Camping on rough terrain can damage your tent’s floor quite easily. Sticks, rocks, and roots could puncture the material, no matter how tough it is or how expensive your tent has been.
A tent footprint not only will protect the floor from abrasive objects, but it has several added benefits. Let’s find out what a tent footprint is and what to consider before buying it.
What is a Tent Footprint?
A tent footprint is a polyester or polyethylene sheet designed to sit between your tent and the ground, acting as a protective barrier against friction.
This piece of fabric should be slightly smaller - or at least the same size - than your tent's floor, and is the first thing to set up when pitching your shelter.
Many people use the terms tent footprint and tarp interchangeably; however, you should know that a tarp is designed to be placed over the tent to add extra waterproofing, thus, it is larger than the tent.
For this reason, you shouldn’t use a tarp as a tent footprint if your main reason for using one is that of enhancing the floor’s water resistance.
What is the Purpose of a Tent Footprint?
There are three main reasons for using a tent footprint, which include prolonging your tent’s lifespan, keeping the bottom of the tent clean, and adding extra insulation.
If used correctly, it can also add extra water resistance to your tent, but know that this is only an added benefit and not the footprint’s main purpose.
Prolongs the Life of Your Tent
The main reason to use a tent footprint is that of reducing friction between the tent and the ground.
A groundsheet acts as a barrier between the tent and any sharp objects, such as twigs and rocks, preventing punctures and reducing wear and tear.
Adds Layer of Insulation
With the groundsheet between the ground and the tent, the floor will remain slightly suspended.
By preventing the direct contact with the ground, the tent footprint minimizes the amount of heat loss – that’s why a tent footprint can really make a difference if used when camping in the colder season.
Keeps the Bottom of the Tent Clean
Needless to say that by preventing the bottom of the tent from coming in direct contact with the ground, a tent footprint helps keep the tent bottom clean.
Not only you won’t have to bother washing the tent too often, but the groundsheet is also much easier to clean and dry.
Adds Extra Waterproofing
If you choose a tent footprint of the right size, which either the same size as the floor of the tent or slightly smaller, it can also add extra waterproofing to the floor.
However, any water that may leak between the floor and the footprint could gather and create a puddle in the middle, doing more harm than good.
How to Buy Footprint for the Tent?
Seasoned campers might not see the utility of a groundsheet, but if you’ve ever experienced the struggle of sleeping in a damp tent with water seeping in from the beneath or hate packing a muddy tent, a tent footprint is an invaluable asset.
Here are a few things to check before buying.
The most important thing to check before buying is the size of the groundsheet. Many tent manufacturers also make tent footprints for the models they sell.
However, if the tent you want can’t be paired with a custom tent footprint, you can buy any footprint that matches the size of the tent’s bottom or that is slightly smaller than it.
While investing in a larger footprint could seem like a good idea.
The truth is that if it rains, water can easily gather between the groundsheet and the tent leading to a variety of issues, such as moisture building up inside the tent or – if the floor doesn’t have a high hydrostatic head index – water seeping in from the bottom.
Most tent footprints are made from polyurethane, which is a stronger material than the nylon used for the walls and rainfly.
Besides the type of material, you should check the fabric denier, which describes the weight of the thread in the fabric wave. The higher the denier, the thicker the fabric and the higher its water resistance.
Depending on the material they’re made of, tent footprints can add a few pounds of extra weight to your shelter system.
This might not bother you too much if you plan to drive to the campsite, but could become a burden when you’re backpacking.
Some of the lightest groundsheets weigh less than 5 oz, while heavier ones can add an extra 10 oz or more to your camping gear.
Tent footprints come with four or more grommets you can fix to the ground with stakes. Some custom-made models can be attached to the poles of the tent.
The benefit of the latter is that you can move the tent from one place to another while the footprint remains attached, but attaching it to the tent poles could make it harder to set up your shelter.
Yes. Ideally, a footprint should be slightly smaller than the tent. Otherwise, it could capture rain runoff that can pool underneath the tent. If the tent floor soaks for too long (when camping in bad weather or during storms), water may eventually seep into the tent.
To make a tent footprint, you have to first choose a waterproof material. Tyvek home wrap is a popular choice. Not only it’s resistant and waterproof, but it is also cheap and easy to source. Lay it on the floor, then draw the tent floor size on it. Cut along about one inch inside the borders you have traced. That’s it! You can now enjoy your DIY tent footprint.
Tent footprints vary in thickness from around 0.5mm to 2mm. The thicker the fabric, the more it will resist abrasion. However, if you’re mostly camping during summer and on forgiving terrain, a thinner option will add less weight to your camping gear.
If you don’t have a tent footprint and desperately need one, you can use a tent tarp instead. As an alternative, you can make your own tent footprint from Tyvek or window wrap plastic insulation, as explained above.
It depends on your purpose. If you mostly need one to keep the tent’s bottom clean, then you should use a tent footprint each time you’re camping. To enhance the lifespan of your tent, make sure to use a groundsheet whenever camping on unforgiving terrain. In colder weather, a tent footprint can also come in handy, helping you retain more warmth inside the tent.