What Is A Tent Footprint & Is It Necessary?

Tent footprints, sometimes called 'groundsheets,' can be divisive. Are they genuinely helpful, or an extra burden? In this guide, we'll explain what is a tent footprint and offer our perspective on whether you need one.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Brian Conghalie
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In simple terms, a tent footprint, also known as a tent ground cover, is a sizable, impermeable sheet of fabric that you place under your tent. Its primary role is to serve as a shield between the tent’s floor and the ground, offering added protection against wear and tear from rugged or uneven terrain. In appearance, most footprints resemble basic tarps and are typically crafted from similar synthetic, waterproof material.

In our short guide to tent footprints, we’ll address whether you require a camping footprint, when you don’t require one, whether it needs to be brand-specific for your tent, and the best practices for using one.

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Do You Need A Tent Footprint?

While most tents nowadays feature bathtub-style floors made of reinforced, highly waterproof materials like silnylon to protect against abrasion and water, we would still recommend using a tent footprint.

Backing up your tent’s flooring with a footprint is a good idea for the following reasons.

  1. Protection
  2. Insulation
  3. Waterproofing

1. Protection

Using a footprint can extend your tent’s lifespan by minimizing wear and tear on the tent floor, offering additional protection against potentially corrosive elements such as sand, grit, animal scat, and tree sap.

2. Insulation

Footprints can provide a slight boost in insulation for your tent floor, even if just by half a degree. In extremely cold conditions, every bit of insulation can make a difference.

3. Waterproofing

A footprint also offers additional defense against leaks. Although your tent floor is designed to repel ground moisture, using a footprint becomes particularly beneficial if your tent is aging, hasn’t been reproofed recently, or has unnoticed holes or punctures in it. In such cases, a footprint can prevent you and your gear from getting soaked in especially wet conditions.

When is a Camping Footprint Not Necessary?

While a footprint is generally advantageous, minimalist thru-hikers may find it burdensome since it adds extra weight to their load. Depending on the material it may weigh as little as 10.5 ounces or 300 grams however those favoring ultralight travel or venturing deep into the backcountry might consider the addition unjustifiable.

The solution? If you’re car-camping or pitching a camping tent close to the road, then you can bring your footprint along to minimize wear and tear without too much consequence in terms of effort; if you’re headed further afield, only bring the ground cloth if you aren’t averse to increasing your pack weight and/or suspect you’ll be pitching up on particularly abrasive ground.

Is It Worth Buying Your Tent Brands Footprint?

It’s typically unnecessary to buy a footprint from the same brand as your tent. Branded tent tarp sheets are often expensive and don’t offer much if any, benefit beyond what a simple tarp available at hardware or outdoor stores can provide, and for as little as a quarter of the price.

And making your own tent footprint is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is know the dimensions of your tent floor and then head down to the store to have the matching size of tarp material cut.

The best materials for DIY footprints are the same as those used in lightweight tarps, namely Tyvek homewrap, silnylon, polyethylene sheeting, or cuben fiber, all of which can be sourced at a far lower cost than branded footprints and, in all likelihood, will not fall far short in terms of performance.


How To Use A Tent Footprint Next Camping Trip?

Using a tent footprint or groundsheet is straightforward: lay the footprint out on your chosen camping spot, pitch your tent on top of it, and then tuck the excess material under the tent edge to prevent any rainwater or condensation from pooling on the “fringe” of the footprint.

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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