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Ultralight Backpacking Tent Footprint Substitutions

How Much Does Your Tent Footprint Weigh?
How Much Does Your Tent Footprint Weigh? This one is 7.4 ounces.

Over fifty percent of backpackers use a manufacturer’s tent footprint under their tent on overnight backpacking trips. They do this to protect the bottom of their tents from sharp rocks and sand that can rip or puncture their tent floors, improve their floor’s water resistance, or to keep their tent clean and mud free, making it easier to pack.

While some would argue that tent footprints are unnecessary gimmicks sold by manufacturers to extract more money from your wallet or that you can usually find a campsite where a footprint is not needed, let’s give tent footprint users the benefit of the doubt.

There are numerous circumstances where an additional layer of protection under a tent floor can be beneficial: desert camping on abrasive sand, alpine campsites with sharp rocks, old tents that have pre-existing holes in their floors, and even new tents with absurdly thin 7 denier polyester or nylon floors. Backpacking tents are expensive and replacing a manufacturer’s tent footprint IS less expensive than buying a new tent.

Tent Footprints Are Heavy

But manufacturer tent footprints are heavy and expensive. What if you could get the same level of protection using an ultralight groundsheet that weighs substantially less or costs less?

The two most popular ultralight groundsheets are made using plastic Window Wrap (also called Polycryo) and Tyvek.

Window wrap plastic insulation makes a great tent footprint substitute. This piece weighs just 1.3
Window wrap plastic insulation makes a great tent footprint substitute. This piece weighs just 1.3 ounces.

Window Wrap

Window Wrap is the plastic covering that you blow dry over your windows to insulate them in winter. A single piece will last one season or longer depending on frequency of use. The most popular brands are Duck Brand Window/Door Shrink Film ($4.88) and Frost King Stretch Window Kit ($7.70). Several cottage manufacturers also sell it under the name Polycryo, with a significant markup. It’s the same stuff. They just get it in big sheets, cut it up, and resell it.

Tyvek HomeWrap
Tyvek HomeWrap is heavier but more durable than Window Wrap.

Tyvek HomeWrap

Tyvek HomeWrap is a building material that used to create a vapor barrier between your house’s interior walls and external siding to prevent drafts from blowing through. It’s lightweight, waterproof and puncture resistant, which is why people use it as an ultralight groundsheet. It will also last for multiple seasons because it’s so tough.

You can buy Tyvek HomeWrap by the foot on eBay, cut off a 9′ roll. Tarptent.com also sells Tyvek groundsheets that are sized for the tents they sell, for $12-$15, although there’s nothing stopping you from buying one from them that matches your own tent’s dimensions.

The weight of a Tyvek groundsheet ranges from 2 ounces to 5 ounces for a one person tent and 5 to 8 ounces for a two person tent. While you’re likely to experience some weight reduction by using a Tyvek groundsheet instead of a manufacturer’s footprint, the chief benefit over a manufacturer’s footprint is lower cost

Conclusion

If conditions warrant using a tent footprint, but you want to reduce the expense of buying one, or you want to eliminate extra gear weight in your backpack, consider making an ultralight groundsheet out of window wrap insulation or Tyvek. Some of the lightest and least expensive backpacking gear isn’t backpacking gear.

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30 comments

  1. I made my groundsheet out of kite Tyvek (1443R). So far it has been pretty durable and reasonably light. It weighs 3.1 oz. cut to the size of my tent. One side is water proof and the other side is cloth like. So, my tent, groundsheet, and stakes weigh a total of 21.2 ounces. As an added bonus, this kite Tyvek is an excellent material for fly rod socks, small bags and organizers. It sews up well and is light. For my fly rod case I put the cloth side in and the water proof side out. It’s a good material for many applications. Thanks

  2. That’s actually a great idea. Nice!

    (I do cringe every single time I see a scale with these lb/oz/whatevers and waaaaay too many commas.. ;-) )

    • Thats what I bought off amazon to use as my groundsheet. As a side benefit, its softer, without that crinkly noise one finds with housewrap.

      • Crumple house wrap and throw it in the dryer. That softens it up.

        Home wrap is also good on AT shelter floors to protect your sleeping pad from nails and splinters.

  3. I have over 100 nights in my Alps Mountaineering 1.5 Mystique tent. I have never used a footprint. I have camped in rain and snow, never an issue. Just my 2 cents.

    • A Mystique has a floor made from reasonably durable, thick fabric that can take some abuse. You might change your mind if you saw how thin the floors are on the $400 tents.

  4. Out west and now especially in the South I needed a Footprint to protect against Pine Needles and Sap. I remember the fight I had looking for a way to remove the Pine Sap from the bottom of my brand new Eureka! Timberline 2 back in 1977. Plus the numerous tiny punctures. Since then I have used various disposable Garbage Bags cut to size and bought a Roll of really thick plastic from Home Depot and cut it to size and usually replace it about every 4th trip due to Pine Needle and Cactus Punctures.

    But first of all one must spend the time preparing the ground they are going to sleep on more carefully than one would in choosing a Bride… I usually obtained between 8 an 10 pieces per roll at $12.00 per Roll.

    Then when I went to a OR Bivy bag and the Eureka Solo when it was dark Green, I started using the Sportsman Blanket in Olive Drab which I found in a Military Surplus Catalog, which also served as a light weight Tarp if needed.

    Now that I use a Bivy Tent I still carry that Blanket, in fact, I have one in every one of my Hiking Packs and Boat Box. In some areas I still carry the Thick plastic, again because of Pine Trees, but the Sportsman Blanket is still is my goto Ground Sheet of Choice.

    Most of the Stores Carry the Sportsman Blanket in that horrible, horrible, nightmarish Blue color and some in bright Orange for emergency use, but if you look around or go to Amazon you’ll find one…

  5. Tyvek or similar brands can be acquired at many home construction sites. There is usually some left over after every home is finished being framed. If you locate the site Forman and ask nicely you will get enough to make a ground sheet for you and your friends.

  6. Been using the Tyvek as my groundcloth/footprint since 1999 (before the turn of the century…I love being able to say that). The piece I presently use is at least 8 years old, still puncture free, still waterprooof and soft as the sheets on my bed at home now. On my latest trip I tried a piece of the polycro and found it to be VERY strong and it survived sticks in the duff and decomposed granite. I can see where it may not last more than a few trips before needing to be replaced, though. For the price, I’ll go with the Tyvek. For the weight and volume in the pack savings, the polycro seems the better deal. With only about a 2oz difference, I’ll stick with the Tyvek.
    Thanks for another great review, Phillip.

  7. Crafted a DIY Tyvek footprint for my new Big Agnes HV UL2 Fly Creek for $5. OEM footprint is $70. Got the dimensions from the website. Installed grommets and web loops. Weighs 7.4oz (a 2oz penalty) and performs great!

  8. The Duck brand kit for patio (sliding glass) doors is available in a “double thick” version that is pretty much indestructible. $12 for enough to make 2 footprints for my ZPacks Duplex. Each one weighs 2.5 oz.

  9. I used to use a home made Tyvek footprint but I found it was really bulky to pack up. How do you pack yours? As well, do you install grommets in your home made footprints? When I used to use a Tyvek footprint I found that I had to work to line it up with the tent bottom and not have some sticking out.

    • Throw it in the washer and it’ll be softer then just fold it up. Cut it a little smaller then your tent floor and your good !

  10. I’ve always used the light weight thin plastic drop cloth plastic that we usually have left over after a painting project. Use it a few times and pitch or recycle.

  11. Years ago, I had a roll of Tyvek banner material in the shop and quit using it for customers because some thought I was producing banners on butcher paper. I made various footprints out of it, some for cowboy camping. I switched to Polycryo and like it for its price and durability. In the Southwest, there’s always something trying to poke through the floor and the film is pretty tough.

  12. I use the Duck brand with my BI Copper Spur 1 tent. To make life easier and deal with the cling wrap like hassle of this light weight material, I cut the material slightly undersized to the footprint and attached small squares of Velcro to each tent corner and the polycro – the weight penalty is virtually zero, but now I can leave the polycro on when I roll up the tent or remove it if wet / dirty and quickly reattach the next time.

  13. One point I think that’s important missing from this comparison of window wrap versus tyvec is tents that are designed with a fast pitch option (fly and footprint only). If you’re careful with your measurements this is possible DIY with tyvec, but I can’t imagine the polycro holds grommets… I’ve never used it though. I made a footprint that was larger than the tent (usually a no no) so I would have more ground cover in a marmot eos 1p, actually quite a spacious setup in fast pitch. The manufacturer footprint only covers the area of the inner tent, and I wanted to take advantage of my extra space!

    • I’ve heard of a couple people making grommet’ed polycryo sheets by doubling over the sheet at the point where the grommet is going to be made and putting an oval of HDPE from a milk jug to reinforce the plycro where the grommet will be placed. Tape everything up and it should hold nicely.

      • Yeah, after making that comment I read a BPL thread on that topic where this guy really goes to town torture testing the stuff, and using different methods to secure tie outs. Still, the durability of polycro makes me think it’s not worth the work for fast pitch option versus tyvek or manufacturer footprint.

      • I can’t say I put my groundsheet under much torture-testing. Mostly it just sits there under a bit of tension at the corners. Polycro is cheap enough that even a failed test does not cost you more than a couple of over-priced coffee’s and a bit of time. And many of us have spent way more that that to save less than an ounce of weight (I’m looking at you, titanium cup!).

      • My snowpeak mug and I stand guilty as charged.

        That being said, if you’re using your footprint to support the pole structure sans inner tent, it will be under continuous tension. Even if the grommets hold up and the tension is not enough to make the polycro stretch, having it drawn tight will make it more susceptible to puncture from the ground. Measuring all that out for a few uses for 3 to 5 ounces… sigh. Yeah, I’ll probably try it.

  14. Also, I’m pondering replicating tyvec that covers the entire ground area under my rain fly for fast pitching with my big agnes fly creek UL2, which I do have the manufacturer footprint for… but the gain is not as much with that tent.

  15. I must agree that a “foot print” may save your tent floor but, in my experience put your ground cloth inside your tent. Cut a little larger you and all your grear will truly stay dry,holes or no holes. mega-game 94

    • I actually kind of agree with this way of thinking. I’ve never bought a footprint for any tent I’ve owned (I’ve made a couple), but I did buy a manufacturer-made “floor saver” for our 8-man Cabela’s Alaskan Guide tent. It goes on the inside of the tent rather than under it. It not only provides a waterproof barrier if there are holes in the bottom of the tent (which there currently aren’t that I’m aware of), but you never have to sweep the inside of the tent. You simply take the “floor saver” out, shake it, and fold it up. Clean tent, and dry you (and gear).

  16. Be clear about Tyvek behavior. It is NOT a (water) vapor barrier. It’s reason for existence is that it is water proof and (relative to plywood and sheetrock) completely vapor permeable. For the use described here, that’s usually not a problem, but if you use it in a situation where there is standing liquid water on its underside, expect that some dampness is likely to get through. It will usually keep going, but I would expect dampness on the underside of a sleeping pad since they are often waterproof.

  17. I don’t use a footprint anymore. I used to use the one that came with my MSR Hubba, but now only use a Mylar blanket as a groundsheet in shelters. With our Tarptent we don’t use one either. I have used Tyvek in the past, but it’s been my experience that tents honestly don’t need them.

  18. I’ve heard of people using Tyvek for everything hiking related. I think people even make home made waterproof jackets out of them. Personally, I have a cut sheet of thin 7 mil or something painters drop plastic. I had some left over from when I used it to block off sections of my house from getting dust everywhere when I sanded the floors in my old house. Works good when I can repurpose things that I would otherwise have to spend more money on!

  19. I stopped using a groundsheet years ago, when using typical, somewhat-heavy tents. Now that I have a Z-Packs Duplex, I may use one again, at least in more hazardous locations. It may or may not be necessary, but the cost of the tent makes me extra cautious.

    I carry one of these emergency blankets (link below). It should make a good groundsheet, being tougher than mylar. It is listed as 3.2 oz. I carry it anyway, so there is no extra weight.

    http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com/survival/shelter/survive-outdoors-longer-survival-blanket.html

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