Where can I buy aid-agency-style tarps?

An e-mail discussion for the past few days has focused on the durable, tough emergency tarpaulins provided by organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and other international aid agencies.  You’ll find the story behind their development here.  They came into widespread use from 1996 onwards – which was the year I first came to the USA on a seven-month mission visit, and ceased wandering around areas where they would be used, so I’ve never actually seen one ‘in the flesh’, so to speak.

What sets these tarps apart is that they won’t degrade in hot or sunny conditions, and won’t weather or fray like the common blue tarps do.  They also don’t use grommet holes at all;  instead, they have heavy-duty ties affixed to them.  Here’s a video describing them.  I don’t know whether most of my readers will find it interesting, but given my years of exposure to mission and disaster environments in Africa, I certainly do.

I note that the tarpaulins are described in detail in the Red Cross purchasing guidelines here, at a price of approximately 15 Swiss francs apiece, but that’s for agency use only.  I’ve no idea where ordinary folks like you and I can buy them.  I’d love to find out, because I keep in touch with folks in Africa with whom I’ve worked in the past.  I’d like to be able to buy them a few from time to time, and ship them over.

Can any of my readers help?  Do you know where these can be bought by private citizens, and if so, at what price?  If you do, please let us know in Comments.  Thanks for your help.



  1. I always find it interesting when we see these products developed for disaster or relief in the Third World only to find they aren't available in the US. Odd since they could sell to US customers for a price that would subsidize providing it to the intended markets.

    I did a google search for "UNCHR tarp". Only Alibaba sources (if you want to buy by the ton) came up except for this one in Kenya, RelTex Africa. They don't indicate sales limitations but you have to contact them for a quote.


    I guess in the US, FEMA has a monopoly on the blue tarps and doesn't want competition.

  2. Did a quick net search and also found that Alibaba seems to be the major source, and their minimum order is five tons of product.
    Apparently the UNHCR tarpaulin is a specification so in theory any tarp manufacturer could make them as long as they meet the spec.
    That specification can be found here:
    Drilling down in the Alibaba site I did find that they offer UNHCR tarps by the single piece, but you have to contact them via e-mail to get a quote.

  3. JK Brown @12:03

    US Citizens already DO subsidize this 'company'. My guess is those tarps cost a lot more than you would be willing to pay for one. The UN? What do they care what it costs!! $1000 a piece? What do you bet? The UN does not have to be accountable to anyone, or any member, even their biggest dues payer. So I could easily see them paying a whopping per tarp price.

    If you were paying dues to a club full of folks who hate you, wouldn't you quit? The US should do the same. For what exactly does the UN do other than take up space, given balls for their 'elite' members and squander OUR wealth?

    Oh. I know! Go look at that 'inside' story that Tim Write mentions. See that big pile of tarps? I wonder how many are taken and then sold on the black market. Gee, THEY wouldn't do that, would they?

    (Sorry about the rant Peter, hope all is well with you and your move to the Great Republic!)

    El Capitan

  4. B, you're correct, they don't have finished product, so this isn't exactly what Peter was asking for, but if one is to type the word tarp in the search box, there are several choices of material that can be made into one.

    I'm still looking for the ones he asked for, and thought this company would be a good possibility for an alternate.

  5. 190gsm is roughly 6 oz, but I don't see from US sources the same sort of painted-both-sides webbing-reinforced rope-edged tarp anywhere. It does seem to answer all of the problems I've had with tarps aging out from UV or blowing out from weather, so I am also very interested, and had done pretty extensive searching myself a few days ago after reading the wired article.

  6. I'll add to my previous comment that in my searches for tarp vendors in the past, I often come up with what look like good options until shipping is calculated. The UNHCR tarps probably way about 4kg each, nearly 9 lbs.

  7. To RelTex Africa Kenya add Gujarat Craft Industries Limited in of course India.

    I suppose the Red Cross would suggest you give the money to the Red Cross as a middleman who gets quantity discounts.

    Failing a helpful contact at a local to you office of the American Red Cross I'd look at American military surplus for similar jobs for local procurement.

    Just possibly you have friends who can tell how they loved their own poncho liner. A poncho liner approximates the agency style tarp in many respects and well used is down in the same price range – reasonable to buy and ship in small lots. New condition in small quantities quite a bit more money.

    The Military Surplus Poncho Liner is extremely versatile and useful. It can be used as a blanket, a sunshade, a warm weather sleeping bag, or a sleeping bag liner for more warmth in cold weather. Constructed of a rugged, lightweight 1.9oz Ripstop nylon cloth, it is woven in a tight Oxford weave, with thick Polyester batting sandwiched between the outer layers, and is quilted for added strength and durability. It has a band of extra quilting along the width of the center for even more durability. It measures about 82" x 62", and features a rolled nylon edge binding which prevents tattering or edge wear, and nylon tie cords on each corner and on each side (8 total) allow it to be secured to the poncho for warmth, to make an improvised sleeping bag, or to easily tie it wherever it's needed or useful.

  8. Geez, I'd happily spend a fair bit on a couple of those if they could be found. I swear we specialize in killing tarps here….

  9. Doing a search for HSHETARPW406 I also come up with Reltex, however, I also come up with a contact in America:

    Reltex Relief Supplies, Inc.
    3904 Darlington Avenue, N.W. Canton, Ohio 44708, U.S.A.
    t +1 330 477 8130
    email: info at reltex.net

    They seem to be based out of Surrey in the UK.

    The closest thing I could find in a commercial capacity is at

    It matches the specs except it uses grommets and doesn't have the reinforcing bands.

  10. Tarpaulin has become a totally misused word. A tarpaulin is correctly defined as a treated sheet of canvas. There are many varieties depending on cloth weight and the treatment used. The original treatment was tar.
    Back in the sixties the DuPont plant in North Bay Ontario, Canada developed a woven poly fabric which is called Fabrene for covering railroad hopper cars to keep the cargo such as concentrated iron ore from blowing away. The product was designed to be a one use product and then trashed but its strength was such that pretty soon it was marketed as a cheep "Tarp" and the rest is history. Hardly anyone knows that that crappy blue shit is Fabrene.

  11. You know something like this might be an interesting kickstarter. Since the specifications already exist that part is already done.

    -Get samples from manufactures (if you have a fedex account most Chinese manufactures will send you samples)

    -Figure out the cheapest US shipping rates + Packaging

    -Combined with pallet unit pricing figure out a reasonable price per tarp.

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