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Tarp ten ways

Can you find 10 ways to turn a tarpaulin into a survival shelter fit for a good night’s sleep?

You will need

  • Scrap paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Natural materials (for example, leaves, twigs, feathers)
  • Tarpaulins
  • Cordage

Before you begin

  • If you want this activity to count towards the Scouts Outdoor Challenge Award, you’ll need to do it during a night away – and people will need to sleep in their creation.
  • You can use all sorts of cordage for this activity, including string, rope, and paracord. It might work best for each group to use a mixture of different types. To keep it simple, we’ll just talk about ‘rope’ in this activity.
  • You’ll need enough tarpaulins and rope for all of the groups to build their shelters at once. You may need to ask to borrow equipment if you don’t have enough – other volunteers, friends and family, or other local groups may be able to help. Let people know what you’ll be using it for.
  • You’ll need a large outdoor space that’s big enough for a group of survival shelters. A wooded area’s best. If you can’t access a wooded area, you may need to give people some longer poles like bamboo sticks, which they can use to support their tarps.
  • Look at survival shelter ideas before you go away so you can steer people in the right direction if they need some help. This site has a handy article with 25 different ideas. Brush up on your skills too, for example, how to hold down tarps without holes for pegs. You may want to use this video to help.
  • You may want to decide to save this activity for when the weather’s fair, especially if everyone will be sleeping in their shelters. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and keep people up to date with your plans.

Get building

  1. The people leading the activity should make sure everyone understands how they could use a tarp to make a survival shelter. Depending on people’s level of experience, they may show everyone a few examples, or just demonstrate some top tips such as how to fasten down tarps.
  2. Everyone should split into teams of up to eight people. Each team should get a tarpaulin, some rope, and plenty of natural materials.
  3. Each group should find a safe space to build a shelter. They shouldn’t be near insect nests or animal trails, and they should avoid building where things might fall on them (for example, dead branches or rocks). They should also avoid building at the bottom of hills or in dips where water will collect.
  4. Each group should try to come up with 10 different shelter ideas and make rough versions of each, one at a time.
  1. Meanwhile, the people leading the activity should walk around and offer some helpful advice. They should make sure everyone’s shelter building stays safe.
  1. Once a group’s tried out 10 ideas, they should call out ‘Tarp 10 ways!’ Everyone should pause and go over to the group.
  2. The group who tried 10 ideas should show everyone some of their best suggestions.
  1. Each group should spend some time putting together their final structure. Now’s the time to make it super-secure.
  2. Everyone should walk around and explore each other’s structures.
  3. Everyone should gather everything they need for a good night’s sleep and tuck themselves in for the night.


This activity was all about valuing the outdoors. Did people enjoy being outside? How did finding an area to build a shelter help them connect to the natural environment? People might think about how they looked all around, including looking up, to see what was there. If people slept in their shelters, what was it like? Perhaps they could hear, see, or smell different things, compared to when they sleep in tents.

This activity also needed people to problem solve. There wasn’t much equipment in this activity – did that make it tricky? What natural materials did people use as equipment? Did people have to try a few different ways of doing things before they found something that worked? What helped people solve problems? People might think about staying calm, asking friends for help, or just trying a different approach.


All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Outdoor activities

You must have permission to use the location. Always check the weather forecast and inform parents and carers of any change in venue.