Best tarp

Home Improvement

Color may not be a priority, but a light-colored tarp will reflect heat, whereas a dark color will absorb it. That can have an impact in some storage situations or if you’re sitting under it.

BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details.

Which tarp is best?

A tarp is an easy-to-use cover for everything from the winter log pile to a fully-loaded big rig. It’s no surprise you’ll find them everywhere.

So all you need to do is check the size you want and go buy one, right? Well, maybe. There is actually considerable variety. Materials and construction can have a big impact on what they cost and how long they last.

Our favorite, the Xpose Safety Super Heavy-Duty Tarp, provides a durable, all-weather solution for all kinds of tasks.

What to know before you buy a tarp

Materials

Although polyethylene (often just called poly) and canvas are far and away the most common, there are also tarps made from vinyl and PVC.

Polyethylene is cheap and almost 100% waterproof, and thus has become the most popular choice. However, the sun’s UV rays will destroy cheap poly tarps surprisingly rapidly. They can disintegrate — quite literally fall to pieces — in just weeks. For this reason, any good poly tarp will have an anti-UV coating (make sure it’s on both sides).

Canvas (woven from natural hemp or cotton) is much tougher than polyethylene, so it’s a better choice where abrasion resistance is required. It’s also flame-retardant (though not fireproof). However, it’s seldom fully waterproof, and can be prone to rot in damp environments. The flip side to that is that because it will absorb liquids to some degree, it doesn’t become slippery like plastics, so in some situations it’s safer.

Vinyl is somewhat more specialized, being tougher than polyethylene but more expensive. It’s popular for hauling. PVC combines flexibility with durability, and is often found in factory curtaining or in construction for temporary floor coverings.

What to look for in a quality tarp 

Aside from material, thickness is going to have an impact on how hard-wearing and flexible the tarp is. There are two measurement systems in general use, mils and ounces per square yard. Manufacturers may give either or both. Six mils/3 ounces would be considered light duty, while up to 24 mils/12 ounces would be the most heavy duty. If the tarp is woven (many poly tarps are woven, as well as canvas) then you’ll also get a weave count. Higher numbers mean greater strength, with 8 by 8 being a lightweight tarp, up to 24 by 24 on heavy-duty models.

Grommets can be plastic, aluminum or brass. All are resistant to rust, but metal ones will last longer. Spacing can be anywhere from 36 to 18 inches apart. Typically, they’ll be closer on heavy-duty tarps, because you usually want more tie-down points.

To reinforce the edges of the tarp, double or triple rows of stitching are used. On the highest-quality versions, nylon rope is sewn into the edge to add additional strength.

A note on sizing. Some manufacturers give the size as that of the cut material before the edge was folded over and stitched. This generally results in the actual tarp dimensions being a half inch or more smaller than stated in the description. If you need precise sizing, it’s something to look out for.

How much you can expect to spend on a tarp

You can probably find cheap tarps for just a few bucks, but they tear easily and have no UV protection. A good-quality 8-by-10-foot tarp will cost around $15; at the other end of the scale, a tough, heavy-duty 30-by-40-foot tarp will cost you several hundred. That’s still very reasonable considering the size and level of protection provided.

Tarps FAQ

Are mils for tarp thickness the same as millimeters?

A. Sound similar, don’t they? But no, they’re not the same. A mil is 1/1000th of an inch, and a millimeter is 1/100th of a meter. If you want a conversion, a millimeter is 0.039 inch — or 39 mils.

How do you know if a tarp is properly waterproof?

A. It’s not easy. There’s no common standard, so basically you have to take the maker’s word for it. It’s difficult to make canvas completely waterproof, so poly is better. Be careful with “water-resistant,” which probably just means shower-proof.

What’s the best tarp to buy?

Top tarp

Xpose Safety’s Super Heavy-Duty Tarp

Xpose Safety’s Super Heavy-Duty Tarp

What you need to know: This is a hard-wearing tarp in a wide range of sizes providing something for every task.

What you’ll love: 16 mils thick, with a 16 by 16 weave count. It’s strong, waterproof and UV resistant. Grommets are 18 inches apart and seams are reinforced for greater security.

What you should consider: Seams have been known to fray occasionally.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top tarp for the money

Harpster Tarps’ High-Visibility Tarp

Harpster Tarps’ High-Visibility Tarp

What you need to know: This light-duty tarp is bright red if you need what you’re covering to stand out.

What you’ll love: Cheap and cheerful cover for indoors and out, the material is 3.3-ounce (approximately 7 mil thick). It is waterproof, rot resistant and has anti-UV coating on both sides.

What you should consider: Nothing, as long as you understand it’s just a thin, lightweight cover.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

F&J Outdoors’ Canvas Truck Tarp

F&J Outdoors’ Canvas Truck Tarp

What you need to know: Well-made, this traditional heavy-duty canvas is for vehicle, boat and yard use.

What you’ll love: Thick, 10-ounce fabric equivalent to 23 mil has triple-stitched hems. Grommet spacing allows for frequent tie-down points. Accurately sized, it is UV- and water-resistant.

What you should consider: It isn’t fully waterproof and the color can fade quickly.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.