Home / Reader Surveys / Backpacking Tent Footprint and Groundsheet Use – Survey Results

Backpacking Tent Footprint and Groundsheet Use – Survey Results

Backpacking Tent Footprint use 640

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.

Tent Floor Protection Types

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.

For example:

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.

18 comments

  1. As an engineer, it is always very interesting to see the results of the surveys along with your analysis. Thanks.

    • I find them very informative too – I want to know what backpackers and hikers really do – as opposed to what the media and the pundits prescribe. There’s nothing like real feedback to set the record straight.

  2. Ha! Of course I’m in the 1%. SMH. LOL.

  3. Surprised so many use the factory ones actually. Because i dont know anyone that uses factory ones.

    • Yeah, this really surprises me too. The fact that, A – so many use ground sheets. I’ve used the Nemo Hornet 1P and/or the REI Quarter Dome 2 without a sheet for quite a while now with no issues at all, both tents still look new with no leaks. Im just careful about campsite selection.

      If I were to use one I wouldn’t use a Cuben or manufacturer one because both ideas seem a little like burning money. Most UL guys, especially from /r/ultralight use either Tyvek, which I think is a little heavy still or the plastic window type film for $5-10 – an example would be Duck Brand. You’d just cut it out to the size you need.

    • I know lots of people who use both factory footprints and tyvek. Very few people I know us window wrap, but propably because its less well known and more of a UL trick.

      I don’t use anything and haven’t for years (when using a tent). I go out of my way to pick cushy clean campsites and I’m confident that my tent floor will hold up. I use window wrap as as a ground sheet over a UL bivy sack is I sleep under a floorless shelter like a tarp as a moisture barrier. Weighs less than 2 oz.

  4. In the past I’ve found that zippers fail on my tents before the floor does. But now that I use newer sil nylon tents I’m noticing that the floors are more delicate. I’m trying to be more careful and (hopefully) avoid adding the weight of a ground sheet.

  5. Back in the 80’s, there was no such thing as a factory footprint, people generally used tarps under their tent. I made my own custom footprint out of fabric identical to my tent floor and used it consistently for 10 years. So after this accumulation of perhaps 200 nights of use, there was no significant damage or wear to the footprint and I concluded that I had been carrying the footprint unnecessarily for thousands of miles.
    Of course, tent floors are thinner now, so someone needs to repeat the experiment.

  6. Much of my hiking is in the desert southwest, where everything wants to poke a hole in you or your gear. My polycryo groundsheet weighs almost nothing and I feel it helps keep pokey things somewhat at bay, although I often dispense with its use when I don’t feel the tent needs the protection.

  7. It does Amaze me how many are prepared to carry the extra weight. A harsh environment I can understand. i never managed to put a hole in a tent floor in six months across the length of Africa – albeit. Ot a lightweight tent back then.

  8. Never used one or felt the need to. I do carry a piece of polycro for the vestibule which I find reduces condensation and gives me a dry floor to sit on/ place pack and shoes on.

  9. I’m surprised that only 1% use Cuben Fiber Groundsheet.

  10. I don’t understand groundsheets at all. If they’re to keep the tent floor clean, then what keeps the groundsheet clean? Another groundsheet? To me, it’s just putting the problem off one step and still ending up with the same problem. If a dirty tent floor is a problem. I’ve also seen groundsheets that extend even just a little beyond the tent floor act as catch basins for water if it rains. The rain that would have soaked into the ground is diverted instead to collect under the tent. A small piece of plastic takes care of needing a clean spot to put gear in the vestibule, and as others have said, carefully grooming the tent area should prevent damage. Then there are the cost and weight issues. I’m glad we have choices to use different ways of being out there!

  11. In a previous survey on Section Hikers, I stated that my use of kite Tyvek is a good substitution for factory ground sheets. It’s much lighter and cheap. The ground where my tent site is has to be pretty clean. Pine needles are extremely sharp, so if a needle pokes through you’ll also have a flat air pad. Sharp rocks can also be bad. The Tyvek also keeps my tent a bit cleaner. These are the reasons why I use a ground sheet. Always clean your shelter site of all sharp objects. Polycryo seems to be a good material too, but at only a half ounce weight savings kite Tyvek seems to be the way to go! Thanks

  12. I have been backpacking for 30 years. I have purchased the manufacturers footprint, very expensive. Talk to a General contractor. They have extra Tyvek. Free, lightweight & tough!

  13. Kite tyvek is a lot lighter than building tyvek.

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