the boat’s hull into the wind correctly, by itself it prevents rain from driving in the sides.

Two tarps, makes sense
CJ method makes sense. Something to try next time out. Thanks.


Old design
Here’s a link to a very old design for a tarp on poles that makes short work of how to have your tarp and your cook fire, too.

I’ve toured these lodges and conversed with Don Strinz. His craftsmanship is excellent. Now, you figure how to get it into your hatches. Maybe a canoe for the tarp and a hatchet for the poles. :slight_smile:

Tarp teepee
The Indians built fires in their portable homes, but they were quite large compared to what you can do with a tarp.

Probably a bad idea to try away from your house though.


The teepee is rather tongue-in-cheek for a modern canoe trip. Looking at either the Bakers Tent or Leanto designs would give one a good idea what to do with a tarp, some line, and strategically placed rocks to get a nice windbreak for a SMALL dry fire. There is an old saying, “Indian builds a fire to warm himself, white man builds a fire to warm the whole woods.”

Old N.A. Saying, version 2
Indian builds a small fire and gets close, white man builds a big fire and stands away.


Bakers tent
Some traditionalist wood canvas canoe campers I know swear by the Bakers tent. They use them for multi day canoe trips in remote Maine.

However, there is no free lunch. Baker tents are expensive, heavy, bulky, may require more some set up time and require careful drying of the canvas before storing to prevent rot.


you can always heat your hands with a gas lamp

A 12’ Noahs Tarp staked down
on three sides and elevated with a pole on the fourth has worked well for me in blocking the wind. I have not tried a small campfire near the open side but I think it would work ok as the wind is totally blocked on three sides and the high point is above the fire. Not sure what those pesky eddies will do with the smoke though. Next time I camp in lousy weather and I’m not sleeping under my canoe, or a rock, and I want a fire, I’ll try it.

Camping in a gale is what made me a wing convert. Set up per your recommendation, they are great at shedding the wind. We had two Noah’s and while we were setting one up it got caught square in the wind and just exploded, instantly and with a loud report. We were more careful with the second one. Pitch it in a wing formation, and it is amazing how strong a wind it can withstand.

I never wanted to burn a fire under my Noah, so I don’t have any results on how well it would vent smoke. I’m guessing not, but it is only a guess.


Old Saying No. 3
White man build big fire, stand way back, bake on one side, freeze on other. Indian build small fire, get close, freeze on all sides.