Tents, sleeping bags and backpacks seem to be iconic items that any camper can’t do without on a camping trip. However, essential camping gear goes far beyond that. However, essential gear goes far beyond that. For instance, you can use a sleeping pad for better insulation from the ground, a water resistant rain fly to protect your shelter against heavy rain, or portable wood stoves for more comfortable winter camping.
Another gear you might want to bring to the campsite is a tent footprint. Go on reading to find out what a tent footprint is and why you might need it.
What is a tent footprint?
Basically, a tent footprint is a ground cloth made from waterproof material that lays between your tent bottom and the ground. Tent footprints are usually produced from sturdy but relatively lightweight fabric, for example, polyethylene, cuben fiber, oxford nylon, or polyester.
They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, meaning you can find the perfect fit for your tent. A tent footprint can be pegged down in the corners and is the first thing you need to sort when setting up your wildlife shelter.
Most tents come without tent footprints, meaning that ground sheets are optional pieces of gear.
Do you really need a footprint?
First and foremost, you need a tent footprint if your goal is to extend the life of your tent. Footprints don’t usually cost much, which makes them easy to replace once they wear out. Footprints are optional for many tents, but keep in mind that backpacking tents require their use as they are produced from thinner materials, which means a higher risk of damage.
Also, it’s a great idea to follow tent manufacturers' recommendations, or check online whether they offer a footprint specifically for your tent. If they do, this is a reason to get it.
How important is a tent footprint?
A footprint protects your tent from wear and tear
It often happens that we have to put up with pitching the tent on a surface teeming with roots, rocks or twigs, accepting the risk of puncturing the tent floor. Footprints are here to protect your tent from the damage by providing an extra layer between your tent floor and the ground. Again, in case your footprint gets torn or punctured, it’s way cheaper to repair or replace it than your tent.
It functions as extra waterproofing
It goes without saying that if you double the layers, you double your protection against rain. In addition, a tent footprint will take on all that mud and dampness and protect your tent floor against mold and mildew.
It helps you minimize cleaning
It’s much easier to clean the footprint instead of the whole tent. It acts as a “first line of defense” that helps to keep the rest of your tent clean. What is more, footprints typically come with a sack that allows you to separate a dirty one from your other gear.
Footprints add extra insulation
A footprint underneath your tent creates an additional layer that helps decrease the amount of heat you lose. If a cosy night's sleep is one of your camping trip priorities, you definitely need a footprint.
Tent footprints help to pick the right spot
If your tent footprint has the right dimensions, it can go a long way toward checking if your tent is likely to fit in a potential spot. Just spread your tent footprint over the spot to come up with a much more accurate guess.
You can use them in multiple ways
Apart from protecting your tent bottom, tent footprints can serve you other purposes. For example, you can use your footprint as a gear sorting station, a rain tarp, additional protection in windy conditions, a picnic blanket, and more.
Also, nothing lasts forever, tent footprints being no exception. Because they perform a heavy duty protecting tents, footprints take on all the wear and tear. Luckily, they are ridiculously cheap and and can be found in any specialized store. Or you can do some easy DIY job if you need a tent footprint.
When isn't a tent footprint worth buying/making?
The main downside of using a footprint is that it means carrying more weight. Although most tent footprints are lighter than 0.5 kg, those who prefer ultralight backpacking might find this extra weight unjustifiable.
How to choose a tent footprint
How to choose a footprint based on the type of terrain
Footprint product specifications include the ‘denier’ of the material. Denier determines the weight of the thread: the higher the denier, the thicker the fabric. So if you’re planning to set your tent in mountainous areas or dense forests, consider the highest available denier index. Thick and sturdy ground sheet will effectively protect the floor of your shelter from damage that can be caused by roots, sticks, and rocks.
How big should a tent footprint be?
It might sound surprising, but it’s best when a tent footprint is up to 2 inches smaller than the outline of your tent. The thing is that if your groundsheet extends from the tent edge or is the same size, it can cause water to pool between the footprint and your tent floor in the rain.
Is it possible to make your own tent footprint?
Making a DIY footprint is a viable alternative to purchasing one. Although it requires a bit of work, it always means lower cost. The most important step is to choose the material, which, by the way, can be purchased at any hardware store. The most common materials include:
Tarp is waterproof and sturdy enough to withstand everything Mother Nature can throw at it. In addition, it’s quite cheap. On the downside, a tarp will be bulkier than other options, so be ready to carry some extra weight.
Contrary to a common belief that polycro is the same material as polyethylene, they are different. Polycro is clear plastic, the lightest of ultra-light plastics. One of the most outstanding features of this material is that it showcases a high strength to weight ratio. Although rather thin, polycro is puncture-resistant, and of course waterproof. It’s the best option for an ultra-light backpacking trip. The only disadvantage of polycro is its relatively high price.
PU coated nylon is the most common tent footprint material. The nylon fabric coated with polyurethane is lightweight, waterproof, and durable, thus providing a good level of protection for your tent floor.
Tyvek is the most common type of house wrap used for making DIY footprints. House wrap is normally used to wrap a building under construction to protect it from the elements. Tyvek is durable, light and affordable, however, it’s bulkier than polycro and that’s why it’s more suitable for car camping.
How to properly use a tent footprint
There is nothing complicated about using a tent footprint: a few simple steps, and voila, your shelter is double protected.
Unpack your tent footprint.
If you camp on rocky terrain, remove large rocks, sticks, or other items that might prevent your footprint against laying flat.
Lay your tent footprint on the ground.
Pitch your tent on top of the footprint.
If your groundsheet features buckles, or clips, or loops, connect it to the tent.
Also, remember to properly clean your footprint from mud and sand and make sure it’s dry before you put it away for storage.
What are the best footprints?
It depends on your unique needs. If you’re going to use a backpacking tent and carry it by yourself, you'll need ultralight gear, to choose a lightweight groundsheet to avoid carrying too much weight. On the other hand, if you are going to car camp, you can pick thicker and more durable options.
So is the tent footprint worth buying (or DIYing?) A simple answer: yes! Although they are optional, it’s a good idea to include a tent footprint into your first camping trip checklist. First and foremost, using a tent footprint means extra protection and prolonging the life of your tent.
Not to mention, tent footprints are your best friends if you focus on staying dry and being properly insulated from the ground. In addition, this kind of camping gear is your best bet if you want to avoid cleaning the entire tent. Footprints are quite affordable, and with so many DIY options, you can easily make your own tent footprint at home. Without any doubt, a footprint is something you should definitely pack before you hit the trail.
🏕 Can I use a tarp as a tent footprint?
- Yes, you can use a tarp as a tent footprint. Tarps do a good job in protecting the bottom of your tent from mud, stones and twigs.
📦 Should tent footprint be smaller than tent?
Yes. As a rule of thumb, tent footprints should be two inches smaller than the dimensions of the tent floors.This will prevent water from collecting between the footprint and your tent.
💡 Can you use tent without footprint?
Sure. Tent footprints aren't necessary. Still, it’s a good idea to get one if you want to prolong the life of your tent. Also, a footprint provides extra insulation from the ground, so you might want to use it during cold weather camping.
❓ Does a footprint make a tent warmer?
- Yes, using a footprint is one of the most effective ways of keeping the tent interior warmer. It creates insulation between the tent interior and the cold ground, reducing heat loss.