What Is a Tent Footprint and Why You Should Use One (2023)

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Are you looking for a way to protect your tent from wear and tear? A tent footprint is the perfect solution! It’s a simple, lightweight piece of material that can be placed underneath your tent when camping.

It not only increases your tent’s longevity by providing extra protection against rocks, sticks, and other debris on the ground but it also forms a barrier to keep moisture away from the bottom of the tent and serves as an insulator in cold weather.

In this article, I’ll discuss what a tent footprint is, why it’s beneficial, and proper setup along with cost and weight considerations plus low-cost alternative solutions.

A tent footprint is a tarp-like groundsheet that is secured with stakes or fasteners underneath a tent to protect it from wear and tear caused by rough ground surfaces such as rocks, gravel, sand, sticks, roots, etc. It also helps to keep water out of the bottom of your tent in wet weather conditions.

A tent footprint also provides insulation from the cold ground to keep warm when camping in winter and helps keep the bottom of your tent clean and dry.

Pitching a tent directly on the ground causes wear, tear, and friction that can create holes or otherwise compromise the waterproof barrier of your tent floor. Spreading out and staking down a tent footprint before pitching your tent mitigates the risks of water penetration and damage to the floor of your tent, and insulates you from the ground when camping in a cold environment.

Tent footprints are usually made of waterproof material such as polyethylene-coated polyester or nylon and come in various sizes to fit different tents.

A footprint is a great way to protect your tent and gear from wear and tear, as well as provide additional insulation. Now let’s explore the advantages of using a tent footprint.

Key Takeaway: A tent footprint can help protect your tent from wear and tear, add insulation, and extend its life. Consider buying a manufacturer-specific footprint that will properly fit your tent or create a DIY tent footprint and save a few bucks.

Is a Tent Footprint Really Needed?

When it comes to camping, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in order to have the best experience possible. One of those decisions is whether or not you should use a tent footprint.

A tent footprint is an additional layer of protection for your tent floor from sharp objects and moisture. It can also help keep the bottom of your tent clean by preventing dirt and mud from getting inside.

But is a tent footprint really necessary?

Tent Floor Durability

A tent floor’s Denier count essentially tells you how tough the floor is.

Denier or Decitex (metric) is a unit of measurement that describes the linear mass density of fibers. An example of the expression for tent floors would be something like 75D polyester.

Different fibers of the same length, like polyester vs cotton, will have different weights and a different tightness of weave can be used in making fabrics.

Fabrics with a high denier count tend to be thicker, sturdier, and more durable.

Tent floors are typically made from polyester or nylon fabrics and coated with polyurethane or silicone for waterproofing.

A tent’s waterproofing metric tells you how waterproof it is. For instance, a 2000mm polyurethane (PU) coating is more waterproof than a 1200mm PU coating.

While these materials are durable enough to withstand wear and tear, they may not always be able to handle sharp objects such as rocks and sticks which could puncture the fabric or damage the waterproofing if stepped on especially those tents with thinner waterproofing and lower Denier counts.

A tent footprint provides an extra layer of protection between your tent floor and the ground surface, helping to prevent any damage caused by sharp objects underneath your tent.

Campsite Terrain

The type of ground surface at your campsite can also determine whether or not you should use a tent footprint.

If you’re camping in rocky, gravely, sandy, damp, or wooded terrain then using a footprint will help protect your tent floor from potential punctures, abrasions, or water penetration due to sharp stones, sticks, pinecones, roots, or sand that can act as sandpaper to remove the waterproofing and weaken the fabric structure of the tent floor.

On the other hand, if you’re camping on soft grassy surfaces with good water drainage then there may be no need for a footprint since there probably won’t be anything hard enough beneath your floor that could cause any damage.

Using a tent footprint has several advantages over not using one at all.

1) A Tent Footprint Protects Your Tent from Wear and Tear

The main advantage of using a tent footprint is that it adds an extra layer of protection from ground surfaces and objects that could cause punctures, tears, and abrasions.

2) A Tent Footprint Functions as Extra Waterproofing

Tent footprints provide extra waterproofing to protect the bottom of your tent from moist ground conditions in low-lying areas and from any rainfall during your stay outdoors. Water penetration can lead to a miserable camping experience and moisture inside your tent can lead to mold growth.

3) A Tent Footprint Reduces Condensation Inside Your Tent

Footprints can also reduce condensation inside the tent by creating a barrier between you and cold air coming up through the ground below. This helps keep things warm and comfortable while sleeping in cooler climates.

4) A Tent Footprint Adds Extra Insulation

Tent footprints are the best under-tent floor insulation available. It creates an added thermal barrier between you and the cold ground, making camping more comfortable in colder weather. The additional insulation will help keep warm air inside your sleeping bag instead of being lost through contact with the cold ground below.

For more tent insulation ideas, check out my comprehensive guide on How to Insulate a Tent for Winter Camping.

5) A Tent Footprint Minimizes Cleaning

A tent footprint helps keep the bottom of your tent clean and dry. Which is a huge benefit for me. I’d rather hose off a dirty footprint after a camping trip than clean the bottom of my tent when I break camp. It’s far less messy to fold the footprint dirty side out and put it in its storage bag.

6) Tent Footprints Simplify Tent Pitching

A properly sized tent footprint is essentially the size of your tent floor. If you are camping in a location that makes pitching your tent challenging, you can first check to see if your footprint fits your intended tent location. This can potentially save you some time and a few difficulties.

7) A Tent Footprint Extends the Life of Your Tent

The many benefits of using a footprint add up to extend the life of your tent and ultimately save you money.

Using a tent footprint is a great way to protect your tent and the ground underneath from wear and tear, making it easier to pack up camp when you’re ready to move on. Let’s look at how best to use one.

Key Takeaway: A tent footprint is an important tool for protecting your tent from abrasion, water, and dirt. It also provides insulation and can extend the life of your tent. Consider purchasing a dedicated footprint or using a low-cost alternative such as tarpaulins or plastic sheeting.

How to Use a Tent Footprint: 5 Simple Steps

Using a tent footprint correctly will ensure maximum protection for your tent and gear inside by shielding it from sharp rocks, sticks, and other debris on the ground and preventing moisture penetration from the ground underneath.

Step 1: Pick a flat spot to pitch your tent then check for and remove any sharp objects such as rocks or sticks. These can puncture holes in both footprints and tents alike.

Step 2: When setting up a tent with a footprint, start by laying out the footprint on the ground in its intended location. Make sure that it covers all areas where you plan to set up your tent, including any guy lines or stakes that may be used to secure it in place.

Step 3: When putting down a footprint, it’s important to make sure that it is properly secured beneath your tent by staking out the corners and sides. If not properly secured, windy conditions could cause it to move around which would leave gaps that could allow heat to escape or water or dirt to enter underneath when rain falls or if snow melts near campground sites during winter months.

Step 4: Once everything is laid out properly, begin assembling your tent on top of your footprint according to manufacturer instructions.

Step 5: If your footprint is bigger than your tent floor, fold it up under your tent. Unfortunately, this may eliminate your ability to stake down your footprint to prevent movement and gaps. A poor fit is possible if you don’t buy a manufacturer-specific footprint or you have a poorly designed DIY tent footprint.

Note: A properly fitting footprint will not extend beyond the tent floor. If it does, rainwater or melting snow can pool on the footprint and seep under and inside a damaged tent floor.

A footprint is an essential item for any outdoor enthusiast. When used properly, it can help protect your tent from wear and tear while providing a waterproof layer between the ground and your tent. Next, let’s look at the cost and weight considerations of using a tent footprint.

Cost & Weight Considerations

When it comes to tent footprints, cost and weight are two important considerations.

Tent footprints come in a variety of sizes and materials, so the cost can vary greatly depending on what you choose. Generally speaking, they are lightweight (3oz – 1lb 6.6oz) and relatively inexpensive ($8 – $120 USD) when compared to other camping gear items like tents or sleeping bags.

Most footprints tend to weigh less than 1lb and cost less than $50 USD making them very lightweight and affordable additions to any camping gear list!

For those looking for a more affordable option, there are some low-cost alternatives available like plastic tarps which can be used instead of purchasing a dedicated footprint. Plastic tarps typically weigh less than traditional tent footprints but may not provide the same level of protection from water or debris.

When considering the weight, nylon or polyester fabric footprints tend to be heavier and bulkier than a plastic tarp. Their construction, material, and design features like waterproof coatings and reinforced seams add extra weight, but also increase durability and weather resistance. On the other hand, plastic tarps usually weigh much less. They offer waterproofing capabilities but they don’t have any additional features.

When choosing a footprint, consider the type camping you’ll be doing (i.e. backpacking vs car camping), how often you plan on using your footprint as well as the cost and quality of your tent. This will help determine whether a high-quality product with more features is worth the investment.

Now that you have a better understanding of the cost and weight, let’s look at how to choose a tent footprint.

Key Takeaway: When choosing a tent footprint, consider cost, weight, size, quality, and how often you’ll use it. Plastic tarps are lightweight and affordable but offer less protection than traditional fabric footprints.

How to Choose a Tent Footprint

If you don’t have a tent footprint, look for a manufacturer and model-specific footprint that covers the entire underside of the tent including any vestibules. A protected vestibule gives you a clean and dry spot to store gear that doesn’t need the benefit of heat from inside your tent.

Manufacturer-specific footprints typically provide higher quality materials and better coverage than generic ones like these at Amazon or at discount retailers like Walmart or Target.

Generic footprints may come at a lower price but are often made of lower-quality materials compared to those made by reputable manufacturers such as Marmot or Big Agnes.

Key Takeaway: Manufacturer-specific tent footprints typically provide higher quality materials and better coverage than generic footprints.

If budget constraints or weight are deterring you from buying a pre-made tent footprint, there are low-cost, lightweight options for getting similar levels of protection.

When shopping around for affordable DIY tent footprint alternatives, look no further than painter’s plastic drop cloths, Tyvek house wrap, polycryo sheeting, shower curtain liners, and tarps. All of these offer lightweight, minimally durable solutions. Their suitability depends on the type of camping you’ll be doing and the terrain.

To further reduce the weight of any of these options, measure and cut the sheets to the size of your tent floor. Alternatively, you can fold the extra material under your tent. You don’t want it outside your tent floor where it can gather water and compromise your tent floor.

Painter’s Plastic Drop Cloths

Painter’s plastic drop cloths are a cheap alternative to store-bought footprints that often offer little more than one use.

These thin sheets come in various sizes so you can easily find one that will fit under your tent.

They’re also lightweight enough for backpacking trips but still provide adequate protection against water seepage and minor abrasion benefits for protection from rocks or sticks on the ground beneath your shelter.

Tyvek House Wrap

Another cost-effective solution is using Tyvek house wrap as an inexpensive substitute for traditional footprints

Tyvek is best when car camping or kayak camping with friends who don’t mind carrying a little extra weight in their boats or vehicles.

This material has similar properties as painter’s plastic but adds more durability due to its thicker construction which makes it better suited for longer trips where rain may be encountered over several days at campsites near rivers or lakesides prone to ground moisture due to flooding during storms.

Polycryo Sheeting

For those looking for something even lighter than Tyvek house wrap but durable enough for multiple uses throughout the season, consider polycryo sheeting (often misspelled as “polycro”).

This material weighs less than two ounces for a medium 96″ x 40″ sheet and provides excellent waterproof protection.

Shower Curtain Liner

Finally, if you’re just looking for something lightweight, quick, and easy that won’t take up much space in your backpack consider bringing a shower curtain liner.

Some people suggest using an old shower curtain liner. I don’t like using used ones. Mine are usually mildewed and don’t always fold down nicely.


Tarps are often heavier than the other options though inexpensive compared to traditional tent footprints. They are highly durable and can also be used as an emergency shelter or a secondary A-frame structure to protect your tent from getting wet or covered with a layer of snow.

Key Takeaway: There are affordable alternatives to traditional tent footprints, such as a painter’s plastic drop cloth, Tyvek house wrap, polycryo sheeting, shower curtain liner, or tarp. These options provide lightweight yet durable protection for your tent.

FAQs in Relation to What is a Tent Footprint

Are tent footprints worth it?

Footprints are an extra layer of protection for your tent and can be worth it depending on the environment you’re camping in. They provide a barrier between the ground and your tent, helping to keep out moisture, dirt, rocks, roots, and other debris that could damage or puncture your tent floor. Footprints also help protect against wear and tear from abrasion caused by movement within the tent. In areas with rocky terrain or where campers may need to move their tents often due to weather conditions, investing in a footprint is recommended.

Is a tent footprint the same as a tarp?

No, a tent footprint is not the same as a tarp. A footprint is designed to fit underneath your tent and protect it from moisture and wear and tear while you are camping. It also helps keep the bottom of your tent clean. On the other hand, a tarp can be used as a DIY tent footprint but it’s typically used for covering items or providing shelter from rain or sun when outdoors. Tarps come in many different sizes and shapes and can be used for various purposes such as creating shade, protecting furniture, covering boats, etc.

Can I use a tent without a footprint?

Yes, you can use a tent without a footprint. However, it is not always recommended as the bottom of your tent will be more exposed to wear and tear from the ground. A footprint helps protect the floor of your tent from rocks, sticks, and other sharp objects that may puncture or damage it. Additionally, a footprint provides an extra layer of insulation between you and the cold ground during colder weather conditions. Ultimately, investing in a quality footprint for your tent will help extend its life span and provide added protection while camping outdoors.

Does a tent footprint go inside or outside?

A footprint should always be placed outside and underneath a tent. This is to protect the bottom of the tent from abrasion and wear caused by stones, sticks, and other objects on the ground. It also helps keep moisture away from your sleeping area and provides insulation in cold weather. Additionally, a footprint will make packing up easier since you won’t have to clean off dirt or debris before rolling up your tent.

Should a tent footprint be bigger than the tent?

No, a footprint should be a little smaller than the floor of your tent. This prevents water from pooling between the footprint and the tent.


What Is a Tent Footprint and Why You Should Use One (1)

A footprint helps extend the life of your tent by providing extra protection against abrasion and wear from ground elements such as rocks or sticks. It’s like an insurance policy for your tent!

It also adds insulation on cold nights in addition to reducing condensation inside the tent walls when it rains or snows outside.

While there are cost and weight considerations when purchasing a tent footprint, many campers and backpackers find the relatively small investment well worth it.

Want to save a few bucks? A low-cost DIY tent footprint can provide similar benefits.

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Steve Hood

Steve Hood is a writer, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast. He has had a lifelong passion for exploring the woods, mountains, lakes, and rivers of the United States with a focus on kayaking, hiking, and fishing and enjoys sharing the love of outdoor adventures, conservation, and education with others.

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What is a tent footprint? ›

A footprint is a lightweight ground sheet that forms a barrier between your tent floor and the ground. If we, as good backpackers and stewards of the land, adhere to Leave No Trace principles, we will camp as often as possible on durable surfaces (read: rock, gravel, or already established campsites).

Why use a footprint for tent? ›

A tent footprint protects the underside of the tent from abrasion and moisture, helping to extend the lifespan of the tent and keep it drier on the inside.

What is a good tent footprint? ›

A good rule of thumb is that your footprint should be 1-2 inches smaller on all sides than your tent. If your tent footprint is too large, water will pool and potentially get into your shelter.

Can I use a tent without a footprint? ›

A tent footprint isn't always needed. If your tent's floor thickness is 30-denier or higher, you can often go on a backpacking trip without one. With that being said, you also need to consider what the surface conditions will be like where you're going to be camping.

Where do you put a tent footprint? ›

Using a tent footprint or groundsheet is very easy: simply lay the footprint out on your chosen camping spot, pitch your tent on top of it, then tuck the excess material under the tent floor to prevent any rainwater or condensation pooling on this “fringe” of the footprint.

What is the significance of footprint? ›

Footprints refer to the imprints left by the person walking. They play a very crucial role in the forensic analysis of the crime scene. It helps to identify all the individuals present at the commission of a crime.

What can I use instead of a tent footprint? ›

Tent Footprints Are Heavy

The two most popular ultralight groundsheets are made using an industrial plastic called Polycryo (sold by Gossamer Gear) and Tyvek home wrap. Window wrap plastic insulation makes a great tent footprint substitute.

How do you clean a tent footprint? ›

Use a non-abrasive sponge, cold water and a non-detergent soap. Gently scrub soiled areas by hand, being extra gentle on coated areas of the floor and fly. Avoid household cleaners such as harsh dish soaps, bleach, spot removers or laundry presoaking products.

What is good tent material? ›

One of the most common tent materials you may come across is cotton or canvas. When choosing a cotton/canvas tent, you can count on extra temperature regulation: Cotton is great at keeping you cosy but also ventilates well when things get too warm. Compared to other tent materials, cotton is less prone to condensation.

Do you need a tent? ›

You don't need a tent, specifically, for backpacking but you do need some form of rain protection and/or insect protection in most climates when camping out along a trail. It can be a tent, hammock with a tarp, a waterproof bivy sack, a bug shelter, or some combination of these to provide the protection you need.

Does a tent footprint go inside or outside? ›

Some folks think you should put your footprint inside your tent because rain can sometimes sneak in between your tarp and tent floor and then seep up into the inside of the tent. A tarp on the inside would block this moisture from soaking into your sleeping bag. But, with a waterproof tent, this shouldn't happen.

Is a tent footprint better than a tarp? ›

Tent footprints and tarps protect the bottom of a tent while providing insulation from moisture and chill. Tent footprints are expensive but shaped for the tent and are lighter to carry. Tarps are heavy and require customizing, but are cheaper, offer greater protection, and are highly durable.

Is a tent footprint just a tarp? ›

Like tent footprints, tarps can be cut to mirror the dimensions of your tent's floor and placed under the tent to protect it from tears and to prevent moisture from penetrating inside the tent. Tarps tend to be much thinner than most tent footprints, so they will not offer the same level of comfort as the latter.

What is a tent footprint made of? ›

What is a tent footprint made of? The fabric of a footprint can vary. However, you'll find that most are made out of durable and easy to clean polyethylene. You can also get some lighter weight groundsheets which are made out of an oxford or lower denier polyester material.

Which side of tent footprint faces up? ›

The shiny side, with the logo, goes up with the matte finish toward the ground.

How can footprints help solve a crime? ›

Crime scene reconstruction: When multiple footprints are found at a crime scene, a forensic podiatrist may be able to provide insight into the perpetrator's movement.

What can a footprint tell you about the person who made it? ›

Scientists can learn a lot from sites where human footprints have been found, including: Estimates of height, weight, and gait of the humans who made the footprints - which also tells us how many people made the footprints.

How do you describe a footprint? ›

A footprint is the mark left by your feet on the ground or floor.

Can you wash a tent footprint? ›

Footprint & Pawprint

Footprints do not need as much care, as they can be exposed to more dirt and are more abrasion-resistant compared to tents. If they must be washed, follow the same steps as washing your tent above, or you may wash them in a washing machine with no agitator.

How do you waterproof a tent footprint? ›

How to waterproof a tent floor in 5 simple steps
  1. Seal the Tent Seams Using a Seam Sealer.
  2. Reapply the Urethane Coating to the Floor.
  3. Use a Tent Waterproofing Spray on the Outside.
  4. Bring a Tent Footprint for Extra Protection.
  5. Use a Rainfly or Tarp to Reduce the Amount of Rain Falling on Your Tent.

Is tent fabric waterproof? ›

However, even for some experienced campers, we remain unaware that tents are not fully waterproof! Feeling the material, we might think that tents can repel water completely, but contrary to popular belief, tents are only water-resistant.

What is the best tent material for rain? ›

Quality Material

The best waterproof tents should have: Laminated polyester fabric, water-resistant polyester fabric, coated polyester, duck canvas (which is breathable, waterproof, and moisture-wicking) or coated nylon.

Does the color of a tent matter? ›

Darker colors like blue can block UV radiation and keep your tent cooler. On the other hand, lighter colors like white and yellow reflect light but don't block UV rays, so they offer the least protection. If you're camping at the beach, make sure you find a spot with plenty of shade to protect your tent from UV damage.

Do you sleep better in a tent? ›

Whether you love camping or hate it, sleeping outdoors in a tent could help reset your circadian rhythm and naturally improve your sleep cycle.

Can you sleep in a tent indoors? ›

Make a space in the middle of your living room or basement for the tent. If you don't have a real tent, kid's popup kinds work well or you can just put a blanket over a couple of chairs to make a fort. Make it cozy inside with sleeping bags, blankets, cushions and soft toys.

Do tents breathe? ›

Plastic Tent Breathability

High humidity means sweat won't evaporate, making it feel even hotter (or colder) inside than outside. Plastic tents don't breathe; they rely on vents to circulate moist air out and draw fresh air in. These vents then need to be covered by rain flys to keep water out.

Is it OK to live in a tent? ›

So, now the question is, 'is it actually possible to live in a canvas tent? ' and the answer is Yes! If you've got a quality canvas tent, it should last you for years, especially if you take care of it well. With enough planning and preparing, you can not only live in a tent but live well.

Why tarps are better than tents? ›

Tarp Advantages

They're lightweight and compact. This is extremely helpful if you're trying to shed some weight or are going ultralight. Unlike tents, tarps don't need tent poles to set up. You'll just need some cordage (preferably some paracord that you carry in your pack anyway) and pegs for most configurations.

Is a tent footprint the same as a tarp? ›

Like tent footprints, tarps can be cut to mirror the dimensions of your tent's floor and placed under the tent to protect it from tears and to prevent moisture from penetrating inside the tent. Tarps tend to be much thinner than most tent footprints, so they will not offer the same level of comfort as the latter.

Should tent footprint be waterproof? ›

Add extra waterproofing

Double the layers, double the protection! A second layer of waterproofing can not only give you peace of mind, it can also protect your investment. If you've spent a lot of money on your brand new tent, then you'll want to keep it in the best possible condition for as long as you can.


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