What is a Tent Footprint?
Tent footprints, also known as ground cloths, or groundsheets, are simply a barrier between your tent bottom and the ground. They come in a variety of sizes, materials, and weights. A tent footprint can be made by yourself, be an object repurposed as a footprint, or you can purchase an item specifically designed to be a tent footprint.
What is the Purpose of a Footprint?
The purpose of a tent footprint is to protect the bottom of your tent from abrasion. As you move around inside your tent, the bottom will be creating a lot of friction between, the dirt, snow, rock, wood, or whatever material you are camping on. This friction can cause damage to waterproof layers, create holes, and simply wear out your tent faster.
Do You Need a Tent Footprint?
The simple answer is no. You don’t need a tent footprint. However, having a layer between your tent and the ground can provide you with a few benefits, and increase the longevity of your tent.
Benefits of Tent Footprints
- Protecting and extending the life of your tent – replacing a footprint is a lot cheaper than replacing a tent
- Waterproofing – This one can actually go both ways. When used incorrectly, a tent footprint can actually cause water to pool, and make you more wet. In damp ground situations, like soft grass or dirt, a footprint can add a layer between your tent that will prevent some upwards water movement into your tent. Most tents nowadays do a pretty good job of staying dry by themselves in any conditions. Tent footprints should not extend beyond your tent as that can help collect water under your tent. Always fold the footprint under itself to avoid this if it extends beyond your tent.
- Tent Cleanliness – by having a barrier between your tent and the ground, your footprint usually gets the brunt of the dirt and wetness. This makes it easier to dry out your tent, less likely for it to gather any mold, and keeps a bit of dirt off of it.
- Cushion and Insulation – now this is a very minor thing. They are so thin that the added cushion and insulation is very small…but it is still there! Do not replace a sleeping pad with your tent footprint – in winter months or cold weather, having a high r-value pad will help you stay warm.
- Picking a spot – If you have a footprint that is the correct size, it is a great way to check a potential camping spot to make sure your tent is going to fit in there. Just drape your footprint over your spot, and you’ll have a much more accurate guess.
Cost of Tent Footprints
If you are buying a legitimate footprint, you can buy them for as little as $10, and upwards of $50. If you are making your own, it could be just a few dollars. We don’t recommend spending much on a footprint. Even serious ultralight campers don’t need to dish out much to get the right gear. If your tent manufacturer makes one for your tent, only make the purchase if it is reasonable.
Tent Footprint Size
It may seem counterintuitive, but tent footprints shouldn’t be larger than your tent size. Try and get them the same size of your tent or slightly smaller. You don’t want an extended piece of waterproof cloth as this acts as a catch for rainwater that can pool under your tent. Purchase a footprint the size of your tent.
Don’t worry too much, if your tent footprint is too large, you can always fold it. It also isn’t a worry if there won’t be precipitation.
Tent Footprint Examples
You can purchase tent footprints at various retailers. Here are a few:
Tent footprints aren’t fancy or expensive. Simply get one for the size of your tent that is lightweight.
Weight Of Tent Footprints
Most tent footprints fall within 3-7 ounces. Tarps and other alternatives may be either heavier or lighter. For backpackers, you should elect for lighter tent footprints. If your footprint is more than 7 ounces, you probably unnecessarily adding weight to your pack.
Can I Make My Own Tent Footprint?
Of course! It is really easy. Take any material of your choice, and cut it to the necessary size for your tent. This should be the same size as your tent bottom. Then you are done! Here are common DIY materials:
- Any thin durable plastic material – polyethylene sheeting, painters plastic, polycro, or really any plastic sheet
- Table cloth – the cheap plastic ones work great
- Tarp – Yes, a tarp is a perfectly acceptable tent footprint.
- Any waterproof fabric – nylon, polyester, or hundreds of others.
Tent Footprint Alternatives
The above, we stated multiple ways to create your own. The most common alternative is to just grab a tarp, or don’t use a footprint at all. The most important thing is placing your tent in an area that has good runoff and won’t pool water. You’ll want some type of barrier if you are on abrasive surfaces like rock, dirt, sand or snow.
Do I Need The Same Footprint Manufacturer As My Tent?
Absolutely not. In fact, many of the manufacturers make footprints with clips and buckles that basically just add weight and size to your pack. Your footprint goes under your tent – there is pretty much no need to buckle it in.
How to Choose a Tent Footprint?
Our first piece of advice would be to not overthink it. As stated above, there are many options for your groundsheet, and all of them work just fine. Consider your needs and wants. If you are price sensitive, make your own with a $2 plastic table cloth or plastic sheet. A tarp from your local store works great, just remember that tarps are large and heavy – so not ideal for backpacking.
If you want to save time, order a $10-15 option off of Amazon.
If you want it to match your tent – get the one from your tent manufacturer.
If you love to just have the best gear and name brands, by all means, go ahead and get whatever option you want!
What Are The Best Footprint Materials?
The most common materials from manufacturers are coated polyester and nylon fabrics that are lightweight, durable, and waterproof.
How To Set Up Your Footprint
There isn’t too much to explain here, but here is a step by step guide.
Step 1 – take out your tent footprint and unpack it
Step 2 – lay your tent footprint on the ground with the proper orientation
Step 3 – set up your tent on top of the footprint
Step 4 – If your footprint has buckles, or clips, or loops – feel free to connect to the tent or stake into the ground.
Did we miss something? Let us know!
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about