There are many exciting, glorious and even dramatic pieces of outdoors gear available but, let’s be clear, a tarp is not one of them. In fact, only tent pegs get less press.
Despite this, every outdoors person I know owns at least one tarp. That’s because a tarp, boring as it is, has a multitude of uses in a wilderness setting.
Needless to say, when experienced outdoors enthusiasts think of tarp usage, they immediately imagine the most glaringly obvious one. I am, of course, referring to the tarp as a wind-attracting device and/or accidental wind-powered conveyance. For, as every outdoors enthusiast knows, there is simply no better way to conjure up the wind than to show the sky your tarp.
Tarps work so well in this capacity that, if I owned a windmill farm, I’d have a few of them on hand, just to remedy those windless days.
But a tarp doesn’t merely summon wind.
A good tarp will also quickly let you know wind direction and velocity, which is, as you might well imagine, very helpful when determining which side of the lake you are unintentionally parasailing to and how quickly you will get there.
Clearly, no one thinks of these things when they buy their first tarp. Instead, they imagine this romantic notion of hiking through the woods and then, as soon as they glimpse the first rain cloud, removing the neatly folded tarp from their day pack and setting up a cozy little shelter where they can wait out the gentle rain and enjoy the wonders of nature. This idea is usually dispelled after the first golf ball-sized hailstones touch down.
Make no mistake, there are indeed times when a person will initially win the battle with the wind and be able to set up their tarp without it being blown away. In fact, there are times the wind will be surprisingly cooperative and will give you what appears to be a break. It is at times like these when you will begin to think that the horror stories you have heard whispered around an outdoors fire about the malevolent nature of tarps were probably untrue – but don’t be so naïve. What you are actually experiencing is the wily tarp lulling you into a false sense of security so that it can surprise you when you are smugly taking your tarp shelter down. This is a classic tarp move you should be aware of.
In fact, perhaps the most iconic outdoors scene never painted by the artists who depict them is that of a man desperately chasing his new and very expensive tarp through the open woods. And that’s a shame, because it reminds us of one more unheralded use for a tarp, which is as a very effective exercise machine.
This, more than anything, is the reason most tarps eventually spend their days covering up an old wood pile, barbecue or rototiller.
Even so, before the tarp ends its days happily in such a location, it has served the outdoors enthusiast well as a sail, parasail, parachute, rain funnel, trampoline for red squirrels, hammock for raccoons, smoke collector, and wholly inadequate tent.
It’s amazing, I know.
And it is also the reason why, when most people first discover the incredible versatility of tarps, they are simply blown away.