Tarpaulins—aka tarps—used to be a seafaring thing. In the 17th century, sailors used tar-covered fabric to cover (pall) important stuff on ships, hence: tar-palling. They were so common on boats that rigging up a plain old piece of tarpaulin was actually the most-used pirate flag—not the skull and crossbones. Whether you’re looking for a quality tarp to spread under your kids’ inflatable swimming pool, to string up as a rain fly while camping or to subtly let your neighbors know your piratical leanings, there are a few things you should consider before handing over your doubloons.

Budget Friendly

This simply designed model comes in a variety of sizes and weights. Trademark Supplies

The most basic consideration when buying tarps is size. Standard sizes range from the diminutive 6-feet by 8-feet tarp to a whopping 100-feet by 100-feet model. When selecting a tarp size, be sure to consider the intended purpose. Tarps used as a ground cover or strung up as canopies can be chosen using simple length and width estimates, but tarps used to cover objects like boats or vehicles should take depth into account. Keep in mind that the size marked on the product is a cut size—the measurement before it’s hemmed and eyeleted—so expect it to be up to 5 percent smaller and size up accordingly.

Heat-sealed and reinforced edges, along with rust-proof grommets, help to extend this product’s life. Kotap

There’s nothing worse than stringing up a tarp only to have one strong wind rip through the grommet. When selecting a robust tarp, look for products made with rot- and shrink-resistant polyethylene and rust-resistant aluminum grommets. The edges should be heat-sealed with rope reinforcement along the hems. This prevents those unexpected gales from shredding the edges of the tarp.

This one has reinforced corners and heat-sealed edges, and it’s cut slightly larger than other models. DRY TOP

For some purposes, a basic tarp is perfect, but more rugged uses require tougher gear—and that means considering the thickness of the tarp. Basic tarps clock in at around 5 millimeters thick, while heavy duty tarps can be twice that—or even thicker. These hardy tarps may have other robust features like reinforced corners and UV treatment to help prevent sun damage.