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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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32 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. 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.

  18. I just got my first backpacking tent, it is a Big Angus and costs $450 retail. Luckily I got a discount but as it only covered one item I did not get a foot print or any other accessories. I realize that I could bring a tarp but why would I spend that much money to get a three person tent that weighs 3lbs 4 oz with all of the stuff sacks and cardboard labels still on and then bring a heavy tarp or use a noisy Tyvek or whatever. I have never used a foot print before because the tents that I had were made of stronger material but they were also way to big and heavy to put in my panniers for a bike tour. I am thinking of getting a foot print for a larger Big Angus tent from the REI garage sale at over 50% off and cut it down or fold it under to save money.

  19. Dave Hamlin "AKA Piggy

    I camp in the UK where is gets very wet at times. I picked up a tip from a Scout Leader and use old news papers & beer boxes under my tent. A layer of old “Coors Lite” boxes under my tent makes it 10 times warmer and after one night of condensation they start to heat up the tent of an evening !!!! Downside to this is having to keep aprox 20 empty flat packed beer boxes to hand.. Plus side after a two day camp you are great and warm and you get respect from the site when you dump so many beer boxes in the trash !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Could you please update your article and replace the words ‘off of’ with the word ‘from’. I hear ‘off of’ used a lot on the radio here in the U.K. and think to myself, where did these people learn their English.

  21. Hi. I have been using an rei passage one tent but I wanted more ventilation and space for the same or less weight. . I bought a big Agnes copper spur hv ul2 which proceeded to leak upwards on melting snow. I have been told I need to use a footprint using an ultralight and any backcountry packer knows that. The specs say the tent is waterproof. Big Agnes reps seem confused as to how it should perform. I am confused . I always thought waterproof meant that.

    • Very few tent fabrics are 100% waterproof – it’s a matter of degree. I am however surprised that the Copper Spur leaked. It might be the fabric or it might also be a defect with the seam taping – seams have holes and seam tape is supposed to seal them but can peel off. I’d try to understand why your tent leaked and what part leaked. Did the moisture come up through the fabric, though the seams, or did you experience internal condensation. It can e very hard to distinguish between them, unless of course, it’s glaringly obvious.

      I’m not sure who told you that every backpacker “knows”…I never use a footprint on a tent with a waterproof floor. If you bought the tent someplace with a good return policy like REI return it as defective. If not, I’d bug Big Agnes until you both can figure out what the cause of the moisture was or they just give you a footprint for free to go away. If for some reason you have to keep the tent, don’t buy a big agnes footprint. Go to home depot and buy window wrap (clear plastic insulation). Every ultralight backpacker knows that it is less expensive and far lighter weight than a footprint. Plus its very waterproof.

      • It was beading up everywhere…. uniformly everywhere.when I wiped it and pressed my hand down it would come up wet. Rei will take it back, but this was the answer to my desire for a two door free standing 3 season I could use in light snow that weighed the same or less as my rei passage one I currently use ( without a footprint and the floor doesn’t leak!) Now I have to go back to square one unless Agnes tells me this was defective. I do want to send it to them for them to assess . The footprint backpacker says nylon is never waterproof and most of the companies just lie.

      • Look at the tents at Tarptent.com. They use a very waterproof fabric and Don’t recommend using a footprint in normal circumstances.

  22. Just one more thing. Thank you for responding! Appreciate it. I just caught the part about condensation. There was a huge melt that night. Woke up to just snow under my tent as everything around had melted. Is it possible I am mistaken and the air water condensed onto my floor? It was 50 out with over a foot of snow. Never had this problem before in other tents though.

  23. Guess I wasn’t looking at it as a condensation issue as the fly and tent walls were bone dry . Just never encountered this before and big Agnes people I talked to just assumed leaky and wanted it to look at . So then there is nothing that can be done in this kind of situation then ? You can’t insulate the floor of your tent from the ground ….

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