Do you need to use a backpacking tent footprint or a ground sheet to protect the floor of your backpacking tent from damage or increase its water resistance?
- Are there lighter weight alternatives to using the footprint sold by the tent’s manufacturer?
- What campsite selection skills can backpackers develop if they want to stop carrying a tent footprint?
- Are there certain climates or locales where footprint use is unnecessary?
- Are there any manufacturers that think that tent footprint use is unnecessary?
We surveyed 540 backpackers to see if they use a tent footprint or ground sheet to protect their backpacking tent from physical damage or for additional moisture protection.
Most Backpackers Use a Tent Footprint or Ground Sheet
We found that of 77% of backpackers that use a tent, use a tent footprint or ground sheet under their tent floors on backpacking trips, compared to 23% of those who don’t.
Reasons to Use a Tent Footprint or Ground Sheet
Backpacking tent footprint and ground sheet use is motivated by multiple factors depending on tent cost, environmental conditions, and moisture management. Here are the most popular reasons why the backpackers we surveyed use a tent footprint or a ground sheet.
- Increase the water resistance of a tent floor
- Enable use of the “fast fly” option to set tent up in the rain
- Keeps tent floor cleaner
- Block evaporation of ground moisture which can cause internal condensation
- Keep gear in vestibule dry and off the ground
- Cheaper to replace than buying a new tent
- Protect tent floor from scuffs and scratches
- Protect tent floor from sharp rocks and roots that can perforate or cut it
- That’s what we learned in boy scouts
Alternatives to Manufacturer Footprints
Over half of the backpackers who use a backpacking tent, 51%, use a manufacturer’s tent footprint under their tent floor. An additional 21% use a Tyvek ground sheet, while 16% use lightweight plastic sheeting. An additional 11% used heavier waterproof tarps, while only 1% use ultralight cuben fiber groundsheets.
Backpackers who use groundsheets instead of a factory footprint cited lower cost and lighter weight as their primary motivating factors. The most popular alternatives to manufacturer tent footprints.
Why Don’t All Backpackers use a Tent Footprint or Ground Sheet?
Most of the backpackers who don’t use a footprint or ground sheet under a backpacking tent feel that their tent floors are already sufficiently durable and don’t require further augmentation. They also prepare their tentsites before pitching a tent, by removing sticks or rocks that could damage the bottom of their tent. Backpack weight reduction is also a factor for not using footprint or ground sheet reduction, while others think that tent footprints as a “manufacturer gimmick” to get more money from consumers.
Do Any Manufacturers Say that Footprint or Ground Sheet use is Unnecessary?
Backpackers reported that Tarptent.com and Zpacks.com tell customers that an additional footprint or ground sheet is not normally required when using a backpacking tent that they manufacture.
Tarptent.com: “Use of a groundsheet depends on the conditions you expect to encounter and your style of camping. The sewn-in flooring is remarkably tough and does not usually require a separate groundsheet.”
ZPacks.com: “Our Plex tents do not necessarily need any groundsheet to protect the floor. The floor itself is reasonably durable as-is, and keep in mind that any Cuben Fiber gear can easily be patched in the field with repair tape.”
About the Survey
This survey was run on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 310,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.
While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=523 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.
There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.
The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the pros and cons of using a tent footprint as well as the lighter weight alternatives that are available and used by their peers.