One of my favorite things about camping is being able to immerse myself in beautiful natural surroundings. However, what I don’t like is a wet tent floor. The feeling of moisture seeping through the tent and soaking your back is not a pleasant experience! Thankfully, a tent footprint solves that problem!
What is a tent footprint and what does it do?
Before you even think about it, no, it is not some sort of magical footprint that a tent leaves on the ground. Rather, a tent footprint (or tent groundsheet) is basically an extra layer that you place at the bottom of your tent to protect it from abrasion and moisture.
How to use a tent footprint?
Using a groundsheet is straightforward enough. You simply need to lay it beneath your tent and you’re done!
The only catch is that your groundsheet needs to match the outline of your tent floor perfectly. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose since any chink that allows moisture to seep through will end up damaging the tent and compromising its ability to keep you warm and dry.
Thankfully, most tents these days come with their own tent footprint. Even if your tent doesn’t have one, the manufacturer likely has a groundsheet for that particular tent in stock anyway.
Most groundsheets will feature corner grommets that help you secure the sheet to the tent frame for easy-peasy installation.
What are tent footprints made of?
Generally, groundsheets for tents are made of either nylon or polyester, which is the same material your tent is made of. The only difference is tent footprints are much thicker.
If you’re looking to buy one, you might come across the term “denier”. Don’t fret because it’s just a technical term meaning thread thickness. The higher the denier, the thicker the groundsheet.
Nylon is arguably one of the best materials for a tent. It’s strong, durable, light, and relatively stretchy. The same applies to a tent footprint made of nylon.
However, from personal experience, I have to admit that nylon groundsheets leave a little more to be desired when it comes to water resistance.
Even though the material isn’t as flexible or durable as nylon, it does a much better job at keeping out moisture, which is generally what you want with a tent footprint. Despite being heavier (but not by much), I would consider polyester groundsheets to be the better option overall.
Best tent footprints to buy online
The best tent footprint you can get is the one that comes with your tent. That’s why sites like REI should be the first place to look, seeing as most of the groundsheets sold there are tailor-made for specific models, like this one for the Kingdom 6 Tent.
However, if you somehow didn’t get a groundsheet when you bought your tent or if the manufacturer no longer sells the one you’re looking for, here are two generic ones you can buy online!
This tent footprint from Frelaxy is arguably one of the best when it comes to waterproofing your tent floor. It uses three layers of waterproof coating and materials to ensure that the inside of your tent stays nice and dry.
It is also made with durable polyester fabric which further protects your tent and is capable of withstanding harsh winds too. Despite this, the groundsheet is surprisingly lightweight.
This lightweight nylon groundsheet is the perfect option for avid campers who spend more days outdoors than in. Not only is this groundsheet from Gold Armour durable and waterproof, it can also be used as a canopy or a picnic mat!
The metal grommet also simplifies the process of pitching your tent. When unused, it can be stuffed into a drawstring carrying bag for easy storage.
What are the benefits of using a tent footprint?
Right now, you’re probably wondering if a tent footprint is truly worth it and if it actually makes a difference. The short answer, based on personal experience, is yes! Here’s why:
They extend the life of your tent
Camping is no longer about pitching a flimsy piece of cloth on a couple of sticks and hoping it holds. Modern tents are stronger and can withstand harsh conditions.
However, even the most durable tent cannot escape the wear and tear of repeated or prolonged use. The minute there’s a hole or a chink in your tent floor, it’s time to replace it. By using a tent footprint, you are providing an extra layer of protection between the tent and the ground.
So, instead of your tent wearing out, the tent groundsheet absorbs most of the damage. And believe me, replacing a groundsheet is a lot easier than replacing an expensive tent. What’s more, the extra layer also acts as a cushion against any jagged stones or twigs on the ground!
They provide extra protection from the elements
Apart from protecting your tent from abrasion, groundsheets for tents also protect YOU from harsh camping conditions. By placing a tent footprint beneath your tent, you create a barrier that prevents moisture from seeping through, keeping the inside of your tent warm and dry.
This is especially helpful if you’re setting up camp in a wet and humid area. In addition, since most tent footprints can also be cut up into smaller pieces, you can also use them to insulate your tent for winter camping if you have any extras to spare!
Groundsheets help you find the perfect spot to pitch your tent
This one may come as a surprise but it’s true! Because tent footprints are tailor-made to fit your tent, laying it on the ground gives you a pretty good idea of where best to pitch your tent. In fact, because most tent footprints feature corner grommets, it actually makes pitching a tent much easier as well!
When is a tent footprint necessary?
As much as I want to say that a tent footprint is an essential tool, the reality is, it depends.
Remember, the main purpose of a groundsheet is to protect your tent and keep out moisture. I would say that investing in a tent footprint is a good idea if you’re camping regularly on rough/rocky terrain or in places where the ground is wet (like by the beach, in a forest, or during winter).
However, the one downside of a tent footprint is that it can add on a little weight to your pack. What’s more, given the quality of most modern tents, camping without a tent footprint probably wouldn’t be overly detrimental to the experience, especially if you’re not camping in harsh conditions.
That being said, I would still recommend getting one when you buy your tent. For one, most tents come with a custom-fit tent footprint that will probably be hard to find once that model is discontinued. Secondly, it’s always handy to have a tent footprint on standby, in case you ever need one.
Tent footprint vs. tarp
After reading all of that, you might be thinking: Hang on a minute, a tent footprint sounds pretty much just like a regular tarp!
While it’s true both tent footprints and tarps are often used for the same purpose, they differ in terms of material, cost, and level of protection.
Tarps are usually much cheaper than tent footprints. That’s because tarps are often made using plastic or vinyl. Tent footprints, on the other hand, are usually made of either polyester or nylon, even though other materials are sometimes used too.
As a result, tent footprints offer better protection against rips and tears and are generally more comfortable to lie on.
What’s more, even though a regular tarp offers good water resistance in theory, a tent footprint is a better option from a practical perspective because most tent footprints are custom-made to fit specific tents.
How to make a DIY tent footprint?
Of course, if you’d prefer to McGuyver yourself out of a tight spot when it comes to tent footprints, you can! Whether it’s looking for cheaper alternatives or using other materials to waterproof your tent, there are plenty of ways to make your own DIY tent footprint.
A regular camping tarp
If you want a quick and easy solution, just use a regular ol’ camping tarp. As mentioned, it basically offers the same functions as a tent footprint, plus it’s more readily accessible and slightly cheaper.
That being said, I personally don’t like the idea of using a regular tarp. That’s mainly because it doesn’t really offer that much protection to your tent floor. What’s more, if you don’t cut it precisely to fit your tent dimensions, it may not be as waterproof as you need it to be.
When looking to make your own tent footprint, polycro is probably the best material to use. It’s basically a light, clear plastic that is both abrasion-resistant and waterproof.
Despite looking flimsier than overcooked pasta, polycro is surprisingly durable given how thin it actually is. The downside, however, is that it is slightly pricier than other options. It also wears out quicker than a regular groundsheet for tents.
Another good option for a DIY tent footprint is Tyvek paper. Wait, paper? Don’t be fooled by the word “paper” because Tyvek is extremely durable and resistant to tears, rips, and scratches. In fact, it is one of the key materials that’s used in construction!
Tyvek is cheap, readily available at most hardware stores, and offers decent protection to the inside of your tent. It is also waterproof. That being said, it’s not as light as polycro but, given the price, I’d say a few extra pounds is a fair trade-off.
If all you care about is waterproofing your tent and you don’t mind sacrificing comfort, just get a painter tarp. They are extremely easy to cut, inexpensive, and can fully keep out any moisture if you get the dimensions right.
The only downside is that these things can be quite bulky and heavy. If you’re a backpack camper who’s planning on embarking on a hiking trip, I’d give this one a miss.
And there you go, your Camping 101 guide to tent footprints!