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What is a Tent Footprint Used For?

Tent Footprint
Tent Footprint

Tent footprints are used as ground cloths under camping tents to prevent the wear and tear of your tent against the ground. For example, let’s say you camp on desert sand or on a sandy beach. The bottom of your tent will probably experience some minor wear and tear as a result of scratching against the ground.

Should I buy the tent footprint recommended by the manufacturer?

Manufacturers make a lot of money off of people who buy tent footprints. The truth is that you can use a lightweight tarp or a sheet of tyvek (which is very lightweight), or ultralight polycryo plastic as a footprint and save yourself some money. Rolling your own footprint like this also makes it interchangeable between tents of different sizes and is easily replaceable if you destroy it.

How much do I need to use my tent before the tent floor breaks down due to ground friction?

You’d need to use your tent a lot every year for a few years. Most people don’t use their tents that often however, and I’d recommend that you avoid carrying the extra weight.

Won’t a footprint or ground cloth keep me drier if it rains?

Most tents that you buy these days have bathtub style floors made out of a fabric called silnylon, with sidewalls that run up the sides of your tent a few inches. Silnylon is nylon impregnated with silicon to make it waterproof. Silnylon floors won’t leak unless you poke a hole in them, and even then, they’re easy to fix with duct tape.

As for rain, some argue that a footprint or a ground cloth actually increases your chances of getting wet in a tent because it will pool water on it’s surface. soak through your tent’s seams. A better alternative is to pick a campsite with good drainage.and let the rain run off your tents’ sides onto the ground.

If you have any more questions about footprints, leave a comment. I’m happy to answer any more questions about this topic that come up.

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19 comments

  1. I use a 'footprint' made from Silnylon for 3 reasons,

    1. The fitted groundsheet on my tent isn't waterproof anymore, of course I could have it replaced but…….

    2. I sometimes use the flysheet only and the footprint then becomes my groundsheet

    3. In wet weather (quite often in the UK and Ireland) a footprint keeps the groundsheet mud free which in turn redyced the cahnce of transferring mud to the inner tent when packing.

    I think it's one of those things that depends on your location, living in the UK I've always used a footprint, 20 years ago I cut them to shape from a 'survival bag' but obviously an MYOG Slinylon one is lighter, quieter and packs smaller.

    Richard

  2. I like the fact that your groundsheet and flysheet in interchangeable. Smart. When I was hiking in Scotland last year, I wasn't using a tent, but a floorless tarp and a bivy. Still I brought a very thin piece of plastic along to extend my living space when the ground was wet. The important thing I think, is simply that you think through why you bring what you do. Thanks for the comment.

  3. The number one mistake I see campers (especially scouts) make is putting down a large tarp as a footprint and allowing it to extend beyond the borders of the fly. It usually requires us to explain the purpose of the groundcloth. Over time, we have found it easier to tell them "not to let the rain see your ground cloth"- just a shorthand to help avoid pooling.

    I have polycryo footprint and have attempted to use it, but struggle with getting it to stay in place. What seems to work best for me is to use Tyvek (available in large amounts to us since RevLee works where they make it!). Our normal hiking pattern on long hikes is some nights in shelters and some in tarptents or tarps. I use Tyvek in the shelter to keep my bag from snagging on nails, etc. so I always have it, and normally use it as a groundcloth to protect the tent from wear (and I think it may help protect my NeoAir from random sharp objects). If I don't have it, I don't worry as it is certainly not necessary.

    We also discovered in cold weather that Tyvek helps a lot to keep the drafts from coming up between shelter boards. The only downside is it is LOUD when shelter mice decide to use the edges as a shortcut!

  4. I have an Akto and use the Hilleberg footprint to pitch it without the inner tent. That affords me a weight savings and still have the four season functionality of the model. A very heavy tarp tent in this configuration, but bomb proof. BTW, many manufacturers design their double walled tents to be set up this way, but require their footprint to do so.

  5. I've always gone without a footprint and so far none of my tents have worn out or are even showing signs of wear and tear on the bottoms.

    There have been a couple time I've been camping on large granite boulders above the tree line in the Sierra Nevada and I've felt like some extra protection would be nice, but that's not common.

  6. I've found that an 8'x10' sheet of 3/4" plywood works really well for protecting the bottom of my solo backpacking tent. It's a pain fitting it into my backpack, but the added protection over flimsy tent footprints is worth it. And you can burn it if you run out of stove fuel, too.

    ;-)

  7. I live in the UK and never use a footprint for a tent. Don't need them and cant be bothered to take one. I do take a groundsheet for my Hybrid floor less single skin shelter as I want a large dry floor area. But for tents don't bother.

  8. Martin – you ever find an Osprey 46? There's one for raffle in the previous post….

  9. SkarltheDrummer

    I've been sleeping in a hammock recently so I haven't needed my footprint at all, but the loops at the corners allowed us to use one as an easy to set up and very effective canoe sail last summer.

  10. Thanks for the post. Haven't used a footprint before, but may now.

  11. Polycryo does not make a very good canoe sail, no matter how many loops you may put in the corners, although it does sail quite well when trying to pitch a tent in 50 MPH winds on top of a mountain pass. I think delflg's 3/4" plywood would have worked better those two nights.

  12. Caught that comment didn't you. Even though it was an idiotic comment, the guy have some nice pictures on his web site.

  13. You can keep from puddling by folding ground tarp or footprint under

  14. I would say that only really lightweight 2 season tents need footprints since they are fragile and thin. Even if it does not look necessary footprints are awesome since you can roll your tent clean and put the dirty footprint in its caring case. If you can afford that extra weight of course.
    Second reason is once punctured your tent floor would never ever be called waterproof.
    Big minus again is extra weight and space in your backpack.

  15. I agree that you should find a campsite with good drainage. If you let your tent soak in water, the rain will eventually get in. I apply a seam sealer once a year to my tent. It is a cautionary measure, to make my tent even more waterproof in case I might find my tent in a puddle.

  16. I use tarps and for some reason am thinking about buying a footprint. Does either keep the moisture from collecting inside the tent on the floor under the sleeping mats, etc? I car camped this last weekend and just used memory foam as my sleeping mat and the tent was moist under the foam. The ground was a bit wet from rains the week before. Is it worth it to buy a footprint if a tarp has been working?

  17. in the old days we used to dig a small drainage channel around the tent while wild camping and maybe put some hay or moss under the tent, but I guess this is not possible anymore in the new camping places, so a tent footprint may be useful if you want a long life for your tent and an extra layer of protection

    • Those were the **old** days. People don’t entrench their tents anymore because most tents have waterproof floors and because digging a pit around your tent isn’t Leave No Trace. Far from it.

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