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What is a Tent Footprint and Why You Need One

If you’re new to camping or trying to up your game, you’ve likely encountered tons of recommendations on what gear to buy, things to bring with you on camping trips, what to DIY, and more. You may have been told to pack things like a rainfly, a sunshade, bungee cords, mosquito netting, and a tent footprint, but it’s hard to know how much is truly necessary.

Fortunately, we’re here to start demystifying the list of camping essentials. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is a tent footprint, and do I really need one?” you’ve come to the right place.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know.

In short, a tent footprint is a protective layer for the underside of your tent. It’s usually a fabric sheet, though it can also be metal or plastic, and it sits underneath your tent to protect it from moisture and rough surfaces that can cause damage.

A tent footprint has several benefits, but in a nutshell, it protects your tent. Read on for more details.

A tent footprint is an extra layer of durability that protects the bottom of your tent from the elements. Think about it – how often have you encountered campsites that are rocky, uneven, full of twigs, or covered in other debris?

When you lay your tent on top of those surfaces, they can scratch the floor of your tent, wear down the fabric, and even puncture holes over time. However, with a footprint in between your tent and the ground, your tent has much better protection.

Tents often have some waterproofing, but just how much waterproofing they have can vary. For example, some tent floors have a waterproof level of 1500 mm, which works in some climates, but it probably won’t withstand a downpour if you get unlucky with the weather.

So if you think you may need some extra waterproofing to keep the floor of your tent dry, this is where tent footprints can come in handy. Keep in mind the waterproof levels of footprints can vary too, so make sure to research which is right for you.

Looking for more tips on waterproofing? Check out our page about How to Waterproof a Tent.

With those things in mind, whether you need a tent footprint or not may come down to your campsite. Is your campsite paved, grassy, or gravel? Is it in a dry or wet climate? The more you can find out ahead of time, the better prepared you’ll be.

But if you’re unsure where you’ll be laying down your tent or what the conditions are, it may be better to be safe than sorry.

It may not sound like a layer of fabric underneath your tent would really help keep you warm, but just think about it. If the ground underneath your tent is cool, the floor of your tent likely will be, too. And that means heat is escaping.

Adding one more layer can help keep the warmth inside your tent from leaking out through the bottom, and if it’s a particularly cold night, everything counts!

You may find a lot of advice telling you to DIY your footprint or use something else like a tarp, but the downside of these options is that they’re not as custom-made for your tent.

Buying a tent footprint that’s designed to fit your tent’s size and shape helps prevent issues like water seeping in and pooling between your tent and the footprint.

So now that you know the basics of what is a tent footprint and why you might need one, you may be starting to weigh the pros and cons. If you’re still on the fence about whether you should get a footprint, here are a few things to consider:

In addition to waterproof levels, tents often have durability levels that indicate how thick and durable the fabric is. This level is commonly referred to as the “denier”, and it specifies the thickness of the fibers in the tent’s fabric.

The type of fabric your tent uses may also impact its durability. For example, a tent made out of nylon may not be as durable as a tent made with certain kinds of polyester.

So, it’s best to consider your tent’s specifications to understand just how durable it may be. If your tent isn’t quite as durable as you’d like it to be, that’s where a tent footprint comes in handy.

If you’re backpacking, you’ve likely opted for a lightweight tent and minimal other gear to keep your load as light as possible. Unfortunately, as you might expect, a tent footprint will add extra weight to your pack.

Tent footprints can weigh anywhere from 5 ounces to one-and-a-half pounds. And just like with tents, the heavier ones often use thicker fabrics and are therefore more durable.

Backpackers often have to choose between a lightweight (but less durable) tent with a footprint, or a heavier (but more durable) tent without one.

Of course, if you’re considering buying new equipment, cost is another important factor to consider. Typical tent footprints can range anywhere from $15 to $60. And while this may seem like an unnecessary expense to some, it may just be worthwhile if it extends the life of your tent (which is probably more expensive).

Gold Armour Tent Footprint, Camping Tarp Waterproof Ultralight - 84x60in | 84x84in | 84x96in | 82x106in | 120x108in | 120x120in | 120x144in Floor and Ground Tarps for Camping (OD Green 84x96in)

The Gold Armour Tent Footprint is a great all-around option. It’s relatively lightweight, weighing just under one pound, and it does everything a tent footprint should do. It’s made of 210-thread-count nylon, has leakproof taped seams, and has a waterproof rating of 2000 mm. And best of all, it has a five-year warranty.

This tent footprint comes in seven different sizes, making it easy to find the size that’s perfect for your tent.

Arctic Lemmings Camping Tarp Waterproof with Carry Bag for Under Tent, Ultralight Tent Footprint for Ground Camping Hiking (86

The Arctic Lemmings Tent Footprint is a great low-cost option that protects your wallet without sacrificing quality. It has reinforced seams, a 3000 mm waterproof rating, and a 150 denier rating. It also comes with convenient features like stakes, a rope, and a storage bag.

This tent footprint comes in three different sizes, making it suitable for many different tents.

NEAR ZERO Waterproof Camping Footprint for 2 Person Tent | Ultralight 20D Ripstop Nylon Multifunctional Tarp Tent Ground Tarp for Backpacking | Carry Bag Included | Red (7 x 4 Ft)

Weighing just six ounces, this lightweight Near Zero Tent Footprint is a great option for backpackers. The best part of this footprint is that despite its lightweight feel, its durability holds up. It’s made out of 20D nylon that’s waterproof and windproof, and most reviewers are pleased with the purchase.

When you’re trying to pack light, multifunctional tools are a great way to keep supplies to a minimum. And not only is this footprint for protecting your tent, but it can also be used as a rain canopy, sunshade, or ground tarp.

If you’re not sold on getting a tent footprint, you can try other materials like a tarp, plastic sheet, plastic tablecloth, or Polycro.

Just make sure these materials are the right size; you want them to be slightly smaller than the floor of your tent, so water doesn’t get trapped. And depending on which material you opt for, know that it may not last as long as a tent footprint would.

It depends. A tarp may actually be more durable and affordable than a tent footprint. However, tarps are often heavier to carry. Plus, with any DIY option, you’ll need to make sure it’s the right size for your tent, which may require you to do some extra customization.

The size of your tent footprint depends on the size of your tent. A good rule of thumb is that it should be slightly smaller than your tent’s floor. This prevents water from seeping in between the footprint and the tent itself, which defeats the purpose of the extra waterproofing you get from a footprint.

Make sure your footprint isn’t too small, though, or it will leave parts of your tent exposed, also defeating the purpose.

A tent footprint is a useful camping tool that protects your tent, extends its longevity, and adds extra waterproofing. However, because it adds extra weight and cost to your camping gear, some people opt to DIY it or forego it entirely (especially if their tent is extra durable).

Whether or not you need one depends on your specific circumstances and priorities. But chances are, a low-cost and lightweight option can’t hurt!

Looking for more camping gear reviews, recommendations, and tips? Visit our Camping Gear page for everything you need to know.

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My name is Ryan Cunningham and I'm on a mission. I want to get families, singles, anyone and everyone outdoors and enjoying the world of camping! You'll find everything you need to get started here.

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