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 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 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
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.
Written 2016. Updated 2018.
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