Tent Footprints – Do You Really Need One?

According to the Outdoor Foundation, an estimated 14 percent of Americans (about 40.1 million people) head out for camping adventures each year. That is a lot of campers!

One common question new campers in particular have relates to how to know they are bringing the right kind of gear. Here is where knowing about the benefits of a tent footprint can come in handy.

In this post, learn more about what a tent footprint is, how to use it and how to pick the perfect tent footprint for your camping trip.

What is a Footprint for a Tent?

The phrase “tent footprint” refers to the material that you place between your tent and the ground. It takes the abuse from the wear and tear the bottom of the tent gets by rubbing against the ground at the campsite rather than your more expensive tent.

If you’ve ever camped on rocky, sandy or gravel surfaces, you probably already know how your tent bottom can get scratched, abraded and even torn by rough terrain.

Tent Footprint: Major Benefits

A tent footprint, then, is an extra piece of material you can place in between your tent bottom and the actual outside ground. The tent footprint will protect your tent from getting too damaged by what is underneath.

If you have purchased a tent with a waterproof or weatherproof coating, a tent footprint is doubly valuable to ensure this coating does not get rubbed away while you are camping.

A tent footprint can also work in tandem with the rainfly flap to prevent excess water from getting inside your tent when it rains. While this won’t necessarily cause extra wear and tear on our tent, it can damage other items you’ve brought along.

Choosing the Right Tent Footprint Dimensions

Ideally, a tent footprint should extend at least to the edges of your tent floor or even a bit further. Often, a tent manufacturer will also sell tent footprints to match each tent model, which can make researching the perfect dimensions easier (whether you decide to buy the manufacturer’s footprint or not).

Manufacturer’s footprints are often attached to the tent, usually either by sharing stake holes or by having holes which the tent poles go through.  This helps to ensure that the ground cloth is fully stretched out and protecting the entirety of the tent.

Why Use a Footprint under a Tent?

As mentioned here, a tent footprint gives your tent extra protection from the outside ground surface where you pitch your tent. Of course, a tent comes with its own bottom section to keep you and the critters just outside your tent safely separated.

Protecting Your Investment

But for most campers, the tent is often cited as both the most expensive and the most essential piece of gear for a camping trip. The average tent can cost anywhere from $40 to $600 for a tent housing from two to six people. Higher-end tents that can sleep larger groups may run as high as $1,200.

Average Tent Footprint Costs

Since most campers really enjoy camping and often plan more than one camping trip annually, that can add up to a lot of wear and tear on even the hardiest tent. The average cost of a tent footprint ranges from $30 to $70. For DIYers, cheaper footprint options can even be made from tarp material.

Tyvek is a very popular DIY ground cloth material (that’s the weatherproofing barrier that wraps houses – located between the wood sheathing and the siding/brick).  It’s readily available, extremely lightweight, and very cheap if you know where to look.

tyvek_house_wrapScott Ehardt
Yep. That stuff.

Rather than buying a whole roll, Ebay features many sellers that will sell you a small tent size piece that they cut from their own roll.

A Tent Footprint is Insurance Against Wear and Tear

This makes a tent footprint look like a cost-effective insurance plan against minor or major tent damage that can build up over time. When you invest in a tent you love, it just makes sense to do everything you can to ensure your tent endures as little wear and tear as possible per trip.

What Material Should a Footprint Be?

As every backpacking camper knows, each piece of gear you add to your camping list will potentially increase two things: the money you have to spend and the weight you have to lug. For the latter in particular, your back, knees and feet will thank you for keeping your pack gear as lightweight as possible!

Here, the material you select for your tent footprint can make a real difference both in how easy your tent footprint is to re-pack and how much your pack itself weighs.

The Essentials of an Effective Tent Footprint

Backpacking experts state that there are some easy ways to reduce the overall weight of your tent footprint. First, eschew grommets, stakes, snaps, hooks or other extras designed to secure the footprint to the tent. But first, focus on finding the most durable yet lightweight footprint material.

A best case scenario is using a tough and durable tent footprint material that is also thin and light.

Durable + Lightweight = Ideal

Some popular options include plastic sheeting, tarpaulins, lightweight Tyvek cloth (as mentioned above), polycro and other similar coverings. Most should be readily available at home improvement stores, in outdoor stores, and on amazon.

For optimal weight conservation, bring only as much tent footprint coverage as you need to provide your tent floor with edge-to-edge ground cover.

For Floor-less Tents

The one exception here would be if you prefer the kind of lightweight backpacking tent that has no floor. Typically, such tents are appealing because of their low weight, but you may just get out to the backcountry and discover a monsoon, snowstorm or other natural event has beat you to your campsite.

In this case, it isn’t just your tent investment you are protecting, but your own skin. It is pretty hard to get any sleep when you have nothing in between you and the soggy, chilly or critter-laden ground!

If you choose a suitably lightweight tent footprint, the impact to your overall gear weight should be minimal, but your enjoyment of your trip will likely increase maximally.

In Conclusion

The need for and usefulness of a tent footprint is a topic of intense debate among serious backpacker-campers. However, the vast majority of campers today classify themselves as hobbyists who are camping as much to simply enjoy nature as to test their survivalist nature know-how.

If you identify with this group, a tent footprint can make a measurable difference in your ability to enjoy your next camping adventure. Bringing along a tent footprint just makes good sense!

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