Knot of the Week: Rigging a Tarp Shelter, Part 3 - ITS Tactical

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Knot of the Week: Rigging a Tarp Shelter, Part 3

By Bryan Black

Tarp Shelter

Today we’ll wrap up the last part in our Knot of the Week mini-series on rigging a tarp shelter.

I left off in part 2 with explaining how the tarp is attached to the trunk line with Prusik Loops and Prusik Knots, and introduced the guy-line system.  We’ll get more in-depth into that system as well as demonstrating the Alpine Butterfly Loop and the Taut-Line Hitch.

To create the guy-line system you’ll need at least five attachment points on each side of the tarp and quite a bit of paracord. As mentioned previously you’ll also need four stakes, but those can be made with a knife and some sticks you can typically find wherever you’re setting up at.

Guy-line Requirements

Before we get into how to tie these knots for the guy-line system, let’s talk paracord. I like using paracord for everything on this tarp, because I know I’ve always got 100+ feet of it at all times.

For each primary guy-line, that will be hitched around one of the four stakes, you’ll need 8-feet of paracord. The secondary guy-lines, on the next closest attachment points, will each require 5-feet and the tertiary lines need 6.5-feet.

In the video below, I’ve tied in each of the guy-lines to their respective attachment points using two half-hitches. Lately though I’ve been considering retying them with bowlines or something similar. The two half-hitches hold just fine, but taking the tarp in and out of the stuff sack I’ve noticed that I occasionally have to re-tighten them.

Cutting all the necessary paracord for the entire tarp shelter will take some time, but once its in place you can set-up and tear-down the tarp in a matter of minutes. Practice makes perfect though, so throw the tarp up in your backyard on occasion to practice setting it up.

Alpine Butterfly Loop

(Strength: 5/Secure: 5/Stability: 3/Difficulty: 4)
Alpine Butterfly Loop 08The first step after tying in all of the guy-lines, is to tie your Alpine Butterfly Loop in each of the primary guy-lines. The Alpine Butterfly acts as a anchor for the pulley system that is created by the secondary and tertiary guy-lines on each corner of the tarp. That pulley system is what evenly distributes the tension on each of the respective attachment points to stabilize the tarp in windy conditions.

An Alpine Butterfly is used to put a loop in a line that has tension coming from both ends. This knot will not weaken the strength of the line and is used by climbers and mountaineers to tie in a climber for protection against a fall.

Tying Instructions: Please refer to the photos here and YouTube video below.

Taut-Line Hitch

(Strength: 3/Secure: 3/Stability: 3/Difficulty: 3)
Taut-Line Hitch 07After each primary guy line has the Alpine Butterfly integrated, it’s time to stake them down. The best way to tie off these guy-lines to that stake in the ground is with a Taut-Line Hitch, this will allow you to adjust the tension on the line if needed. While this is the optimal knot to use in this situation, be aware that under heavy loads the hitch can release.

Not only will the primary guy-line have a Taut-Line Hitch, but each secondary and tertiary guy-line will also use one after being routed through the Alpine Butterfly Loop. This will again allow you to individually adjust the tension on these guy-lines to mitigate the amount of flex the tarp has in windy conditions.

Tying Instructions: Please refer to the photos here and YouTube video below.

Closing Notes

Rigging a Tarp Shelter Part 2 01I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and not only learning how to tie all these great knots, but also seeing how they all come together into a practical application.

Knot tying truly is a depreciable skill-set, and one that I hope everyone takes an interest in and passes along to friends, family and co-workers. With today’s generation of people that are completely dependent on all the fancy gadgets and electronics (guilty), developing skill-sets like these and retaining them is even more important.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of the knots used in this mini-series, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Now get a tarp and practice!

Oh, and before anyone asks, I don’t know why I said “happy tarping” at the end of the video, I know it’s absurd and I couldn’t edit it out!

Links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the series in case you missed them!

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  • Joseph L

    There’s actually a much faster way to tie the butterfly loop. It’s much faster and you can do it in the dark.

    You take the rope or cord, hold it with the thumb of either hand, feed it over towards your fingers/knuckles, then loop it around back over towards your thumb twice. Then pull the loop on your palm farthest from your thumb out, then back towards your wrist and under all the other loops. Pull it off and dress your new butterfly knot.
    That’s how I learned it, it’s a little messier than
    But I find it much easier.

    • b.m.

      I personally find the method illustrated in this video for tying an alpine butterfly a LOT easier than that alternate method. When I do the two twists, I leave my left thumb in the loop where you feed the main bight through to finish the knot. Cold hands, limited visibility, etc., no problem…

      Great video series, thanks…


    • Josh R

      I find this method to be the easiest for the butterfly:

    • Axman

      When teaching the Alpine Butterfly, I never ever teach the over the hand method. When it’s used for rigs that could have sudden weight put on the rope (for me, roof safety systems and rescue rigs), the around the hand method means you can lose all your fingers very easily. Never ever wrap a rope that may have unexpected force put on it around any part of your body.

  • Colin White

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    Here is an alternate way of tying the Alpine Butterfly Loop knot that I personally use which is easy to do and remember. Possibly easier to do in limited visibility too.

  • pdxoifvet

    Dude I was cracking up when you said 'happy tarping'. Not absurd, hilarious.

  • James B

    i was wondering what is the brand of hatchet you used in this video and if you find it secures to a pack easily

    • James, it’s a Gerber and while I like it’s size and blade strength and ease of resharpening, I dislike the case. I used an old TA-50 clip to secure it to my pack. It does have a loop to put it on your belt, but I’m not a happy “camper” about the case.

    • James B

      thank you

  • Legman688

    Two points:

    1. While I understand that this is ITS Tactical, and that therefore the currently-fashionable coyote brown paracord is de rigeur, tan paracord over a brown forest floor, ah, fulfills all of its low-visibility potential, especially in 480p Youtube videos. This is counterproductive to your instructional purpose. Perhaps next time, something in a blaze orange or other highly visible color?

    2. This was interesting and instructional; however, many of us prefer not to carry any more unitaskers than necessary. How would you modify the technique to work with a poncho?

    I lied. Three points:

    3. While the guy line rigging system is indeed clever and speedy, I would point out that it also has only four points of failure rather than a dozen. In truly volatile conditions, a dozen anchors would be superior.

  • Justin

    Absolutely brilliant. I’ve been backpacking and mountaineering for about a decade plus a few years, and I have never seen anyone use this for tarps. Like you, I did the old 6 individual lines, and always deal with the bowing on windy locations. Granted we usually just use the tarp for day shelter in storms, or for cooking while backpacking, rather than a primary shelter.

    I’ve also never used the prussik method, though I have seen similar setups. Seeing yours setup though just made sense, gives you the ability to fine tune the location of the tarp between your anchors and keeps water from dripping in. Only downside is it can’t be used with trekking poles, which is why I usually go directly to the tarp.

    Thanks for doing this video series, learned a lot from the site about fitness and evasion/survival. but this is definitely going to get many uses per year.

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